I was discussing the trials and tribulations of design engineering with a friend one day, and we came upon this interesting revelation that design engineer's errors and omission insurance has set the wrong standard to be measured by. Instead of protecting the design team from the client, the client has probably paid a premium for the building program design because more is better than less. And "more" can equate to:

  • More energy consumption;
  • More equipment to maintain;
  • More automatic controls to manage;
  • More building automation to account for;
  • More valves, fitting, etc.;
  • More detail sheets;
  • More contract drawings; and
  • More contract specification pages.

The building design community has become too comfortable with standard specifications (i.e., HVAC) that now run on for 100 to 150 pages. What ever happened to those 50- to 60-page HVAC specifications? The same can be said for standard detail sheets that go on for 6 to 7 contract drawings. It provides a lot of paper to hide behind. At the same time, design firms are quick to point out that they aren't making the profits they use to make. If more is also better, then why is building commissioning business continuing to grow in demand?

Getting back to my conversation, my friend suggested that the solution could be through the risky concept known as performance design. We surmised that if you really want to do a great job, there is always risk associated with premiere engineering.

What is the risk? I guess the risk could be that you will need to be very good at design engineering or you will have trouble delivering on design intent. At the same time, the challenge and the benefits of a performance design could be:

  • Achieving the design intent, targeted on the contract drawings, with the resulting design consuming an annual energy benchmark (e.g., 60,000 Btuh/sq ft/yr).
  • Substituting equipment redundancy with predictive maintenance automation.
  • Designing a building system that will mirror the client's proposed annual operating budget in year one of occupancy.
  • Minimize the controls logic for someone to grasp and efficiently maintain operation on a regular basis.
  • Specify BAS based on an achievable FM business plan.
  • Coordinate the computer-generated design drawings into computer-generated FM record drawings to improve O&M.
  • Elimination of those standard specifications loaded with "furnish as required, system shall be complete, etc.," and show exactly what is needed.

Wouldn't it be nice if the owner said they would pay twice the design fee if we could provide them with a building system that was performance designed? Let's do the math:

Standard HVAC design

  • $5 million construction cost at 6.5% fee = $325,000
  • Operating budget (labor and energy) at $6/sq ft x 200,000 sq ft = $1.2 million

Performance HVAC design

  • $4.5 million construction cost at 13% fee = $585,000
  • Operating budget (labor and energy) at $5/sq ft x 200,000 sq ft =$1 million

If you compare the first cost, operating cost, and design fee differentials (in that order), you will come up with the following:
$5,000,000 minus $4,500,000 = $500,000
$1,200,000 minus $1,000,000 = $200,000
$585,000 minus $325,000 = ($260,000)
Savings to the owner = $440,000

Now someone will challenge me on the numbers used, and my response is that if someone were to pay me 13% design fee, I sure would be up for the challenge of working closer with the client to really meet the owner's building program goals, and that those goals extend beyond first cost. The results would be a value-engineered system that addressed the design intent and, equally important, the year-to-year operating cost.

My performance design would be facility management friendly, energy-efficient, and practical. With consideration towards operating cost efficiencies, I'm sure the project would also qualify for LEED' certification, too. I could even drop the errors and omission insurance with performance-driven design projects that would add to the bottom line at year's end. ES