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Architects, engineers aim for 2030 Challenge goals

Brad Wilson, an associate with PAE Consulting Engineers Inc., says occupant behavior will determine whether net-zero energy use is a pipe dream or a reality. (Photo by Dan Carter)

Brad Wilson, an associate with PAE Consulting Engineers Inc., says occupant behavior will determine whether net-zero energy use is a pipe dream or a reality. (Photo by Dan Carter)

By Nathalie Weinstein
Dolan Media Newswires

Portland, Ore. — A building cannot meet the 2030 Challenge without proof of performance. But that proof isn’t easy to obtain.

If buildings are to meet the international initiative’s goal of operating without greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuels by 2030, then the industry must have better methods of tracking energy performance after construction, architects and engineers say.

Under the 2030 Challenge, greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced through construction of buildings with greater energy efficiency. This year, the challenge called for all new building projects to be designed 60 percent more energy efficient than current building energy codes. But according to Isaac Adams, job captain with THA Architecture Inc., many firms still don’t know if their buildings have met previous goals because of a lack of post-occupancy data.

THA has tried to track the energy use of its projects after construction by collecting utility billing information from project owners. But so far, only a few owners have obliged, Adams said.

“We’ve had clients that never get back to us,” Adams said. “We work on a lot of university projects, and colleges generally get one giant utility bill for the whole campus, not one building. There are nerves over sharing data from an underperforming building. But this data needs to be out there, because a lot of people have a lot to learn from it.”

Obtaining the data is crucial as firms strive to achieve future 2030 Challenge bench marks, said Brad Wilson, an associate with PAE Consulting Engineers Inc. Architects and engineers can design efficiency into buildings through heating and ventilation systems, grid-tied solar systems and other methods. But occupant behavior will determine whether net-zero energy use is a pipe dream or a reality, he said.

Wilson has been working with architecture firms to find better ways of tracking energy use for multifamily housing, the most difficult building type to track.

Residential and student housing projects’ plug loads — energy consumed by electronic appliances plugged into a building — tend to vary significantly from building to building. A residence hall may be significantly energy efficient on paper but perform much differently once students move in with computers and sound systems.

“You can only get energy use down so far,” Wilson said. “We have a good handle on how we reduce energy loads for lighting, heating and cooling. But plug loads are personal. There’s no design directive there.”

PAE Consulting Engineers is doing studies at Oregon and Washington residence halls to learn how energy is being used by students, Wilson said. Architects can then better predict energy modeling.

Building relationships with project owners early is a key to improving accessibility to data, said Kurt Haapala, associate principal with Mahlum Architecture, Portland.

“We need to get into the routine of being conversant in this world of energy use from the start,” Haapala said. “It always comes down to the users. If occupants understand the building, they can contribute to its efficiency. Being informed on this information will make our work better, but we have a long way to go.”

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