Why building performance matters

Embarking on a new building project?

Chances are good the phrase ‘building performance’ will come up pretty soon. Sometimes, the concept takes a back seat to big picture goals of the owner or developer. The design and program of a building, construction timeline, and budget can all be all dominant considerations. But prioritizing building performance early in the design phase may ultimately lead to a more successful and cost-efficient endeavor. Project teams stand to learn more what performance really means and why it should be a key part of their work.

So, what exactly is building performance? The truth is, definitions and perceptions can vary. There is a common misconception that performance is related only to energy use and consumption. Even if that were accurate, many stakeholders hesitate at the thought of prioritizing energy efficiency, believing it involves larger expenses and more complexity. While energy modeling is the most widely-used method of measuring building performance, there are additional defining features of a high performing building beyond efficiency.

Performance factors you may not typically think about include safety, durability, health, and comfort. In many cases, these elements go hand in hand. A high performing building should be able to protect its users from drastic climate changes and other external threats. It should also incorporate materials and construction methods that will last for the foreseeable future, ensuring the integrity of the structure persists.

Perhaps the most important aspects of performance are occupant health and comfort. These two things are often overlooked early in design but neglecting them is a mistake. Building owners need to understand and accept the human element of performance, working with collaborators to achieve standards that keep people at the center of the project. A building is a complex system, and while physical elements that make it up—the envelope, HVAC systems, materials, and controls—are critical for performance, none of them really matter if they’re not working together to serve those who will live, work, and thrive within the building’s walls. Comfort and health must remain at the forefront of decision making throughout the entire lifecycle of a building.

The first step to achieving high performance, in many cases, is simply setting goals. Architects and clients need to communicate clearly and effectively from the start, discussing the biggest priorities up front. Performance objectives will usually differ depending not only on the client’s wishes, but also on the type of building.

That’s all well and good, but what does that actually mean in the real world? Consider this: if your building will be primarily used as office or living space, daylighting and air quality may supersede other considerations. Or say your project is industrial in nature—perhaps a large storage facility. In that case, selecting energy efficient HVAC systems may prove to be a more important target.

Fortunately, performance goals of any nature do not necessarily have to be cost-prohibitive. Like many aspects of a building project, investing a bit more time—and in some cases, money—upfront can pay off dividends in the future.

This is where technology comes in to help.

Software can play a big part early in development and cover for inevitable blind spots of a project team. Building simulation tools are designed to analyze the optimal use of sustainable technology. By interpreting large amounts of data based on similar projects, such programs provide options for architects and owners to make informed decisions about layout, systems, and even budgets. Think about what this could mean for your project. You get more help—based on reliable data—and at a fraction of the cost and time of bringing on dozens of expert consultants.

Incoporating simulation and measurement tools won’t only serve to enhance building performance, but also lower the lifetime costs of a building. And what owner doesn’t want to have a building that will cost them less over time? Cutting costs during design and construction is an unfortunate recurrence in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. The reality, though, is that when concentrated thought about a building’s impact on the environment and its users takes precedence over short term financial goals, owners end up saving long-term. Planning ahead will likely reduce the need for costly renovations, systems replacements, and structural analysis down the road. That’s a win across the board—for you, your occupants, and your bank accounts.

Beyond the positive implications such technology may have on a specific project, consider what it will mean for your business and future prospects. Anyone that utilizes artificial intelligence—an architect, engineer, developer, or owner—will be on the cutting edge of building technology, remain competitive, and rise to leadership in the industry.

Using simulation tools and contemplating performance goals early in a project may influence the design, timeline, and costs of the building. Architects and clients alike need to be open to the possibilities. The power of artificial intelligence, after all, lies in its ability to enhance human decision making. Regardless of what input your project team solicits —human and otherwise—always keep in mind the comfort of a building’s occupants. Doing so will help you create better buildings that support the health and well-being of current and future generations.