The Value of Early Energy Analysis Is Important For Buildings Large and Small

By Eric Flower, The Weidt Group

Chicago residents and businesses spend more than $3 billion per year on energy, according to the city’s 2015 Building Energy Benchmarking Report, which summarizes the results from Chicago’s energy benchmarking ordinance. Large properties of 50,000 square feet or more are required to track and report whole-building energy use to the city annually. The ordinance, however, covers less than 1% of Chicago’s buildings, meaning there is a huge opportunity to analyze smaller buildings when considering the city’s overall sustainability and planning for future growth.

And growth is happening rapidly. In fact, the total commercial building area for projected construction to start next year in the Chicago metropolitan region is approaching 30 million square feet, the majority of which will be comprised of smaller buildings.

analysisThese new additions to the city can gain a unique advantage by utilizing early energy analysis. Hundreds of design options can quickly and easily be compared using modeling in order to understand how different decisions impact energy efficiency and costs. This can be especially important for smaller buildings, which, due to budget constraints and shorter design schedules, often overlook the value of early energy analysis. Moreover, effective and timely decision-making is critical to not only maximize the energy use and utility expenses but also realize the benefit of utility incentives that are often underutilized.

Recent advancements in technology—specifically cloud computing—have made it possible for architects to incorporate energy analysis during the early schematic design phase. Web-based, real-time modeling tools create the ability to analyze initial energy impacts and implement those results into the building plans.

Total savings are directly correlated with the timing of energy analysis, and incorporating the analysis earlier is always better. As early as design day one, building owners, architects, engineers and their respective teams can use advanced modeling tools to compare hundreds of design options to understand how even one seemingly small choice could have a profound impact on energy efficiency and costs. The ability to examine how each individual design aspect—including building orientation, window size and location, daylighting, HVAC systems, building materials and more—performs alone and in conjunction with every other element puts tremendous power back in the hands of these decision-makers. What’s more, these comparisons are delivered in real time—an important factor since the design schedule is typically shorter for small buildings—so there’s no waiting hours, days, weeks or even months for actionable results.

Due to time restraints and other factors, examining all of the single “what-ifs” in regards to a building project is a dream rather than a reality for many design teams. Imagine not only being able to quickly and easily alter building designs, including small tweaks, fundamental redesigns and everything in between, but also seeing an instant, detailed breakdown of how those changes impact energy consumption and costs. That is the value of early energy modeling, and the impact has proven to be significant. In fact, clients who utilize early energy modeling in the pre-design phase can experience a 45% average savings per project. In addition, even those who begin analysis during the design development phase still experience a 30% average savings.

Chicago is home to many of the architecture industry’s most prolific past and present leaders and innovators. Although sustainability is already a key priority for current and future building projects of all sizes, there is still a need for the full adoption of highly technical tools to aid in the early design process. Especially for smaller buildings with limited space and budgets, implementing early energy modeling tools as soon as possible in the design process helps architects and their teams take an in-depth look at all available options and take advantage of utility incentives. As a result, the identified solutions help meet the project goals and maximize each square foot without depleting the budget, sacrificing time or compromising the overall aesthetic value of the building.

Eric Flower, Program Manager at The Weidt Group, manages the implementation and day-to-day program operations for an Illinois utility’s commercial new construction small buildings program. He has two years of previous experience managing a new construction program for Otter Tail Power in Minnesota. Since joining The Weidt Group in 2007, he has provided energy consulting services for projects totaling more than 10 million square feet. Well versed in simulation-based analysis and DSM program management, he brings a unique insight to the issues facing his clients, such as creative technical and programmatic solutions for implementation of evaluation goals.

Image: Stephen M. Scott

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