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Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety

Can intelligent buildings help close the LEED information gap?

In its 10-year history, Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings program has become the leader in certification of green buildings (Measurement and Rating Systems in the United States below). Approximately 35,000 projects — comprising more than 7.1 billion sq ft of construction space in all 50 states and 91 countries — are certified under the program. However, in March 2008, the organization unveiled findings from a study it commissioned from the New Buildings Institute, White Salmon, Wash., which compared design intent to the actual performance of 121 buildings certified by USGBC's LEED New Construction (NC) sector and found a significant disconnect between intended and reported energy use.

At the time of the study, the LEED program based its energy requirements on building codes, such as ASHRAE 90.1, or, under some platforms, the average energy usage intensity for similar building types, similar to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Star rating. On average, the LEED-NC buildings in the study were performing 25% to 30% better than the national average, a level similar to that anticipated by LEED modeling. Yet, data reported by more than half the buildings deviated by more than 25% from design predictions, with 30% significantly better and 25% significantly worse (click here to see Figure). This gap between predicted and measured performance reveals significant difficulties in assessing building life-cycle costs through design-phase energy modeling.

In addition, a total of 552 LEED-NC version 2 buildings certified through 2006 were invited to participate in the study, which required only the ability to provide at least one full year of measured post-occupancy energy usage data for the entire LEED project. Because only 121 buildings participated, this indicates that more than three-quarters of eligible buildings were unable to meet this lone requirement for inclusion, prompting USGBC to call for more feedback mechanisms from certified buildings to improve modeling and benchmarking methods.

As a result, this summer, the USGBC introduced a new requirement for LEED-NC certification, referred to as “LEED v3” or “LEED 3.0,” modeled more along the lines of the LEED Advanced Commissioning and Measurement and Verification (M&V) program credits. On an annual basis, building owners must supply the organization with performance metrics for energy consumption in one of three ways: sign a release so that the USGBC can access the information directly from the utility companies, apply for recertification every two years through the LEED for Existing Buildings-Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) program, or track and report performance metrics to USGBC themselves. “With the right kind of information, it will be much easier to see what areas are really driving performance and what areas need to be addressed,” says Scot Horst, senior VP of LEED.

In August of this year, USGBC began its Building Performance Initiative, in conjunction with the requirements for stricter reporting. The program aims to create a system for collecting and analyzing energy and other resource use data from LEED-certified buildings that will be shared with building owners and project teams. USGBC will examine the aggregate data to determine which LEED credits are most effective at optimizing building performance and share its findings with building owners and operators. (Individual reports will not be disclosed publicly.)

For buildings currently undergoing the LEED certification process, USGBC will work with owners to find “cost-effective ways” to add additional water and energy metering to provide the needed data. However, for the future, buildings will be held to a higher standard of reporting. “It's a priority to us that this not turn into a burdensome exercise for building owners,” Horst says. “But the reality now is that the culture is clearly stating that all buildings need to step up to a different level.”

Quid pro status quo

An “intelligent,” or “connected,” building — one in which a building automation system (BAS) for heating, cooling, and ventilation is integrated with lighting controls and fire alarm, security, and/or telephone/data systems through a common communication backbone (preferably open and non-proprietary) — seems like a natural match for an initiative that requires the generation of data regarding energy usage. “Accessing energy-use information and being a green building — in this case a LEED building — go hand-in-hand,” says Darryl Benson, global applications solutions manager for Panduit's Global Real Estate division. Panduit's new world headquarters in Tinley Park, Ill., includes an open standards-based framework to allow communication among disparate technologies, components, and applications onto a single network to help meet energy performance requirements for LEED Gold certification. “We're able to take the information from major energy-consuming systems and monitor them to know whether they're running within certain parameters,” Benson continues. “If they start running inefficiently, we can take corrective action. We're doing things not only in raw energy measurements, but we're also actually monitoring the major energy-consuming systems in more detail so we can wring the most value from them.”

To prove intelligence in buildings is simpatico with green building, the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), the Ottawa-based not-for-profit industry association dedicated to the advancement of intelligent home and intelligent building technologies in North America, released a report on the convergence of green and intelligent buildings. According to the report “Bright Green Buildings,” by instituting greener energy management practices and specifying technologies that focus on energy efficiency, energy consumption can be reduced by up to 35% in office buildings. However, by connecting technology with processes, such as in intelligent systems, energy use can be reduced by as much 50% over conventional buildings — with the most efficient buildings performing up to 70% better than conventional properties. “In bright green buildings, fully networked systems transcend the simple integration of independent systems to achieve interaction across all systems, allowing them to work collectively, optimizing a building's performance, and constantly creating an environment that is conducive to the occupants' goals,” reads the report. “Additionally, fully interoperable systems in these buildings tend to perform better, cost less to maintain, and leave a smaller environmental imprint than individual utilities and communication systems.”

Yet, intelligence alone doesn't necessarily make a successful candidate for LEED-NC certification. For the most part, sustainability is an indirect benefit of intelligence in a building; not the primary goal. “A desire for LEED certification leads to a whole series of requirements, which have some similarity in certain cases to the needs of an intelligent building, but they do not address the requirement of intelligence in the same way at all,” says Frank Spitzer, associate director, IBI Group, Toronto, a group of companies practicing professional consulting. “Intelligence is intended to suggest that we get comfort, flexibility, convenience, control, and ultimately — hopefully — minimum thrashing within the building for both the occupants and the owners and operators of the building.”

However, in some cases, intelligent building applications, while not in conflict with LEED values, contain little efficiency value. For example, Spitzer cites a project in which the building owner wanted the lights behind the glass curtain wall to change with occupancy rates, monitored by sensors in the building. The building would be white during the day with full occupancy, and then gradually turn red as the building emptied out, and then go to yellow to indicate an empty building. “I don't think that translates into value, but it is an example of an intelligent building application that this developer thought would be kind of cute,” Spitzer explains.

Furthermore, LEED certification doesn't specifically require intelligence in a building. Systems and technology convergence remains optional. “It doesn't say you have to use a building automation system,” says Ira Goldschmidt, P.E., LEED AP, facilities planning and design for Building Intelligence Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based independent consultancy focused on facility and IT integration, convergence, and intelligent buildings, who cites as evidence the minimal inclusion of “building automation” and the omission of “intelligent building” in the LEED-NC construction reference guide. “They don't explicitly say how to achieve certification,” continues Goldschmidt, who asserts that although it may cost more money to install than an intelligence system, many LEED-certified buildings contain stand-alone temperature and humidity data-tracking devices. “LEED's just not pushing the envelope beyond working with ASHRAE for reduced energy usage in general,” he says. (See Smarter Buildings Require Smarter Project Delivery on page 19.)

In fact, a recent study conducted by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), the Chicago-based think tank that promotes more livable and sustainable urban communities, reveals building owners may be able to get more out of their LEED status by focusing on energy efficiency over other LEED credit areas, such as indoor air quality, water use, location, and building materials. CNT's research concluded that the Illinois projects that prioritize energy efficiency as a key LEED strategy are more likely to have better energy performance than projects that prioritized other LEED categories. The study also reveals the importance of looking beyond the planning and construction phases of green building projects to implement regular tracking of the use and cost of energy, water, and other resources — and to establish operation and maintenance practices that improve performance. “Commissioning is no longer something you do once a year or every couple of years,” says Jim Sinopoli, P.E., LEED AP, managing principal, Smart Buildings, a Spicewood, Texas-based firm that provides professional consulting and engineering services related to integrated building technology systems. “It's done in near real time using sophisticated, rules-based software.”

The shortfall in the original LEED-NC program, according to Paul Ehrlich, P.E., president and founder, Building Intelligence Group, is that it's a design and construction standard rather than an operations standard, unlike smart buildings. “Measurement is a core part of smart buildings,” Ehrlich says. “We focus on energy use and operational information. More often, we're getting involved on projects where owners are asking us to come in and do measurement, verification, and validation after these projects get done. You're seeing a push back on the LEED program right now because those projects have a gap between the design intent and the actual deliverable.”

Public access

Technology in buildings is not optional, so the cabling associated with intelligent technology and components can actually cost less than traditional infrastructure. “When you create a building automation system as part of a new building, it's not an add-on,” Goldschmidt explains. “It becomes the control system for the building — the engine. It's a no-brainer in a new building. It's not like getting leather seats.”

In addition, the up-front costs for intelligent design can be considered more of an investment in the building, because the technology garners a short return on investment (ROI) period, especially when compared to the projected energy use of a conventional building. Ongoing operating costs represent 50% to 80% of a building's total life-cycle costs over an estimated 40-yr life span, according to CABA. Therefore, decreasing operations and maintenance cost is a huge incentive to building owners.

However, with the downturn in new commercial construction this year, the worldwide BAS market failed to reach its projected $25 billion goal for 2009. Instead, it came in at $12 billion, according to industry analysis firm ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass. Projects that were previously delayed because of a lack of financing are going forward, but on a reduced scale. “Part of that reduction is to cut the overall costs of construction by taking some shortcuts,” Spitzer says. “But when you're putting up the building, the base operating costs are more important than putting bells and whistles into it. Our argument — from an intelligent building point of view — is that many of the bells and whistles would typically not be that expensive, but it does add a few dollars here and there.”

Although this figure is less than half the projected total, don't count out intelligent buildings just yet. The commercial market is not intelligent buildings' only client. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides billions of dollars for energy efficiency and conservation in federal buildings. “There's a lot of money that the administration has funded toward federal government buildings as part of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and as part of the Department of Defense,” Ehrlich says. “Also, a lot of money has gone to state and local governments to help in building improvement. Overall, commercial construction may be slow, but intelligent building work is busier than ever.” It's just that a shift has occurred from private industry to government.

An additional public emphasis has also been put on the Smart Grid, which received $4.5 billion in federal dollars to modernize the nation's electric grid. Smart metering technologies allow demand response programs to be employed on a much larger scale, beyond the scope of individual buildings. The goal of a smart electrical infrastructure is to match consumption with generation. Currently, energy management tools track energy consumption but rarely provide data about the time the energy was consumed. Smart metering tracks this information and associates it with the actual costs of the energy, thus encouraging end-users to reduce their energy use at high-demand, high-price times. The goal of these systems and products is to reduce peak-time load factors and make better use of total generating capacity.

San Jose, Calif.-based technology manufacturer Cisco is predicting the total smart connected building market for building overhauls to be worth $12 billion over the next two to three years. It is also forecasting that figure to grow to $20 billion by 2015. “That interface or handshake between the two hasn't so far been explored or well thought out,” Sinopoli says. “There are some people who simply don't want to go there. They don't think that the utility should have any granular information about what's happening in the building.”

Intelligent technologies for grid interconnection of alternative energy distributed generation sources will also likely drive this market. “There's going to be a need for systems tracking things that we never have in the past,” continues Sinopoli.

Old dog, new tricks

The slowdown in the commercial market has also made retrofitting intelligence in existing buildings more appealing. Tenants will pay more for a smart space, particularly if their lease agreement includes utility bills. Although the up-front costs for retrofits may be higher than in new construction, the big payback comes in the form of reduced ROI from a reduction in energy costs. However, there are still challenges in convincing owners or operators of this, particularly when they have no idea how their building measures up in the first place. “In older buildings, facility managers have very little information on what is currently going on with their systems and, as a result, do not have a clear understanding of the improvements that can be made or the savings that can be generated as a result of the introduction of intelligent and green technologies,” reads the CABA's “Bright Green Buildings” report.

Typically, detailed building operating data is not known until an owner or operator contracts a survey of conditions to determine baseline operating costs and provide an estimate of potential savings. “The problem with the stock of existing buildings is that nobody really knows how those buildings are performing,” Sinopoli says.

Without accessible performance data, most building managers are in a reactive mode. “They're putting out the daily fires and don't have the analytical tools for predictive maintenance or for energy-use projects,” says Sinopoli.

Therefore, the first task of an intelligent building consultant is to retrieve data from the subsystems, such as HVAC, lighting, and security, and to present it so it makes sense to both the building owner and facilities manager.

Ideally, systems for retrofit will already be open and Internet-enabled. However, there are a fair number of older buildings in the United States that missed the last round of upgrades. “Retrofits require us to do a fair amount of research as to what exists in the building,” Ehrlich says. “Sometimes, we have to first go back and upgrade those legacy systems so that they can become open.”

Ehrlich's firm has experienced a number of retrofit projects with 1960s era technology, even though the buildings were newer than that era, meaning that they were run by pneumatic or electro-mechanical controls. “These types of buildings call for a bigger effort and expense to get upgraded and converted so that we can get the information out of them that we need,” Ehrlich says.

That's the type of project Goldschmidt calls adding a $1,000 saddle to a $100 horse. “A commercial building of any size or sort of complexity that doesn't have a BAS probably is a building that hasn't had any other retrofits done to it in a long time, which means this is a building that might very well be better handled with a wrecking ball than anything else,” he explains.

Nevertheless, with some exceptions, most retrofit projects can be salvaged through new technologies. For example, there are some wireless technologies available for retrofitting lighting systems and other applications. “Those are being met with some success,” says Benson.

However, the technologies have skeptics. “We're starting to look at some new wireless options, but I can't tell if I'm comfortable with them,” adds Ehrlich.

Also, middleware applications can communicate with older systems to bring them into a Web-based interface so data can be made available over the network. “Middleware is very important because these systems do need to talk together and, most importantly, we need to make it easier for owners of the property to work with them,” Benson says. “So rather than trying to tie 10 systems together, each independently, you really communicate with middleware layers and drive the interoperability of these systems through that middleware.”

One advantage of middleware is that most edge or end-point devices, such as security cameras, lights, and variable air volume (VAV) boxes, can be left in place, along with their associated cabling. “If you're leaving a lot of those systems, the individual devices, the end-point devices alone, there's not a lot of cabling to do out in the enterprise,” Benson says. “Where most of the convergence can start happening is in the data center and the telecom space.”

Despite the middleware success, Benson still suggests upgrading edge devices so they are IP-enabled. “Depending on the project, the more cabling that can be retrofitted, the better for the future,” he explains. “The faster you can get away from the legacy technologies, the better the organization will be in the long haul.”

By following this approach, building owners and facility managers can concentrate future upgrades within their telecom room infrastructure and data center. “We're really talking about converged networking, and the idea that these systems need to run on one network,” he says. “Physically they're on one network, logically they're on one network, and we drive these systems to a point of convergence.”

Another near-future development for intelligent technologies is improved sensors, particularly to provide real-time information on occupants and their locations. “Especially now with the requirements for energy reporting, one meter outside the building is not going to be enough,” says Sinopoli. “At the end of the day, I think energy management is really focused on providing just enough HVAC and just enough power to satisfy the occupants of the building,” Sinopoli says. “The more you know about how many people are in the building and when and where they are in the building, the better off you are in terms of ventilation of the building, thermal comfort, and lighting.”

Sidebar: Smarter Buildings Require Smarter Project Delivery Methods

Despite the growing ubiquity of intelligent buildings, many architects and engineers continue to follow a traditional non-IT approach to building design. “More people are trying to build smarter, but they don't necessarily interpret intelligent buildings as being smarter,” says Frank Spitzer, associate director, IBI Group, Toronto, a group of companies practicing professional consulting. “The intelligent building, if it's going to be an optimal solution, requires access to all the available information about the building. If we can put that all together in an efficient manner and it becomes product neutral, which is what I think these technologies such as AutoCAD are trying to do, then I think you will end up with the opportunity for a greater degree of integration between the applications operating in the building; therefore, more efficiencies and more intelligence.”

In fact, despite building delivery methods becoming increasingly more sophisticated, intelligent building designers remain shut out of the process. “The way that intelligent buildings get designed and built is not something that fits perfectly within the existing process we have for design and construction of buildings,” says Paul Ehrlich, P.E., president and founder, Building Intelligence Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based independent consultancy focused on facility and IT integration, convergence, and intelligent buildings. “Because it's fairly new and it's a little bit different, it's something we have to continually work around.”

Ira Goldschmidt, P.E., LEED AP, facilities planning and design for Building Intelligence Group, notes the hurdles associated with the “lowest-bid-wins” mentality. “It's difficult to design/specify intelligent building technologies due to the current practice of construction project bidding,” says Goldschmidt, noting that the lowest bid typically doesn't include an intelligent system.

However, the team at Panduit's Global Real Estate department is more optimistic about changes in the design phase. “We wanted to put the technology in the beginning of the process, which allowed us to push the strategy on our architect and engineering firms and other consultants,” says Darryl Benson, global applications solutions manager for Panduit's Global Real Estate division, about his work on the company's new intelligent global headquarters in Tinley Park, Ill. “This allowed us to really control our own destiny rather than getting what we were quoted.”

The introduction of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and its philosophy of early involvement by all on the project holds out some hope. “I could see a day when the database used in BIM and the one used for intelligent buildings could cross over and work together,” says Goldschmidt, although he isn't expecting this change to take hold any time soon.

Sidebar: Measurement and Rating Systems in the United States

Although the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program is at the forefront of the green building revolution, there are several additional rating systems in the United States. Currently, the list of prominent measurement and rating systems for new construction and existing buildings includes:

  • LEED rating system by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Washington, D.C.

  • GreenGlobes tool of the Green Building Institute (GBI), Jessup, Md.

  • 360 Performance Program by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Washington, D.C.

  • Energy Star program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Washington, D.C.

  • SBTool (2007) of the International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment (iiSBE), Paris

  • Building Intelligence Quotient (BIQ) Tool of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), Ottawa

Source: Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), “Bright Green Buildings”

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