Posts Tagged ‘Outcome-based energy codes’

In my last post, I addressed rating systems and brought up the point that it is difficult for rating systems to, well, rate without standardized measures like NFRC ratings on windows. Fortunately, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) is smarter than me and is addressing this issue at the USGBC Cascadia Chapter’s Living Futures Conference in May. The Trust’s session will focus on “Outcome-Based Energy Codes as a Foundation for Policy and Market Transformation.”

As many of you may have read or heard, a New York Times article from August 2009 revealed that many buildings boasting the LEED label were not performing nearly as well as had been originally predicted by the U.S. Green Building Council. This was a pretty big deal because the LEED label allows building owners to gain tax credits and charge premium rents. It is also, well, a little annoying because there is so much patting on the back and hoopla surrounding these certifications. Once the data was released, some experts in the field were recommending that LEED certification be withheld until a building proves itself to be energy efficient, and that energy consumption data from every rated building should be made available to the public. Honestly, this was a big break for preservationists. Not that we like to encourage failure, but something smelled fishy from the get-go with many of these new “green” construction projects, and there was some rejoicing in that moment of “I told you so.”

Preservation Green Lab was created to encourage municipalities and states around the country to fully consider historic preservation and the existing building stock in formulating their climate change action plans.

I don’t bring that up to rehash the past, but to highlight how smart and timely the NTHP is in regards to this issue, even in a time when their budget is being hacked to bits and they are in danger of losing major programs. I will let Liz Dunne, Consulting Director of the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab sum up what outcome-based energy codes are about:

The NTHP’s Preservation Green Lab (PGL) is working with the City of Seattle on a new energy code framework that will be based on actual energy performance outcomes, rather than prescriptive measures, for retrofitting existing buildings. Existing energy codes typically rely on prescriptive measures (for example, requiring projects to use windows with a certain “U” value) rather than targeting certain performance outcomes (for example improving overall energy performance by a certain percentage.)

I sometimes think of software and rating systems as a kind of misguided cyborg Superman (surely, I am not alone in this?). They seem like they will fix everything and keep you safe and warm, but in reality, they often lose that human, common sense element, creating even more problems.

PGL is currently calling for case studies on older buildings that have undergone energy efficient retrofits (they don’t need to be historic) to collect more real data and to hopefully be a major voice in this movement–or should I say, a voice that is finally taken more seriously. This data will be valuable in many ways as stimulus money is continually being pumped into home energy improvements, which is always well intentioned but not always in the most effective way to use funding. Energy audits are also proving to be a poor predictor of energy savings with older homes (based on what I have seen, they are inflating the projected energy savings of homes based on the software recommendations), so what is needed are more realistic and outcomes to draw on instead of software programs modeling off of god-knows-what. And, of course, this will also show which measures are effective and which are not delivering what they promise. This is not to say that energy audits are not crucial to energy saving measures, just that they need to be expressed in a different way. Audits are missing that more human element, which could help owners to pay more attention to existing features and not worry so much about all the lab testing done on replacement materials because much of it is bunk or doesn’t take into account existing materials and factors.

In short (finally): I’m completely stoked to see this new data and glad that we’re finally getting to a point where measures installed a couple of years back can now be measured in terms of true performance. It just seems that the most accurate lab testing out there will not be done in a closed room with expensive machines and artificial conditions–it will be the info gathered by the Preservation Green Lab.

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