30 Jun The Ultimate Guide to High-Performance Building Design
The Ultimate Guide to High-Performance Building Design
The term ‘high-performing’ may bring different images, ranging from a star student to a virtuosic violinist to a hard-working employee. As diverse as they may be, these ‘high-performing’ people have common attributes. A cut above the rest, they transcend expectations and bring added benefits through their functioning. They deliver the best possible outputs within their constraints and ensure quality while doing the same. Most importantly, they are consistent in their results, and they use their excellence to positively influence their own lives and the lives of the people around them.
The same attributes are common to high-performance buildings (HPBs), designed using an integrated approach focusing on diverse parameters to achieve design excellence. High-performance design is a holistic and performance-driven approach to design excellence. It focuses on quantifying its value and continually improving it on all fronts. It has several benefits for the environment, economy, and occupant health, which helps create affordable, healthy, and sustainable built environments for communities.
In this article, we outline the top three benefits of designing high-performance buildings and share key strategies to integrate high performance design into your current workflow.
The Benefits of High-Performance Design
1. ECONOMIC BENEFITS
There is a commonly held perception that high-performance buildings are expensive, which often creates a barrier to adopting high-performance benchmarks. However, many studies show that the long-term financial benefits of HPBs outweigh the initial costs of investment, as they contribute to increased market value and lower operating and lifecycle costs.
High-performance buildings also contribute to indirect savings through improved health and wellbeing, increased attraction and retention of employees, lower absenteeism, and higher productivity.
Green-building certifications such as LEED, WELL, and the Living Building Challenge measure how well buildings perform against high-performance standards and how they significantly increase the desirability and asset values of the properties. HPBs with green labels are shown to sell for 16% more than conventional buildings, enable owners to set higher rent prices, and have an occupancy rate 4.1% higher than non-certified buildings.
2. IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
While high-performance design reduces carbon emissions through passive design and energy efficiency, strategies to limit water consumption, select smart materials, and reduce waste generation further decrease indirect energy consumption and CO2 emissions. LEED-certified buildings generate 50% fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than conventional buildings because of reduced water consumption, waste generation (by 48%), and vehicle transportation (by 5%).
3. IMPROVEMENTS IN OCCUPANT HEALTH
Improving indoor environmental quality positively affects occupant health. Clean indoor air with no harmful chemicals, thermal comfort, and daylight access are elements of a healthy and high-quality space. These benefits lead to higher employee recruitment, retention, productivity, and less sick leave due to respiratory allergies, depression, and stress. By reducing carbon emissions, HPBs contribute to public health by improving outdoor air quality and decreasing pollution.
The enhanced indoor air quality offered by HPBs has several benefits — it eliminates indoor pollutants and odors, prevents the recirculation of contaminated air, and maintains outdoor ventilation. The resultant reduction in CO2 concentrations improves occupants’ productivity and cognitive function. Additionally, improvements in thermal comfort reduce fatigue and symptoms of sick-building syndrome in occupants. Increasing daylight ingress helps occupants maintain their circadian rhythms, which affect their alertness and productivity. Daylighting also has advantages for specific building use types — in retail establishments, daylighting drives more visitors into stores and increases sales, while hospitals see a concurrent rise in patient recovery rates and positive outcomes.
These improvements in occupant health have financial payoffs. Studies show that the benefits of HPBs for occupant health over ten years produce a total net value of $55.47/sqft for productivity increases and $9.03/sqft for improvements in health and wellbeing, reducing missed work time.
Given its broad scope and many considerations, it may be challenging to understand how to integrate high-performance design into a firm’s design process. How does one embark on the process of high-performance design? What are the parameters to be considered and the benchmarks to be set? More important, how can high-performance goals be integrated cost-effectively into a firm’s workflow and standard processes? The following section explores these questions, with some steps to help kickstart a transition to designing high-performance buildings.
Integrating high-performance design into your design process
The first step of initiating a high-performance design project is defining a broad vision for what the building should serve as. Here, designers must explore how the building can exceed expectations by looking towards the future and not just the present—envisioning how the project can go beyond serving its functional requirements and become something truly beautiful and relevant.
Creating this vision requires a comprehensive understanding of the site’s microclimate and local ecology. These studies should look at, but not be limited to, site conditions like topography and hydrology, wind direction and speed, expected rainfall, climatic conditions, and potential weather catastrophes. Designers must consider the site conditions and limitations as opportunities driving the design narrative and need to brainstorm strategies that work with these local conditions. New analysis tools can provide this detailed site information to inform the design decisions.
With the project vision in mind and knowing the site’s potential and limitations, project teams must identify the high-performance attributes they want to work towards in the next step. Then, they must create a project-specific definition for high-performance design. Building standards, such as the International Green Construction Code® powered by ASHRAE Standard 189.1, provide building minimum requirements to deliver a high-performance design with measurable benefits. In addition to standards and building codes, green certification programs allow project teams to achieve high-performance design by following specific criteria that include designing for integration, equitable communities, surrounding ecosystems, water, economy, energy, wellbeing, resources, resilience, and project learnings. Design teams must take larger performance attribute goals and break them down into smaller, project-specific goals for various project stages.
Apart from contributing to operational costs and carbon emissions savings, green labels increase asset values, attract more tenants, and help businesses reflect their environmental priorities. Federal and state policies also provide incentives to building projects that pursue green labels and certifications, in the form of density and height bonuses, property tax rebates or exemptions, financial incentives, expedited permitting, and reduced fees for municipal plan review. Here are three green building programs to consider:
Establishing energy and water efficiency goals help project teams design towards and verify energy and water performance post-occupancy. The same goes for other high-performance attributes such as environmental protection and occupant comfort. Project teams can set performance benchmarks for each high-performance category with these broad goals and specific targets in mind. Implementing a metric-based decision-making process helps evaluate concepts against compliance with project targets and rating system credits. Project teams can present these metrics as key performance indicators (KPIs) that serve as a holistic system of evaluation criteria that allows for the easy comparison of options.
ENERGY STAR and the AIA’s Zero Tool provide benchmarks to determine a building site’s energy use intensity (EUI) baseline and design targets. EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager also provides reliable water use data for commercial and/or multifamily housing buildings. The University of California, Berkeley’s Centre for the Built Environment (CBE) has developed a survey toolkit to benchmark occupant comfort by comparing indoor spaces with similar buildings worldwide.
After setting all the project targets, the next step is the design process (schematic design and design development phase). The design process translates insights from the previous steps into design decisions that align with project goals and benchmarks.
Passive strategies offer a low-cost way of meeting high-performance goals and have the potential to reduce dependence on expensive and energy-intensive mechanical systems. Some simple places to start implementing passive strategies include the building orientation, building form, program layout, daylighting through window placement and sizing, window orientation, façade articulation, shading devices, natural ventilation, and landscape design.
To further increase the efficiency of the design process, teams can take an integrated design approach. An integrated design process helps pursue excellence in design through an interactive decision-making process that brings together project members from all fields — civil, mechanical, electrical, architectural, interior design, landscape, etc. — to create beneficial synergies. By collaborating from the project’s beginning and throughout its development, project teams can create design solutions that benefit multiple stakeholders at a lower cost.
Integrated design can be especially beneficial when discussing potential passive design interventions in the early design stages. Architects, civil engineers, and landscape designers can collaborate to design the building shape, windows, shading devices, and planting schemes to provide thermal protection and reduce wind loads or heat loss/gain. These design measures can reduce air-conditioning requirements and reduce the size of mechanical equipment required to achieve comfort levels. Such a collaborative process can involve a green design “charette” or multi-disciplinary kick-off workshop with the project clients and teams to identify green strategies together and reach a consensus on performance targets and design decisions to achieve these targets. The project teams can establish a performance plan together, which summarizes all environmental and energy-performance targets for the project and the planned strategies to achieve them.
Digital tools for simulation, analysis, and visualization support the complexity and growing breadth of high-performance design by helping project teams analyze technical information and communicate multi-dimensional findings succinctly to make informed decisions. They also help optimize various building parameters and simultaneously navigate an abundance of metrics and targets, which may be too complex for manual resolution. Additionally, building performance tools help projects demonstrate compliance with performance standards, rating system certification, and outcome-based performance goals.
Design teams currently use digital tools to meet high-performance targets in various applications, including energy simulation, load calculation, occupant comfort, daylight and glare analysis, cost optimization, water consumption, etc. Custom workflows and new tools and technologies support the integrated and sustainable design process by quantifying the metrics of high-performance design holistically.
To learn more about high-performance design strategies, check out the full article and design checklist.