Even simple dashboard readouts tell a driver how much fuel a car is consuming. Yet with buildings—which account for vastly greater energy usage—only now are technologies such as energy-monitoring systems and dashboard-style readouts coming into custom. Few buildings today display up-to-the-moment resource usage. But the three architects interviewed here envision a future in which reading a building’s energy data on a laptop, mobile device, or wall-mounted display will be as easy and commonplace as glancing down at the fuel gauge while driving.
Austin Smith, Scott Simons Architects
“I heard one consultant say we’d all drive Priuses if our exhaust was purple,” says Austin Smith, AIA, principal of Scott Simons Architects in Portland, Maine. “It doesn’t matter how good your building performs unless occupants are aware of how they’re using the building.”
Scott Simons Architects chose a dashboard manufactured by Lucid Design Group for the Borsarge Family Education Center, a LEED Platinum–rated building designed by the firm and Maclay Architects with Fore Solutions that is also the first nonresidential building in Maine to achieve net-zero energy usage. The dashboard provides not only data for energy used, but tracks rainwater collected, photovoltaic electricity produced, and thermal solar hot-water generated. “So much of it is the software behind it—loading the information,” Smith says. “It did take coordination between our traditional meters and making sure they were compatible, an ironing-out process. We’re still calibrating the specifics and tweaking.”
Incorporating an extensive monitoring system into the Borsage Family Education Center fit the project’s program. “This is an education center. It has a mission to educate people, and one purpose was to show the average owner how they can affect their building,” Smith says. “The dashboard is a great part of that. It’s amazing how people flock to it.”
Michael L. Prifty, BLT Architects
Universities so far are among the most frequent clients seeking energy-monitoring systems because the systems allow multiple buildings across a campus to be easily monitored at once. For example, about 70 of the buildings at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., are connected by an automated monitoring system.
“Their portfolio is tremendous,” says Michael Prifty, FAIA, principal of Philadelphia’s BLT Architects. “If there’s ever an issue in any of the buildings—smoke detection, lack of heat or cooling—where performance is not as anticipated, they can issue a ticket for repair from the headquarters to the physical plant.”
Practical training is crucial. Prifty was called back by another higher-education client after operations staff found it difficult to use the newly installed energy-monitoring system. “We made the changes right then and there,” he explains. “The engineer, the subcontractor, and I set up the building to operate properly. But afterward you have to be trained. You have to be a sophisticated owner to capitalize on the info being provided to you.”