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What is Building Automation?

When we think of a building, most of us imagine a stationary structure devoid of…

When we think of a building, most of us imagine a stationary structure devoid of animation or expression. We imagine whimsically, “if these walls could talk…” Thanks to advances in building automation, this is no longer a pipe dream—buildings now have a voice, and innovative property owners are installing the right tools to make sure they are always listening. 

Through intelligent thermostats, lighting systems, occupancy sensors, and more, it turns out buildings have a lot to say. While many of us are familiar with home automation, smart building automation scales up this technology to meet the needs of a larger complex. Instead of a smart thermostat setting the ambiance of a single unit, sensors deploy building-wide to monitor and control the climate, locks, lighting, sprinklers, and more in vacant units and common areas like gyms, picnic areas, business centers, and entertainment rooms. Well-oiled building automation systems can: 

  • Autonomously perform energy-efficient and security-boosting tasks in vacant units. Gently heat unoccupied apartments to a warm yet cost-effective temperature to welcome prospective residents. Automatically turn off lights when they leave, or illuminate certain rooms in the evenings to deter criminals. 
  • Provide insights into when residents typically use common areas and create appropriate schedules for lights and climate. 
  • Coming soon from IOTAS: integrate data from external sources into your decision-making models. Fold weather forecasts and energy pricing trends into your systems so you can predict future costs and make changes accordingly. In the near future, you’ll even be able to monitor air quality and automatically reduce outside air intake on days when allergens or pollutants are high. 

Through the power of IoT, building operators can gain a treasure trove of insight into the inner workings of their property to help guide more cost-effective (and revenue-boosting!) strategy. 

What is the Internet of Things (IoT) anyway? 

IoT, or the “Internet of Things,” refers to the billions of devices and sensors that give a “voice” to traditionally analog objects, devices, equipment, and appliances. Watch faces now do far more than tell time—they can display a current weather report for anywhere in the world or tell you if you’re leading your group of friends in a race to 10,000 steps. On a macroscopic scale, cities are also pulsating with internet connectivity: monitoring traffic patterns, surveying which restaurants are busiest, and mapping available parking spots. 

The power of IoT lies in information – or data – collection.  Pulling data points together into one robust “brain,” IoT can pull information from various sources to provide insights, mitigate risks, protect assets, and aid in decision making. A signed-on city can judge if your favorite restaurant is uncharacteristically quiet, but if there are not any parking spots available in the neighborhood due to a nearby music festival, an app can suggest a change of plans. Building automation grants this immense power to property managers to merge information from diverse systems: HVAC, lighting, security, emergency, facilities, in-unit IoT devices, and even tenant experiences and behaviors like foot traffic in a fitness center. 

Why do property owners need to pay attention to building automation trends now more than ever? 

Even if you’ve always preferred hands-on methods, COVID-19 introduced a slurry of social distancing measures that fast-tracked the adoption of automated tech. Some property managers may have considered digitalization to be a tool of the savviest technophiles, but the pandemic has evangelized even the staunchest holdouts. Turns out IoT offers more than wizardry, it can also dramatically cut costs, uncover valuable operational insights, create efficiencies, boost rent premiums, and even lower insurance premiums.  

5 ways building automation can reduce costs and bolster ROI in your multifamily apartment complex

How do the insights garnered through building automation differ from traditional methods? Traditional reporting is just that—reacting to information after the fact. Building automation can revolutionize data modeling, taking in information from hundreds of sensors and sources to predict future performance and help managers make proactive and profitable decisions. Here’s how. 

1. Realize significant utility savings

For many property managers, the main attraction of building automation comes down to energy savings. Automated buildings can go a step beyond motion detection to learn community schedules and autonomously regulate temperatures in shared areas based on their findings. Automated temperature controls are far more valuable than making the job of a property manager easier—analysts estimate that energy savings from automated HVAC systems yield a 15–25% savings annually

2. Gain hands-free facilities management

Building automation is all about leveraging the internet to be your real-time eyes and ears on the ground when it’s infeasible or less cost-effecitve to be there in person. You no longer need to step foot in a common area to make adjustments—with a few taps on an app or clicks of a mouse, you can unlock doors or adjust the climate of a common area – or even automate that area to activate device settings at specific times of day and days of the week. Instead of dispatching a staff member on a wild-goose chase to find the source of a problem, your squadron of sensors can alert you to the precise location of a problem. This power decreases the burden on your team, while also limiting unnecessary gatherings. 

Self-guided apartment tours are another benefit of hands-free facilities management. No need for you or a rental agent to be present for a viewing when it’s not safe or convenient. Instead, prospects can receive an access code to enter the building at a specific time. An automated thermostat can have the unit warmed to a welcoming 78 degrees by the time they arrive. With a simple turn of the front door handle, a prospective tenant can trigger a smart routine that raises the lights in each room or starts a video walkthrough of in-unit amenities. Fleet managed voice-enabled devices can provide an even more impressive touring experience to the prospective renter! These DIY tours offer more than convenience: one-third of those who embark on a self-guided tour decide to move in—a stunning conversion rate that management companies cannot ignore. 

3. Drive ROI through a detailed view of your building’s inner workings

A chief differentiator between traditional building resource management and the IoT revolution are the kinds of equipment you can monitor. For instance, IoT innovations allow you to tag basically any appliance or device in your building with a sensor. Instead of only collecting generic data, you can analyze nitty-gritty details like temperature and humidity tolerances of a third floor business center vs. one in the lobby—or even usage patterns of coffee pots and arcade games in a common area. Armed with detailed insights, you can make the granular changes needed to realize scale savings at scale. 

This armada of data-collecting sensors can also help reduce maintenance costs. Instead of relying on generic manufacturer recommendations, you can view and analyze real-time performance data. Monitor the condition of important equipment and perform necessary maintenance before it snowballs into costly downtime. This also eliminates the time drain of unnecessary in-person system checks—you’ll only send staff to the site of a problem when they’re most needed. Many smart solutions take this process a step further by pushing alerts and notifications out to property staff via email and SMS, or even automating tickets within the operations platform to immediately address maintenance issues as they’re surfaced.

4. Improve wellbeing of your tenants and staff 

Dark, dreary corridors and chilly community areas are a no-go for modern apartment dwellers. Bright, warm, and welcoming spaces are top ways to foster a loyal, lasting community of residents. Greet early morning gym goers with pre-lit fitness areas, or pre-warm an all-purpose room and provide scheduled access for a reserved private party. Automated controls allow you to extend the feeling of home into all areas of your building complex. 

How do automated building controls boost staff engagement? When asked about the most desirable workplace perks, managers might cite trendy amenities like standing desks and a free snack bar. But for staff, natural lighting, good ventilation, and comfortable temperatures are the top-most drivers of employee satisfaction. In fact, workplaces with these three ambient amenities can reduce absenteeism up to four days per year, according to one Harvard study. Building automation not only pleases your tenants but also fosters a happy, healthy, and productive staff.

5. Increase NOI

Perhaps the most compelling lure of fully automated building systems is the increase in NOI. Digital amenities like smart locks and lighting controls have skyrocketed to the top of the list of tenant must-haves, far outranking traditional pot-sweeteners like marble countertops and in-unit laundry. In fact, tenants are willing to fork over higher rents for smart upgrades—86% of the tech-savvy millennial generation will pay up to one-fifth more to snag them. Fully automated smart apartments are an excellent way to increase rent premiums while also improving renewal rates by nearly 60%.

Instead of looking at things through a purely monitoring perspective, comprehensive building automation arms you with powerful new ways to manage your property. You’ll also uncover insight into fresh ways to save costs over the long run. If you’ve often wondered what you’d hear if “these walls could talk,” now’s the time to integrate automation into your building management strategy. In the future, buildings will only speak louder—providing us with more data from even more sources, empowering decision making beyond what we can currently imagine. Will you be ready to listen?

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