Smarter buildings on the rise

Office Space

The office building at 1433 N. Water St. has energy-efficient features including geothermal HVAC, a solar array on the roof and energy-efficient windows.

If temperatures get a little too toasty in the offices at 1433 N. Water St. in downtown Milwaukee and they need to come down ASAP, there’s an app for that.

“Our maintenance engineers and property managers are able to access real-time building information and the viability of each piece of equipment in the building through an app on a phone or through a dedicated secure laptop – one in the building and one they carry with them,” said Anne White, development executive assistant with Wangard Partners Inc., the developer and owner of the building. “So at any moment, if something goes wrong, they’re alerted immediately.”

The office building at 1433 N. Water St. has energy-efficient features including geothermal HVAC, a solar array on the roof and energy-efficient windows.

The recently redeveloped 115,673-square-foot office building – formerly the site of Brookfield-based Laacke & Joys Co. LLC’s industrial sewing division – is among a growing number of buildings joining the ranks of “smart” or “intelligent” buildings.  Such buildings rely on internet-connected devices to collect and communicate data that owners and managers use to optimize their building operations.

“Smart buildings are about data driving building technology and transformation and the power of that data to create value for building owners, their managers and their occupants,” said Dave Eidson, vice president of global advanced development and technology platforms for Johnson Controls Inc.

When Wangard set out to redevelop 1433 N. Water St., energy efficiency was a top priority, White said. So the firm chose a geothermal HVAC system, a solar array on the roof, and installed energy-efficient windows – features that are expected to save $1 per square foot annually.

And to help manage, monitor and remotely control the building, managers and engineers have access to data using a mobile app or computer, which provides real-time information related to room temperatures, water usage and the status of equipment.

“We can pinpoint equipment that may not be operating as it’s intended so that can be corrected,” White said, “(compared to) a year down the road, when a faulty piece of equipment has used eight times the amount of energy that it should have.”

The immediacy of the alerts allows engineers and building managers to rectify a problem before tenants even realize something is amiss. And that translates to happier customers, said Burton Metz, vice president at Wangard.

“The goal of a lot of these sustainability features is for tenant satisfaction, as well as employer retention,” Metz said. “In order to have happy employees here, you’re going to want to have comfortable HVAC and consistent HVAC as part of the building.”

The office building at 1433 N. Water St. has a solar panel installed on its roof to promote energy efficiency.

Wangard is in good company as building managers increasingly turn to Internet of Things solutions to enhance their energy management and operational efficiency.

A study from Navigant Research projects the global IoT for intelligent buildings market to grow from $6.3 billion in 2017 to $22.2 billion in 2026, with North America representing the second-largest share of the market.

The trend also has introduced some challenges, particularly related to cybersecurity.

Smart buildings connect internal systems with external networks to monitor and manage building operations – compared to an older model, in which those systems were installed in silos.

“The smart building is about free-flowing, pervasive connectivity of systems and the networks that those systems ride on,” Eidson said. “And that pervasive connectivity between these systems and their networks is what increases the cyber risk attack surface. It’s a pretty significant increase.”

And while not every connected product is valuable itself, the access to it could create entry points for more sensitive information to be exploited.

“Smart buildings have to think about protecting against denial of service or data theft, ransomware, hijacking of command, and control of equipment. How is a vendor of IoT products compromised if their product is compromised?” Eidson asked.

He contends it’s no longer enough for buildings to be smart; they need to also be “cybersmart.”

“Cybersecurity has to become a core tenet of building designs, operations and lifecycle management,” Eidson said.

He said implementing cybersmart practices requires a building operator to look at his or her specific challenges, change company culture to understand the importance of cybersecurity, and be prepared for the continually evolving risk of cyber breaches.

“This is a huge culture change,” Eidson said. “They’re used to buying once, getting through the warranty period and then in 15 to 20 years, potentially upgrading the building through a major renovation. Cyber security doesn’t allow us that luxury any longer. We have to keep the software in our systems current to the ever-changing landscape of threats.”

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Lauren Anderson is an associate editor and covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism.

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