These days, essentially everybody wants their building to be more efficient. But there are still barriers to achieving high efficiency and constructing a high-performance building.

According to industry experts, the costs associated with high-performance buildings continue to be the biggest barrier to constructing and retrofitting more efficient buildings.

“Overcoming first-cost barriers continues to be one of the biggest challenges for high-performance buildings,” said Doug Bishop, vice president, sales and marketing, Danfoss. “Proving to building owners, investors, and brokers that the economic benefits of energy-efficient design are real and sustainable over time is an important part of the building value proposition.”

Richard D. Hermans, director of training and advanced applications, Daikin McQuay, agreed.

“The greatest challenge is the perception that high-performance buildings are too expensive,” said Hermans, a certified professional engineer and ASHRAE-certified Health Care Facility Design Professional (HFDP). “If analyzed properly with a lifecycle cost evaluation, high-performance buildings make very good economic sense.”

Providing Solutions

Not only are high-performance buildings labeled as too costly to initially build, they can also be considered too costly to maintain. Yet there are many ways that these barriers can be overcome, and those involved in the construction process can find success in designing, building, and maintaining high-performance facilities.

According to Lorie Quillin-Bell, director, go-to-market, LG Electronics USA, commercial air conditioning, it’s unfortunate that many building owners “still hold the misconception that a high-performance building is too expensive to build or maintain.”

She continued, “This is not at all the case, and in fact can be quite the opposite, especially factoring in longer-term cost savings through energy efficiency, reduced maintenance needs, products with longer lifecycles, and potential tax credits. Education of owners, contractors, and designers is the key to overcoming this challenge.”

Bishop also emphasized that rebates and tax incentives can help overcome economic barriers.

“The right package of economic incentives, such as utility and municipal rebates, is critical to overcome challenges,” he said. “Equally important is removing disincentives, such as 39-year depreciation cycles.”

Moreover, he noted that each project is unique and requires an individual evaluation.

“The economic value to the building owner of a high-performance building depends on many factors such as local climate, occupancy hours, power utility fee structures, and ownership term. For example, a government entity will usually entertain a longer payback period than, say, a speculative builder,” Bishop said. “All of these factors must be weighed, and the design justified on its unique merits.”

Measuring Performance

Proving that the design of the building actually results in higher, more efficient performance is the next step. “Recent trends include a focus on operational and performance benchmarking, both of which can be useful in getting a high-performance buildings program off the ground,” said Lou Ronsivalli, global services offer development leader, Trane. “Deploying intelligent building analytics also can be useful.”

Hermans also noted the significance of the trend to measure and document performance. “Clearly, the growing trend of evaluating the actual performance of buildings and comparing that to any projections or benchmarks is important to us,” he said. “It is important to have good design, excellent high-performance equipment, and vigilant measurement and verification of the operation of a commercial building in order to claim high performance. This is why we feel that excellent part-load performance is crucial for equipment.”

Hot Sectors

Some markets have been quicker than others to accept high performance. According to Hermans, “Government is leading the way, mainly because they are in the best position to mandate high-performance construction and design.”

He added, “Health care facilities are close behind, and this market is growing for high-performance design and construction.”

Forrest Fencl, managing member, UV Resources, agreed. “Health care (hospitals) is a primary target as the energy cost and need for maximum performance lies within its designs.”

Quillin-Bell added that high performance is also spreading across the education sector.

“While LG sees high-performance building projects across all building sectors, the education market is taking an especially active role with high performance, environmentally friendly modular-classroom building projects across the U.S.”

She added, “The education industry is also one of the biggest areas of adoption for achieving LEED classification.”

Ronsivalli also commented on the increasing number of educational and institutional facilities that are adopting standards to achieve improved building performance.

“Performance requirements are now driven at the board level of many institutions,” he noted.

Tom Rosback, vice president and general manager, commercial control systems, Honeywell, said they are also seeing a lot of growth in both the education and health care market where the decision makers recognize that they will be occupying a building for a long time. Rosback also acknowledged a huge high-performance potential in grocery stores.

“The margins for grocery stores are so small. We are talking about only 1 or 2 percent. It can make a huge difference to them to save money on energy,” Rosback said.

Enabling Equipment

But achieving that higher level of performance isn’t possible without paying attention to the HVAC systems in the building.

“Because HVAC systems can be as much as half of a building’s energy use, HVAC equipment performance should be a major part of what would be called a high-performance building,” Fencl said.

“More intelligent and targeted building controls (lighting, temperature, etc.), higher-efficiency systems, increased IAQ, and reduced environmental impact remain the top trends driving high-performance buildings,” said Quillin-Bell. “HVAC systems can contribute significantly to each of these factors.”

She noted that the newest system from LG developed for use in high-performance buildings is the Multi F Max. According to Quillin-Bell, it is an “an ultra-efficient, high-capacity system featuring overall capacity up to 54,000 Btuh with heating and cooling for up to eight separate zones.”

She explained, “Duct-free systems assist to increase IAQ through eliminating unnecessary ductwork, while also providing higher SEER ratings and reduced noise. Specifically, Multi F Max delivers a SEER up to 18.4 and decreased noise levels at 54 dB(A) rated cooling and 56 dB(A) rated heating.”

Ronsivalli said that Trane has developed a series of HVAC solutions called EarthWise systems that combine efficient HVAC equipment and building automation controls to improve performance.

“Earthwise systems also include application guidelines/templates which enable the solutions to deliver optimal efficiency,” he said. “These templates can be used by designers to make specific system designs more efficient, easier to implement, and easier to service and sustain over time. The latest Trane EarthWise offering is the Intelligent Variable Air system, which delivers 20-30 percent more efficiency than traditional variable air volume designs while maintaining the positive benefits of fresh air ventilation control.”

Bishop pointed to variable-frequency drives (VFDs) as “proven technology that also have a high return on investment,” and noted that Danfoss manufactures VFDs that are applied to improve the performance of motors, fans, and pumps in a building.

“In larger commercial buildings,” he added, “the Danfoss Turbocor oil-free variable-speed centrifugal compressor has been very well received by customers.”

Hermans made mention of two high-performance products from Daikin McQuay — the Magnitude magnetic bearing compressor chiller and the Rebel rooftop unit, which is available with an energy recovery wheel.

“Due to their efficiency, Magnitude chillers have frequently been selected for high-performance buildings such as LEED Platinum and Gold certified buildings, as well as for Energy Star rated facilities,” he said.

Plus he pointed out the efficiency of the Rebel, saying, “Rebel rooftop units already achieve IEERs as high as 20.6 without energy recovery, and this new energy recovery option makes it even more efficient, especially for applications requiring large amounts of ventilated air.”

On the Horizon

Industry members expect the high-performance building market will emphasize greater integration in the future. “We are driving efficiency incrementally at the component level. The integration of all HVAC systems through a whole building system approach is where the industry will see the next horizon in energy efficiency,” Bishop said.

Quillin-Bell noted that this integrated design will occur earlier in the building process, and that contractors must try to stay ahead of the curve.

“It’s more important than ever for contractors to stay current on new technologies, product specifications, installation, and maintenance,” she said. “Training and certification courses will be critical as HVAC installers, engineers, and contractors seek to differentiate themselves and stay on top of specifications for high-performance systems across both VRF [variable-refrigerant flow] and DFS [duct-free split system] solutions.

Along with integration will come better evaluation, according to Ronsivalli. “The next step is to evaluate all critical operating metrics involved in high-performance building, such as IAQ, temperature, and noise level, to achieve the best balance among them,” he said.

Publication date: 3/25/2013