Peak Performance for Healthy Schools

Peak Performance for Healthy Schools

Keeping up with energy code changes.

Far from the limelight of LEED, Energy Star or Green Globes certifications are the energy codes developed and updated by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the International Code Council (ICC) through the support of the Department of Energy (DOE) as minimum guidelines for building envelope, HVAC, lighting and service water heating.

These guidelines slowly have pushed the needle on minimum standards and have led to an increase in energy efficiency of 30 percent. The industry is in the middle of a transition to the most recent sets of these standards; many states will be adopting updates in the coming months. As the bar continues to rise in building energy efficiency, and code enforcement efforts continue to increase, education institutions should understand the effect of the energy code changes, how they may affect current and future projects. Design and building team members need to work together closely in order to achieve the desired gains in efficiency.

Code conversion

The industry is in the middle of a code conversion.

All but 11 states have adopted either ASHRAE 90.1 or the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) as a statewide energy code. These guidelines are the foundation for nearly all energy codes, but they are updated only once every three years. The voluntary state adoption process further slows progress toward more efficient and consistent standards.

Recently, new versions of these codes were adopted at the federal level—ASHRAE 90.1 2010 and 2012 IECC. Over the next 12 to 24 months, many states and municipalities will be converting their code requirements to match these standards.

The updates in these standards represent some substantial changes from the most recent versions. ASHRAE 90.1-2010, for example, incorporates more than 100 addenda since the release of ASHRAE 90.1-2007. Some of these updates cover increased equipment efficiencies, an expansion of economizer and heat-recovery requirements, addition of "single-zone VAV," increase in skylight requirements, addition of a continuous air barrier, more stringent lighting power densities, increased daylighting controls, and the inclusion of commissioning requirements in 2012 IECC.

Although the intent of the updates is to increase building energy efficiency by 30 percent over ASHRAE 90.1-2004 and 2006 IECC, it may present financial and construction challenges if not anticipated properly. This is critical to understand when education institutions are budgeting for building, HVAC, lighting and service water heating systems for new construction or renovation projects.

Because compliance has been voluntary, some communities still are using codes that go back a decade. Designers and builders might not be aware of new technologies and design approaches. Schools should aim to meet the most recent standards for energy and economic benefit, not just to pass inspection.

More than a suggestion

The DOE has issued a ruling that established ASHRAE 90.1-2010 as the reference standard for state energy codes. The Energy Conservation and Production Act mandates that states soon will be required to certify that their commercial building codes meet or exceed this model. Based on the codes in each state or community, this may represent a minimal shift, or it may drastically change the standards that project teams use.

Similarly, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) included a provision that linked State Energy Program funding to building energy-code adoption and enforcement. As a condition of accepting ARRA funding, states must ensure that they will adopt an energy code that meets or exceeds ASHRAE 90.1-2007 and establish a plan, including training, measurement and enforcement provisions, to achieve 90 percent compliance by 2017.

Even if the latest codes aren’t mandated in your region, the trend toward sustainability may still affect projects. Compliance with ASHRAE 90.1 2007 is a prerequisite for LEED certification, and serves as the basis for determining the improvement in energy efficiency for EA credit 1. Without doubt, LEED and other energy-efficiency certifications will incorporate ASHRAE 90.1 2010 or IECC 2012 in the near future.

The trend linking state funding to code enforcement is sure to increase the attention that energy standards receive. The federal government is committing substantial funds to increase energy code-enforcement efforts. Although building energy-code enforcement falls to local governments, compliance is still the responsibility of the school, developer, designer and contractor. It is important that the entire team be aware of this legislative commitment to energy issues.

Following codes

Codes work only if they are followed.

Energy consumption and costs continue to tax facility budgets. U.S. buildings consume 40 percent of energy, 70 percent of electricity, and 55 percent of natural gas; they produce nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Creative use of new energy codes can improve both the environment and the bottom line.

Research at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash., has shown that the efficiency increases in code models combined with strict adoption and implementation could provide massive improvements in energy consumption, cost savings and CO2 emissions reductions:

•Building energy usage would be reduced by about 0.5 quadrillion BTU per year by 2015 and 3.5 quadrillion BTU per year by 2030. This is equivalent to the power generated by 260 450MW power plants, according to the Buildings Energy Data Book.

•Building owners would save more than $4 billion annually by 2015 and more than $30 billion by 2030.

•CO2 emissions would be reduced by about 3 percent by 2030.

In order to realize the benefits of these goals, education institutions need to challenge their facility and design professionals to see beyond the strict regulatory nature of codes and embrace the increasing value of long-term efficiencies. These efficiencies can be realized best through a more creative approach toward code interpretation and execution. It also is easy to see the potential energy savings through retro-commissioning of existing buildings, and upgrading them to meet the latest energy-efficiency standards.

Find your own way

Although compliance always will be an element of the code conundrum, a shift from prescriptive to performance-based codes is fostering more design flexibility and creative problem-solving.

Today’s prescriptive energy codes may limit design freedom and fail to regulate energy use on a comprehensive level. Exclusion of plug-and- process loads, elevators, escalators and kitchen equipment are just a few examples. These obsolete codes are based on models, not actual practice, and encourage meeting minimum standards instead of rewarding high performance. Further, the ability to continue to increase building energy efficiency is limited by prescriptive codes. New approaches to code analysis encourage creativity and yield better results.

The move toward performance-based codes creates latitude and encourages more innovative design. A desired level of energy performance is set based on the anticipated results, and the design team is free to collaborate on how to meet the intent of the codes.

This approach doesn’t require specific components or assemblies. When using traditional code models, there frequently is a gap between design standards and actual performance.

Going even a step beyond the performance-based approach, outcome-based codes are gaining momentum. Outcome-based codes establish target energy-use levels and provide for regular measurement to ensure that the completed building performs at the established level. Although they offer increased flexibility, additional work is required to determine energy-use targets, accountability for performance and how the codes would be enforced.

Some states are moving toward sustainable net-zero building standards, so codes may change to measure real energy performance. Regardless of the model chosen, education institutions should encourage designers and facility managers to adopt an approach that helps to not only design for efficiency, but also achieve it affordably and sensibly.

Breaking the code

Given that recent levels of energy code compliance and enforcement have been low and the cost of compliance will continue to increase, schools and universities might be tempted to disregard these upcoming changes. Many schools are focused on the cost of initial investment rather than long-term energy savings. This approach not only risks the cost of noncompliance, but also ignores potential benefits.

Being out of touch with changing energy-code standards may slow projects and cause financial and operational headaches. Understanding local energy codes and progressive code requirements will enable schools to design for long-term energy efficiency and anticipate future code enforcement. Getting the design and construction team involved early in the design phase may help ensure the most effective solution, and keeping the team involved through the post-occupancy phase is critical to addressing real energy use.

Through creative collaboration, the focus shifts from meeting standards to achieving results. Creatively interpreting legislative mandates and analyzing the true value of new technologies make it possible to find the delicate balance between the initial cost of sustainable design and the financial pressures of a challenging economy.

McKale, PE, LEED AP, and Townsend, PE, LEED AP, RCDD, lead the mechanical and electrical practices at NORR, a nationwide architectural, engineering and planning firm. They can be reached at [email protected].

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