A Different T – Party: Thinking About Transforming the Market to Measured Performance

On a recent spring day more than 20 leading design professionals gathered in a small conference room at EHDD Architects in San Francisco. I had asked them to join this newly formed group I call “CAMP” – California Advisors on Measured Performance – to offer perspectives on various measured energy performance efforts, including a Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) project on evidence-based design being managed by New Buildings Institute*. The meeting also provided a forum to exchange information and ideas on related activities and consider what’s needed to measure and improve building performance. Around a wooden table (rather than a fire ring), the CAMP group struck some common chords about challenges and the pressing need to obtain measured performance information on commercial buildings. As designers, their role traditionally ends with occupancy; success is established by positive client and community response to the aesthetics of the design, the comfort and functionality of the space, and the metrics of budget and schedule. These leaders create buildings that are, in addition to beautiful and functional, highly efficient in their use of resources and integrated with natural approaches to lighting and ventilation.  But they want to prove it, compare it and increase the number of clients who buy it. All of this requires data. There was almost universal agreement on the need for increased measured performance data at the whole building and subsystem levels and from an occupant satisfaction perspective, and recognition of the absence of any reasonably accessible or sufficiently extensive resource on the subject. National policy and market trends are helping push this issue into the forefront.  Most of the firms represented recognized (and appreciated) the value of regulatory methods to get more clients engaged in efforts to create truly high performance buildings. New rating and disclosure requirements were seen as a fast-moving driver that will force industry changes regarding who has the responsibility, and the risk, for ongoing performance.  Attendees recognized that the building industry is moving too slowly and that help is necessary to bring the right level of information and tools to the various parties. At a meeting of designers this can too easily mean that operators and owners are the primary target to improve performance; however, this group has already started internal initiatives to obtain data on their projects and create up-front contracts for ongoing monitoring with owners. Particularly telling – most attendees, although far ahead of the national curve on green and high performance buildings, ranked their organization as only 3-4 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 represents a market transformation to a portfolio of highly energy efficient buildings; all agreed there was a long way to go. The two exceptions, self-ranked at 7, were a small architecture firm and a smaller engineering firm, owner-run and managed, that more than likely have the option to select progressive projects/clients and influence greater control on outcomes. But what about the “T-Party”? At the end of the day attendees each offered three wishes that would transform the market in favor of measured performance practices, and we found ourselves telling the tale with T’s: 1.Tools and Technologies: refinement of existing and pursuit of new through research and development
2.Testing and Training
3.Techniques: Tariffs, terminology, translation (tangibility)
4.Timing: Too early/too late. Move at the pace of the market rather than the pace of the policy
5.Tolerance:  For variation in design, temperature range, risk . . . and not for resource waste (oil spills, plug loads, redundant HVAC, over lighting, control failures, ventilation excess)
6.Tempting: It must be interesting and engaging (marketing matters), get public attention and buy-in This list of themes does a simple job of capturing the wide and complex range of areas needing work. This T-Party could be a more unified approach for funding and focus, and at a minimum it makes a nice tongue twister for describing what lies ahead.   *NBI is managing this 3-year research program on behalf of the California Energy Commission.