Building efficient colleges and universities: automation and controls and codes and standards

Colleges and universities face a long list of challenges, as do the engineers tasked to help construct and modify the facilities at these institutions. Here, experienced professionals share their knowledge regarding automation and controls and codes and standards.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 31, 2017


  • Don Harrisberger, PE, LEED AP, Principal Engineer, Southland Engineering, Los Angeles
  • Timothy J. LaRose, PE, Vice President Development, Education & JENSEN HUGHES Academy, JENSEN HUGHES, Warwick, R.I.
  • Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEAP, BEMP, Senior Energy Engineer, Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
  • Robin Mosley, PE, LEED AP, Associate Partner, Syska Hennessy Group Inc., Newport Beach, Calif.
  • Liza Sandman, PE, Project Manager, RMF Engineering, Charleston, S.C.
  • John Teeter, PE, Mechanical Department Manager, Dewberry, Raleigh, N.C.

CSE: When working on monitoring and control systems in such buildings, what factors do you consider?

Teeter: For building owners to control energy consumption in buildings, they need to have useful information at their fingertips. The more metering available to benchmark and monitor consumption, the easier it becomes for an owner to determine when a system is outside its optimal operating parameters. Since energy meters can add cost to the project, careful selection and placement is key.

CSE: What unique tools are the owners of these facilities including in their automation and controls systems? Describe dormitory energy efficiency display kiosks, occupancy sensors, etc.

Mosley: Some dormitory projects are using energy-display kiosks to show the occupants how much energy their suites are consuming. This can also be set up to create friendly energy competitions between dormitory communities to see who can consume the least energy. This also is an interesting way to teach students about their surrounding facilities and how much power the photovoltaic (PV) system is producing, etc.

CSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards, and guidelines you use during the design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of in their design of engineered systems in college and university projects?

Laue: I’m constantly immersed in ASHRAE 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, ASHRAE 55: Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy, and ASHRAE 62.1: Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality. These codes dictate energy consumption and human health and wellness. Many designs aspire to exceed these codes and provide buildings that are energy-efficient and healthy. They are important in any design, but understanding their evolution cycles is increasingly important when designing college and university buildings. Since college and university projects can span many years from concept to permit, there is a good chance that the codes will be updated during the project lifecycle. Thus, I would argue that it is most important for designers to stay up to date on current codes and future codes while working throughout the design process. They need to be prepared to have discussions surrounding how code changes can impact the design as well as the budget.

CSE: What are some solutions/best practices to ensure that college and university buildings meet and exceed codes and standards?

Teeter: One best practice to ensure colleges and university buildings exceed codes and standards is for the entire design team (composed of engineers, architects, owners, and contractors) to meet early in the conceptual phases of the project to identify and make choices on the energy efficiency strategies and building envelope components to be implemented. There needs to be an agreement detailing that when these strategies are chosen, they will not be considered part of any “devalue engineering” exercise conducted later. Merely going through the motions of filling out a rating system checklist is not enough.

Laue: One best practice is to be engaged early—and to push to be engaged early. Early design decisions can impact engineers’ ability to meet codes and can create additional steps in the design process. For example, if the façade of a building is designed with more glass than allowed by energy code, the project has gone from a prescriptive-code approach to a performance approach. In this case, an energy model will be required for code compliance, and trade-off options will need to be given to the owner to make decisions. These decisions should be presented with lifecycle costs and ROI information so the owner can make a fully informed business decision.

Mosley: We have experienced projects that attempt to push the envelope in Southern California by using natural ventilation to ventilate and cool dormitories. This is a good method to significantly reduce the campus peak cooling demands where feasible. There are limitations in the code related to cross-ventilation due to life safety egress requirements and corridor ventilation, but smart solutions have been used in some instances to enable better cross-ventilation, when acceptable, of rooms and corridors.

LaRose: The most important practice is to understand, as much as possible, the potential future uses of the building. The change of building use creates the most challenges related to the application of codes and standards.

CSE: How are codes, standards, or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of such buildings?

Mosley: Using more-efficient fenestration and strategically reducing the overall percentage of glazing have helped projects to meet the new Title 24 energy codes in California. Other smart solutions, like exposing thermal mass, have also helped. Focus on self-shading of the façade and optimizing natural ventilation using fins and other devices on the facades may help natural ventilation. The focus of many projects is to reduce the peak heating and cooling loads and then figure out smart, simple, and economical ways to open up the façade and let the building breathe and ventilate naturally during times when the outdoor conditions are suitable.

Harrisberger: As they evolve and get updated, codes are requiring an increasing focus on energy efficiency. This means that we’re continually pushed in the direction of increased collaboration and creativity to meet these high standards. First, the need to reduce the loads as much as possible is needed, which can be achieved by working with the team to reduce the building envelope loads as well as internal loads of equipment and lighting. Once these are reduced, we can then concentrate on the systems design to select the most energy-efficient system for the application.

CSE: What new code or standard do you feel will benefit most college and university facilities? This may be a code that your authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) has not yet adopted, but you feel will directly impact your work in the future.

LaRose: The 2018 edition of the International Fire Code (IFC) has a new chapter: Chapter 38, Higher Education Laboratory Buildings. It mentions the requirements of NFPA 45: Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals, for which there is currently no code path in the International Code Council. Also, it gives guidance for protection of existing legacy laboratory buildings, specifically for higher education campuses.

CSE: How will updated codes/standards relating to energy efficiency (i.e., ASHRAE 90.1) impact decision making for new and existing facilities?

Teeter: As energy efficiency standards and energy codes become more stringent, the implementation of high-performance HVAC systems and the use of nontraditional systems will be less of a choice and more of a mandate. High-performance systems do cost more to implement, require additional space within the building, and require additional design time to ensure the systems function as desired. The engineering community must work together to change the mindset of building designers. A form-over-function mentality can be counterproductive, and we need to move to a more integrated and balanced approach.

Mosley: Universities need to focus on more holistic upgrades to their entire campus infrastructure. An ultra-efficient central plant that can feed the campus and benefit all new and existing buildings will maximize the campus energy efficiency and enable all buildings to more easily meet the energy goals of ASHRAE 90.1.