Beyond Green Building – High Performance Buildings

ecobuild.pngWhat is beyond Green Building? I set out to AEC-ST EcoBuild America in Washington DC to find out. Although the U.S. Green Building Council and the LEED greenbuilding program seem to be getting the publicity, the federal government has been studying building science and developing best practices for decades. They have compiled these findings into the Whole Building Design Guide, a guide that is downloaded 1.7 million times a month! I had a chance to hear first hand from building scientists and leaders about the tools available right now to develop high performance buildings for your company or business.

I asked Richard Paradis, the Federal Buildings Program Manager for the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, about the key aspects of high performance building. “Unlike the older, more traditional approach in which design decisions are made one after the other, the whole building approach relies on careful consideration and integration of eight equally important key design objectives,” Paradis explained, “which include accessibility, aesthetics, cost considerations, functionality, safety and security, occupant health/productivity, historic preservation, and environmental performance.” He encourages all builders to review the Whole Building Design Guide for the latest techniques on all eight of these essential components. Although the guide was originally designed for federal agencies, over 75% of downloads are from private companies and individuals.
High performance building starts at the design phase. Deke Smith, Executive Director of buildingSmart Alliance highlighted the importance of Building Information Modeling (BIM) as a tool to encourage good design from the beginning. He elaborated, “Our collective goal is open interoperability and full life cycle implementation of building information models. The focus is to guarantee lowest overall cost, optimum sustainability, energy conservation and environmental stewardship to protect the earth’s ecosystem.” Using BIM helps keep all of the information for a building in one place, and reduces the life cycle cost of a building. Mr. Smith encourages people interested in BIM to look at a new McGraw Hill Report Building Information Modeling (BIM) SmartMarket Report.
The US Department of Energy Building Technologies Team gave an interesting talk on zero energy buildings. Although zero energy buildings are not a commercial reality today, if we bring today’s buildings up to code we could be creating a huge amount of “negawatts”. By saving energy we are avoiding building new power plants and thus reducing green house gasses. Edward Pollock Jr., the residential team leader encourages builders and home owners to visit the Building America Department of Energy website. Building America works with research teams composed of key members of the building industry in the production of advanced residential buildings. The website highlights the best practices currently being tested and implemented throughout the USA. Mr. Pollock is hopeful that the new administration will continue and potentially increase the funding to promote the adoption of high performance building practices. He also is looking for ways for the government to guarantee home improvement loans that reduce energy.
Recent legislation mandating upgrading of federal buildings, as well as Obama’s commitment to retrofitting federal buildings and schools, will hopefully lead to a wide adoption of high performance building standards. AEC-ST EcoBuild brings together the leaders in the field: men and women who have dedicated their lives to building better, high performing building. Thanks to these leaders we have the knowledge and resources to go beyond green.

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