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How to Get the Most Out of Your High Performance Building

Improving building systems performance has the attention of the corner office and the Oval Office with good reason. Energy prices continue to rise. The economy is still sluggish. Organizations are focused on doing more with less, improving productivity, shrinking their environmental footprint and spending scarce capital budget dollars in ways that will provide the best return on investment.

Enterprises of all kinds are beginning to recognize the enormous opportunity that addressing underperforming buildings offers. After all, buildings account for about 72 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and a large share of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Using high performance building standards to design new buildings, improve existing buildings and operate all buildings is the best way to turn buildings into value-adding assets, rather than just expenses, and reduce their environmental impact. High performance buildings are energy and water efficient. They use durable, non-toxic materials that are high in recycled content. They preserve natural areas on their sites and restore damaged ones. And they use non-polluting, renewable energy to the greatest extent possible.

The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) estimates that energy expenses amount to 29 percent of the total operating costs for a typical commercial building. Building owners and operators can reduce their energy costs by 20-25 percent per year by taking a high performance building approach, according to the USGBC. But cost savings only scratch the surface of the full potential of high performance buildings, which also improve the efficiency and productivity of their occupants and help enterprises achieve their primary missions.

High Performance Buildings Improve Organizational Performance

tiaa cref hqHigh performance buildings are designed and operated to meet specific standards for energy consumption, water use, system reliability and uptime, environmental performance, indoor air quality, noise levels, occupant health and comfort, and other mission essential factors.

Operating standards are set, measured and continually validated to deliver established outcomes within specific tolerances. The standards vary depending on an organization's mission. For example, a hospital would likely set different acoustical and indoor air quality standards than a school, which would have different standards than an office building or factory.

TIAA-CREF embraced high performance building concepts to improve energy and environmental performance, increase reliability and enhance return on investment at its world headquarters in New York (pictured at right).

By installing a state-of-the-art chilled water system, innovative rooftop thermal storage unit and other energy conservation measures, the company was able to save an estimated $765,000 in annual energy and operating costs, reduce carbon emissions by 6.1 million pounds and achieve a 25 percent internal rate of return on incremental spending, without sacrificing valuable rental space in the building.

The business improvement potential of high performance buildings is well documented. A 2009 Michigan State University study found that workgroups moving into Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified offices boosted their productivity. The Center for Healthcare Design (CHCD) concluded that hospitals that do a good job monitoring and controlling their facility's physical environment achieve better patient outcomes. And numerous studies show that students in high performance schools tend to have higher test scores and fewer absences than those in conventional schools.

Providing a high-quality learning environment is the goal of Mesa County Valley School District 51 in Colorado, which recently completed a project to improve the performance of its buildings. With heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system upgrades, web-enabled building controls and other improvements, the district created a better environment for students and teachers while reducing annual energy costs by an estimated $750,000 and saving almost $400,000 in maintenance costs. The $10.7 million improvement program was funded entirely with future energy savings through an innovative energy performance contract.

High performance buildings can also help organizations improve their image and attract and retain customers, employees, investors and tenants. A CoStar Group study found that commercial buildings with LEED or Energy Star certification command higher rents, have fewer vacancies and sell for premium prices.

Service Innovations Enable High Performance for Life

Efficient operation over a building's decades-long occupied life is the linchpin of the high performance business approach and the best way to impact a building's total cost. In fact, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) estimates that operating costs represent 60-85 percent of a building's total lifecycle costs, eclipsing the amount typically spent on design and construction.

Intelligent service approaches that are holistic, technology-enabled and knowledge-based are the engine of high performance buildings. They ensure that a building's physical environment meets the mission requirements of the organization that occupies the facility. Intelligent services technologies continuously monitor critical building systems and use sophisticated analytic and diagnostic tools to identify potential problems and enable building owners and operators to make informed, real-time decisions.

At the Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pittsburgh, hospital officials worked with a leading intelligent service provider to improve building capabilities and maintain a positive physical environment of care without adding facilities staff. With intelligent services, the hospital added around-the-clock remote monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities, reduced staff workload, improved its record-keeping capabilities for certification purposes, enhanced building systems reliability and reduced energy and operating costs.

An effective service strategy helps organizations achieve best-in-class building performance. Improved efficiency reduces lifecycle costs so an organization can invest in other priorities.

Achieving Superior Performance for Life

The technologies that enable high performance buildings have advanced in recent years along with a sharper focus on total costs, energy efficiency and sustainability. Achieving the full potential of high performance buildings requires a whole building, whole lifecycle approach that recognizes opportunities to reduce total costs of a building's occupied life, rather than focusing only on first costs.

High performance buildings are energy-efficient, durable, environmentally responsible and much more. They are organizational assets that improve the comfort, productivity and efficiency of the people and organizations that occupy them. Ultimately, a high performance building becomes a strategic asset that helps an organization achieve its primary mission and pays for itself many times during its occupied life.

Photo CC-licensed by Lisa Picard.

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