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  • design ingenuity + virtual building optimization = true energy savings

    Posted by Rob McAtee, Director of Energy and Sustainability Services

    Today’s construction industry is in the midst of great change as it is experiencing increasing pressures on price and schedule. Added to this are binding requirements for long-term building performance and occupant comfort. Most people agree that improved performance is necessary and worthwhile, but accurately assessing a building’s overall efficiency during design can be challenging. 

    True building optimization can require trial and error, which would be far too expensive to accomplish with physical construction. Fortunately, the tools now exist to cost-effectively model performance in the virtual world. Whole-building energy simulation, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling, and other analyses such as daylighting and electrical studies, are all used to assess performance and drive the design in new directions long before construction begins.

    For example, the conditioning and ventilation of large open spaces can be achieved much more efficiently using a combination of low-velocity air distribution and radiant heating and cooling. But the placement of air outlets and radiant surfaces is critical for proper operation over a variety of loading conditions. By applying CFD modeling during design, the performance can be verified, ensuring that occupants will be comfortable.

    Using daylight to effectively illuminate interiors is another aspect of design that benefits from intense computer simulation. A variety of building geometries, glazing systems, and interior surfaces can be studied to optimize the resulting light levels within. Buildings are now being designed that require no general illumination from light fixtures during much of the day. Reducing energy for lighting provides a dual benefit as it costs less to light the space and less to cool the space since lights add unwanted heat.

    Moving away from business-as-usual always involves some risk. These risks can be managed through simulations performed throughout the design process. While this increased analysis can result in added effort during design, it often results in reductions in construction costs, and more importantly, pays huge dividends in energy savings and improved occupant satisfaction throughout the life of a building.

    Existing Buildings

    Although many agencies are cutting budgets for new construction, we are seeing an influx in repairs and upgrades of current building stock. Since 2005, all federal agencies have been required to reduce their energy use by 3% per year. Facility managers got off to a slow start addressing these mandates and are now realizing that they need help. This same trend is mirrored in the private sector. Buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of America’s total energy consumption, so it is in everyone’s interest to see that they are operating more efficiently. 

    Our new Integrated Facilities Group is working with owners to meet their building needs utilizing services such as retro-commissioning, facility condition assessments, and energy audits. Commissioning is required for most new construction projects, but now, rather than resisting it, owners and contractors are embracing it. Commissioning provides a means for linking the traditional fragmented design and construction processes. 

    Although vitally important for new construction, commissioning can have an even greater impact in existing buildings in the form of retro-commissioning and continuous commissioning since the existing building stock is so vast.

    The addition of these services allows us to consolidate, focus and enhance our efforts in servicing our clients. It also improves our consistency and creativity in an environment where owners seek to reduce energy costs and meet these government mandates.

    Category: Innovation