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Energy Benchmarking

In the building and construction world, energy benchmarking seems to be a new hot topic. A few weeks ago, Chicago became the latest city to require large commercial and residential buildings to perform and disclose building energy benchmarking. Aimed at buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, the new ordinance effects approximately 3,500 buildings total. While these buildings make up less than one percent of all of Chicago's buildings, they represent 22 percent of all the energy used by the city's built environment.

The Chicago Energy Use Benchmarking & Transparency Ordinance is a three-part process, with buildings entering basic building energy use information into the EPA's free, web-based Portfolio Manager software to calculate an Energy Star score, energy use intensity and other standard performance metrics. Benchmark data will need to be verified by a registered architect, professional engineer or other trained professional. Using the automated Portfolio Manager tool, buildings will report energy use annually to the city, which will then make annual reports on energy efficiency trends, cost savings and job creation, with energy scores going public after approximately 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.

In 2012, the EPA analyzed 35,000 benchmarked buildings throughout the U.S., and noted that with just benchmarking, these buildings saw an average energy savings of 7 percent over three years. The reason is that once building owners and managers saw exactly how their buildings were performing, they were taking voluntary steps to reduce their energy use. The Chicago ordinance hopes for the same results by not requiring owners to make specific changes, but to make sensible improvements to increase energy efficiency and save money on utility bills voluntarily. By passing the new Chicago Energy Use Benchmarking & Transparency Ordinance, Chicago now joins Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., with benchmarking legislation.

One of the reasons that energy benchmarking is interesting to me right now is because of the role energy efficiency plays in two of the projects featured this month. In Drawing Board, we take a look at the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, Va., which when completed, will received LEED Platinum certification, while becoming the first Living Building Challenge project in Virginia. Designed by the Washington, D.C. office of SmithGroupJJR, the project is for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a group well accustomed to pushing the boundaries of sustainability, having built the world's first LEED Platinum building, the Phillip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis, Md. For Living Building Challenge status, the Brock Center will achieve net zero energy through rooftop-mounted photovoltaics that will provide 60 percent of the center's energy and two small wind turbines that will provide the other 40 percent.

Then, in the Building Profile, we take a look at the Federal Center South Building 1202 in Seattle. The new home of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Northwest District headquarters complies with the goals of the 2030 challenge and is targeting LEED-NC Gold certification. ZGF Architects in Seattle redeveloped and modernized a portion of an existing 1940s-era warehouse into a very high performing building. Earning an Energy Star rating of 100, Building 1202 is expected to perform in the top 1 percent of energy-efficient office buildings in the nation, with current energy models predicting it to operate at an Energy Use Index (EUI) of 20.3 kBtu/SF/year, 40 percent better than ASHRAE 2007.

Energy benchmarking is going to be something that we are going to be hearing a lot about in the coming months and years, and we will continue to see the role it plays in buildings that are being designed now and in the future.

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