Sustainable buildings — the tipping point for change

Switch Automation

By Christina Hughes, Switch Automation
Wednesday, 09 March, 2016

Sustainable buildings — the tipping point for change

Building Management Systems and the way that we manage and control buildings have remained largely unchanged for 30 years. Our cars and phones are smarter than some of the most expensive assets on the planet. But this is going to change. Everyone’s talking about it. You probably are too — 2016 is the year of Internet of Things (IoT) and the year for making smarter buildings a priority.

Real estate executives are looking for ways to better manage their portfolios. The C-suite is applying pressure to reduce the costly line item in the financial statements. Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet are more than merely an emerging trend or a tech buzzword from Silicon Valley. At its most basic, IoT in buildings is simply connecting devices and building systems to software applications via the internet so that users can access information from wherever they are. The tech giants like Microsoft and Intel are investing millions into IoT, cloud and security for the property sector. Add each of these factors together and we’re sitting at a tipping point of transformative change.

This is the type of change that’s going to rattle the sustainability of buildings:


Real-time data for water consumption in a building allows for early detection and leak correction, which may otherwise go unnoticed for years. Yes, water is still cheap, but that doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t be vigilant. And on a portfolio-wide scale, water leaks can cost an organisation tons of wasted time and resources every year.

Think about how beneficial interval-level electricity data has been for the industry… Being able to visualise building water profiles gives us the power to detect problems earlier and help prevent ‘bill shock’, a common scenario with quarterly or six-monthly billing cycles. Plus, the number of ‘estimated’ bills in this space is widespread and unnecessary.

Some of the more common findings we see are underground pipe leaks, poorly automated irrigation systems, faulty ball float valves, tenants leaving taps on, water theft and bathroom leaks. These are all easily hidden from view if there isn’t adequate and timely monitoring in place. Having a platform to visualise this data and notify you of possible issues enables you to work with the site teams and contractors to investigate the source of these leaks quickly and, most importantly, solve them!


This is the big one! Energy is expensive and getting more so every year. Buildings need constant monitoring to meet and maintain high performance standards. There is no ‘set and forget’ mentality here! Buildings are a constantly moving feast, thus we see tons of opportunities for waste.

Contractors leave equipment and lighting in manual mode; variable speed drives (VSDs) don’t work; power factor correction units fail; meters aren’t installed or commissioned properly; energy efficiency mode isn’t automated on equipment; the economy cycle doesn’t work; dampers get stuck; people change setpoints unknowingly; out-of-hours air conditioning is left on all weekend; building system readings are faulty… You catch the drift — the list is extremely long and the stories are the same the world over!

Ultimately, IoT for buildings gives facility and property managers the information they need to identify sources for immediate improved energy efficiency, cost savings and carbon reduction.

Not only can IoT prevent wastage, it can also allow you to fine-tune your building and understand the impacts that altering one parameter has on other parameters. For example, how does trialling a floating setpoint based on outdoor conditions affect the building’s energy consumption as well as tenant comfort? What about modulating air conditioning according to occupancy loads? Being able to predict or shift demand can help owners reduce hefty demand changes by automatically shedding loads or starting up generators.

IoT also allows users to determine which sites have the biggest energy consumption or which pieces of equipment are the most inefficient, which then helps to prioritise energy projects in order of impact. IoT also then allows easy measurement and verification to confirm results and measure operational cost savings as well as the return on investment.

Finally, IoT can also be an important part of a preventive maintenance strategy, allowing early detection of issues before the system fails and better identification of issues that may be able to be fixed remotely, avoiding expensive contractor call-outs.

The Tipping Point is here — futureproofed sustainable buildings are possible now. Therefore, the time to act is now, lest you be left even further behind.

Christina Hughes brings a deep background in sustainability and energy efficiency in the Australian commercial property market. She’s spent time advising on how to upgrade energy and water efficiencies and reduce waste to create more sustainable workplaces. She also has expertise in Australian legislative reporting such as NGERS and Mandatory Disclosure, NABERS, green building rating schemes such as Green Star, and international sustainability benchmarks GRESB and DJSI. And when she’s not busy serving as the Switch Automation National Accounts Manager for Australia and New Zealand, she’s busy perfecting her baking wizardry skills.

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