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No Regrets Moves--Proving Building Performance

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

The greatest trend we see today in constructing or renovating sustainable buildings is the movement toward evidence-based 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 “sustainable” buildings; they are demanding proof of performance in operations.

Increasing public expectations around the impact buildings have on occupants is causing building owners and developers to carefully consider which sustainability investments have the greatest potential to deliver the promised financial results. To properly answer that question, we advocate connecting building science to smart building infrastructure.

Irrespective of how much experience you have in building science or smart building infrastructure, we believe there are a few “No Regrets Moves” building owners and developers can and should make as they consider the best path to improving building performance.

At a minimum, we believe that there are five (5) essential steps to consider when planning to build or retrofit your next high-performance building:

Establish Your Champion: Companies that pursue aspirations in 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 should 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 and electrical systems and renewable strategies. 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. We refer to this approach as the Natural Order of Sustainability. You know you have built the right team when each team member has aligned with the performance goals and is leading the team’s thinking in their area of expertise.

Repurpose Your BIM and BEM Models: 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 improvement in whole-building simulation software. Traditionally, mechanical engineers have used similar sub component 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 an “open” owner-controlled digital twin pays off quickly as it becomes an asset that lives with the building for its life. An “open” owner-controlled BEM model is the definition of integrated design and provides the alignment necessary to enable the highest level of collaboration.

Mind Your Building Controls: The largest macro trend in the built environment is the shift from proprietary building automation and building management systems (BAS/BMS) 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 or recreating the platform. The challenge in implementing this “no regret” move is in the management of legacy systems, as no owner wants to decommission BAS/BMS systems prior to the expiration of the system. But there are a variety of ways to balance 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 include 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 building owners and developers interested in building performance, you will want transparent access to and control over your data in a single, secure, cross-platform, time-series real-time historian database system. Ownership of your data gives you control over and open-access to simple data analytics, advanced data analytics like artificial intelligence and machine learning, single-pane of glass visualization, cross platform data analytics, fault detection diagnostics, preventative maintenance systems, and edge-based analytics. The world of data science advances daily. The most important first step is to get in the game with a world class, time-series, real-time, historian database system.

The list of “no regrets 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 in real-time if your building is operating as designed without paying premiums in construction costs to do so.


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