By Gordon Holness
October 15, 2009
Most of us know the fuel efficiency of our cars, but what about the energy efficiency of our buildings? Even though buildings are responsible for 40 percent of the energy consumed in the United States, few people are aware of how efficiently this energy is used. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is working to change that by introducing a new building energy labeling program known as the Building Energy Quotient (bEQ) label. The Building Energy Quotient will award buildings a grade of F through A+ and will offer both qualitative and numerical scores that will make for easy comparison to peer buildings. The label will act as a quick and easy way for business owners, tenants and building operations and maintenance staff to understand their building’s role in energy consumption.
To understand the significance of a building labeling program, such as bEQ, it is first essential to understand what such a program involves. First, the bEQ program provides the general public; building owners and tenants; potenÃÂ¬tial owners and tenants; and building operations and maintenance staff with information on the As Designed asset rating and the In Operation, or actual energy use, rating of buildings. This information is useful for a variety of reasons. Building owners can use the information provided to differentiate their building from others in order to attract potential buyers or tenants. This allows market forces to work in the selection of properties to rent or purchase. Beyond the financial benefits, a building labeling program can highlight the excessive, or excellent, energy-use of a building. This is particularly important as more cities and states require disclosure of a building’s energy use. For example, Austin, Texas; the state of California; Washington D.C.; and even the European Union have all recently made such energy labeling mandatory.
Second, significant criticism has been floating around lately on the disconnect between the estimated energy use based on the building design and the actual performance of the building once in operation. Of course, there are many explanations for these discrepancies and the Building EQ program is designed to identify some of them-which should eventually bridge the gap between design and operational energy use. By providing building ratings on both the design and operation of a building, the building owner and management team will gain insight into where they may have fallen short of the building’s potential. Also, as part of the verification process, the owner will receive recommendations that could result in further energy savings if implemented.
Of course, bEQ is not the only building labeling program in the U.S. Many are already familiar with the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program or the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. However, bEQ differs from both of these by focusing solely on the energy consumption of both new and existing buildings in comparison to their peers. The Building EQ’s mode of labeling is more specific than Energy Star’s pass/fail rating system and narrower than the five to seven criteria considered by LEED. The program also allows for greater concentration on understanding energy use as well as encouraging energy efficiency improvements.
ASHRAE’s bEQ will consist of three components: the label, the certificate and the supporting documentation. The label itself will be the most visible aspect of the program. It will be simple to understand and targeted at the general public. It could be used for posting in a building lobby and could satisfy compliance with many of the programs being developed at the state and local level requiring display of energy use. The certificate will contain additional information of a technical nature that will explain the score on the label and provide information useful to the building owner; prospective owners and tenants; and operaÃÂ¬tions and maintenance personnel. The documentation accompanying the label and certificate will provide the background information useful for engineers, architects, and technically savvy building owners or prospective owners in determining the current state of the building and opportunities for improving its energy use.
Like the miles-per-gallon of the cars we drive, building owners, tenants, potential owners and tenants and the general public need to have the information necessary to make informed decisions about the energy use of the existing buildings where they live, work and play.
More information on ASHRAE’s Building Energy Quotient labeling program can be found at www.buildingeq.com
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), founded in 1894, is an international organization of some 50,000 persons. ASHRAE fulfills its mission of advancing heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration to serve humanity and promote a sustainable world through research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education.
Gordon V. R. Holness, P.E., Fellow ASHRAE, Life Member, is the 2009-10 President of ASHRAE, and a consulting engineer, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Questions and comments may be directed to [email protected].