Modern Building, High-Performance on the Rise, Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

The Rise of High-Performance Buildings

You hear this term more and more these days – High-Performance Building. But just what does it mean? An article in Facility Executive traces the original definition back to 2005, when the U.S. Congress defined a high-performance building for the first time, explaining it as “a building that integrates and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity.”

Congress further clarified the definition in 2007 when it issued the Energy Independence and Security Act: The term “high-performance building” means a building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high-performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality, and operational considerations.

Fast forward to June 2018 – there was an entire week dedicated to the advancement of High-Performance Buildings in Washington, DC.  The week was sponsored by the High-Performance Building Coalition (HPBC), which was founded by ASHRAE, and was supported by some 200-member organizations that came together to lobby for policies and laws to boost energy efficiency and healthy workplaces and employees.

A series of white papers from Legrand, a global provider of electrical and digital building infrastructure solutions, examines high-performance buildings in detail. The most recent 2016 document highlights the growing range of performance attributes buildings are expected to achieve and observes that significant gaps remain in the influential “mechanisms” that shape this landscape.

“Our white papers share all of the current trends taking place in High-Performance Building construction,” said Susan Rochford, V.P of Energy Efficiency, Sustainability & Public Policy for Legrand, North & Central America. “We publish them to encourage dialogue within the building community about the path to achieving the full potential of high-performance buildings, ultimately leading to the development of effective solutions that will meet the unique needs of all stakeholders in the industry.”

Legrand’s research was also cited in an article in Buildings Magazine titled “7 Factors Driving High-Performance Buildings.” The host of factors that are driving a paradigm shift in performance expectations within the built environment include:

  • Market and Economic Forces
  • Homeland Security & Natural Disasters
  • Energy Security and Climate Change
  • Social Equity – Design for Accessibility
  • Changes in Building Design, Delivery, and Management
  • Information Technology
  • Codes and Standards

The final factor on the list – Codes and standards – have really become a driving force for higher levels of building performance. The new generation of building codes and standards are a reflection of new market expectations.

Take for example, ASHRAE 189.1 – The Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings. This globally recognized standard first issued in 2009 provides total building sustainability guidance for designing, building, and operating high-performance green buildings. From site location to energy use to recycling, this standard sets the foundation for green buildings by addressing site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and the building’s impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources.

The next version of the standard, set for release later this year and will include a variety of new requirements, including expanded air duct testing requirements to include, for the first time, medium-pressure ducts as well as high-pressure ducts. This is because air duct leakage is a big source of energy waste in commercial buildings. According to ASHRAE leakage rates are as high as 20-25%. To meet high-performance building standards this leakage needs to be brought under control.

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), buildings consume 40% of all primary energy in the United States. Add to that the High-Performance Building Council of NEMA, which estimates that commercial buildings consume up to 70% of all electricity in the U.S. as well. In both cases, much of that energy is wasted. High-performance buildings use less energy and other resources as compared to average buildings, can improve occupant health and productivity and lower operational and ownership risks.

Now more than ever, commercial real estate brokers and owners have many reasons to pay attention to green building practices. From new technology and regulations, to corporate responsibility and sustainability programs driving demand for more efficient spaces and buildings that achieve designations such as LEED or ENERGY STAR, green is more than just a trend in commercial real estate; it’s here to stay.

Investors and owners of commercial real estate have increasingly placed importance on these benefits due to a general understanding that investments in energy efficiency reduce operating costs and enhance net operating income. Recent research has also provided examples of higher rent and occupancy rates as well as sales prices for office buildings with green certifications.

Existing technologies such as lighting, energy-efficient motors, variable-speed drives, and integrated building controls and automation systems can help reduce building energy consumption by 50-70% or more, and the use of onsite generation resources, such as solar photovoltaic panels, can bring a building’s net energy use to zero. Some buildings can even produce more energy than they consume over the course of a year.

In fact, Net-Zero is the becoming another big player in the high-performance green building movement. The number of net-zero energy buildings in the U.S. has increased significantly over the last decade, and perceptions are changing from such facilities being an unreachable ideal to a more attainable one. The New Buildings Institute’s 2016 List of Zero Net Energy Buildings included 332 facilities that have either verified net zero energy operation or committed to achieving zero energy, a substantial increase from the 191 that made its 2015 list.

And last but not least, we can’t forget passive house. Passive House (PH) is a strict international building standard that drastically reduces energy consumption while creating a healthier, more comfortable living environment for a fraction of residents’ usual energy costs. Passive building principles can be applied to all building typologies – from single-family homes to multifamily apartment buildings, offices, and skyscrapers.

Passive design strategy carefully models and balances a comprehensive set of factors including heat emissions from appliances and occupants to keep the building at comfortable and consistent indoor temperatures throughout the heating and cooling seasons. As a result, passive buildings offer tremendous long-term benefits in addition to energy efficiency.

For more insight, read the Building Solutions article on the world’s tallest passive house building, Cornell Tech residence hall, which opened in New York in the fall of 2017.

It is clear that progress is being made in the realm of high-performance (i.e. green) building… but in many minds there is more left to do. Witness the 2030 Challenge gauntlet that has been offered by the non-profit organization Architecture 2030. Their mission is to rapidly transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate and energy crisis. The goal of the challenge is that all new buildings, developments, and major renovations be carbon-neutral by 2030. The ramp up (or down) goals include 80% reduction by 2020 and 90% by 2025.

The landscape of high-performance building is wide open and ever changing. Stay tuned to Buildings Solutions newsletter for more developments.

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