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Fenestartion Forum: Oct 2010

The benefits of intelligent building materials


October 19, 2010
By Brian Burton

Topics

Advances in fenestration technologies and continuing interest in
high-tech buildings have created a renewed interest in “automated”
building components.

Advances in fenestration technologies and continuing interest in high-tech buildings have created a renewed interest in “automated” building components.

We are gradually moving into an era where we can expect increasing acceptance of the benefits of “intelligent” or dynamic building materials – as opposed to what we would typically refer to as “passive” elements.

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These components and materials, which we now see branded as being “smart,” are designed to respond to the external and interior environment to control daylighting, solar gain, ventilation and other performance parameters of the building.

We already see signs that this trend, in addition to addressing building envelope and fenestration components, will almost certainly involve integration with HVAC, lighting systems and other building components and systems.

It should be accepted that even relatively simple attempts at automating buildings have proven to be very complex processes. Not only are there numerous building components involved, but there are also many other factors that need to be carefully considered.

Those in the industry generally acknowledge that each building requires a different design approach depending on its use, size and orientation. In addition, we see that the range of options with regard to automation is expanding.

We have already learned that determining the impact on building performance can be difficult – especially when you are dealing with new, innovative technologies – some of which may be untested in large-scale building applications.

What this really means, according to the experts, is that automated or dynamic components will need to incorporate features that allow occupants to “override” automated operation.

As a result, most experts expect that these designs will require specialized consultants in order to correctly specify the materials and installation details.
When I spoke to several experts in this growing field, they agreed that more testing and research was imperative.

Shawn Ruff of Internat Energy Solutions Canada, a firm that specializes in energy consulting and computerized simulation, explains that research facilities are experimenting with modelling techniques that have the potential to accelerate our ability to predict and model performance.

Ruff emphasizes that there are many advantages when dynamic components are included in fenestration designs. He also points out that wind tunnel and guarded hotbox testing are often used in conjunction with computer simulation in evaluating new technology and system performance.

Architects and designers may use computer simulation to optimize daylighting, effectively control glare and improve natural ventilation. In addition, it may substantially improve energy efficiency, air quality, acoustics and general levels of comfort.

When I spoke to architects on the subject they suggested that some of the simplest and most effective automated controls were motion detectors. This is because it’s relatively simple to reduce or moderate building services such as lighting and heating when the building is unoccupied.

Utilizing these dynamic facade technologies can produce energy savings of 40 per cent to 60 per cent for an average-sized building, compared to passive envelope designs. There are also suggestions that some of these technologies will reduce maintenance costs and improve overall service life.

It is quite possible that the fenestration industry will soon be viewed as a model of innovation. This will come about not only because of effective and efficient utilization of existing resources, but also because of the way research and development is being applied to improve material and system performance.


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