The Internet of Things (IoT) is proving its impact on the real estate sector. According to forecasts, building automation will lead the growth rate of connected devices in 2020. Smart building endpoints are expected to grow by 42 percent next year, reaching the staggering number of 440 million. Facility managers, real estate owners, as well as commercial and industrial businesses are looking to deploy IoT for its multifold benefits — from augmenting building efficiency and lowering costs, to improving tenants’ experience. These exciting opportunities come from granular insights into disparate aspects of building operations — all accessible from a centralized management platform.

Traditional Building Management Approach

Building Management Systems (BMS) have been around for some time to reduce manual control of multiple mechanical and electrical components within a building. Nevertheless, these systems have been implemented in a rather individual and disjointed fashion. Disparate BMS use wire-based communication protocols such as C-Bus, BACnet, and Modbus to automate separate tasks like HVAC control, lighting automation, and elevator control, and there is little interconnection among them.

As data are siloed and scattered across systems, it’s difficult for facility managers and businesses to obtain an overall picture of the building operations and how efficient its components are. On top of that, the costly wired infrastructure limits data collection to only the most important assets and highest-traffic building areas. And, dynamic changes in the external environment and tenants’ behavior are hardly taken into account. Once the initial site survey/calibration is done, there are few to no changes in the way equipment is regulated and maintenance work is executed.

IoT Opportunities: Granular Insights, Integrated Management, and Continuous Optimization

The proliferation of low-cost sensors and connectivity is significantly altering the BMS landscape. Wireless IoT sensors are easy to install and maintain and deliver an entirely new granular data layer for building control and automation tasks. Beyond major HVAC equipment and lighting systems, they enable data collection on virtually every facet of your building — from indoor climate conditions, space traffic, and energy usage at discrete zones, to waste bin levels and available parking lots. With a versatile wireless architecture, sensor data from various sources can be easily forwarded to the chosen building management platform and even integrated into larger business systems. This enables integrated and fine-grained management of diverse building functions and distributed assets.

Another major added value that IoT sensors bring to existing BMS systems is new possibilities for optimization and improvement. Rather than executing automation based on predefined rules, sensor feedback enables dynamic, on-demand equipment control for greater energy savings and occupancy comfort. Additionally, sensor data on space usage and tenants’ behaviors provides the visibility and intelligence needed to augment different aspects of facility management and maintenance.

The following are some of the leading applications of wireless IoT sensors for integrated building management.

HVAC and Lighting Control

Leveraging IoT sensor inputs, HVAC systems can be regulated based on multiple parameters like temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels to ensure a healthy and productive indoor environment. Thanks to data granularity, higher efficiency can be achieved with micro-zoned HVAC control that takes into account variations in indoor climate across the facility. At the same time, motion and occupancy data reveals important trends on HVAC and lighting demand throughout the day to detect energy waste sources and optimize on/off schedules of equipment.

Space Planning and Management

Occupancy sensing facilitates the analysis of space usage patterns to enable strategic decisions on office layouts and amenities. This helps companies configure the optimal mix between open, co-working space and individual zones to foster collaboration, innovation, and productivity. With detailed insights into space utilization, companies can also better allocate office resources to different teams and departments and make informed decisions on upcoming lease renewals. Beyond real estate planning, traffic data helps optimize cleaning schedules to ensure sanitation for tenants’ satisfaction.

Facility Maintenance

24/7 monitoring ability with IoT sensors allows facility managers to timely detect arising issues and maintenance needs. For example, leak detectors can immediately send notifications of pipe and valve failures, even at the most unattended and hidden spaces, to prevent widespread, costly damage. IoT sensors attached to critical equipment like elevators, escalators, and HVAC equipment can report unusual temperature and vibration behaviors that indicate impending breakdowns for predictive maintenance. In decades-old buildings and facilities, structural integrity can be studied with sensor data on inclination, vibration, crack expansion, and temperature/humidity exposure.

Security and Fire Safety

Beyond reactively reporting an incident, IoT sensors can help tackle common fire sources like electrical failures by monitoring thermal trends at distributed electrical systems. As soon as a heat spike is detected, an alarm is triggered for inspection and maintenance before the fire breaks out. IoT sensors are also instrumental in ensuring the availability of fire safety equipment by reporting if a fire extinguisher goes missing or whether a fire door is left open. When it comes to physical security, motion detectors and accelerometers attached to windows/doors can report dubious activities and possible intrusion at night or in areas with restricted access.

Intelligent Parking

Magnetic, ultrasonic, or optical sensor technologies are innovative solutions to today’s increasing parking challenges. Providing real-time data on lot availability, they are an integral part of parking navigation solutions that can enable a stressfree parking experience while helping curb carbon footprint. Additionally, improved visibility into parking space usage and duration unveils problematic behaviors like one car occupying two slots and overtime or unauthorized parking.

Waste Management

Trash collection has been an inefficient task, with dumpsters being emptied on predefined schedules regardless of their fill levels. Having sensors collecting and sending data on levels of waste containers, pick-up route, and schedule of different waste types can be optimized to reduce garbage truck trips.

Wireless Connectivity Considerations

Drastically reduced costs and complexity are the major drivers behind vast deployments of IoT sensors for granular data in integrated building systems. Wireless connectivity plays a decisive role in this. There are multiple requirements that come into play. Besides simple installation and setup, low chipset and connectivity costs alongside the ability to operate on small, inexpensive batteries for years are major determinants of a cost-effective solution. Low-power networks significantly simplify maintenance activities, while eliminating the need to tediously hard wire every sensor to a power supply.

What’s more, innumerable endpoints distributed across structurally complex and/or geographically dispersed facilities like a multi-story building or a factory call for a scalable and long-range wireless technology. Besides cutting down on expensive network infrastructure (e.g. base stations), such a technology ensures seamless integration of sensor devices without compromising message delivery and quality-of-service. In addition, a privately deployed and managed wireless infrastructure gives businesses full control over network availability and data privacy.

A Review of Existing Wireless Options

Despite their prevalence, traditional wireless options like WLAN and cellular, typically designed for high-bandwidth use cases, can’t keep up with the requirements of IoT sensor networks. High data rates and throughput, while ideal for video and voice transfer, come at a great cost of range and power consumption. Wireless sensors for building management systems, on the other hand, mostly pertain to the intermittent transmission of small telemetry data.

Newer mesh technologies like Zigbee and Z-Wave provide a more power-efficient alternative for wireless sensor networks. However, the short physical range between two mesh points requires a highly dense and even distribution of nodes to ensure reliability of the radio link. At large-scale, structurally complex environments, planning and configuration of mesh networks is a major undertaking. Also, due to the use of 2.4 GHz frequency, mesh solutions are subject to significant electromagnetic interference.

With intriguing range, power and cost advantages, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs), with their low bit rates and longer range, are a versatile choice for in-building wireless connectivity. By considerably reducing data rates and concentrating more energy into every transmitted bit, LPWANs deliver unmatched range and penetration capability compared to other wireless networks. On top of that, lightweight, power-optimized protocols reduce transceiver costs while enabling a very long battery life for sensor nodes.

Note that Quality-of-Service drastically varies across LPWAN technologies. For proven network robustness, scalability and long-term interoperability with other components in the IoT ecosystem, companies should opt for an LPWAN technology that employs a software-driven approach and is built on rigorous industry standards.

Wrapping Up

Wireless IoT sensors fuelled by low-cost, low-powered connectivity like LPWAN are redefining building automation and management across commercial and industrial sectors. Not limited to major building functions and areas like traditional BMS solutions, massive IoT sensor networks enable collection and synthesis of data from virtually every aspect of the facility and on unprecedented granularity. This enables property managers to obtain a holistic view of building operations rather than fragmented sets of data. At the same time, it empowers a proactive, demand-based approach to equipment regulation and facility management for improved efficiency, insurance, and occupancy comfort.

This article was written by Wolfgang Thieme, Chief Product Officer, BehrTech (Toronto, ON, Canada). For more information, contact Mr. Thieme at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit here .


Sensor Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2020 issue of Sensor Technology Magazine.

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