It is impossible to miss the current tech upgrade cycle. The CRE market faces the same challenge as other industries, evolve or pay the price. Building modernization is a non-negotiable, though many challenges remain.
Commercial buildings face a daunting task because they remain in use for many decades. According to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about one half of all buildings in the commercial building stock were constructed before 1980. As of 2012, the median age of buildings was 32 years old.
The Current Building Upgrade Cycle
The statistics point to the massive building upgrade cycle happening now. While building upgrades can be built into operating budgets, the challenges have grown exponentially because the modernization line items have changed. Building upgrades are not confined to the replacement of existing equipment as part of an operations and maintenance plan. Rather, today’s building modernization challenge must bring new functionality to commercial buildings to address demands by a new generation of tenants.
We know that the asset digitization trend within the CRE market has accelerated. Unfortunately, many confine this trend to industry buzzwords such as “digital twins.” Important to be sure. From the perspective of tenants, however, the issue of asset digitization is much simpler.
Tenants expect more. Increasingly, tenant’s expectations of the technology features packaged within the space serve as a differentiator when comparing different options for space. At a high level, asset digitization enables prospective tenants to compare and contrast different space options based on a digitized listing of features of the commercial space. In as much as $/sqft is a distinguishable parameter to compare different spaces, any Smart Building feature a tenant cares about can be used to digitally sort commercial spaces of interest.
From the building owner or operator perspective, Smart Building features are important for ROI with respect to operations and maintenance. From the tenant perspective, on the other hand, Smart Building features are important for the ultimate leasing decision. Anytime an office space market softens, building owners and operators will be left scrambling to promote the desirability of their vacant spaces.
Focusing solely on the end user’s perspective, let’s examine some key technology features that can drive the attractiveness of commercial space to a tenant. To do so, let’s use the WELL Building Standard as a guideline for features that promote “better building to help people thrive.”
Indoor Air Pollution Concerns Tenants
WELL establishes requirements in buildings that promote clean air and reduce or minimize the sources of indoor air pollution. The amount of time spent in a commercial space drives home the importance of minimizing indoor air pollution. No one would consider office space acceptable if they knew that Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), combustion byproducts, and airborne Particulate Matter (PM) were at levels that could trigger nausea, headaches, asthma, or respiratory irritation.
The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of commercial spaces have no way to continuously measure Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). In true asset digitization of CRE, tenants will evaluate potential space based on the support for real-time IAQ monitoring, or the lack of support of any form of IAQ assurance.
Real-time IAQ monitoring makes commercial space inherently more attractive. The Internet of Things (IoT) excels in delivering cost-effective building modernization in wireless retrofit IAQ projects.
Lighting Enhances Tenant Productivity
WELL establishes requirements in buildings for delivering crucial lighting conditions for a broad variety of tenant activities. Brightness levels can contribute to the perception of spaciousness, as well as to the overall visual appeal of illuminated spaces, which can promote tenant productivity.
In addition to lighting retrofits, electrochromic glass can be used to shift from clear to opaque based on external stimuli such as an electrical current or UV rays. It eliminates the need for shades and other window treatments, while adapting to current conditions passively.
Dynamic glass (see illustration) can be used to retrofit commercial space to maximize daylighting while reducing heat and glare.
Noise Halts Tenant Productivity
WELL establishes requirements in buildings to promote tenant comfort. Particular attention should be placed on the most common sources of physiological disruption, distraction and irritation.
Exterior noise from traffic or urban activity as well as internally-generated noise can represent major sources of stress to building occupants. HVAC systems and other mechanical equipment in the building can be the most annoying because they represent the responsibility of the building owner or operator.
Wireless IoT sound sensors can be used to provide tenant assurance of acoustic levels at all segments of the occupied space. Objective and continuous measurements of sound levels, especially in sensitive areas, can represent a valuable feature to compare different commercial space for lease.
Why is the Hot/Cold Problem Still a Problem?
Thermal comfort has remained a contentious issue for tenants. WELL has codified thermal comfort in buildings because temperature can affect mood, performance and productivity of occupants. Everyone knows that.
HVAC analysis is currently driving building performance and sustainability trends for building owners and operators. The tenant side of the equation has not necessarily been the focus.
The obvious first step is the provision of real-time visibility of internal thermal conditions to tenants. Real-time dashboards of temperature, humidity and CO2 go a long way to providing true value to tenants. The second step is individual control of HVAC parameters (e.g., setpoints) by tenants. IoT examples of such advanced functionality have the potential to create amazing workplace experiences.
Building owners have to understand the needs of the next generation of tenants. The will increasingly make informed choices when comparing leasable space. Asset digitization that codifies available technology features will enable them to make an informed choice.