High-performance must be high-profile

High-performance buildings are by no means a new topic of discussion, nor are they new to the many engineers who have been working toward energy efficiency and similar goals for years.


A lot of things cross my desk, and the most prevalent issue right now seems to be high-performance buildings. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, a high-performance building “means a building that integrates and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, lifecycle performance, and occupant productivity.”

High-performance buildings are by no means a new topic of discussion, nor are they new to the many engineers who have been working toward energy efficiency and similar goals for years. The above definition is part of the EPACT of 2005, which was created to reduce building-related energy consumption and dependence on foreign energy sources. Though this law likely took years to write and has been on the books now for 7 years, it’s still not fully realized. Let me explain.

Just this week, I received invitations and made travel plans for two energy- and sustainability-related conferences (World Energy Engineering Congress and Greenbuild). I’ve received press releases and white papers that tout the sustainability or efficiency of a product, and some even go so far to guarantee that U.S. Green Building Council LEED points can be obtained by specifying this product. And according to the 2012 MEP Giants data, the number of projects that were submitted for the U.S. EPA Energy Star Buildings label jumped from 312 in 2011 to 416 in 2012.

I’ve also received results from studies that show nonresidential buildings have a long way to go before achieving any kind of energy efficiency, let alone being considered a high-performance building. At the Danfoss EnVisioneering Symposium, a presenter indicated that greater adoption of smart building design and technology could yield $40 billion to $50 billion in gross national savings by 2020. According to a study from McGraw Hill Construction and Siemens Industry Inc. titled “A Path to Achieving Higher Building Performance,” the commercial building market is moving forward, but still has a long way to go. Specifically, highlights from the report, which focused on healthcare, higher education, and office buildings, include the following:

  • On average, one quarter of buildings in an organization’s portfolio are placed at a low level of the high-performance spectrum, while only 15% are characterized as advanced.
  • Sustainability policies, energy benchmarking, and use of energy and utility management software have the highest levels of implementation and remain valuable tools as buildings migrate from lower to higher performance levels.
  • Owners report significant business benefits from their investments in high-performance building improvements, including ROI increases of 13% for office buildings, 18% for healthcare facilities, and 15% for higher education buildings.
  • Despite the economy, owners are investing in their buildings, and they plan to continue to do so. In particular, owners are increasing investment in operational activities that do not require significant up-front expense in order to yield benefits.

To me, this means a couple of things. First, engineers need to be as savvy as possible about new technologies, systems, and tools. Education is key to keeping on top of updated codes and standards, and then specifying the best possible systems to meet code and exceed efficiency guidelines. By preparing, engineers can snag opportunities as the existing building market continues to grow. Second, a great deal of responsibility lies with the manufacturers to meet this demand and to provide cutting-edge technologies. Finally, the government should continue to pass more stringent energy standards and demand incrementally higher performance from buildings. 

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