Why Smart Steel Buildings Are Durable and Sustainable

Published February 13, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

smart steel buildings

Steel buildings are the perfect host for smart building systems. In fact, we would go so far as to say that smart buildings could not exist without steel. At the very least, they would lose IQ points.

Steel outperforms other building materials in sustainability, flexibility of design, and safety, all hallmarks of the mandate for smart buildings.

What Is a smart building?

According to the Building Efficiency Initiative, a smart building is one that delivers services that improve productivity at lower cost and environmental impact over the lifecycle of the building. By that, they mean a smart building is stocked with technology that communicates across systems and with building operators to keep everything green, including additional money in the wallet.

A smart building can:

  • Monitor and optimize illumination
  • Provide thermal comfort
  • Improve air quality
  • Offer physical security
  • And a host of other needs and desires of the occupants and operators

To construct a smart building, you must begin with intelligent design and continue to consider how the building’s systems and people are impacted by any and every change or addition over time.

Information technology bridges the multiplicity of building systems to create a platform for cross-communication between systems, enhancing information sharing between areas that may be using a proprietary protocol that, in earlier times, would have prevented communication with another system.

Smart buildings are not limited in scope to what goes on inside the envelope. They are also built with the exterior world in mind from a sustainability and environmentally responsible aspect.

Steel is the best support for smart building

Steel is a strong, durable material that has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than traditional construction materials, such as concrete and masonry. A building made of concrete will weigh much more and will not have extra space for today’s intelligent systems without increasing the building size or decreasing the amount of space available for occupancy and productivity.

Steel buildings can be designed into almost any shape with a flexibility that allows for interior spaces for cables, plumbing, and the building systems such as HVAC and fire protection.

One way a smart building improves thermal comfort while reducing electricity use is by communicating with a smart power grid.  Electricity markets are moving toward real-time provisioning and pricing. Users can receive requests from the smart grid to decrease usage when demand and prices are high or if the grid has become unstable.

These types of systems are easily integrated into a metal building design to gather information about electricity use in every part of the building. Steel framing provides plenty of space for information technology to be embedded within the building and keep it accessible for maintenance and repair.

smart steel buildings

Metal buildings easily flex into smart architecture

Humans react to the environment in a variety of ways. People are typically more productive and comfortable when they can work with natural light, comfortable temperatures, and appropriate ventilation.

Steel building design accommodates almost any shape and provides excellent framing options for windows, skylights, and other ways of transmitting natural light. With specialized window treatments, light can be dimmed or enhanced as needed. Also, it is now possible to purchase window glass with photovoltaic cells embedded within it. Transparency is not affected, and more energy can be generated independently of the grid.

Ventilation systems are readily mounted in a steel building frame, which leaves more room for such equipment than traditional construction materials. Extra room also exists for additional insulation or sound-absorbing materials to lower the noise of ventilation shafts or other building systems.

Smart architecture includes smart room design. Colors and acoustics, reverberation and glare all impact the comfort of building occupants. Steel paneling comes in an endless variety of colors and textures to create a productive ambiance and soften sounds or keep them from echoing.

Smart facades

Not all sustainable technology is installed within the building envelope. The outside of the building can be designed with enhanced steel and other materials.

For example, titanium dioxide tiles are available that can be mounted to the building’s exterior. These tiles filter the surrounding air and destroy pollutants. Thermal bimetal shades have been developed that curl when the heat rises, allowing more air to pass through. When it cools down, the shades close.

Steel is very accepting of various coatings. A facade can be impregnated with algae that soak up the sunlight to heat water. Nanomaterials provide ultralight and extremely strong thin or transparent facades. Nanocomposite steel is already available that is three times stronger than conventional steel.

Steel plays an essential role in sustainability

  • Steel is 100% recyclable. It can be reused without additional processing. Over 88% of existing steel is made from recycled steel. The energy and labor required for steel production have sharply decreased over the past thirty years, and almost no water is used. Water that is added is then recycled endlessly and never discharged into the environment.

    Because steel is so easily recycled, there is no need to expand landfills to accommodate it. Demolitionists actually pay to take down structures with steel so they can sell the scrap.
  • Steel can be used for so many things because it can be made more or less rigid as needed. It can be rigid enough to hold up a bridge or flexible enough to allow seismic tremors to pass through it without cracking.
  • Steel can be coated with an array of materials or made to look like any material. Colors and textures are available to make this simple metal look like anything else while providing strength and durability.
  • Steel members can have holes cut in it to allow piping, cabling, and wiring run underneath a floor system, reducing the floor-to-floor height in multistory buildings. As an energy saving device, steel can reflect light and heat and discharges heat rapidly.
  • Steel, all by itself, can serve as part of the fire protection system, enhancing safety and reducing loss of assets.
  • Steel is rugged, durable, and can be designed into shapes other materials cannot. Smart buildings need this sort of flexibility to take advantage of every bit of technology and natural resource possible.

We will say it again: smart buildings could not exist without steel.


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