USGBC Launches Initiative to Improve Building Performance

PHOENIX — Building performance was an area of emphasis at the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual Greenbuild conference in November.

The USGBC recently reaffirmed its commitment to closing the gap between predicted and actual building performance levels with the launch of a new building performance initiative.

With the initiative, the USGBC will establish comprehensive data collection measures covering all LEED-certified buildings and develop and implement data-analysis methodology. The development effort will provide information and feedback for predicted and actual building performance to help owners better understand and address gaps that emerge between virtual and real-world performance.
The USGBC previewed its data collection agenda and proposed analysis methodology at four building performance initiative meetings held around the country during September and October.
“The local summits are a way to gather people’s input for our vision and also for them to share their performance stories, successes and challenges,” says Scot Horst, USGBC LEED senior vice president says.
During the development process, the organization seeks to establish the importance of connections and dialogue between designer, owner and user/occupant. 
“Everyone has a contribution to make to how the building ultimately performs,” Horst says. “With the right kind of information, it will be much easier to see what areas are really driving performance and what areas need to be addressed.”
User Habits
Multiple factors and elements, including energy modeling, building commissioning, appropriate goal setting, effective monitoring and benchmarking, and coordination of design and operation, can affect the performance of a building and impact its ability to deliver high-performance outcomes.
However, the way occupants use the building and its mechanical, electrical, communication and plumbing systems and whether the functionality of systems and controls is regularly monitored and verified are the most significant factors impacting building performance, according to the USGBC.
“Similar to the sticker on a new car that says the car will get 30 miles to the gallon — the car is calibrated to perform, but it’s also reliant on the driver’s habits,” Horst says.
The initiative is designed to complement and facilitate compliance with the new LEED-certification submission data-reporting requirements for energy and water usage, which were introduced this year under the updated LEED v3 standards for green building design, construction, operations and maintenance.
“Today there is all too often a disconnect, or performance gap, between the energy modeling done during the design phase and what actually happens during daily operation after the building is constructed,” Horst says.
Compliance Routes
Building owners must commit to collect and report performance data on an ongoing basis, and the LEED certification process will offer owners three options for compliance for the building performance requirements.
The building can be recertified on a two-year cycle using the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance framework. Alternatively, the owner can commit to provide annual building energy and water usage data on an ongoing basis. Owners can also choose to sign a release authorizing the USGBC to obtain building energy and water usage data directly from utility providers.
The new requirement creates a LEED-certified building performance data stream that can be used by owners and operators to optimize building performance through the establishment of benchmarking programs over the life of the building.
“Ongoing monitoring and reporting of data is the single best way to drive higher building performance because it will bring to light external issues, such as occupant behavior or unanticipated building usage patterns,” Horst says.
The performance-data mandate will be waived for certain building types with central plants, such as a military base or university campus, where it would prove cost-prohibitive to install individual meters on several dispersed buildings. However, officials are investigating cost-effective ways for every LEED building to become metered and participate in the data-capture initiative.
The USGBC plans to aggregate the building performance data collected and use the information in developing future versions of LEED.
“This data will show us what strategies work and which don’t, so we can evolve the credits and prerequisites informed by lessons learned,” says Brendan Owens, USGBC vice president of LEED technical development.  
The data will provide an additional tool that will enhance the organization’s efforts to educate building owners about how users and occupants can impact building energy use and water consumption and about strategies to ensure buildings continue to operate as designed.
The LEED program was developed to transform conventional building design and construction strategies and practices with the goal of improving energy, water and resource efficiency and reducing the building environmental footprint.
Buildings account for 40 percent of total energy usage, 13 percent of water consumption and 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, according to the USGBC. Improving the efficiency of buildings through the implementation of sustainability strategies and measures offers the potential to meet 85 percent of future energy demands, officials say.
“LEED was created to transform the way we build and operate buildings with a goal of reducing the impacts of the built environment,” Horst says. “The LEED design and construction certifications recognize one piece of a building’s lifecycle, but it’s the day-to-day running of the building that has dramatic impact on its performance.”