The US Green Building Council seeks to reward buildings and building design teams for innovation and leadership in pursuing a more sustainable future for our built environment through their LEED™ program. One significant aspect of the program involves showing that a proposed building or retrofit will use less source energy than a “conventionally designed” building. There are three main approaches to attaining the desired energy use reductions: prescriptive methods, equipment upgrades, and integrated design.
Prescriptive methods lay out a series of steps, which, if followed by the design team lead to a lower energy use building. The steps might include such items as “increase the R-value of the building envelope” or “specify installation practices that lead to less infiltration of ambient air into the conditioned space.” While simple to follow, prescriptive methods may lead to adverse results. For example, while decreasing infiltration of ambient air into conditioned spaces helps reduce winter time energy use in cold climates, such tighter buildings often use more energy in the summer because cooler night time air is not able to leak through the building and remove unwanted heat energy.
Equipment upgrades are central to most energy use reduction projects. The LEED™ process encourages comparison of simulation results with various wall, window, equipment efficiency, and solar shading upgrades to determine which technologies are the most appropriate to the design under consideration. Many software tools and engineering companies are available to perform such simulations.
Arguably the intention of the LEED™ process is to encourage not a few targeted upgrades to conventional building practices but to spur integrated design in which the building, its occupants, its surroundings, its systems, and its usage are all considered together from the inception of the project. The goal of the integration is to understand and focus the design on synergistic interactions while minimizing the impact of antergistic interactions. Energy modeling can be a powerful tool in this regard; comparatively little effort goes into creating an early model of a proposed building. The model can then be modified and reworked to assess the impact of a particular design on the entire system. It is worth noting that the tool used to create the building model have a significant impact on what can and cannot be assessed; the more flexible the tool, the fewer the restrictions on analysis. Our intimate familiarity with one of the most flexible simulation tools available (TRNSYS) has allowed us to enter the field of integrated design and to work on some our most exciting and innovative projects. Since 2004, work has been carried out with: