Real Life Example of the Energy Performance Gap

[Sometimes I get great emails from readers and we discuss a green building topic or blog post.  Then I sit on the topic for a while, waiting for the right time to share with the Green Building Law Update readers.  Now seems like the right time to share an email I received from a reader.  

I received this great email from a reader who manages the operations and maintenance of a LEED Gold Certified building.  What follows is his response to my question "how are the green building efforts going?"

At its best the going is very slow. At its worst... we're kind of afraid to go.
I'm meeting with the building HVAC technician once a week to try & review our LEED report and the 2.1 spec. We have a request in to our boss for information/documentation from the architectural firm that got us certified (M&V plan, etc.). We may or may not be deemed worthy of actually talking to the firm. I'm also putting in a request to purchase the ASHRAE books we seem to need (55, 90.1, etc.).
Right now I'm kind of frustrated with two aspects of this whole thing:
1) the lack of resources for anyone inheriting these buildings
2) the lack of clarity regarding who owns what.
The HVAC tech & I are pretty sure we're only verifying we got the building that was sold to us, but we have NO idea exactly how much of this we have to verify, how exactly to verify it, and how much we'll suffer for calling out anything wrong. State mentality FTL, I know, but blue-collars are that way due to experience.

There's the geek part of me that wants to set aside a portion of the Web to try and do something about this. But where do I start? My understanding of the problem is so small I can't even focus on that little nugget I "need to fix".
There's also part of me that really doesn't care. Chasing unfocused spec with no real understanding of who owns what or who is responsible for what is not something I want to focus my time on.
To using a coding analogy (which I'm not even qualified to use)... Right now all I see is a lot of coding framework for very little functional code. I'm not even sure I want to continue coding in this language.
I'd rather focus on playing guitar for a weekend band. :p

[This is a perfect example of the green building performance gap.  The building may be designed with the most state-of-the-art, energy saving strategies, but no one bothers explaining the operations and maintenance to the operations and maintenance crew.  You may recall that the performance gap is what led to USGBC authorizing LEED de-certification.  Green building education provided to operations and maintenance staff could go a long way to closing the performance gap.]

Photo:  Jim at Sonicchiken

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Comments (7) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
David Bourbon - July 17, 2009 3:37 PM

This will continue to happen as long as developers see green building only as a marketing tool for leasing, like leather seats in cars. When everyone on the team, including design, engineering, owners, contractors, facility management, techs and city officials take the responsibility for the success of green buildings (and educate and communicate,) events like this will become less common.

Gregory Arkin - July 17, 2009 9:48 PM

I am so looking forward to architects and engineers having to step up to the plate with better designed buildings. I think LEED v3 is really going to separate the technologically advanced designers from those looking to cut corners.

This is what I've been saying about Building Information Modeling. Your letter writer has no way of finding the information he needs for the building. It's all about a database of information from predesign through facility management. I feel bad for him, but let's put more liability and responsibility on the architects and engineers to stop drawing lines on a piece of paper and creating technoglyphics. Who knows, by providing a higher level of services, they might actually make more money and be profitable.

KATHRYN - July 18, 2009 6:47 PM

I agree that LEED should be responsible for ensuring that appropriate use is documented. What this is really exposing is the full cycle of sustainability which only starts at design/build. LEED has done a GREAT job of getting people thinking about how to build from a sustainable point of view, however it doesn't touch all the buildings already in use. I know you can retrofit - I have a friend who has gotten a double cert from LEED for a retrofit in Denver, but not everyone can afford what he did. In the end, it is the USE of the building that will have the biggest and most long-lasting impact. We've been working on how to get people to understand AND verify the use for just that reason.

Will - July 18, 2009 9:41 PM

Without knowing the full details of your correspondent, it is surprising (and unprofessional) that the construction manager, MEP firm, and others, did not provide an owner's manual at handoff. One of the reasons that property management is involved in the project prior to substantial completion is to collect and coordinate this type of information.

In multifamily, it's a whole different story. The service teams at a 300-unit apartment community will probably include a service manager ($29-45,000/year), a service tech or two ($19-27,000) and a porter or two ($9-11/hr), probably 3.5 FTE. Education is usually on the job and through specific systems training or certification. By necessity, these guys are generalists. If you can't explain how a system works to one of them, it will not be regularly optimized.

And honestly, if you can't explain how to optimize an HVAC to someone who works with them on a regular basis, how on earth can you explain it to a homeowner?

Nicole - July 20, 2009 7:52 AM

My company has been practicing responsible building practices for 16 years. We are proud to be currently working through a leed for homes certification on a local project. Part of our end game is to provide a manual for service personal and a welcome packet for the new owner. The info will explain perpetual responsibilities and also the underlying benifits of the space. This will educate both parties. It will also make my team happy as we are working very hard to make enviroments healthy for everyone!

Chris Cheatham - July 20, 2009 10:24 PM

@David Bourbon - Thanks for your comments, I agree. Although I think we are on the right track.

@Gregory Arkin - How would BIM help in this situation? Can you elaborate?

@KATHRYN - I agree - I have said many times on this blog that 2009 (and beyond) is the year of the retrofit.

@Will - Agreed. Although homeowner HVAC systems tend to be simpler to operate. Right?

@Nicole - Keep up the good work. In your experience, is a manual enough for the owner to understand the HVAC system?

Michael Ivanovch - July 24, 2009 7:48 AM

If this was LEED Gold, there should have been some level of commissioning - In 2.1, there was a requirement to obtain an independent third-party commissioning agent, to verify the installation, training, and operation; and to complete a commissioning report. Find out who did the Cx and ask for a copy of the report and other documents they may/should have reviewed. It might cost some dough, but a good Cx might be able to walk you through the entire facility and perfom some systems training. You also might want to track down the vendors for the HVAC and any other system that's giving you problems...vendors would hate to have a bad LEED Gold building tied to them. Good Luck! Michael

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