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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Which Is the Healthiest Building of All?
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By Aniruddha Deodhar, Sustainability Program Manager, Autodesk, Inc., and Nils Blomquist, Preconstruction Manager, DPR Construction

There is a growing realization that most buildings built today will fail to meet their designer’s expectations for energy use. Since buildings are the largest consumers of electricity in most economies, this is a significant concern. Regulatory systems such as the U.K.’s “Energy Performance Certificate” and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Energy Performance Rating System” are designed to address this problem. Industry standards-setters such as the U.S. Green Building Council -- with its LEED® Version 3 -- and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) -- with its Building Energy Quotient Program -- are also weighing in. Typically, however, the proposed fixes frequently fail to acknowledge that technology is rapidly changing the equation.

Figure 1 – Street-level photo of the DPR Redwood City office


Historically, building owners have employed two tools for assessing building fitness -- or “health”-- relative to energy use. The two tools, however, do not always take full advantage of the latest technological advances.

1. Benchmarking: Benchmarking a building’s performance is akin to comparing one’s own weight to the national average person consuming 2,000 daily calories. No matter how much more data (such as race, height, activity level or age) are added to the analysis, the results are never satisfactory, because they are not customized to one’s situation and are thus prone to significant error. What’s worse, they may lead to a false sense of complacency or alarm. Simply put, benchmarking is fast, but imprecise and often inaccurate.

2. Audit: Auditing a building’s energy use is like visiting a medical specialist. While doctors recommend an annual medical checkup, going through a time-consuming evaluation every time you have a medical question can be prohibitive. Audits may give a higher granularity of data, but are usually too time-consuming and expensive.

Figure 2: Autodesk Revit Architecture model of DPR’s Redwood City office


Thankfully, now there is a third option: a method that is faster and more cost-effective than an audit, more accurate and personalized than a generalized benchmarking, that delivers actionable results toward healthier buildings.

3. Modeling: Modeling is like showing your pictures to friends and relatives, each of whom then creates a shared mental model of you, based on things such as your diet, your activity level, and your last face-to-face encounter. Your friends become a mirror that doesn’t lie. They do not make an arbitrary comparison to a national average, nor conduct a comprehensive diagnosis. Rather, they are able to give you a quick, comparative appraisal based on your current appearance, such as “you look under the weather.”
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Published  02/18/2011 
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