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New system widens scale of energy ratings

Justin Carinci
Dolan Media Newswires

Portland, OR — Forty-five commercial and public buildings in the Portland-metro area bear Energy Star labels, among the most in the country. But a new energy ratings system from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers could make those ratings seem less appealing.

Instead of giving gold stars, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, the new system gives letter grades. And ASHRAE is a tough grader.

Some of those Energy Stars might earn only a “B” grade under ASHRAE’s Building Energy Quotient, or Building EQ rating system, said Ryan Colker, manager of government affairs for ASHRAE.

Brent Sainsbury, co-founder of Madison-based Enlightening Real Estate, said tougher standards are needed to build more energy efficient homes.

“Energy Star is a lot more general,” he said. “It gets people thinking about it, which is good, but you look in some Energy Star homes and there are still outlets four feet from each other or incandescent light bulbs.

“We need them to put their money where their mouth is, or something to naturally bring us to a higher standard.”

Building EQ is designed to be both technical and easy to understand, Colker said. It relies on two assessments: modeling of a building’s design and a year’s worth of operating data. “There’s a concern with the gap between how buildings are modeled and what the actual results are,” he said. “We want to bring that gap closer together.”

The goal, Colker said, is to push developers and building owners toward the net-zero energy standard, an “A+” under Building EQ. That’s easier under a graded scale than with a pass-fail marker, he said.

Energy Star buildings must be in the 75th percentile of energy efficiency.

“But you can’t really differentiate between buildings at 75 percent and 90 percent,” Colker said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve gone to the scale we’ve gone to, is to recognize the top performers.”

The grading scale could shake up the industry with its simplicity, said Alisa Kane, green building manager with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

“We all know what it feels like to get a ‘C,’ ” Kane said. “And we all know we want to do better.”

The new system would probably push a kind of competition among developers for more efficient buildings, Kane said.

“It will probably have the same bearing on the market as LEED does,” she said.

But Building EQ focuses solely on energy, unlike Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which considers other factors.

Building EQ, which will be officially introduced later this fall, would be voluntary, at least at first, Colker said. Eventually, he said, the system could be mandated by local governments.

Paul Snyder contributed to this report.

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