Building Performance And Operations At Core Of Plan Proposed By Industry Experts

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

Determining a building’s energy efficiency based solely on using predictive energy models and specifying certain design and construction attributes may be a thing of the past by the time the next generation of architects and engineers join the workforce. Communities and owners want measurable performance data: they want to know whether greenhouse gas emissions are lower, whether energy consumption has been reduced and even whether the building has achieved zero-energy usage. Models remain an important tool, but the actual data after the building is operational is what truly shows whether efficiency expectations have been realized.

In the summer of 2014, a group of thought leaders from the building industry gathered in Seattle, WA to examine the opportunities, barriers, and next steps that will transition the commercial building industry from estimating energy use, based on models in the design phase, to measuring real performance outcomes, based on actual energy use in an occupied building. Now the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and New Buildings Institute (NBI) have released the report, Getting To Outcome-Based Performance, which summarizes the results of that 2014 meeting.

“In the past 15 years, we have seen significant advances in the way buildings are being designed to achieve high-performance goals,” said NIBS Presidential Advisor Ryan Colker. “To ensure we’re seeing the benefits of those goals, we don’t want to rely on energy savings predictions. Actual, measured outcomes matter. The industry needs to use a holistic approach that puts the focus on real performance outcomes in order to achieve the energy-efficiency goals expected over the life of a building.”

This transition, which will involve a number of audiences including facility management professionals and other building operators, designers, building owners, real estate and finance professionals, lawyers, occupants, and policymakers, will take some time. Last summer’s Summit, sponsored by The American Institute of Architects, Illuminating Engineering Society, International Association of Lighting Designers, and Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance as well as NIBS and NBI, was the first step in laying out a comprehensive approach.

Outcome-based energy code compliance offers an alternative option to verify a building’s energy performance after it is occupied and operational.
Outcome-based energy code compliance offers an alternative option to verify a building’s energy performance after it is occupied and operational. (Credit: SERA Architects.)

The push for performance outcomes comes in response to an increasing number of policy goals targeting better building efficiency as a means to cut energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings account for 39% of carbon emissions in the United States and are a major contributor to climate change worldwide.

“As design features become more energy efficient, the proportion of building energy use associated with operations increases,” said NBI Technical Director Mark Frankel. “This means the role of building operators must be elevated and more focus placed on occupant behaviors especially related to growing plug loads. Better feedback mechanisms are needed to help design teams understand how their past projects are being used in order to improve energy models for future projects.”

Summit participants were charged with delving into these issues and developing strategies to address them. They covered implications for performance outcomes on a range of topics from policy considerations related to energy codes, to benchmarking and disclosure, to determining who among the various parties is responsible for meeting specific performance goals. Collectively, the group identified recommended actions and needs based on their vision for the industry including:

  • Compiling a collection of tools and resources for policymakers and industry, including case studies that identify and evaluate projects and programs focused on outcomes; advocacy tools to explain the benefits of the approaches used and best practices for adoption; and a “how-to” guide written in plain language that lays out the business case and risks.
  • Developing a method for gathering and storing building-level data that allows for the study and analysis of current building performance data and modeling in order to set more meaningful performance targets. This effort, accompanied by advancements in energy modeling, will help drive better understanding of the gap between predicted and actual performance. The industry needs guides on “How to Model for Outcomes” and “Developing an Outcome-Based Performance Scope of Work.”
  • Conducting pilot projects to test the concept components in order to expand the set of case studies. Practitioners and owners should start incorporating targets in their projects immediately. Additional pilots should be conducted within government projects. The pending Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power plant carbon emissions can provide a platform for implementation—a model framework for inclusion in state plans should be developed.

The team working to transition the industry to performance outcomes reached a major milestone with the adoption of an outcome-based compliance pathway in the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) last fall. That provision, supported by NIBS, NBI, and others, will allow owners to demonstrate code compliance by providing utility bills to verify energy use targets are being met. The finalized 2015 IgCC, which local jurisdictions can review and adopt, is scheduled to be released in June 2015.

“The next step will be getting others in the building industry to begin preparing for outcome performance as the new norm,” said Colker.