Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

The Next Generation of Smart Buildings

I think it’s safe to say that all the lighting and HVAC systems on our projects these days are high-efficiency and have some kind of “smart” element, from lighting controls to building automation systems. We’ve recently been working more with PoE (Power over Ethernet) systems. Oversimplified, the network not only controls the lighting and comfort but powers it as well.

PoE technology is relatively young, but the impact can be dramatic. Consider everything in the ceiling that’s over your head right now–lighting, exit signs, CCTV, occupancy sensors, thermostats and more–feeding information back to the facilities team using plug and play connectors. What some refer to as a “digital ceiling” could be a breakthrough in the reconfiguration of office space.

Here’s an example. Lighting can now be adjusted in specific parts of a room or building to a certain color or intensity, to make a single occupant more comfortable or healthy. Or instead of your maintenance team having to walk the property to check exit signs, the system is self-diagnostic, generating an alert when an exit sign goes dark. The list goes on and on.

The system runs from the cloud on low voltage wiring, meaning in most cases no conduit is necessary and the terminations are similar to your computer network.

There will always be a place for conventional line voltage lighting and controls, particularly in outdoor and industrial situations where PoE isn’t a fit yet. Still, this system is creating new opportunities and streamlining many things that used to be analog. New possibilities are presenting themselves daily.

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Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.