Earlier this year, ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) broke ground on the construction of the organization’s new headquarters in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. The two-story 66,700 square-foot building will be renovated for ASHRAE’s 125-person staff and will set an example for how to successfully renovate an older, less-efficient building with state-of-the-art energy-efficient technology.

However, as it turned out, the construction of the organization's new headquarters wasn't the only big project in the pipeline. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, ASHRAE has made itself a reliable source for guidance on how the HVAC industry professionals can utilize their skills to keep building occupants safe from the spread of disease.

Leading those directives has been ASHRAE 2019-2020 president Darryl K. Boyce, P.Eng, who not only wants HVAC professionals to be a part of the coronavirus solution but to also be a part of the building industry's sustainable future. 

Every ASHRAE president steps into the role with a planned focus and initiatives. Why did you choose your theme, “Building for People and Performance. Achieving Operational Excellence”?

Operational performance is an important process in the management of buildings. This theme focuses on ensuring operational performance for the people who live, work and interact in the buildings we create. It is a message and a goal that touches on the core of ASHRAE’s vision of a healthy and sustainable built environment.

Building designs should reflect the capabilities of the people who will be operating the building. As a result, the operators aren’t left with: “How do I make this work?” Some examples of ways in which we can ensure effective operational performance include establishing an effective turnover and orientation training process, understanding what life is like after the building is handed over, designing buildings for the occupant operators that will occupy the space and evaluating all designs for their impact on Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). 

As building owners work towards LEED rated buildings, what is the best thing the HVAC contractors can do/should do to be partners in those efforts?  

Contractors can support the sustainable buildings initiatives by finding ways to reduce waste during construction and install systems in a manner that does not waste energy through system effects such as excessive system pressure losses. 

They can also facilitate more effective operations by installing the systems and equipment in a manner that facilitates operation and maintenance.

'Green HVAC' is a term thrown around a lot in the HVAC industry. How does ASHRAE interpret that term in the context of its goals?

Green HVAC results from a combination of designing the right system for the application, not oversizing the system and ensuring that the materials used to build and operate the system are the least polluting that is available.

Right now, LEED rated- buildings are the exception, not the rule. How soon do you anticipate a shift happening where LEED rated buildings are standard?

An effective sustainable built environment needs to become the standard, and one of the ways is following the LEED program. This can also be accomplished by following the Green Construction Code, which is based on ASHRAE Standard 189.1. Once the building owners fully understand the importance of properly designed and constructed buildings that provide great indoor environments for their staff or tenants to be successful while not wasting energy, the green/sustainable building initiatives will become standard. 

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the HVAC industry today and in what way does ASHRAE attempt to address that challenge?

Building designers do not always adequately account for building operators’ qualifications and abilities during the design phase. A greater emphasis needs to be placed on operability during the design, construction and turnover with an emphasis on the Indoor Environmental Quality without wasting energy.

Another ongoing challenge within the industry is helping building owners and operators set concrete and measurable IAQ goals. Indoor air quality issues impact the lives of people across the globe, leading to health concerns, liability issues, lost productivity and decreased property values. Most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, with more than 50 percent of that time in their homes. As a result, the built environment highly impacts virtually all aspects of life, yet few have a thorough understanding of this complex industry. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the larger scale of international and federal policies that seem far removed from an individual’s influence. The reality is, ASHRAE members are uniquely qualified to help shape communities and assist in policy creation or reform.

How will ASHRAE standards change as the organization 'works to achieve effective operational performance and operator experience'?

ASHRAE is developing a guide on “Designing for Operational Excellence” which will provide building owners, managers and designers the guidance that they need to understand the operational and maintenance needs of buildings and to design and operate buildings in a technology driven environment.

The Designing for Operational Excellence guide will focus on concrete steps needed to design a building to meet the needs of the occupants and achieve operational excellence. Our new Designing for Operational Excellence guide will expand on lessons learned and other information from organizations around the world, including the U.S. General Services Administration’s "Design Guide for Operational Excellence” focused on applying lessons learned through post occupancy evaluation; CIBSE’s Guide M, “Maintenance Engineering and Management; and BSRIA’s “Soft Landings” program.

You’ve said, “reducing the environmental impact of building operations is good for the planet.” Does that mean building professionals share a duty to do what is best for the environment?

Yes. Building and HVACR professionals have an obligation to make the indoor environment a place where we can be safe, healthy, productive and comfortable. At the same time, we are also stewards of the environment and must provide for these human needs in ways that are sustainable and save energy.

With the opportunity to create a new ASHRAE Global Headquarters building, we are living the real-world challenge of designing and building a great environment for our staff and volunteers that will operate effectively and not waste energy.

The new global headquarters will be built to be ready to harness onsite energy production, turning the investment into a certified high-performance net-zero-energy ready facility.

The renovation focuses on sustainability and resiliency and is providing the opportunity to learn from the retrofitting and upgrades of a real-world building dealing with the balance between energy use and indoor environment.

The new, renovated facility will become a showcase for the latest HVAC&R equipment and technology, providing a destination venue for industry visitors and members to experience state-of-the-art technology installed and "in action" in a built environment.

As a demonstration project, the renovation decisions and process are being documented in great detail and will be made available to the industry with total transparency.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2020 issue of SNIPS Magazine