As one of the latest concepts to emerge from the trend toward sustainability, high-performance (HP) buildings are generating a lot of buzz. And the role of HVAC equipment and those who install it is rapidly developing in response to this construction trend.

There is currently no commonly accepted definition for a high-performance building, according to Mark Platt, president and CEO of Multistack. He explained, however, that there are certain elements that every definition of a high performance building shares. “Exceeding the current requirement of industry energy efficiency standards and reducing typical facility water consumption are key to all definitions of a high-performance building.”

Since HVAC systems are one of the biggest users of energy in a building, for some time now the emphasis in the HVAC industry has been on a unit’s energy efficiency. Now the focus has moved from looking solely at the energy efficiency of a single piece of equipment to the current trend of looking at all the systems in a building and their interconnection.

Total Building Integration

Integration of the entire building offers monitoring and control of the various building systems, enabling greater control of the building’s energy usage overall.

“While the energy efficiency of individual components and HVAC equipment has risen sharply over recent decades, the trend now is toward considering the overall energy performance of integrated subsystems and integrated building systems,” said Robert Wilkins, vice president, public affairs, Danfoss.

Marc Zipfel, director of product marketing, Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating, agreed. “Building control systems are becoming more integrated. Most owners of high-performance buildings today want an integrated systems control for the entire building to monitor and adjust energy consumption.”

Beyond energy efficiency, “High-performance buildings also are responsive to changes in occupancy, building use, and environmental and safety compliance issues over the life of the building,” said Lou Ronsivalli, global service offers leader, Trane.

And consideration of the environment and occupants’ comfort come into play.

Greg Alcorn, vice president, commercial sales and marketing, Carrier, said, “High-performance buildings are ultra-efficient, and as a result, they may be less expensive to operate. They improve the comfort and performance of the occupants, while reducing consumption of water and energy.”

He added, “Building sustainability takes the concept of high-performance buildings to a broader level. Building sustainability is about environmental stewardship and preservation of natural resources.”

Kevin C. McNamara, vice president, Commercial Air Conditioning Division, LG Electronics USA Inc., described the relationship between high-performance buildings and sustainability this way: “Today’s high-performance buildings take sustainability to the next level with a holistic approach that considers the building’s total environmental impact as well as occupant comfort.” He also referred to the high performance of buildings as a “cradle-to-grave approach to sustainability.”

Contractors as System Integrators

As more owners and builders seek to construct high performance buildings that achieve this level of sustainability, they will need to better communicate and work with contractors.

“A key trend in the building construction industry is ‘integrated design,’ with the objective of streamlining and improving building methods,” said McNamara.

Zipfel noted that various building professionals will be working even closer together in the creation of a high-performance building and broaden their knowledge of regulations and HVAC offerings. “Because high-performance buildings require that different aspects of the design work together to increase the overall efficiency of the building, we are seeing, and will continue to see, increased integration of project teams as contractors, architects, and engineers can no longer be compartmentalized into their individual areas of expertise and still design a high-performance building.

“Contractors should be aware of any future energy regulations and should be trained in advance to install all energy-efficient HVAC options so they do not miss out on jobs for lack of system knowledge,” he said.

Ronsivalli sees systems integrators as taking a larger part in work on high-performance buildings. “The evolution of high-performance buildings opens the doors very wide for effective systems integrators — those who can optimize and leverage an entire building’s infrastructure to drive more value, create better data, help with more effective communications and better decision-making, allow more applications to serve customer needs, and eliminate proprietary advantages that have historically limited industry progress and customer options.”

Training of various HVACR professionals in various technologies and methodologies also will be needed, said Timothy W. Young, P.E., Western sales engineer, Fujitsu General America Inc. “The design solutions that are being applied often include more complex controllers and electronics, as well as new approaches to managing the refrigeration cycle. This requires a substantial commitment to training on the part of all participants in the process: specifying engineers, distributors, installing contractors, and HVAC service companies.”

After the installation is complete, it’s the maintenance that will either keep the building performing at a high level or not.

“We will see increased consideration on maintainability of the systems we design and install. Often we design a system that a building owner can’t maintain. We have seen systems consuming twice as much energy at the end of their life as they did when they were new,” Platt said. “Methods that allow building owners to ‘continuously commission’ their HVAC systems will be very important to attaining our long-term energy-efficiency goals.”

Trends in High Performance

For those contractors who want to become effective system integrators, they will need to stay up-to-date on a wide range of trends affecting high-performance buildings.

Zipfel said that some of the current trends in high-performance buildings include the use of mobile applications, especially for facility maintenance personnel; an emphasis on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED); and building owners looking at lifecycle cost instead of initial equipment costs. He added that “educating the building owner on total lifecycle costs continues to be a challenge and a necessity.”

Platt agreed that the initial cost is still given more attention than lifecycle cost. “Although we have been touting the benefits of designing facilities for the lowest lifecycle cost for decades, we still — more often than not — end up focusing primarily on first cost when the rubber meets the road. That trend continues to change, thankfully, although it is still changing slower than it should.”

Wilkins said that variable speed is a current trend that aids in high-performance building energy savings. “In the HVAC industry, this trend is raising the visibility of energy-saving opportunities through variable-speed operation to optimize part-load efficiency, optimizing chiller and cooling tower balancing, waste heat recovery and reuse, fresh air intake, etc. Of course, optimizing lighting systems, windows, and day-lighting also leads to additional opportunities through which to further optimize HVAC systems.”

Rick Hermans, P.E., director of training and advanced applications, McQuay International, also pointed to part-load efficiency as being one of the trends in high-performance buildings.

“Currently, the trend is to improve the performance of building systems: not only high-efficiency equipment but highly effective application of that equipment in systems. The present design philosophy has shifted to high-level performance of systems and equipment under part load and not simply full-load efficiency.”

He also pointed to performance metrics and measurements as “a clear new trend in the building design, construction, and operation industry,” but remarked that “new metrics will be required” to measure a building’s “real performance in air quality, materials handling, and energy use.”

Hermans said measuring EER, for full loads, and integrated energy efficiency ratio (IEER), for average part-load efficiency, allows commercial a/c and heat pump cooling efficiencies to be compared, and that the “COP metric is used to rate and compare full-load heat pumping heating efficiency at 17˚ and 47˚F ambient.” He pointed out that the industry is lacking a metric that measures a heat pump at part load “that perhaps would be called integrated coefficient of performance (ICOP).”

Ronsivalli said analytics is a trend in high-performance buildings that will continue on and influence high-performance buildings in the future.

“Without a doubt, the race is on to create more differentiated value through leveraging technology and using data and information to design highly effective ‘intelligent’ analytics. Providers that develop the most innovative new system analytics will take the lead in how the industry changes some of its traditional models for initial design requirements and ongoing services.”

He continued, “Building designers are beginning to try some new system design concepts, in an at-
tempt to deliver better energy performance in their HVACR systems.”

McNamara agreed, saying, “The trend toward high-performance buildings is having an impact on the building community. This push for performance will continue to drive our industry to more innovative technologies. For instance, the increased emphasis on daylighting is spurring engineers and architects to look at ways to reduce plenums and eliminate ductwork to increase window and ceiling height. The drive to increase efficiency will push all of us to look to new technologies and enhanced features to take performance beyond the current boundaries of our industry.”

Alcorn sees the future of high-performance buildings directed by total building energy use. “By optimizing energy and resource use, green buildings not only reduce environmental impacts, but also benefit building owners and occupants. Green building practices reduce operating costs, increase worker productivity, and promote healthy indoor air quality.”

Also the connection between building design and nature will continue further into the future, he said. “We can look to nature to help design the built environment, incorporating what nature has already solved into building design.”

Publication date: 3/19/2012