Whether it is driving to work in your electric car, controlling the lights in your house with your phone, or using a robotic lawnmower to mow your yard, technology has enhanced how we live, work, and play. 


Architects and engineers are incorporating the latest technology into their designs to create “smart buildings.” A smart building uses technology to share data between different applications or systems to optimize the building’s performance. Driven by a new generation of affordable and powerful Internet of Things (IoT) devices, commercial buildings and industrial sites can now generate large amounts of valuable data for analytics and automation. Building owners and managers recoup the benefits and cost savings of these systems. 




The most fundamental feature of a smart building is that the core systems, such as water meters, fire alarms, lighting, and power, are all connected. 

The use of sensors plays an import role in collecting data to inform decisions about where to allocate resources. We all know the use of occupancy/motion sensors. Lately, they have found a further use, helping businesses understand how room and spaces are used by detecting the presence of people or objects in real time. This allows organizations to understand which spaces get the most use or know which meeting rooms are available at any one time. In large organizations, being able to use space more efficiently can lead to cost savings and increased productivity. 

Automation is the ongoing monitoring that allows for adjustments that can control conditions across the entire building. Information is gathered and analyzed by the systems that have been put in place. HVAC and lighting automations are the most common automation systems used in our line of work. 


Smart buildings generate large volumes of data about their own use. The data collected is analyzed for trend lines relating to energy usage, building occupancy, temperature, and other factors. This allows the operations team to adjust heating and cooling and lighting systems. 


This infographic from Honeywell shows how a smart building can respond to its occupants’ needs throughout the course of a day, in response to the data it is collecting.



What does it cost?


According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings consume 70% of the electricity load in the United States. Data from the Department of Energy shows buildings account for 40% of all U.S. energy use and waste 30% of the energy they consume. 


Building Management Systems (BMS) are traditional solutions to addressing energy waste. Companies such as Johnson Controls, Trane, and Honeywell make BMS tailored for large buildings focused on HVAC. An average cost of a BMS can range from $2.50 per square foot to as high as $7.00 per square foot, taking longer to recover the cost and provide a return on investment. 


Solutions are now arriving in the form of IoT generation connected devices. Advancements in sensor and controls technology enable cost effective and quick-to-install products. The large amounts of data the new IoT devices generate can be gathered into cloud-based management and analytics services via existing networks, and the devices can be easily monitored and controlled by facility managers on smartphones or tablets.


Costs to add IoT based controls and monitoring can be as little as $0.75 per square foot, depending on the system. IoT device systems typically require an electrician and an IT network professional along with an electrical engineer. Focusing on HVAC, lighting, and some electrical loads, it is reasonable to expect a savings from 10% to 25% when implementing proactive energy management programs in a mid-sized building. For a 75,000 square foot building with energy bills averaging $2.32 per square foot per year, potential savings are $15,000 to $50,000 a year. Return on investment applied to IoT sensors, switches, and analytics can occur in six months to two years. 




  • Smart buildings make the occupants more productive. Air quality, physical comfort, security, sanitation, lighting, and even space availability can be delivered at an optimum level to enable employees to perform at their best. 
  • Reducing energy consumption is a great way to become greener and help reduce climate change. Smart buildings take out the guess work, allowing for better decision making by knowing data on how your building is performing. 
  • For landlords, a smart building can invoice tenants accurately for their utility use and increase tenant appeal with improved comfort and sustainability. 
  • Operational savings in terms of everyday spending and maintenance on equipment, by identifying underutilized resources and potential growth in unused spaces. 
  • Another benefit is data protection, such as thermal sensors that measure data without using identifiable images of staff or public. 


Check out this short clip from Magnet Networks on the endless possibilities of transforming your building into a smart building. 



There are many benefits to implementing a smart building system, from cost efficiencies to increased productivity, and smart buildings will soon become the new normal in building construction. In its simplest form, the current use of occupancy sensors, touchless faucets, and automatic door openers has helped to create healthier workplaces during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the technology and cost of IoT generation connected devices improves, the use of smart controls and monitoring will become more commonplace. 


About the author


Shane Johnson has been a project manager with Shingobee for four years and has over 15 years of experience in commercial construction. He has managed numerous retail projects, for clients such as Holiday Stationstores, Casey’s General Stores, and ALDI Food Stores. Shane serves his community as a reserve police officer for the City of St. Joseph, MN.