Research conducted by energy analysts in Colorado has identified common pitfalls that cause many construction projects to fall short of projected energy savings.

“Energy efficiency is a priority for almost every new building being designed today,” said Leslie Beu, an energy engineer with Tolin Mechanical in Denver. “But in many cases, there’s a lack on coordination and accountability among those responsible for the design, construction and operation of the building. That results in breakdowns that make it difficult to accurately predict energy savings.”

Green BuildingsThe research – conducted by Beu; Anthony Hardman, a building performance analyst with The Green Engineer; and Tom Riead, an energy engineer with Tolin Mechanical– was presented at an industry conference in June 2013.

Why Buildings Fail To Meet Projected Energy Savings

After analyzing dozens of new construction and retrofit building projects, researchers identified five issues that contribute to the gap between projected and actual energy savings. These include:

  • Relying on the Wrong People: The task of assessing proposed building systems and calculating energy savings is often delegated to a junior team member with limited knowledge and understanding of the energy code, simulation tools, modeling protocol and documentation requirements. Relying on under qualified team members to perform this important task can result in miscalculations.
  • Poor Design Details: The use of generic or inadequate HVAC and lighting control sequences is an example of poor design details that can impact predicted energy performance.
  • Installation Errors: Design specifications that are changed “on the fly” during the construction process can significantly alter building performance and projected savings.
  • A Failure to Communicate: There is often a lack of communication and coordination between team members responsible for design, construction and operations. Design changes and other critical information may not be shared with the analyst responsible for predicting a building’s energy use.
  • A Lack of Accountability: Individual team members are typically responsible for specific tasks, but no one is ultimately responsible for how the building performs once it is complete. As the building completion draws near, getting the building ready for occupancy takes precedence over preparing the building for optimal operation.

A Recommended Approach

Researchers outlined several opportunities to better predict energy savings and enhance building performance. These include:

  • An Integrated Approach: All team members should be kept informed of design and construction changes that may impact a building’s energy use. Develop a feedback loop that ensures this information is shared with the energy analyst.
  • Intended Operation: Achieving projected energy savings requires proper training of building and maintenance staff to ensure the building systems are operated as intended once the facility is completed. Regular maintenance of building systems is also critical.
  • Incentive Programs: Projects should include incentive programs that reward team members for the building’s energy performance. This will create a greater sense of accountability among all team members and encourage the type of collaboration and information sharing that will result in more accurate predictions.

Other key issues include building commissioning and measurement and verification.

For more information, or to view a copy of the research paper, “From Design to Occupancy: Strategies to Enhance Building Performance and Prediction Accuracy,” visit www.tolin.com.