Over the past year, many countries’ leaders told us to stay home to keep ourselves (and others) safe and sound. Ironically, what if the infrastructure of your home is actually making you sicker the longer you stay inside? The global pandemic has re-sparked the discussion about smart buildings and how crucial they are for our wellbeing, health, and productivity. It’s time to introduce you to the initiative that’s taking the world by storm and wishes to improve our lives dramatically.
Brief History of Buildings
Ever since the ’70s, architects and constructors have been making giant leaps toward building more energy-efficient and user-friendly housing solutions. It’s safe to say that our homes are more sophisticated than ever before, but what about our health?
Our wish to be isolated from the outside world while being at home has a high cost, that lies in our ever-decreasing indoor air quality. Our homes became very air-tight, but most of us still lack information about ventilating them properly. We are all aware of outdoor air quality, but the general awareness of indoor air quality is still far behind.
This dangerous combination affects our health, and many are not even aware of the harmful impacts that our homes have on us: fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and a drop in productivity are just some of the common minor effects.
About a decade ago, architects and designers finally realized that there has to be a way to improve the way we build homes. The result of this thinking process was green and smart buildings.
What Does a Smart Building Look like?
Buildings have a huge footprint on our environment even after they’ve been standing for hundreds of years. In fact, buildings and construction produce 38% of the global carbon emissions, and the energy to power buildings stands at 28%. That’s where smart and green buildings step in.
Indoor air quality has a few factors: humidity levels, water quality, ventilation design, thermal solutions, acoustics, lighting, and of course, the construction process and the materials used to construct the building.
There are many ways to make a building smart and/or green:
- Recycling - Green buildings can be constructed of materials from a previous building or other recycled sources, they can have additional external insulating walls made of vegetation (“living wall”), or even have a green roof for the residents to enjoy.
- Automation - Smart buildings use multiple technologies and strategically placed sensors to automate processes in the building. Systems like air ventilation can monitor data and operate themselves remotely and independently.
- Uniformity - Although there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, a smart air ventilation system can look like a central air shaft (similar to what you can see on the ceiling of public buses). It creates constant air circulation, responds and adjusts according to changes in the building and its surroundings, like thermal conditions or current building occupancy.
So if the technologies already exist, and the shift in thinking about this problem already happened about a decade ago - what is taking so long?
Show Me the Money
Real estate leaders need to understand that smart and green buildings aren’t a luxury or a passing trend. Nor is it only important from an ecological or environmental point of view, but it’s an actual, pressing health issue that’s affecting us all here and now.
Sure, building a smart building is expensive, but it’s a great long-term investment. Investors can experience a full return on their investment already within 5-10 years from construction, and the building itself is much more resilient. The smart systems themselves save a lot of money in operation, making them all a profitable decision. Residents can also experience lower utility prices after that period too. Besides, thanks to the growing awareness of the subject, prospective buyers are willing to pay more for apartments with good green building ratings (like LEED, WELL, REST and many others.).
There’s also a silver lining at the statutory level: governments worldwide are becoming increasingly aware of it, and have been developing plans to encourage smart housing. In Germany, the aim is to reduce the energy required by existing buildings by 80% by 2050. Also, the UK plans to meet net-zero emissions by the same year.