Designing a Smart Office

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In the past, the cost of energy was low and American businesses were willing to put up with inefficient buildings and energy-wasting technologies. Incandescent lights blazed all night long in offices and air conditioning ran non-stop in buildings warmed by people and mechanical equipment, even when outside air could have provided cooling.

As the cost of energy has increased and the stagnant economy has forced companies to look for ways to control expenses, smart office design has become a must for businesses that care about efficiency, employee comfort and sustainability. Smart office design systems and technologies can benefit existing offices that are being renovated as well as newly constructed buildings.

What strategies are important in designing a smart office?

High efficiency lighting
If it’s a new building, then daylighting should be part of the design strategy. Why pay for light that the sun can provide for free? Daylighting requirements should be balanced with mechanisms for controlling solar heat gain. Think about the orientation of the building and consider the angle of light and the desirability of solar gain for all four seasons.

In new buildings, high efficiency lighting should be a given. In a renovation, it’s an easy win. Highly efficient, long lasting LEDs are now available in configurations that mimic traditional incandescent bulbs, and they offer an alternative to fluorescent strip lighting. However, occupancy controls may be the most revolutionary recent advance in lighting systems.

Building automation systems
Building automation systems, including occupancy controls, have the potential to have a huge impact on energy conservation. Energy is expensive, but computing power is cheap. Building automation systems can make sure that, for example, lights, zoned mechanical systems, shading technologies, security systems and fire safety systems are switched on only when and where they are needed.

BACnet, ASHRAE’s Data Communication Protocol for Building Automation and Control Systems, can serve as a guide for systems design. A popular platform like Niagra can form the core of the computerized controller.

Sizing HVAC
In a smart office, the HVAC systems need to be a fundamental part of the design. With local controls, zoned systems and automated systems, heat can be brought into the building when and where it’s needed and kept out when and where it isn’t. To contribute to a smart office, the HVAC systems need to be smaller but more flexible.

Building commissioning
It’s not enough to design and construct an efficient new building or a high efficiency renovation. In order to deliver on its potential, it needs to work as expected and function at peak efficiency. Building commissioning means checking the work. It can consist of everything from testing HVAC systems and plumbing networks, to a fan door to test the newly completed building for air tightness.

With escalating energy costs and facilities budgets being cut to the bone, smart offices make sense from a financial perspective. They are also a boon for employees, who deserve a comfortable and well designed workplace. Designers, builders and business owners who haven’t incorporated these technologies and strategies would be wise to educate themselves on smart office design and consider putting it into practice.

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