Smart Sustainable Building Design and Management for creating Smart Homes for the elderly

Author: Dr Aleksandar Petrovski STSM Period: 2021-06-28 – 2021-07-25

ECI: Yes

Hosting institution: Greengineers

ITC: Yes


The society in the developed countries is steadily ageing. Researchers note that there is an increasing tendency among the elderly to stay at home, especially pronounced during the covid-19 pandemic, thus requiring new building design and technologies for supporting the conductance of their daily activities.
Even more, in this period, the lack of healthcare workers and other human and technical resources is even more evident, producing larger difficulties for elderly assistance. These issues, among others, stress the need of utilizing the benefits of Active Assisted Living (AAL) and Smart Homes have to offer and even more, to advance their development for enabling healthy aging of the buildings` elderly occupants. Hence, the Smart home technology is a research field of great interest and various assistive technologies have been developed for sensing, interaction, passive monitoring as well as emergency assistance. The automation technology of buildings and automation of buildings involves a set of devices, systems and subsystems that control the operation of a building.
The design and development of Smart Buildings and Habitat is a demanding task, considering its uniqueness due to the adaptation to the needs of its occupants. Smart home IoT based system for the elderly are developed as well as for people with partial memory loss in order to improve their safety and help them in the everyday life. Significant part of the Smart Home and AAL is the multifunctional furniture used for monitoring and assistance of certain illnesses of the occupants, as well as physical and mental impairments thus enabling them to have a more active and productive life. Issues that arise are noted, such as reliability and real-time adaptation to environmental conditions, as well as real-time management systems for monitoring and reacting to the indoor/outdoor climate conditions, comfort, buildings performance (energy efficiency etc.) and even more importantly, the occupants wellbeing, especially the elder ones. In order to improve the accessibility, functionality, ergonomics and safety of the elderly’s homes an interdisciplinary approach is required which would integrate the smart home and assistive
technologies, healthcare technologies with the buildingsmanagement system and in the Smart Buildings design. Albeit significant progress has been made, researchers note that the present smart home solutions do not take into consideration the elderly’s emotional goals, hence proposing emotion-oriented smart home platforms.
This research aims to investigate the advancements of the holistic integration of technologies for BuildingsManagement Services (BMS) of Smart Buildings which is directly improving the elderly occupants comfort and to identify potential for monitoring and assisting the needs and wellbeing of the elderly occupants by regulating the building itself and its components. This will not only enable the creation of ambient assisted
living, but moreover empower the elder occupants to do so in a sustainable manner.
The objective of this STSM research is to contribute towards integration of Building Management systems, with a focus on Building Information Modelling (BIM), that not only manage the buildings performance and regulate the interior comfort conditions, but they do so in relation to the Smart Furniture and other assistive technologies that are provided to meet the needs of the elderly occupants. Having a deeper understanding
of the correlation between the smart habitat and the occupants as well as the technological possibilities, will enable the buildings design project team to make informed and integral solutions at the crucial early design stages of the smart buildings` project, thus ensuring its success.
The output of this STSM research will contribute to the deliverables of WG1 and WG4. It will also contribute to the overarching aims and objectives whole of the 16226 SHELD-ON COST actions in achieving smart habitats that would assist the elderly towards an active, healthy and fulfilling aging. Thus, the STSM will directly contribute towards the Specific objectives of the CA 16226 SHELD-ON Action, such as: RCO1 and RCO4. The STSM will potentially result in a research paper regarding the possibilities of BMS and BIM for delivery of Smart Habitats for the elderly, an AAL, comfortable indoor conditions and Sustainable Building operation and management. The findings and results produced during the STSM will be published in a relevant conference or journal, such as Journal of Architecture, Journal of Architectural Research or Ergonomics.


At the commencing of the STSM I had the opportunity to investigate up close the present situation of construction of smart homes in Romania. Most common Smart Home technologies which are applied in the residential sector are noted. The Host shared his views and experience of his office regarding design workflow and project management via BIM tools. In that regard, semi-structured interview was performed with the Host in order to investigate the possibilities and obstacles the BIM environment provides when designing smart and sustainable buildings.
During the STSM an analysis was performed regarding the core challenges which the elderly are facing with. A literature search was performed in Scopus and Science Direct with the keywords, “smart homes”, “BIM”, “elderly”, “smart technologies”, and more than 200 papers are listed in the last 2 years only. During the STSM, more than 60 research papers and articles have been reviewed. Smart technologies are examined for fall prevention, assistance for elderly with dementia, smart wearable‟s for psychological monitoring, speech recognition, smart appliances and devices for everyday and healthcare application at home etc.
Following the work plan, an extensive research was performed regarding technologies such as BIM/BMS/BEM, especially from an architectural standpoint. The research focus was on how to integrate them during the building‟s design and operational phase in order to deliver Smart Habitat/Home. Multitudes of supportive technologies and tools that can be integrated in the BIM environment are classified related to the dimensions of BIM they can address such as: energy performance, technologies for indoor comfort monitoring, control and adapting to the elderly` needs using AI behavioural recognition patterns etc.
Also, several projects provide solutions for BIM IoT integration via platforms and apps, some of which using augmented reality, gasification etc. The rate of implementation of smart BIM is examined and various current obstacles are noted as well as possibilities for broader implementation. The aspects of BIM technology interoperability and formats are analysed altogether with issues leading to lack of technology
acceptance from the engineers and from the end-users, i.e. the elderly.
During the analysis new innovative solutions and guidelines for Smart Buildings architectural design of residential spaces for the elderly are identified as well as aspects of universal, inclusive and barrier-free design. Various smart building components are established which can significantly improve the occupants wellbeing, performing of their daily routine, safety and comfort. Passive and active design systems are investigated along with their contribution towards improvement of the indoor comfort, energy performance of the building, possibilities for monitoring, control and adjusting to the user needs, i.e. the elderly.
More importantly by defining the operational characteristics and properties of the buildings materials/components, smart materials and smart devices in a BIM/BMS setting can significantly contribute to their broader utilization and optimization during the design phase and more importantly to their controllability and adjustment in the operational phase. In that way the BMS and BIM technologies can significantly contribute to the delivery of AAL, Smart Habitats as well as indoor comfort for the elderly and overall Sustainable performance of the building. Also, the research examined the need for an integrative, multidisciplinary approach in Smart Buildings and Habitats design for the elderly utilizing BIM.


During the STSM the current situation of Smart Homes in Romania is investigated. It is noted that the share of Smart Homes construction in relation to the total residential construction is only 5%. However, the demand for Smart homes is significantly increasing having a growth of 30% per year. For example in some Western European countries, such as Belgium and France, the Smart Homes construction participates with 60% of the total of the newly built residential buildings. AAL technologies are penetrating the Romanian market and annually there is an ALL forum held which is part of the annual European Week of Active and Healthy Ageing.
A semi-structured interview was conducted with the Host giving several specific conclusions. On the question which are the most common applications of Smart Home technologies, the interviewee listed according to his own experience in the professional practice technologies such as: energy management of the apartment/building, lighting control, ambient sound or music control, automation of windows shades/blinds/drapes, smart management of appliances etc. Also, very common technology is video intercom connected to the mobile phone via app so that the users can monitor the cameras placed in their homes. Another technology that is getting in popularity is the CO sensor to monitor and which prevent gas leaks, often coupled with smoke sensor for fire prevention. Smart energy management is probably most rapidly gaining in popularity among various age groups in Romania, as people use it to program the heating/cooling temperature and monitor overall buildings` energy performance.
The interviewee stated that for certain older clients it is becoming more common to install motion sensors with the lighting. This is very important for the elderly at night when going to the bathroom as it happens that they slip due to inadequate light, fall and break a bone, most commonly the hip. Even though older apartments are equipped with older technology, adapters and fixtures can turn them into smart ones and
easily adjusted and synchronized.
The available Smart Technologies in the Romanian market are most commonly accompanied by apps which can be configured and programmed and each room can be adjusted independently according to the user’s needs, occupancy regime and personal preferences. From the questions various aspects are extracted as important for a successful implementation of Smart Homes technologies, such as: costs, invasiveness level to the occupants, functionalities, usability and interface etc.
Many specific results have been obtained from the semi-structured interview performed with the Host regarding possibilities and obstacles for utilizing the BIM environment for the design of smart and sustainable buildings. The Host extensively uses BIM in his everyday work and the interviewee has a proficient use of BIM with more than 7 years. His office uses BIM models for the integration all of the engineering phases in order to assess the buildings` sustainability. They use mostly ArchiCad and less frequently Revit. The other engineering projects are outsourced to electricians, HVAC engineers etc. and each of them uses plugins in their BIM tools. On the question which phases are integrated in the BIM environment, the response is that mostly the architectural and the structural models are integrated, while the electrical, water and plumbing, as well as heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and cooling (HVAC) are intermittently integrated. The integration of the latter ones depends on the skills, knowledge and available technology to the engineers working on their projects. In that regard several obstacles are noted, such as: need for computing power among all stakeholders, need of adequate BIM knowledge and experience, need for continuous coordination among the engineers etc. Also, a very important issue is stressed, which is having a dedicated BIM model manager in order to resolve the technical difficulties that arise when multiple engineers work on a same model. The Hosts` office has a good level of experience with Smart Technologies and he assessed them as highly beneficial technologies for the elderly especially when integrated with BIM tools.
During the research it is concluded that the Smart Technology can be categorized for monitoring the elderly and for monitoring the building, which can be further divided in three parts: interior conditions, appliances and devices, and building components. It is noted that designing buildings in the BIM environment is probably the most efficient means for creating Smart Habitats and AAL. Also, BIM can be used for mapping of existing buildings and the creation of digital twin integrated with IoT sensors and thus collect real-time environment data. From the state of the art review it is evident that working in a BIM environment substantially improves the efficiency and efficacy of the design process and significantly increases the quality of the buildings design.
Another specific result of the STSM is the identification of the process of selection and design of AAL system is evidented, proposed by authors, as follows: sensor selection, data acquisition, recognition of elementary actions and evaluation of complex behaviours. Also, it is noted that there is a need for human-centered approach, need for big data management, tools for behavioural pattern recognition and learning, need of adaptive systems, interdisciplinary approach etc.
Further, more than 15 Smart Homes projects are examined showing rapid and significant development and 4 advancement. It is concluded that they are fulfilling their task in delivering AAL, sustainable building performance and being cost-efficient on a longer term basis. Some of the technologies utilized are: home ubiquitous system, based on audio and video processing, fall detection using microphones only or
cameras, as well as use of companion robots, various kinds of wearable‟s smart materials, ambient sensors, speech recognition, apps etc. It is concluded that the available IoT based healthcare applications for elderly are categorized into 11 main groups, among which are aged care monitoring, human activit recognition etc.
With the research on Smart Homes BIM environment, several specific conclusions and layed out. At first, it is evidented that there are multitude of tools developed for addressing all the dimensions of BIM and requirements of Smart Homes and AAL. The overall modelling of the building design and systems is mostly done in Revit, ArchiCAD, Vectorworks etc., and in some extent in Rhinoceros 3D with Grashopper plugins such as LadyBug and Honeybee etc. The BEMS is mostly supported by tools as: Dynamo for scripting; EnegyPlus, ESP-r, TRNSYS, DOE-2 for energy efficiency calculation; light analysis by DaySim; LCA with Gabi, Tally, OneClickLCA etc. In that regard, BIM integrates energy performance and LCA analysis for the quantification of the embodied environmental impact of the building, waste management, health and safety monitoring etc. It is noted that generating BIMs for existing buildings is usually performed in three steps, from 3D point cloud data collection, semantization of the components (attributes, position, interdependency etc.) and most often manual creation of the BIM model.
It is concluded that all of the comfort aspect can be addressed by the available Smart Technology and monitoring the building‟s interior comfort conditions (air temperature, humidity, air velocity, surface temperature, glare from surrounding buildings, Fanger‟s predicted mean vote (PMV) etc.). Even more, BIM can integrate monitoring of occupancy rate, occupancy density and position, user behaviour and other behavioural aspects, thus enabling adequate and timely reaction to the user needs, and more importantly, the elderly needs.
However it is noted that most often, only a couple of needs are taken into consideration simultaneously in the BMS design. The integration of all building related and user related parameters can be achieved via a multi-objective optimization within a BIM/BMS/IoT system, which accompanied by AI, ANN and ML can be used to predict user behaviour and adapt the buildings efficient performance, monitoring and operation accordingly (energy demand forecast, temperature, lighting, facade actuators etc.). The downside is that learning algorithms require large training datasets for prediction of elderly behaviour. Considering that different age groups have different thermal needs, personal systems are proposed, which can complement the conditioning system or work autonomously while providing user customization.
Even more, it is concluded that the advancement and outreach of BIM can be extended on a larger level, such as the neighbourhood or on city level, leading to a City Information Modelling (CIM) based on IoT, which in turn would demand storage and processing of the big volume of data. In that regards, GIS based monitoring is proposed for monitoring the performance on a city scale of individual buildings using BIM and
IoT. Also BIM is used for the computation of the housing age-friendliness index (HAFI) and the achievement of projects goals for Smart Habitat for the elderly in the early design phase.
From the review it is concluded that, even though multipurpose platforms consisted of CAD, BIM, BMS, IoT and GIS data are proposed, considering their complexity they surpass the conventional computing power, especially the need for visual representation (buildings „layout, 3d model of the building, graphs and performance, real-time cameras, 360° pictures etc.) as more understandable to users.
From the research it is concluded that game engines (among which Unity 3D) are efficient tools for creating virtual environment of the room and contribute to the Things2People interactive process. Also, web-based platform (Otaniemi3D) is developed for integration of BIM and IoT for displaying buildings performance, energy usage, occupancy, and user comfort. Other authors use gamification and augmented reality for such display.
It is concluded that the developed of Smart Apps is at a rapid pace. One such app is the Aalto Space for controlling air conditioning, ventilation, set point temperature, CO2 levels (to be added) etc. The apps perform in a highly visual manner, while allowing wide user engagement feedback and enabling user rating of the interior comfort levels.
From the research it is concluded that in order to have a wider application of Smart BIM it is of great importance to have a large number of smart library objects as standardized building components in an IFC format, with predefined smart properties. Several such objects are described, such as: Smart Kitchen Table with attributes such as: touch screen surface (temperature adjusting, browsing etc.), multimedia networking for communication of appliances, dynamic table top (cooking can on any area of the surface); 5 Smart Wall with attributes (acoustics, texture, reflectivity, conductivity etc.) allowing changeable scenery, interactive touch surfaces on the wall, supporting telecare for the elderly, interior comfort control system et.; Smart Floor as a BIM object can be described with various attributes (texture, slippage grade, colours, signage etc.) and can be equipped with sensors (movement, pressure etc.) for the detection of occupants positions, activities, use patterns and identifying irregular patterns or issues, thus sending distress signals to healthcare workers or family members.
It is concluded that Smart furniture is probably the most developed domain with numerous of products providing monitoring, assistance, interaction, responsiveness etc. Besides BIM, during the building‟s design phase, Building responsive Modelling can be used as a simulator for smart objects and spaces and to visualize their behaviour (ViSi for SM4All, ISS: Interactive Smart Home Simulator, CASS etc.). Further,
the Building interactive and responsive Modelling (V-PlaceSims) enable model-user interaction according to the users’ activities and patterns, meaning that the users can interact with the spatial building entities via avatars.
Even though there is a rapid development of BIM and IoT, it is evidented that their use is rare. Issues that are noted are: technical challenges due to incompatibility, interoperability, challenges in automated BIM creation, BIM update and handling large, uncertain BIM data etc.
From the research it is concluded that most of the smart home solutions for the elderly do not address their emotional needs, leading to lack of acceptance of the technology. Authors propose emotion-oriente engineering such as the case with the development of SofiHub, a smart home platform made of hardware and software devices for sensing, interaction, passive monitoring, and emergency assistance. The testing
shows that the platform addresses their loneliness, improves their feeling of safety and feeling cared about, thus accepting and utilizing the technology. The Emotion-Oriented Design approach should be also part of the BMS for AAL for elderly in order to have a broader acceptance of such technologies in the elderly’s homes.
Also cyber security breaches and privacy concerns are a large issue in smart technology acceptance.
Blockhain is a possible technology to allow safe authorization and authentication; end-to-end communication monitoring between the sensors, assignment of privileges, security process control and security response etc., all of which are in support of the BIM/BMS utilization. Also, in order to be more widely adopted it is required to be sustainably designed, considering social, environmental and economic aspects and waste reduction within the concept of the circular economy.


During the research a strong partnership relationship has been developed with the Host. The STSM research, besides being fruitful and contributing to the aims and objectives COST CA 16226 Action, it enabled establishing grounds for future research topics in this domain. In that regard several talks were held with brainstorming research ideas as a follow up work on the performed STSM regarding Smart Materials  integration in BIM, their properties description and modelling. This can contribute to surpassing the issue noted during the STSM regarding the lack of extensive libraries for Smart Building Components/Devices.
The knowledge exchange between the Host and the Guest will enable further a mutual collaboration in order to apply for joint research and EU funded projects on similar topics regarding smart technologies and BIM. Also the STSM will provide basis establishing future collaboration and networking with possibilities for staff exchange, guest lecture and a joint work in educating students, conducting seminars and workshops
for professionals in the BIM industry.
The findings and results produced during the STSM will be published in a relevant conference or journal, such as Journal of Architecture, Journal of Building Engineering, Building and Environment etc.