We need to design for more than energy performance

Energy efficiency may well be associated with higher financial performance, but research shows this is unlikely to be the sole cause.

By Aidan Parkinson, Arup July 14, 2016

Across the world, it’s often assumed that buildings with favorable energy-performance ratings and certificates are able to command higher purchase and rental prices. My research leads me to think that energy efficiency alone is unlikely to be the cause of this.

There have been prominent studies that support the idea that Energy Star-labeled offices in the U.S. can command up to 25% transaction premiums—that is the percentage above similar properties without the Energy Star label. I believe energy efficiency does not fully account for that 25%, and the same probably holds true for energy-performance certification schemes in other countries around the world.

Energy efficiency may well be associated with higher financial performance, but my research shows this is unlikely to be the sole cause, and in fact, such studies that identify value in energy performance are additionally reporting the presence of other confounding factors.

So, which factors are occupiers placing value on? Perhaps esthetics, indoor environmental quality, or space utilization. It’s clearly important that designers and developers understand every element of the occupier’s experience and perspective if building design is to improve.

One way we could improve the level of understanding is by carrying out post-occupancy evaluation, eventually creating a feedback loop of responses. This could provide a stronger evidence base to support new ideas and improved building design practices. Designers and developers alike would benefit from surveys of occupants’ perceptions toward properties and measurements of operational conditions and performance. The result would be buildings that still have great energy performance, but are better tailored to the market in other, complementary ways.

A final implication is that governments might conclude from this that potential changes in energy prices and/or taxation are unlikely to be sufficient to drive widespread changes in energy demand within the commercial property market. The financial risks to property value appear too insignificant. Therefore, to achieve change in energy demand within this sector, other incentives or regulation may be necessary.

If you’d like to learn more about this subject, I’ve published a paper in the scientific journal Energy, which can be downloaded here. And if you have any insights on how we could start to foster the occupier-designer feedback loop.

-Aidan Parkinson is an engineer contributing toward Arup’s portfolio optimization and post-occupancy evaluation services. This article originally appeared on http:thoughts.arup.com. Arup is a CFE Media content partner.