LEED certification is no guarantee of building performance. A 2008 New Building Institute (NBI) study—funded by the U.S. Green Building Council with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—found that 25 percent of 121 LEED certified buildings had an Energy Star rating below 50—that is, “they used more energy than average for comparable existing building stock.” But post-occupancy studies of allegedly sustainable projects are few and far between. One reason for this is that owners don’t have the resources—time, budget, staff, or equipment—to monitor building performance after move-in. As a result, architects lose an opportunity to analyze if and how their sustainable design efforts work in the real world.
Technology has recently stepped in to ease the burden of manually collecting and recording building and utility data. Following the path of many design and construction administration tasks, post-occupancy data collection, sharing, and review are now possible through a digital and automated process via the cloud.
The past year has seen the launch of many cloud-based performance tracking tools—including Attune by Honeywell, Panoptix by Johnson Controls, and FirstFuel by FirstFuel Software. The timing is fortunate: Following the NBI study, the USGBC released the LEED 2009 Minimum Program Requirements, mandating that building owners and developers of projects certified under any of its rating systems adopted after 2009—many of which are recently completed or still under construction—must commit to sharing building energy and water usage data with the USGBC for at least five years. With this data, the USGBC hopes to correlate predicted and actual building performance to improve the accuracy of building modeling.
Cloud-based tracking tools enable architects to access building performance data online and to learn from their projects after occupants move in—a rare occurrence in the past. Luke Leong, director of sustainable engineering in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Chicago office, says that after a building “is born, the real challenge … is making sure it grows up correctly.”
Not only can these web tools track energy use and utilities data, but they also allow architects to stay engaged with their clients and the project team after the building is complete. By sharing performance data with the project team, building owners can help design teams test the accuracy of their energy modeling efforts and collaborate on fine tuning projects as needed.
The online building performance monitoring tool SeaSuite, by Chicago sustainability consulting service provider Goby, tracks building energy use along with peak electricity demand, water demand, and other sustainability information required for LEED EB submittals, such as purchasing or waste.
An owner, developer, or maintenance personnel engages in the service by sending existing energy, water, and other utility bills to Goby, which will aggregate the performance data in an electronic database. For existing buildings, Goby can create a benchmark year from a prior year’s utility bills. For new buildings, Goby can begin tracking data once the buildings go into operation.
After benchmark data and target energy goals are set, users can track building performance online through SeaSuite. New data can be entered into SeaSuite in several ways: It can be pulled directly from the utility companies via an application programming interface (API), or it can be entered manually by Goby’s data entry team from faxed or scanned utility bills. Regardless of the data supply chain, building owners needn’t spend more than 10 minutes a month on the monitoring process.
Customers using SeaSuite have averaged between 5 and 10 percent in cost savings after a first year of using the program, according to Goby.
Though owners are typically the ones who subscribe to cloud-based tools—which cost about $2,000 to $6,000 annually, depending on the scope of data tracked—architects and energy modelers should request access to the building performance information collected to improve their own design and energy modeling processes. After devoting several years—and sometimes decades—to seeing a building through, architects will likely find it beneficial to stick around a few more years to make sure everything works as designed.