This month,ES is focusing on commercial buildings, so I began to think about all those smart buildings. Not that many years ago, "smart buildings" was a popular term. Before that, we had energy-efficient buildings. Now we have green buildings and buildings with renewable materials, and we always have award-winning buildings.

As a proponent for quality control and the continuous quality process, I think we should have a reality check on all these building marketing terms. The best buildings are the ones where you can measure performance. How do you measure green or renewable? How do you measure smart? I know you can measure energy efficiency, but few ever go back and measure what was an energy-efficient design vs. actual energy consumption.

The Common Denomination

I'd like to suggest that we focus on "dollar-driven" buildings. You can measure dollars, and if you are a person responsible for an operating budget, you can relate to dollars. Under everyone's breath you can hear them say, "we can't afford to do that, it's not in the construction budget." So what can we afford? Is it only first cost or some other financial directive? Is it green materials, smart equipment, or some other public relations term? What investment parameters will shape this building program?

First cost can be measured against useful service life of equipment and building materials. What needs to be understood is the definition of useful service life. An hvac engineer may quickly pull out their ASHRAE Handbook and note the estimated service life of equipment, but a building owner may have a different definition of this phrase.

For many building owners, first cost is the only "dollar-driven" factor they will consider because the building program finances don't work if it is going to cost more than a particular maximum investment. Many industries are also being driven by the short-term financial formula because they don't know if they will be in business in 5 to 10 years.

For both of these types of owners, the operating cost for energy may get passed on to the tenant, so energy-efficient systems may not be a dollar-driven requirement. The maintenance of these buildings is also dollar-driven towards "lower operating cost is better."

Befriend The Benchmark

On the other hand, colleges, universities, healthcare facilities, and state and federal buildings should be looking at maximum useful service life that includes optimum annual operating budgets. These institutions plan on being around for a long time and need to have the best "dollar-driven" facility for their application. In this case, dollar-driven includes the best operating and maintenance costs for the useful service life of the building. Measuring these costs can be done annually and then benchmarked against the original building program estimate.

Applying the quality process of monitoring and measuring building performance, benchmarking is a great tool for demonstrating a dollar-driven facility. All the following factors are measurable and comparable:

  • First cost, budget-to-actual;
  • Life cycle, budget-to-actual;
  • Operating-cost (energy), budget-to-actual; and
  • Operating cost (labor), budget-to-actual.

Dollar-driven projects aren't intended to be a bad thing. By monitoring and measuring the performance, a building owner - as well as the design and construction team - can take pride in a job well done.

Dollars drive building programs and operating budgets every year. Why not call these smart, green, or renewable buildings by their right name. When was the last time a smart building got duplicated? It seems every smart or green building is always a "one-of-a-kind" building, so you have ask "whatever happened to those other types of buildings?"