Defining High Performance Buildings

High performance buildings support mission-critical objectives. Sustainable design principles guide new construction, while operational protocols and maintenance best practices ensure that buildings perform optimally over time. No matter what their age, high performance buildings use energy and water resources efficiently, while creating a positive occupant experience.

Most importantly, high performance buildings reflect the interconnected nature of the many factors that are at work within their walls. They are based on the understanding that any decision to modify one factor will almost certainly influence another—for better or worse.

For example, an elementary school in the damp Northwest may want to turn off its air conditioners to save energy during the summer months when students are not present…but it must also consider the fact that higher temperatures and humidity can lead to mold growth and deteriorate indoor air quality.

A high performance building strikes the optimal balance between operational cost and the environmental characteristics which support the building’s purpose. It becomes a strategic asset that delivers a continuous return on investment throughout its many productive years.

A Host Of Standards

Right now there is no single, universally-acceptable definition of a high performance building. Varying definitions and interpretations have been developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).and the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL), among others.

The fact is, high performance can mean something entirely different from one organization to the next: The building-related objectives for a hospital, which requires 24/7 operation and must comply with stringent codes and regulations for air quality, are very different than those for a manufacturing company that needs to reduce operating costs and increase productivity in order to remain globally competitive.

Even within an organization, performance objectives for a building can change over time. A company facing serious cash-flow issues this year may need to adapt to stem a loss of valuable human capital five years down the road.

Several organizations that establish industry standards, or that aggregate individual standards into meaningful programs such as LEED®, are leading discussions focusing on the establishment of one set of standards for high performance buildings: The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), the High Performance Building Council (HPBC), the U.S. Green Building Council and ASHRAE are all interested and involved. While the conversation continues, Trane has developed a structured set of actions that enable any organization to put the basic principles of high performance buildings into practice now.

Beyond Green Buildings

High performance buildings have evolved from earlier programs that focused on the energy and environmental benefits of highly efficient buildings. Today, the concept incorporates elements of both LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Energy Star® program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

However, high performance building programs now go well beyond the energy and environmental parameters that originally defined their operational efficiency. The concept encompasses multiple interconnected attributes including energy and water consumption, lighting and sound levels, air quality, carbon footprint and reliability.

The myriad factors become more manageable when they are considered within four distinct categories of concern:

Energy, water and operational cost avoidance
Operational sustainability
Occupant health and welfare
Systems reliability and equipment uptime
For the factors that are most influential to an organization’s mission, the goal is to achieve performance in the top ten percent of peer buildings that are similar in age, size, industry and region.

For New and Existing Buildings

Original efforts around high performance buildings focused on new construction. Now, processes addressing existing buildings are equally important. In either case, performance can be raised and sustained at higher levels through the implementation of new technologies and/or by optimizing equipment that is currently in place through a proactive and ongoing approach to operations and maintenance.