High expectations for high-performance buildings: codes and standards

High-performance buildings are intricate, complex projects that require attention—qualified, expert consulting-specifying engineers apply their knowledge on such projects specifically within the codes and standards segment.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 23, 2017


  • Dave Clute, NREL Energy Executive, BOMI-HP, VP, Intelligent Building Group Operation Director, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago
  • Paul Erickson, LEED AP BD+C, Building Performance Practice Leader, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison, Wis.
  • Richard Holzer, PE, NCEES, LEED AP BD+C, HBPD, Principal Engineer, Southland Industries, Garden Grove, Calif.
  • Tim Kuhlman, PE, RCDD, CDT, Associate Principal, TEECOM, Portland, Ore.
  • A. Brian Lomel, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CxA, WELL AP, Director, TLC Engineering for Architecture, Orlando, Fla.

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

Holzer: Energy codes and standards, such as California Title 24 and ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, dictate the energy-performance criteria for virtually every project. Various organizations that offer certifications, such as LEED, Green Globes, and International WELL Building Institute, all have requirements that influence design.

Clute: The starting point for all of our work is the CSI MasterFormat system. While our work focuses on divisions 10 through 28, we are knowledgeable about the complete range of CSI specification divisions necessary to support the design and construction of high-performance buildings. Other important standards in this space include the ISO 16484: Building automation and control systems series. There are far too many codes, standards, and guidelines available to list in this short space, but we view CSI as an excellent starting point.

CSE: What are the most challenging codes and standards for such structures? What makes them so challenging?

Lomel: The Living Building Challenge (LBC) provides considerable challenges in reducing water and energy, while also focusing on the materials used in construction. Everything is an imperative; there are no options, so an owner has to be ‘all in’ in order to achieve full LBC certification.

Kuhlman: Every engineer designing a telecommunications data or phone network for a building needs to know NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) or the version of the electrical code adopted for their state. Power-limited systems and nonpowered systems (fiber optics) are still regulated by the NEC. For telecommunications and network cabling, look toward the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) suite of standards for commercial buildings, such as ANSI/TIA/EIA-568: Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standards, ANSI/TIA 569: Telecommunications Pathways and Spaces, ANSI/TIA-606: Administration Standard for Telecommunications Infrastructure, and ANSI/TIA-607: Generic Telecommunications Bonding and Grounding (Earthing) for Customer Premises. Manufacturers of network components and cabling-related products design with these standards in mind to make sure the network equipment works with the cabling equipment. Therefore, the engineer needs to design to these standards for the network building equipment.

Holzer: I find that the energy-performance goals of various institutions can be very difficult to attain. For example, the University of California requires new buildings to exceed the state energy code—Title 24—by at least 20%. This is extraordinarily challenging because Title 24 is becoming increasingly stringent with each revision cycle, and compliance is challenging even without the additional requirement of beating it by a 20% margin.

CSE: What are some solutions/best practices to ensure that the high-performance building will meet or exceed codes and standards?

Clute: We believe the “Three E’s”—education, exposure, and experience—are the best ways to help our staff, industry colleagues, and clients understand the importance of implementing business processes required to meet or exceed codes and standards. We also have developed a comprehensive business-process framework for intelligent buildings across the lifecycle of the built environment. This process framework provides a comprehensive set of core competencies at Level 0, process categories at Level 1, and detailed business processes at Level 2 through 5 that help us navigate and comply with the vast range of codes and standards required.

Kuhlman: In the example of a high-performance data center, a client wants one design that they can implement all around the world. Working across the U.S. is easy. A piece of equipment I select with a UL listing can be installed in every state. Taking the same piece of equipment into Europe can be a problem because they don’t recognize a UL listing. Instead, I may be looking for the same product that has a CE mark. Our clients want to move globally, but each country is sovereign and has its own codes and standards. Networking equipment is probably the most uniform from country to country. All Ethernet ports look the same. The same cannot be said for power outlets. Yet, even in building networking components where there is such a high level of uniformity, the building codes and listing requirements for these products can be different in each country.

Holzer: Full integration of architectural, mechanical, plumbing, structural, and electrical design to achieve the project performance goals is absolutely essential. Looking for synergistic opportunities is critical—things like using a concrete structural system to increase the thermal capacitance of the building, building-integrated photovoltaic systems, and using solar panels as sun-shading devices.

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

Holzer: Codes restrict the amount of vision glazing, design of wall/roof/floor assemblies, and rooftop space allocations set aside for solar panels.

Clute: New codes, standards, and guidelines for energy efficiency are making it easier for us to justify and build compelling business cases for the design of high-performance buildings. When the need to achieve higher levels of performance are required by law, it makes the need to comply much easier than if the choice was optional.

Lomel: The changes between the 2004 and 2007 editions of ASHRAE 90.1 and between the 2006 and 2009 editions of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and then the changes from ASHRAE 90.1-2010 and IECC 2012 to the latest editions, brought about a generation of changes, bringing new requirements for air barriers, building-pressurization testing, plug-load controls, commissioning, decreased window-to-wall ratio, and more. It’s all catching designers unaware and reinforces the need for educating both design teams and owners to better understand the code requirements and associated costs. The prescriptive path for compliance has gotten so onerous and difficult to adhere to that most of our projects are following the performance path.

CSE: How will new energy codes and standards impact the design for these buildings?

Clute: We are seeing the new energy codes change the way building floor plates are designed to take advantage of more natural daylighting, place more emphasis on open stairways to encourage movement between floors versus taking elevators, and create a greater number of collaboration and meeting spaces with fewer assigned workspaces.

Lomel: ASHRAE 90.1-2013 added controls for both primary and secondary daylight zones, bringing a higher level of awareness for architects. This code may spell the death of all glass buildings.

Holzer: New codes and standards will affect how buildings are designed on an individual basis and in the context of neighboring buildings. Increased density (taller buildings) will limit the ability to employ renewable resources, increasing demand for district-level solutions and energy-sharing between buildings.