Buying the Right Sensors in Buildings

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In the rapidly evolving landscape of smart buildings, sensors play a pivotal role in transforming spaces into intelligent, responsive environments. From temperature and humidity sensors to motion detectors and gas monitors, the array of options can be overwhelming. Selecting the right sensors for your business is crucial to ensuring seamless operations, enhanced efficiency, and occupant safety. In this article, we will delve into the various types of smart building sensors, explore their functions, and provide key insights into making informed decisions for your building’s needs.

Related Link: What is a Smart Building and How Will it Benefit You?

Understanding Temperature Sensors: Maintaining Ideal Conditions

Temperature sensors, as the name suggests, are designed to measure heat and detect changes in temperature. Traditionally used to control heating and air conditioning, these sensors have found new applications with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT). In manufacturing and computing environments, where machines are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, smart temperature sensors automate heating, ventilation, and air conditioning controls to maintain optimal conditions. Moreover, these sensors play a vital role in ensuring safety and comfort, especially in spaces that need to be safeguarded against potential risks like legionella exposure. By utilizing temperature sensors, businesses can automate responses to temperature changes, reduce energy consumption, and prevent potential hazards.

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Types of Temperature Sensors:

●     Semiconductor-based sensors: These sensors consist of identical diodes placed on an integrated circuit. They use temperature-sensitive voltage compared to current conditions, enabling them to record temperature changes accurately.

●     Thermocouple: Comprising two wires made from different metals placed at different points, this sensor measures the change in voltage between the two points to determine temperature variations.

●     Resistance Temperature Detector (RTD): These sensors feature a film or wire wrapped around a ceramic or glass core. Temperature is measured based on the resistance between the element with temperature, making RTDs the most accurate but also the most expensive type of temperature sensor.

●     Negative Temperature Coefficient Thermistor (NTC): NTC thermistors exhibit high resistance at low temperatures, and as the temperature increases, the resistance quickly drops, providing quick and accurate temperature readings.

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Monitoring Humidity with Humidity Sensors

Humidity sensors, also known as relative humidity sensors, measure the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. In addition to temperature, the presence of moisture in the air can cause various issues, such as condensation leading to corrosion of machinery. Humidity sensors are used to maintain ideal conditions and respond promptly to any changes in moisture levels. From homes and businesses to manufacturing plants, hospitals, and museums, humidity sensors find applications in environments sensitive to moisture.

Types of Humidity Sensors:

●     Capacitive: This type of sensor has a porous dielectric substance at its center, surrounded by two electrodes. When water vapor reaches the electrodes, it creates a voltage change, allowing the sensor to monitor humidity accurately.

●     Resistive: Less sensitive than capacitive sensors, resistive sensors also operate based on electrical changes to measure relative humidity. They use ions in salts to measure resistance changes on the electrodes.

●     Thermal: Utilizing two matched thermal sensors that conduct electricity based on ambient humidity, this type of sensor can accurately detect humidity changes based on the difference between the two sensors.

Related Link: What Is BIPV? Building Integrated Photovoltaics

Optimizing Spaces with Motion/Occupancy Sensors

Motion and occupancy sensors detect physical movement, whether it’s caused by people, animals, or objects, and transform this information into an electric signal. Traditionally used for security purposes, motion sensors are now being employed to enhance space utilization and energy efficiency in smart buildings. By automating building controls like heating and lighting based on occupancy, businesses can reduce energy consumption and operational costs. Furthermore, motion and occupancy sensors provide valuable insights into room utilization, allowing organizations to optimize space and increase productivity.

Types of Motion/Occupancy Sensors:

Motion Sensors or Passive Infra-Red (PIR) Sensors: These sensors detect heat emitted by people, allowing them to identify the presence of individuals within their field of view. Privacy-compliant PIR sensors come in various forms, making them easy to install and cost-effective.

●     Desk Occupancy Sensors: Placed under desks, these PIR sensors feature a hood covering half of the sensor, making them highly accurate in detecting individuals under desks.

●     Table Occupancy Sensors: Similar to desk sensors, these PIR sensors stick to the underside of tables and use a narrow-angle lens to detect individuals around a table.

●     Room Occupancy Sensors: Mounted on the ceiling, these sensors have a 360-degree field of view and use a wide-angle lens to detect people within a broader range.

●     Cubicle Occupancy Sensors: These sensors detect movement within a 180-degree view and are ideal for spaces like toilets or meeting cubicles.

Understanding Time-of-Flight Sensors: Effective Entry/Exit Monitoring

Time-of-flight sensors emit an infrared light beam that reflects off a person and returns to the sensor, providing an accurate distance calculation. These sensors are effective entry/exit sensors, detecting people’s movement towards or away from the sensor. They are commonly used to monitor real-time people flow through single-occupant doorways. Privacy-compliant people-flow sensors can help organizations determine the number of people in a space without using cameras or capturing personal information.

Exploring Infrared Array Sensors: Multi-Purpose Sensing

Infrared array sensors enable the detection of motionless or moving objects, thermal images, temperature distribution, and moving direction based on temperature variations. These sensors can accurately measure temperature and shape as a person or object moves nearer or further away from the sensor. While not offered as off-the-shelf products currently, bespoke solutions are available for specific applications.

Enhancing Safety with Contact Sensors

Contact sensors, also known as position or status sensors, are a simple yet effective way to determine whether a door, window or similar mechanism is open or closed. Comprising two parts fixed to the door or window and its frame, these sensors detect changes in magnetic fields to determine the status of openings. Building monitoring using contact sensors provides valuable insights into the live status of doors and windows, helping organizations identify unlocked doors, open or broken windows, and occupancy in rooms. Automation based on live occupancy ensures enhanced safety, security, and energy efficiency.

Monitoring Air Quality with Gas/Air-Quality Sensors

Gas sensors monitor changes in air quality and detect the presence of various gasses, making them essential in environments where air quality is critical. From manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries to petrochemical and mining facilities, gas sensors are employed to detect combustible or toxic gasses, monitor air quality, and ensure a safe working environment. Rising carbon dioxide levels can affect comfort and well-being in well-insulated buildings, making environmental monitoring vital for maintaining air quality and employee productivity.

Types of Air-Quality Sensors:

●     Oxygen Sensor: An electrochemical sensor that can detect any gas that can be oxidized or reduced electrochemically.

●     Carbon Monoxide Sensor: Another electrochemical sensor that operates similarly to the oxygen sensor.

●     Carbon Dioxide Sensor: An infrared detection sensor that transmits an infrared beam through a light tube, measuring the remaining energy in the beam to determine carbon dioxide levels.

Monitoring Electrical Consumption with Current Monitoring Sensors

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Electrical current (CT) sensors provide real-time energy consumption measurements at the circuit, zone, or machine level. Understanding energy usage is essential for identifying wasteful practices, optimizing energy consumption, and automatically switching off assets not in use. Additionally, monitoring electrical current helps identify abnormalities in machinery and schedule maintenance only when necessary, reducing downtime and operational costs.

Types of CT Sensors:

●     Split Core: These sensors can be opened and fitted around a conductor, making them suitable for existing configurations.

●     Hall Effect / DC: Utilizing the Hall Effect, these sensors measure both AC and DC current. They can be open or closed-loop, offering different benefits in terms of cost, accuracy, and response time.

●     Rogowski Coils: These flexible current transformers are easy to install and consist of a thin coil wrapped around the conductor.

●     Solid Core: Ideal for new installations, solid core sensors are complete loops with no way of opening, offering high accuracy.

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Making Informed Decisions for Smart Building Sensors

The world of smart building sensors is vast, offering a multitude of options to enhance building efficiency, occupant safety, and environmental sustainability. By understanding the functions and benefits of various sensors, businesses can make informed decisions and select the right sensors for their specific needs. Whether it’s maintaining optimal temperature and humidity levels, optimizing space utilization, monitoring air quality, or enhancing energy efficiency, the right combination of sensors can unlock the full potential of smart buildings, transforming them into intelligent, responsive spaces that meet the needs of occupants and businesses alike.

Related Link: Why Hackers Love Smart Buildings [Security Update]

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Josh Mahan

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