Why Aren’t There More Energy-Efficient Buildings?
City Lab, October 22, 2015. Image credit: Chris Smith
For the fifth year running, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has crunched the numbers on its national sustainability challenge, the AIA 2030 Commitment. Architects who sign up pledge to strive to meet an ambitious energy-efficiency target in their designs—a 60 percent reduction in predicted energy-use intensity (pEUI, or the amount of energy they expect their buildings to use) from baseline levels. A report on the program issued Thursday shows mixed results.
The design data submitted by participants, however, paints a less rosy picture. The average pEUI reduction reported by the firms came nowhere near the 60 percent target: It was just 34 percent. And that number has hardly budged since the AIA began collecting this data in 2010. From 2013 to 2014, the mean pEUI reduction improved by only 3 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for the flatlining, according to Andrea Love, an architect with the Boston firm Payette who leads the AIA’s working group for the program. The first is that many architects are still not familiar with the new tools and processes that have emerged to support energy-efficient design. “We’re still in the start of that learning curve,” Love says. “As we get more literate, I think we’ll start to see the improvement we’re hoping to see.”
The second reason has to do with one of those new tools, the most important one: energy modeling. Building designers can now choose from an arsenal of software programs that run sophisticated energy analyses on designs and respond to changes the architect makes; if the model says your building will consume more energy than you’d like, make some adjustments to the design and recalculate to see if you’re closer to your goal.