Today’s best green building practices have the empirical evidence to show for it
By BETH ECKENRODE
The greatest trend we see today in the construction of new buildings is the movement toward evidencebased performance. Today, our entire book of clients is filled with those who feel it’s no longer good enough to design for high-performance or “green” buildings. Owners of buildings constructed in 2019 and 2020 demand proven performance in operations. As governments, companies, foundations, and prospective homebuyers raise their expectations around how buildings impact occupants and the environment, builders and developers are struggling mightily to identify which investments will deliver the promised financial results. To properly answer that question, we advocate connecting building science to smart building infrastructure. Irrespective of how experienced you might be in the fields of building science or smart building infrastructure, we believe there are a few “No Regrets Moves” builders and building owners can and should make as they consider the best path to improving building performance.
Establish Your Champion: Companies that pursue aspirational building goals are well advised to establish a building performance champion or hire an Owner’s Performance Advocate whose responsibility it is to set metrics-based goals. The goals will reflect the metrics owner’s plan to track and measure during operations like energy consumption, indoor air quality, etc. Owner’s Performance Advocates will clearly define the responsibilities and accountabilities for each project team member to the established goals. For new buildings, the Owner’s Performance Advocate should be the first member to join the owner’s team.
Build the Right Team: As they say in our industry, if you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. As you build your team, it is imperative that the project team is sourced to meet the pre-established goals. If you are pursuing low-energy goals, then you need to hire an architect experienced in Passive House design. Despite its name, Passive House is a building science that puts as much emphasis on the performance of the building envelope as it does the performance of the active mechanical systems. Only when a building has properly optimized its passive and active performance-based systems will the renewables strategy be financially optimized. Think of it this way, the greater the performance of the envelope, the smaller the mechanical systems — then the use of renewables to offset the remaining energy use, is much more affordable. You know you have built the right team when each team member is leading the team’s thinking in their area of expertise.
Repurpose Your Model: Construction is the only industry where investors seem willing to make hundred million-dollar investments and not simulate performance before the investment is made. But that is all changing with the advent of whole-building simulation software. Traditional mechanical engineers have used similar subcomponent software in the past to design and source mechanical systems and equipment. The simulating capabilities of IES VE, for example, allows project teams to construct “what if” energy conservation measures and bundles of measures before one dollar is spent in construction. This type of investment in a digital twin pays off quickly as it becomes an asset that lives with the building for its life. Repurposing traditional subcomponent modeling funds into advanced whole-building simulation software that becomes a long-term asset is a major win.
Mind Your Building Controls: The largest macrotrend in the built environment is the shift from proprietary building controls to open-integrated smart building technology. If you need proof, simply Google the Internet of Things (IoT). Leveraging IoT in the near-term future requires open infrastructure that is flexible and scalable to remove obsolete meters and sensors and quickly deploy the latest in IoT innovation, without replacing the platform. The challenge in implementing this “no regret” move is in the management of legacy systems, as no owner wants to decommission building controls prior to the expiration of the system. But there are a variety of ways to balancing legacy systems with open-integrated platforms. In many cases, open-integrated networks are far less expensive than proprietary systems. As you build your team, it’s important to onboard a controls team that has experience with cybersecurity in an open-integrated platform.
Own Your Data: The end game for most measurement and verification systems is data. For those interested in building performance, you will want transparent access to and control over your data in a single secure cross-platform system. Access to your data enables simple data analytics, cross platform data analytics, fault detection diagnostics, facilities maintenance systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
The list of “no regret moves” detailed above is the simplest approach to connecting design and construction to building operations in the built environment using empirical data. If you find yourself staring at a building performance dashboard and wondering if you are winning or losing, it’s likely you are losing. The technology exists today to know cost effectively and in realtime if your building is operating as designed.
Beth Eckenrode, BS-IE, MBA, is a Co-Founder of AUROS Group and an expert in energy-efficient building methods.