ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — “How do you define energy efficiency or cost effectiveness?” asked an attendee at the 2002 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Winter Meeting forum, “What Is the Definition of a High-Performance Building?”

If you can’t define its elements, how do you go about defining high performance? “Perhaps we can come up with guidelines,” he suggested.

A representative of a state agency wondered, “How is ASHRAE going to use this definition? We can educate engineers on broad principles. That’s another path.”

He noted that at manufacturers’ meetings, companies would say that their competitors do this, while “we” do something different. “There could be a lot of gamesmanship.”

A representative of a national agency stated that people can say any building is high performance or high definition. “We need some guidance on what performance a base-case building must achieve.”

An engineer from a manufacturing company said that even a qualitative definition is a big hurdle. “Everybody has a really different definition of performance.”

A consulting engineer remarked that, for schools, student grades are one of the criteria. In a casino, instant smoke removal is important.

Another engineer agreed that defining a high-performance school building had nothing to do with energy. “It had to do with grades.”


“Consensus is difficult,” an attendee pointed out. “How many compromises do we have to make?”

You have to look at everything as a complete system. “We look at consensus, but it is difficult to get everybody to agree.” And the final product may not be what each group wants.

A number of guides say to use a team approach, a consulting engineer said. He recommended getting together a dozen people from different states to issue general guidelines. A possibility is to aim for 30% better energy efficiency.

A consultant commented that the way Standard 90.1 is used requires a leap of faith in how you’re going to start out. Exactly where you start from can be debated. An engineer stated that 90.1 is “the worst building that you can legally build.”

ASHRAE is developing a green guide, an attendee said. The working title of the document is the “Green Building Guide,” to show experienced engineers how to achieve green design. The society would like to create both a book and a website with regular updates.

However, a forum participant noted that to him, “high performance” carries a broader definition than “green,” which should focus on efficiency. If 90.1 is the worst you can build, perhaps ASHRAE could recommend higher levels of performance and raise the level above the minimum.

With IAQ, you go to the minimum standard because oftentimes it requires more energy to go to a higher standard.

An engineer from a major university asked, “What drives ASHRAE to want to define a high-performance building? What’s the reason? Will this be a new standard of design or a way to go after new grant money?”

A retired engineer stated, “Why do we need a standard of design? Engineers should inherently design to the best standards.”

But another declared, “Society is based on money. A lot of owners want to take cost out.” So we need a minimum standard. “The reality is that we have to define the base case because of financial constraints.” What is the best product we can produce with the money we have?

A veteran consulting engineer concluded that engineers are now viewed as a commodity. One company has gone to online bidding to get the lowest possible bid, he said. “That’s horrible. We need to show what we’re capable of doing as engineers.”

NOTE: Forums at the ASHRAE Winter Meeting are off-the-record discussions of current topics of interest in the hvacr industry. Attendees who comment cannot be identified by name in order to ensure the free flow of ideas.

Publication date: 03/18/2002