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Massachusetts Green Buildings Used 40 Percent More Energy Than Predicted

Back in 2007, the Energy Engineering Program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell completed a study of the actual energy performance of 19 green buildings across the Bay State. The study was funded by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust and identified 13 schools which were certified under the LEED-based Massachusetts Collaborative for High Performance Schools Criteria, as well as 6 buildings that had earned LEED certification. The study compared energy consumption as predicted during the design phase and actual occupancy post-construction; buildings included in the study provided at least one year of occupancy data. The authors also interviewed individual project teams and energy modelers and conducted occupancy surveys in evaluating the effectiveness of various types of efficiency measures. All of the buildings received design or construction grants from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which provided the prediction data that project teams had submitted in connection with their funding applications. Although the study concluded that these 19 green buildings were consuming (on average) 40 percent more energy than predicted, all of the buildings were consuming less than a building designed to Massachusetts baseline building codes. The disparity in predicted versus actual energy consumption is probably not surprising, but the study did identify a number of issues common across the buildings which resonate with many of the technical and operational provisions of documents like the Model Green Lease. I think it is therefore worthwhile to review the study both from a green leasing perspective, but also in terms of LEED, particularly because the Lowell study has not been referenced in many of the recent articles discussing the ongoing LEED performance gap.

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Is San Francisco Reconsidering Its Green Building Legislation in Light of the LEED Performance Debate?

The San Francisco Chronicle has picked up on the recent flurry of commentary generated by Mireya Navarro’s piece in the New York Times about the LEED building performance gap. The article opens up by stating “[r]evelations that many buildings certified as green under a broadly accepted national standard for energy savings are not performing as well as predicted recently prompted changes to the [LEED] program and are forcing San Francisco officials to consider amending city rules that are tied to the older guidelines.” However, a closer look at the substance of the article suggests that city officials may actually be trying to expedite the application of the LEED 2009 system and its corresponding Minimum Program Requirements (“MPRs”) to large, private construction projects. (As you will recall, the new MPRs require that projects which pursue LEED certification to “commit to allow USGBC to access all available actual whole-project energy and water usage data in the future for research purpose” or risk decertification.) I also think the piece is noteworthy because it suggests an inextricable link between increased data reporting and increased building performance.

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Can USGBC Improve the Performance of LEED Buildings by Collecting More Data?

Mireya Navarro’s recent piece in the New York Times about the energy performance of LEED buildings does not really shed much new light on a topic that many of us have been paying close attention to for the past two years, particularly in the aftermath of the controversial New Buildings Institute study that claimed LEED buildings performed, on average, 25 percent better than the CBECS database. Nevertheless, Navarro’s piece seems timed to coincide with USGBC’s press release of August 25 that announced a new Building Performance Initiative which will complement the LEED Version 3.0 Minimum Program Requirements’ ongoing performance data reporting obligations in order for projects to maintain their LEED rating and avoid the unsavory potential consequences of decertification. Any commentary on this press release – at least in the blogosphere – appears to have been lost in the August doldrums, but I think it is worthwhile to consider an effort which could ultimately have major repercussions for the underpinnings of the LEED system itself. However, many building scientists will tell you that simply collecting more data does not necessarily translate into improved performance. Consider (after the jump) the following letter that was submitted to the New York Times by ASHRAE Fellow and Distinguished Lecturer Larry Spielvogel, P.E., in response to the USGBC press release announcing the Building Performance Initiative, which Mr. Spielvogel was kind enough to allow us to reprint here at GRELJ.

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Energy Performance in LEED Buildings: A History

“LEEDing from Behind: The Rise and Fall of Green Building” is a survey piece by Community Solutions executive director Pat Murphy that reviews the significant body of critical commentary on the energy performance of LEED buildings that emerged beginning in 2005 with Randy Udall and Auden Schendler’s seminal “LEED Is Broken – Let’s Fix It” article. Mr. Murphy’s stated purpose in writing his piece was to “show the history of the dialogue about LEED energy performance.” Many of the articles cited will be familiar to you, but this is the first time that I have seen all of them organized chronologically with their key points about LEED-related building performance highlighted. I think that reviewing the piece is extremely instructive in terms of framing both green building policy-related issues, as well as corresponding risk management considerations, from a much broader perspective. Mr. Murphy concludes that “[t]here has been concern with the LEED rating system relative to energy and CO2 since its inception. . . . LEED has failed to lead in the important areas that are measurable. Initially, [USGBC] adopted a weak status relative to energy consumption. [It] did not recognize and incorporate accountability and verification, unfortunately wasting years that could have providing important feedback relative to energy use. [It] has also not clearly and honestly communicated that LEED is not an exemplary indication of energy performance.”

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Section 201 of Waxman-Markey Could Impose Energy Efficiency Mandates as Decried by NAIOP

As the Waxman-Markey climate change legislation heads to the Senate, I think it’s important to note that, as currently drafted, the bill includes provisions that could impose the types of energy efficiency mandates which NAIOP argued against in its controversial report that was released earlier this year. Section 201 of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) would first set baseline standards for all commercial (ASHRAE 90.1-2004) and residential buildings (the 2006 IECC code) and dates for certain percentage reduction targets in energy consumption over those baselines. The Act would require an immediate 30 percent reduction over those baselines once enacted (likely in 2011 or 2012 if the bill proceeds through the Senate and is implemented as drafted), followed closely by a 50 percent reduction by 2014 for residential buildings and 2015 for commercial buildings. The reduction mandate would increase by 5 percent every 3 years through 2029/2030 for a total reduction of 75 percent over the baselines. However, the Department of Energy would have the ability to increase or decrease the reduction targets based on technological feasibility. Section 201 further obligates state and local governments to adopt the codes, or their own codes that meet or exceed the established targets; the federal government itself will enforce the national codes if state and local governments fail to comply. If you recall the comments from NAIOP President Thomas Bisacquino in the aftermath of the uproar created by the NAIOP study, Waxman-Markey may ultimately create the precise scenario that NAIOP and its constituents feared: 30 to 50 percent reductions over ASHRAE 90.1-2004 in the short-term.

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Lessons on Predicting Building Performance from New Yankee Stadium

During the first homestand of the season at $1.6 billion New Yankee Stadium, baseballs flew out of the ballpark at an unprecedented rate; the 20 dingers that were clocked during last weekend’s series against the Cleveland Indians were the most ever in a four-game set to open a new stadium in baseball history. Last season, Old Yankee Stadium saw 160 home runs; the current pace would yield a mind-boggling 351 round-trippers for the entire 2009 season. The Yankees did not anticipate that their new ballpark would turn into a Little League bandbox; dimensions at the new park are the same as they were across the street and engineers performed a wind study in advance of construction that did not suggest any major changes in currents or speeds. So, after witnessing several routine fly balls to right field land halfway into the lower deck last Saturday, it struck me that there are some parallels between what’s been happening thus far at the new ballpark in the Bronx and some of the building performance issues that we frequently discuss here at GRELJ.

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Seattle’s KING 5 Calls Washington Green School Claims “Oversold”

Washington State’s High-Performance Public Buildings Act requires LEED Silver certification or a design that complies with the state’s Sustainable School Design Protocol for schools larger than 5000 square feet. In a video describing the benefits of green schools that is available on the State Superintendent of Public Schools’ web site, certain claims are made about the promise of “clean, high-performance, money-saving schools” that are “a wise business choice for cost conscious schools. Relatively small increases in design and construction costs, usually less than 2 percent, ultimately bring 10 to 15 percent reductions in long-term operating costs.” The folks at KING 5 television in Seattle caught wind of these claims and decided to do some digging; you can view the station’s full report through the link at the bottom of this article. As you might guess, the station concluded that the state’s claims about green building premiums, decreased operating expenses, and higher student test scores were highly exaggerated.

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Henry Gifford & USGBC’s Brendan Owens Consider Merits of LEED at NESEA Forum

The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (“NESEA”) held its annual Building Energy conference last week in Boston and sparks apparently flew during a panel discussion that featured Henry Gifford, whose controversial and well-disseminated “Lies, Damn Lies, and… (Another Look at LEED Energy Efficiency)” paper critiqued both LEED generally and the USGBC-promulgated New Buildings Institute study which concluded that LEED buildings were using 30 percent less energy than non-LEED buildings. The panel was moderated by BuildingGreen.com’s Nadav Malin and also included USGBC vice president for LEED technical development Brendan Owens. Boston-based blogger Michael Prager attended the panel and has authored an extremely insightful summary of the event, including quotes from both panelists and audience members. Many of the quotes in Mr. Prager’s article ring particularly salient in light of the uproar over the recent NAIOP study which I noted here at GRELJ last week in the context of using predicted performance as the basis for making building policy decisions. It’s clear that thus far in 2009 there has been a significant shift in attention towards building performance-related issues with respect to both LEED and green building policy generally. As states and municipalities prepare to receive close to $7 billion in stimulus funds to, in part, craft and implement local green building legislation, I think that the substance of the discussion at the NESEA event should become of increasing utility to both stakeholders and policymakers. Of course, as always, it also suggests the overarching importance of vetted contract language in connection with LEED or any other types of green building projects.

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Green Building Industry Apoplectic Over NAIOP Commercial Energy Efficiency Study

Ed Mazria said that it was “meant to confuse the public and stall meaningful legislation, insuring that America remains dependent on foreign oil, natural gas and dirty conventional coal.” Lloyd Alter of Treehugger called it “one of the dumbest studies that has crossed our screen in a while.” Danielle Sacks at Fast Company wants to “make sure studies like these don’t make it past their press release.” So what, if anything, are we to make of ConSol’s study, prepared for NAIOP, which concluded that the best possible scenario for energy efficiency improvements to a hypothetical 4-story, 95,000-square-foot office building is 23 percent over the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 Energy Standard? While we continue to wait for more meaningful data about the performance of green buildings, I think the study suggests the danger- for both legislators and stakeholders- of relying on energy modeling of any kind as the basis for policymaking or who agree to assist a green building project in achieving certain energy reductions by the terms of their construction contracts.

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HUD’s Mark-to-Market Green Initiative Pilot Program to Monitor, Collect Data on Green Building Performance

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (“HUD”) Mark-to-Market (“M2M”) Program assists private multi-family property owners whose housing subsidy contracts with the federal government are expiring. The purpose of the M2M program is to reduce the amount of subsidies that the federal government distributes, as many of those contracts originally set rents at an amount […]

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