When we walk into an office building or a school for the first time, it’s always nice to see the familiar blue ENERGY STAR plaque in the lobby. It represents a commitment to energy efficiency –the tracking and assessment of utility bills and the ongoing maintenance of energy-using systems. Buildings that achieve the EPA’s ENERGY STAR plaque are identified as top performers in their field –they have submitted detailed information proving that their building outperforms at least 75% of buildings in their class. Those that qualify for ENERGY STAR certification receive a score of 75 or above on a scale of 1-100. Those that fall below 75 have more work to do.
Facilities staff all over the Northeast are busy entering their energy and building data into Portfolio Manager (the system that supports the ENERGY STAR building labeling program) to determine their performance as compared to other buildings throughout the country like theirs. For buildings that were constructed before the ENERGY STAR label even existed – it makes sense that there would be a good deal of work to do before earning the title of a top performer. But newer buildings, even those that have been designed to rigorous high performance green protocol do not always get a 75 or above. This gap between how buildings are designed to use energy and how they actually use energy once occupied is a hot topic of discussion – understanding and bridging this gap is one of the keys to building better buildings.
The ENERGY STAR process often begins after the building has been constructed and occupied –but it doesn’t have to. A tool that is gaining momentum in the high performance schools’ arena is the Designed to Earn the Energy Star program, which gets architects and owners thinking about ENERGY STAR in the pre-design phase. This program enables architects to set a performance goal for their design–such as a 90 on the 1-100 scale—and tweak their designs until they have a viable plan for constructing a “90” building. Their plans receive the “Designed to ENERGY STAR” stamp once they have been approved. After the building has been operating for 12 months, building owners can then apply for the ENERGY STAR label.
The Collaborative for High Performance Schools protocol in Colorado and Virginia, CO-CHPS and VA-CHPS, have added the Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR program into their criteria –design teams can receive a credit for getting their designs certified. Take a look at some schools in Colorado that embraced this program.
So, what do you think? Does this program address the gap between design and performance? Are any architects, engineers, or building owners considering going this route? What has been your experience using EPA’s building energy tools –such as Portfolio Manager and Target Finder?