This year in Massachusetts, the state energy code was improved with updated requirements that now include several of the procedures found in building system commissioning. This initiative is a very positive step directed to be in the best interest of building owners. This code may be the first of its kind to have criteria that clearly states the following must be completed or the building official may reject the construction documents and/or delay project closeout:

  • Description of design intent;
  • Description of the basis of design of the systems;
  • Interaction of sequence of operation with other systems;
  • Description of systems;
  • Description of testing requirements for final acceptance;
  • Requirements for operation and maintenance manuals; and
  • Requirements for submittals of record documents.

Living, Breathing Codes

The code compliance is intended to mandate more thorough contract documentation, but there is something missing in this latest energy initiative. Although an encouraging initiative, I believe what is lacking in this energy initiative is that the requirements are somewhat "static" with its one-time-only compliance. For example, previous energy codes included such criteria as improved insulation performance and higher motor efficiency. This latest edition requires more detailed design criteria and more detailed functional performance testing of systems before they are turned over to the building owner.

These new requirements are much needed in the construction industry as project closeout continues to be the Achilles' heel of the building industry. What is missing with this latest energy code edition, as with so many other state energy codes, is the requirement to maintain energy performance compliance. I think energy codes should mandate "ongoing" criteria to operate and maintain energy-consuming equipment and systems within a building by benchmarking annual operating performance to the initial energy performance intent.

Analogous to the sticker on the window of a new automobile stating energy performance (mpg) for the specific vehicle (e.g., 28 mpg city and 32 mpg highway), building owners should know what to expect in energy consumption in Btuh/sq ft/yr for their new purchase. You wouldn't buy a car without at least knowing what to expect for mpg so why would you purchase a building system without knowing what to expect for Btuh/sq ft/yr?

Don't Overlook the Big Picture

Several years ago I had the opportunity to be part of a design team mandated by the state of Massachusetts to produce "a national example of energy conservation." It received numerous awards and was praised for its innovative design. What was overlooked by many was the annual performance of the building.

I followed the project over the next five years to see how it performed. At the time, I was anxious to make sure it would achieve the energy budget that we had established for the project and if it could maintain the energy milestones that had been set. What was crucial to the design success was the operation and maintenance of this 1-million-sq-ft facility. The first five years proved to be better than expected as the facility management team was able to operate the building at approximately 80% of what we had set as an aggressive energy budget.

The heart of this "first-of-its-kind" design was an energy system simulation that set the operating budget for the building. Right or wrong, this was our standard by which the building energy criteria was measured.

With today's computer-aided technology, I think performance criteria can become a "living document" rather than a static document when an energy code requires ongoing energy consumption trending as an integral part of its criteria/compliance. Requiring an energy model to be produced and then used by the building manager to monitor and measure actual-to-benchmark performance will greatly assist operators in achieving peak energy performance. It would also be a valuable tool to ensure day-to-day energy code compliance.

The Massachusetts Energy Code requirements noted above are excellent building blocks to further reduce energy consumption, but a computer simulation used as the yardstick by which a facility actually tracks energy usage can be a more proactive and hands-on business tool for annual energy management. ES