Why the green building industry needs to pay attention to tenants

Why the green building industry needs to pay attention to tenants

The most important year in a building’s life is the first year of occupancy. This is when the construction team has pulled their trailers, completed their punch lists, claimed victory and moved on to the next project. This is also when the operations team starts to experience the gap between design intent and actual performance.

Experience suggests it takes years to “tune” a building’s systems and operating procedures to meet theoretical performance expectations, if it ever does.Instrumentation and continuous monitoring capabilities are critical to being able to give the operations team the types of detailed system-level information necessary to identify installation problems, design limitations and to optimize building performance.

Most of the attention in the green building industry, and all of the controversy, is focused on building design and new construction. New construction was an obvious area for the emerging green building industry to take shape a decade ago, driven by the desire of building owners, architects, engineers and contractors to work together to design and construct more sustainable buildings.

Ten years later, the industry needs to shift its attention to demonstrating performance, not just predicting it -- greening tenant spaces, not just base buildings -- and improving existing buildings, not just new ones.This suggests taking a life cycle approach to designing, delivering, operating and improving high performance buildings and tenant spaces.

Delivering high performance tenant spaces

More than half the energy use in commercial buildings is in tenant spaces. Integrated design has been one of the most valuable changes driven by the green building industry. Most would agree that the cost-effective delivery of a high-performance building is highly dependent on the successful collaboration and coordination of the construction team, design professionals and system suppliers.

This process, which works so well in core building projects, should also be applied to tenant build-outs as well.There are lots of opportunities to improve energy and water efficiency by 20 to 40 percent in tenant spaces through integrated design with paybacks less than the lease term. In a recent blog post, I described a demonstration project that will provide integrated design guidelines and quantify the benefits of high-performance tenant build-outs.

Operating for high performance

After buildings have been successfully commissioned and verified to be achieving their designed performance, they need to be operated in a manner that maintains that performance over time. Building re-commissioning is the practice of retuning a building every 5 to 7 years to bring its performance back in line with its design intent and technical capability. This is a labor-intensive process that can be enhanced, or potentially eliminated, through the use of information technology and remote monitoring.

A well-instrumented building, and other buildings with interval utility meters, can be monitored using advanced analytical software to track energy performance and remotely detect faults in systems and equipment.This early warning system allows building operators to continue to perform their daily activities knowing that someone is watching their back and alerting them to conditions that waste energy, compromise occupant comfort or threaten equipment reliability.

Improving performance

Perhaps the most important trend in building performance is the increasing focus on systematic approaches to continuous improvement. Industry initiatives, such as the Better Buildings Challenge, and international standards such as ISO-50001 Energy Management Systems are putting renewed emphasis on improving the efficiency of existing buildings, particularly across portfolios of buildings.

A systematic approach to improving building performance involves setting goals, establishing policies, defining metrics, developing action plans, tracking performance and reporting progress. As we have learned in recent projects, the timing of improvement actions -- from retro-commissioning to opportunistic equipment upgrades to major retrofits -- are critical to achieving significant efficiency improvements with the best financial returns.

Taking the long view, and systematically planning and delivering performance across the entire facility life cycle, is critical to meeting sustainability objectives and helping buildings achieve their full economic and environmental potential.

Photograph of eco-friendly Kungsbron hotel in Stockholm provided by Nadezhda1906 via Shutterstock.com.