Advancing Building Energy Performance

Building energy codes are intended to mandate the highest level of energy efficiency that can be achieved cost-effectively. They set a standard that adjusts as building technologies improve, energy costs vary and the overall importance placed on energy conservation changes.

The recognition of climate change as a serious concern has helped make energy codes more aggressive, and so has innovation in the industry. Widespread adoption of voluntary programs, such as ENERGY STAR and LEED, have designers and owners demonstrating new ways of making buildings more efficient.

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Energy codes first appeared in the U.S. in the 1970s, when congress mandated them in response to the 1972 oil embargo and subsequent energy crisis. ASHRAE led the way releasing the first version of what is now Standard 90.1 in 1975. The federal government is not allowed to mandate a national energy code; energy codes are adopted and enforced by individual states. The federal government can, however, link financial support to state energy policies, according to Paul Torcellini of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “The current requirement for states to upgrade their codes is tied to whether the state accepted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds,” he says.

States adopt either the most recent version of ASHRAE 90.1 as their code (sometimes with modifications), or they adopt the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is based on 90.1 (except for single-family and low-rise multifamily homes—IECC has its own process for developing the residential energy code).

The 2010 update to ASHRAE Standard 90.1 was the most ambitious revision in the standard’s nearly 40-year history. On average, buildings will have to be 18 percent more efficient to meet 90.1-2010 compared with 90.1-2007, according to a U.S. Department of Energy analysis. In turn, LEED continues to encourage even higher levels of efficiency: under LEED v4, new buildings have to beat Standard 90.1-2010 by at least 5 percent, and most will have to do much better than that to achieve the coveted Gold or Platinum certification levels.

Achieving that kind of energy efficiency cost-effectively requires engineers to expand their view beyond just taking responsibility for a building’s mechanical or electrical system, and instead actively work to address energy use for the building as a whole. Fortunately, that kind of shift in consciousness is underway, as seen, for example, in the 2012 rebranding of ASHRAE that removed the specific reference to “heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration” from the organization’s name. Now ASHRAE members are simply “shaping today’s built environment for tomorrow.”

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Great building performance also demands close collaboration by all members of a building’s design and construction team, which is why LEED v4 has a new Integrative Process credit to help coordinate that kind of teamwork. When team members take a broader view of their role and work effectively across the disciplines, highly efficient buildings can have minimal upfront cost premiums and huge returns, both for their owners and for the environment.

 Advancing Building Energy Performance

10 predictions for the US building industry

green building 3 300x225 10 predictions for the US building industry

Portland/Seattle green builder Hammer & Hand has unveiled its ten predictions for the US high performance building industry.

These include:

  • Focus will move beyond Net Zero Energy to Net Positive Energy buildings.

Three trends will begin moving the high performance building industry beyond Net Zero Energy (NZE) buildings toward Net Positive Energy (NPE) buildings:
a. Falling prices for photovoltaic panels to make energy production more feasible;
b. Increasing viability and availability of electric vehicles to harness surplus energy production and compete with buildings for electricity; and
c. The emergence of market mechanisms that reward both onsite energy conservation and production (see next point).

  • Market mechanisms that reward energy conservation and renewable energy production will flourish.

Market-based tools like Feed In Tariffs (to allow building owners/operators to sell excess energy back to the grid), Carbon Offsets (to reward building owners/operators for reductions in carbon footprint), and Metered Energy Efficiency Transactions (to allow investors in building energy efficiency to sell “negawatts” back to the utility, being piloted by the Bullitt Center and Seattle City Light) will continue to gain ground in 2014.

  • Building energy codes will move away from prescriptive rules toward performance-based measures.

The City of Seattle leads the charge toward performance-based code at the municipal scale, and the States of California and Washington have taken important first steps at the state level. The US Department of Energy continues to push the envelope through its work on the International Energy Conservation Code. Expect the trend toward performance measures to continue in 2014 as the limitations of prescriptive code become more and more obvious to policy makers.

  • CO2 heat pumps will help transform heating and cooling performance.

New technology will continue to drive the development of the US high performance building industry, with CO2 heat pumps making an entrance into the North American marketplace. These heating and cooling units bring these benefits:
a. More earth friendly due to lower Global Warming Potential (GWP).
b. Move more energy more efficiently.
c. Work in much colder climates without the steep performance curve drop-offs seen with other heat pumps.

  • The US-led move to make Passive House more climate-specific will improve performance at both micro and macro levels.

In the past year the Passive House Institute US began spearheading the effort to make the Passive House standard more sensitive to the diverse climates found across the US, including partnerships with the Building Science Corporation and the Department of Energy. This effort will bear fruit in 2014, helping to guide successful high performance building in the American South and across the northern portion of the continent.

  • Europe’s push to eliminate thermal bridges in buildings will make high performance building more mainstream in the US, too.

Europe is pushing hard to eliminate thermal bridges (building elements that transfer heat or cool energy through the building envelope), resulting in a wave of new user-friendly software tools for calculating thermal bridging. This development has brought what was once a highly technical, niche element of high performance building into the mainstream in Europe. These same tools apply equally well in the US, and promise to make the battle against thermal bridges easier to win for US designers in 2014.

  • China’s interest in high performance building will propel US market.

While still nascent, China’s move toward high performance, energy conserving structures and building envelopes will have far-reaching impacts. From demand for US-manufactured building components to supply of Chinese-made ones, the US high performance building industry stands to gain when the world’s second largest economy puts its weight behind building energy conservation.

 10 predictions for the US building industry

Green businesses shocked at UK PM’s plans to slash environmental guidance

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans to make it easier and cheaper for businesses to meet environmental obligations by slashing 80,000 pages of environmental guidance, which he believes will save businesses GBP 100 million per year.

While organisations like the Home Builders Federation have welcome this, organisations like the UK Green Buildings Council condemn this announcement with CEO Paul King calling the move “utterly reprehensible.” He also said: “It is the same poisonous political rhetoric from Number 10, devaluing environmental regulation in a slash-and-burn manner. These words are not only damaging and irresponsible, but misrepresent the wishes of so many modern businesses, both large and small.”

Moreover, Mads Jensen, ceo of Sefaira, a UK-based company that specialises in cloud-based computing solutions for sustainable building design has said that “if our ambition is to establish UK leadership in the low carbon space, then I am not sure if this latest announcement is helpful. I actually think it could end up hurting rather than helping British export businesses and the British economy”.

 Green businesses shocked at UK PM’s plans to slash environmental guidance

Part L changes announced by government

300px 2008 07 11 Air conditioners at UNC CH Part L changes announced by government

English: Series of air conditioners at UNC-CH. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New regulations will come into force next April

The government has unveiled the long-awaited changes to Part L of the building regulations, including rules that new homes must be 6% more efficient.

Homebuilders will continue to have flexibility in meeting carbon dioxide targets, but the changes emphasise that the quality of the building fabric must be a priority.

Non-domestic buildings will have to deliver a 9% improvement compared to the 2010 standards. For these, minimum energy efficiency standards will be strengthened when works include air conditioning and lighting replacements.

Baroness Hanham, parliamentary under secretary of state, announced the changes in a written statement (attached) to the House of Lords today. She said: “These Part L changes take an important and technically meaningful step towards zero carbon homes but one that allows government to reduce the overall regulatory burden upon home builders.”

Meanwhile, the government has officially dropped plans to strengthen the minimum energy efficiency standards for extensions and replacement windows to existing homes.

It also said the government would ‘shortly’ publish a consultation on the next steps to take forward zero carbon homes.

The changes will come into force on April 6, 2014.

John Alker, director of policy and communications at the UK Green Building Council, said: “There can be no excuses for the length of time this has taken, but finally industry has the clarity on Part L that it craves.

“The uplift is less ambitious than any of the options originally consulted upon – even less than government’s previously ‘preferred options’, particularly for non-domestic buildings. However, the fact there is any uplift at all is good news – it’s a victory for all those who know that industry can continue to innovate, to improve standards and reduce carbon cost-effectively.”

Don Foster, building regulations minister, added: “Today’s measures mean businesses and householders will not only benefit from reduced energy bills but they will also know they are doing their bit to tackle climate change.”

 Part L changes announced by government