Sensors: The Hidden Workforce in a Building Management System

In a world of smart buildings, the link between building management systems and IT has never been more critical, but these computer-based systems require an army of efficient sensors to ensure a building’s performance is optimised. Stacey Lucas, Commercial and Marketing Director of smart sensor supplier Sontay, offers insight into the vital role of sensing devices and how they help create smarter buildings.

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We reportedly spend more than 90% of our lives indoors, whether at home, school or in the workplace, with air quality being crucial to the levels of comfort felt within these spaces. Ventilation, temperature and pressure regulation contribute to maintaining a happy atmospheric medium, which, in a work environment, helps increase employee contentment, leading to increased productivity and fewer sick days.

Sensors can control a myriad of elements that affect our indoor climate, including temperature, which in relation to an office environment is found to be around 22°C. However, relative humidity, if not managed correctly, can make a room feel hotter or colder than the actual temperature reading. A sensor can help overcome this issue by providing data to a BMS managing humidity levels and ensuring an ideal 50% reading is maintained.

In terms of air quality, airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – pollutants which are found in paints and other building materials – are known to have a detrimental effect. The same harmful chemicals are also present in hand sanitisers, aggressive cleaning products and detergents, the demand for which has been unprecedented since the onset of the coronavirus crisis. Air quality sensors are able to measure VOC levels and alert occupants of the need to take action when a potentially hazardous reading is recorded.

Sensors enable accurate data

Building sensors, installed as part of an efficient building management system, offer an ingeniously smart and effective way of remotely monitoring indoor conditions. Designers and consultants need to be sure the equipment being used will perform as efficiently as possible, which is why access to accurate, reliable data detected initially by a sensor will ensure products endure the test of time and help maintain the optimum environment for inhabitants.

As well as assuring a system works efficiently once installed, a consultant must also consider whether the products they have specified will perform as intended. On handover, sensors give eventual asset owners more control over the performance of a building and its energy usage; a benefit that not only helps reduce heating and lighting costs but also facilitates a significant reduction in a building’s carbon footprint. As well as assuring quality, performance and efficiency, sensors could be a factor in driving environmental initiatives, such as the UK Government’s pledge for carbon-neutral status by 2050.

The hidden workforce

With clean lines and minimalist detail commonplace in modern building design, it is no wonder the humble sensor has been fashioned to look modest. However, do not be deceived; what the sensor lacks in size, it makes up for in power.

One or two sensors on the wall are responsible for responding to and monitoring all the conditions of any controlled space. On the other side of the wall behind the scenes, there are scores of devices that are constantly managing the conditions of a controlled space. Air handling units are responsible for supplying and circulating air around a building, and also have to extract stale air from the premises. If fresh air is introduced into a building to ventilate a certain room, if it is freezing cold outside, the temperature of the air will have to be increased. It may also need to be filtered or dehumidified.

Here, sensors come into their own, testing and monitoring the air so that data can be used to change the conditions of the controlled space. There will be sensors measuring the humidity and temperature of the air, sending information to the controller and, in turn, to the air handling unit on the other side so that air can be cooled and particles directed out. There’s an entire operation going on behind the scenes, of which sensors play an essential role in detecting whether an indoor environment is comfortable for occupants.

Efficient installation

Whether it is a new-build or refurbishment project, system integration is one of the key foundations for creating a smart, energy-efficient building. Whilst sensors are an important element of a data-driven asset, for a systems integrator, a sensor’s installation must be as efficient as its eventual performance. Sontay understands that system integration is complex work, which is why its sensors offer ease of installation and commissioning. Many systems integrators need things immediately, and as a supplier, Sontay is well-poised to swiftly deliver what is required.

Though relatively small in size, building sensors can have a huge part to play in ensuring properties, particularly workspaces, are managed safely, sustainably and profitably. Like a friend we never knew we had, these smart little devices look out for us when we’re in the office, and look out for the office when we’re at home. They are becoming evermore vital to the way we work today and in the future.

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