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7 must-have IoT sensors for smart buildings

Dec. 14, 2021
When it comes to smart building IoT sensors, the plummeting prices, increased intelligence capabilities and ease of deployment are making it so that IoT is worth it no matter who you are.

What’s considered a “must have” for some may not be a “must have” for all.

However, when it comes to smart building IoT sensors, the plummeting prices, increased intelligence capabilities and ease of deployment is making it so that IoT is worth it no matter who you are.

Because we’ve reached this proverbial tipping point when it comes to IoT sensors and platforms, it’s wise for building owners and operators to understand the range of sensor types available on the market today.

Let’s look at several of the most popular building sensors and explain what value they can bring.

1. Temperature and humidity

Starting with the most basic, yet critical sensor type, in-building temperature and humidity sensors can be used to monitor the building environment in real-time and with accurate precision. This information can be fed back into HVAC control systems and combined with occupancy counting sensors to detect where occupants are and can direct HVAC resources at a granular level. Ultimately, these sensors help to create comfortable in-building temperature and humidity levels where needed while simultaneously boosting energy efficiency.

2. Occupancy counting

Having a precise count of building occupants at any given time can be an invaluable data point for several reasons. Modern occupancy sensors can drill down even further to provide information regarding per-floor or per-segment counts along with the ability to combine historical data to create highly-accurate heat-maps showing areas where usage is high and low. This information can be used to:

  • Better direct HVAC and lighting to specific areas
  • Provide accurate space management reports
  • Highlight areas where added sanitation, cleaning and/or air quality attention may be needed

Occupancy monitoring technologies can take many forms. Common examples include surveillance cameras with people-detection intelligence capabilities and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) tracking and motion detection systems that use ultrasonic frequencies.

3. CO2/Air quality

Although air quality has been a concern for building owners and occupants for years, the ability to track CO2 and other air quality measures has jumped to the forefront in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This collected air quality information can be fed into HVAC systems to automate the process of providing fresh outdoor air in areas where it is needed while also being able to quarantine specific areas that disallows air from being recirculated throughout the rest of the building.

4. Water leak detection

Even with high occupancy levels and on-site facilities staff continuously walking a building, water infiltration can go unnoticed for hours or days. The amount of damage that water can cause to a building and associated IT/OT/furnishings contained within the facility can be enormous.

There are several types of leak detection systems available on the market today, including standard water detection sensors, flow meters, and acoustic sensors. These IoT devices can be combined with temperature sensor data to identify and alert on areas of a building where pipe bursts may or already have occurred.

5. Thermal imaging

Thermal imaging cameras can provide a host of benefits including the identification of heating/cooling leak points, monitoring of high-voltage systems and even checking the temperatures of occupants as the enter a building. Until recently, thermal imaging cameras were very expensive and the thought of strategically placing sensors throughout a building was simply not cost-effective. However, advancements in the technology are lowering prices to the point where thermal cameras can be deployed. This type of data can be collected and combined with other building-centric data to preemptively identify aspects of a facility or its occupants that need addressing.

6. Ambient lighting

Smart lighting systems are great, but their true benefits become more apparent when combined with other IoT sensor information such as occupancy levels and ambient light sensor data. The ability to utilize daylight as best as possible can help cut energy costs by intelligently maintaining the amount of electrical light required in occupied parts of a building while bringing in outdoor lighting where needed. Doing so can create a comfortable environment for occupants while reducing lighting costs to the bare minimum.

7. Door/cabinet open/close detection

The protection of occupants and resources within a building can be a time consuming and difficult challenge without the use of technology geared toward automating these monitoring processes. Sensors can be installed at critical doors, entryways, and cabinets to monitor open/closed activities in real-time. These sensors can either be hardwired into the network or leverage Wi-Fi or LTE/5G for connectivity back to a centralized monitoring/alerting platform. Historical information can then be used to retroactively investigate any instances where people or resources need to be located.

Combining IoT data creates tremendous potential

You may have noticed in these IoT sensor descriptions, more visibility and insight can be gained when information from multiple sensors is combined and analyzed as one unified data set. Doing so gives building owners the ability make better informed decisions. Keep this in mind as you determine which IoT sensors and platforms are right for your building or campus.

About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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