Today—more than ever before—building owners are pushing the construction industry to meet increasingly aggressive, socio-economic-driven energy performance targets.
Whether that push is motivated by a desire to save money or driven by more indirect benefits of lower energy use, owners are nonetheless demanding that building performance (in the form of energy efficiency) drive how their buildings are designed, built and operated.
Currently, the industry has two main strategies when it comes to constructing a building. The traditional approach is design-focused, siloed and—importantly—quite inadequate when it comes to guaranteeing building performance. As a result, the construction industry should be shifting and adapting to a new, performance-based approach across the board in order to meet the energy efficiency goals of building owners.
In order to clarify this concept, it’s helpful to compare the building construction process to organizing a stack of books. The two main approaches to organizing that book stack (or constructing a building) are the traditional “bookshelf” approach and the performance-based “bookend” approach.
With the bookshelf approach, multiple different people place individual books on a shelf. Each is responsible for their own book, and the stack of books is left alone on the shelf once it’s completed.
With the bookend method, the books are still placed on the shelf, but the people placing the books communicate with each other and share responsibility for the stack. In addition, the books have strong reinforcement from bookends placed at both the beginning and end of the stack.
With both books and buildings, following the traditional method often seems fine at first. However—much as well-designed buildings start to perform poorly when they’re not monitored and no one is held accountable—books left unsupported on a shelf will inevitably start to collapse and slide as external forces freely take over.
As this analogy suggests, the siloed, design-focused construction approach is bound to disappoint when it comes to actual performance. Because each member of the construction team is only responsible for a narrow segment of the overall building and there are numerous “handoffs” inherent in the process, it’s difficult to hold anyone accountable for—or knowledgeable about—maintaining the entire building’s energy performance post-construction.
It’s unfortunate but true: Well-designed, built and commissioned buildings usually fail to perform to expectations using the traditional approach. The cause of failures run the gambit: Improperly-programmed sequences, issues arising with changing seasons, sensor calibration/communication errors, occupant and/or operator system overrides, manually-closed valves, or installation errors are all common causes of failure. There’s abundant potential for disappointment when using this traditional approach to construction.
These failures of the traditional approach are precisely why the construction industry needs to think differently about how we build buildings. We need to “bookend” our approach in order to properly deliver to performance-based outcomes increasingly mandated by building owners—keeping our proverbial books stacked.
In construction terms, the methodology which the industry should adopt is a performance-based outcome approach. With this approach, construction companies reinforce a building’s long-term results via “bookends” applied to both the beginning and end of the proverbial stack. This is an effective system because it focuses on strengthening pre-design and operational delivery efforts—at the beginning and end of the construction process.
At the outset, a performance-based outcome approach means establishing communication between the entire construction team, concrete performance guarantees, measurement and verification plans that sustain performance, risk management strategies for aligning performance to accountable parties and data collection requirements.
After the building is built, this approach entails continued team communication, tuning and optimizing building systems, real-time performance tracking, following up with design engineers/architects and taking corrective action to maintain performance levels.
To be blunt, what’s the point of just designing efficiently? All that effort is for naught if the building isn’t aligned to how it’ll actually be operated and maintained. In addition, all those who occupy the building must be educated and enabled in order to achieve sustainable results. If we truly want to get superior performance from our buildings, we need to close the gap between operating performance and design performance.
The old-school, bookshelf approach is still prevalent in today’s construction industry, but it does not deliver the necessary operating performance results.
Many firms continue to ignore, or devalue, actual building performance, but building owners are increasingly focusing on operational performance—putting the responsibility back on the building industry. How the industry shifts to meet this demand will continue to be a major influence on construction for years to come.
If we want to create genuine high-performance buildings, then we need to focus on delivering solutions for the life of the building.
Jesse Sycuro is a Seattle-based account executive for McKinstry’s facility solutions group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.