Building performance investigation doesn’t pay – yet

Today I was working away on trendlogs for the under-performing LEED building, trying to figure out why air-handling units were misbehaving in various ways, when my boss startled me. “Stop working on that!”, he exclaimed. “We have to watch the budget REALLY closely on this one!” Considering that we were only 8 hours into the project, this was rather unexpected. We clearly have an exceptionally small budget to bring this complicated 150,000sf building into line with its energy model – and this is a building that has gotten the best that money can buy from the very beginning.

So if THIS privileged building isn’t worth more study, even to save thousands of dollars a year and to gain its last (necessary) M&V point, where do the thousands of other green building hopefuls find incentives for maintaining their performance goals? That is, before a dramatic energy crisis solves the problem for us?

Since we’re already discussing LEED issues, a closer look at the LEED v.3 Minimum Requirements is worthwhile, and is mildly encouraging. For new construction and major renovations, Item 6 reads:

6. Must Commit to Sharing Whole-Building Energy and Water Usage Data
All certified projects must commit to sharing with USGBC and/or GBCI all available actual whole-project energy and water usage data for a period of at least 5 years. This period starts on the date that the LEED project begins typical physical occupancy if certifying under New Construction, Core & Shell, Schools, or Commercial Interiors, or the date that the building is awarded certification if certifying under Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance. Sharing this data includes supplying information on a regular basis in a free, accessible, and secure online tool or, if necessary, taking any action to authorize the collection of information directly from service or utility providers. This commitment must carry forward if the building or space changes ownership or lessee.

While this commitment is still technically voluntary, certification can be withdrawn for failure to comply. Still, the performance is not required to reach or, apparently, to even approach the performance originally predicted. Even to gain Monitoring & Verification points, it is only necessary to “Provide a process for corrective action if the results of the M&V plan indicate that energy savings are not being achieved.”

The issue of confidentiality was also broached, and real estate lawyers are already taking note. Apparently the ugly jungle of building design lawsuits has just added a fertile patch of soil. Regrettably, this has potential to delay further the all-important transfer of information from real buildings back to the design community.

Meanwhile, I was immediately reassigned to a new project: construction of a DOE2.2 energy model for a large ambitious new building, not so very different in program from the troubled LEED building. It’s in schematic design, of course, which means that a large number of important details are completely absent. Energy models are valuable tools, and this model-building exercise will surely be a useful guide for the architects. Unfortunately, it will surely not predict the actual energy performance. But it sure does have a nice big budget.

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