It may be energy auditing. It may be retrocommissioning. It may be recertifying a green building. In any case, the move to monitor, benchmark and improve a building’s performance is taking hold and triggering a ripening market for electrical contractors.

“This is a market opportunity waiting to happen,” said Andrew C. Burr, LEED AP and director of the Building Energy Rating Program for the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) in Washington, D.C. “Even in good times, new construction represents maybe 2 percent of building stock. The focus on improving existing building performance makes perfect sense in that light. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program for commercial and industrial buildings was a real game changer. The EPA’s Portfolio Manager is one of the go-to tools in measuring and tracking building performance. Meanwhile, the U.S. Green Building Council’s [USGBC] LEED—Existing Building platform [rating program] is really taking off. Add to that state and municipal commercial building benchmarking mandates and voluntary programs, and the realization is clear that a viable building is one that needs to perform well on an ongoing basis.”

Robert Sauchelli is program manager for Energy Star’s Commercial and Industrial Buildings’ Service and Product Providers (SPP) program. He’s seen a marked increase in the number of individuals interested becoming listed SPPs and Energy Star partners. The program offers subcontractors and others a vehicle to promote their building performance services to building/plant owners and managers.

“The importance of ongoing building performance has really accelerated in the last 18 months,” Sauchelli said. “Managing energy, its costs and reducing emissions all go hand in hand. There’s an emerging job market to meet building owners’ need to make their buildings more comfortable, efficient and market competitive.”

Setting the table
Energy Star’s commercial and industrial program now clearly defines itself as a certification program.
“That’s an important difference,” said Lauren Pitcher, communication specialist for Energy Star’s Commercial and Industrial Branch. “We had previously said a building earned or qualified in Energy Star, but certified is the most accurate descriptor.”

According to Pitcher, as of 2010 statistics, more than 190,000 buildings were benchmarked using Portfolio Manager (www.energystar.gov/istar/pmpam).

“There’s been a remarkable 71 percent increase in its use from 2009 to 2010. More than 14,000 building and plants have earned Energy Star certification, which represents over 2.3 billion square feet across the country. In addition, out of the 14,250 buildings that have earned the Energy Star, 4,275 (30 percent) are buildings that received multiple-year certifications.”

Recertification is a key component of USGBC’s LEED rating for Existing Buildings—Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EB O&M). The rating program was “designed to certify the sustainability of ongoing operations of existing commercial and institutional buildings.” Buildings can be submitted for recertification each year but must file at least every five years showing performance data that maintains the LEED-EB status.

A number of states, municipalities and organizations offer their own voluntary building performance and benchmarking programs, often incorporating Portfolio Manager. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) has the BOMA 360 performance program. Introduced in 2009, certification criteria focus on six major areas. “Energy” efforts must include benchmarking and the inclusion of energy auditing, system commissioning and recommissioning. Buildings that earn the BOMA 360 need to recertify every three years. A nine-member BOMA 360 council searched out best practices in each of the six criteria areas to set a performance benchmark.

“The 360 program is catching on among property management companies and other ownership groups,” said Ray Mackey, BOMA chair and CEO of Stream Realty Partners, Dallas. “We expect well over 250 buildings to have earned this designation by year’s end.”

Mackey’s own company now has six BOMA 360 buildings.

“[BOMA 360] gives us the opportunity to distinguish our buildings,” he said.

Expansion and new focus
The EPA’s Portfolio Manager allows users to compare their building’s performance against similar buildings. Results are rated on a scale between 1 and 100. A rating of 75 (the threshold for Energy Star consideration) or higher represents the top 25 percent of similar buildings in the user’s region. The tool is populated with data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).

“The EPA selects data from CBECS when and where it is relevant, available and reliable,” Pitcher said. “It also works with industry partners and associations to gather additional energy-usage data and/or add additional building types to Portfolio Manager. The goal is to have the most robust data sample possible for a statistically valid algorithm and baseline for users.”

Data centers and senior facilities are two recent additions.

“We now have 11 data centers that have earned their Energy Star rating,” Pitcher said. “Of the senior and eldercare facilities (assisted living, nursing homes and independent living communities), 39 have certified. Both building communities are attuned to sustainable building performance. Statistically, data center buildings make up 2 percent of all energy consumption. As demographics shift to an aging population, senior living facilities became a logical addition to Portfolio Manager, as well.”

To date, Portfolio Manager contains performance data for 14 commercial building types ranging from offices and schools to hospitals and hotels.

Meanwhile, industrial plants are rated through a separate benchmarking method called the energy performance indicator (EPI). Plants that score in the top 25 percent of energy efficiency within their industry nationwide earn Energy Star certification.

“We have also added three new plant types,” Pitcher said. ”Frozen/fried potato processing plants, cookie and cracker bakeries and container glass factories can now rate themselves. Though they might appear to be small niche players in their energy consumption, they are heavy consumers in the manufacturing world. Of the bakeries, 13 have now achieved Energy Star certification, saving 4.2 billion Btus of energy and reducing 85,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas.”

To address how LEED might evolve to incorporate ongoing building performance, the USGBC created its Building Performance Partnership (BBP) in September 2009. The initiative is a way for the building community of LEED-certified projects to provide feedback and information to ensure a green building maintains or even outperforms its initial certification and building performance.

Scot Horst, senior vice president, LEED, USGBC, said this partnership between his organization and thousands of project owners of LEED buildings will result in meeting several objectives: a comprehensive green building performance database, standardized reporting of metrics and analytics, and new performance benchmarks.

“BPP participants are eligible for annual performance reports and real-time data interfaces to aid in their building performance goals,” he said.

Horst said the program currently has 200 participants. Each supplies nine consecutive months of building performance data. A benchmark is created to track how each building is matching up with its sustainability goals.

“The BPP program will help track LEED building energy and water usage, transportation use and occupant use,” Horst said. “We want a picture of the building performance market. What the DOE has done with Energy Star is very smart. Looking down the road at LEED, we are moving toward a recertification model. Participants in our initial BBP summits told us loud and clear that the job isn’t done just because you built a green building.”

As parts of the BBP, the USGBC is developing LEED automation tools that could be centralized sources of building performance provided by Energy IQ, Energy Star, Green Print and others.
“We have interest from 60 different tool makers connected to LEED. We are currently working with 30 of them. We know the next generation of tools must make sustainability easier, simpler, faster and cheaper.”

Building performance influencing policy
Five states currently mandate some form of benchmarking for state-owned and commercial buildings. Seven cities have their own, sometimes more stringent, ordinances. For instance, the city of Alpharetta, Ga., has its Green Communities Ordinance, which requires all new government-owned buildings larger than 5,000 square feet to earn certification through Energy Star, LEED—New Construction or Earth Light for Commercial Construction. New York is another example. As part of its “Green, Great Buildings Plan,” the city is tracking commercial building energy and water consumption using Portfolio Manager. City buildings larger than 10,000 square feet are required to benchmark as are private commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet. The city goes one step further by requiring existing buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to undergo retrocommissioning if mandatory energy auditing every 10 years unveils inefficiencies.

Borrowing a page from the European Union, many state or city mandates also require public disclosure of building performance either for potential buyers of existing real estate or the general public. In San Francisco, buildings 10,000 square feet and greater must be benchmarked annually and their performance posted on a website for all to see. Burr and Sauchelli find public disclosure an opportunity for electrical contractors.

“In New York, commercial buildings have to disclose their performance to the public,” Sauchelli said. “As a result, I’ve received phone calls from energy-service companies who are interested in amplifying their services to target poor performers. A building performance public listing could be a great source to identify potential clients. In the past year and a half, we’ve provided Energy Star/Portfolio Manager training to 1,000 individuals seeking a SPP designation. That, in part, has been driven by benchmarking mandates.”

“It will be interesting to see where smart policy meets momentum when it comes to optimizing building performance,” Burr said. “Mandatory benchmarking stops short of mandating upgrades. That seems to be left to the market but a market being encouraged by policy.”

Other states requiring benchmarking for public or commercial buildings are Hawaii, Michigan, Ohio and Washington. Other cities include Seattle; West Chester, Pa.; Austin, Texas; and the District of Columbia.


GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction, landscaping and related design industries. He can be reached at gavocomm@comcast.net.