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Event Takeaways: Opportunities and Risks for BEPS

The role of design contracts in reducing liability and future-proofing buildings.

DC Consolidated Forensic Lab, courtesy: HOK

How can architects and engineers manage the risks, while simultaneously positioning themselves for the opportunities, of the District’s Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS)? Setting expectations, establishing clear guardrails to keep projects on track, and managing optimal outcomes are even more important now that BEPS is here. Below are the top recommendations for designers to ensure building performance is integral to the entire project process while managing risk to support larger sustainability goals.

To get more information, including details on how to implement these concepts into your projects, please review this suite of resources developed in partnership with HOK, and watch the recordings of associated webinars, which are based on project phase: Pre-Design, Design, and Construction Documentation and Administration.

Note: While the framing for this blog is around BEPS in DC, the content within, and the recommendations from, the associated resources and webinars are also applicable in the many other jurisdictions with building performance policies or for building owners and developers with performance-based goals.

This resource explores how the District’s Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) will affect building design and construction for architects and related practitioners.

Fact check and revisit requirements regularly.

Sustainability, energy efficiency, and carbon are becoming an increasing focus of designers’ day-to-day practice through both mandated requirements and rapidly-expanding market demand. A project that successfully prioritizes performance typically does so from the outset to avoid unnecessarily complicated design changes and unexpected cost increases.

To provide the best service, architects and engineers need to establish an understanding with their clients about the importance of building performance even before signing a contract for a project. They should also establish BEPS-related targets early in the conceptual design phase, which are revisited and discussed at every major project milestone. This will ensure the design is meeting performance-based expectations.

To determine an energy performance target that satisfies the owner’s long-term goals, designers must ensure their clients understand the dynamic properties of BEPS. The BEPS will increase over time, raising the bar every compliance cycle for buildings to perform at increasingly higher levels. Therefore, it is best to establish energy performance targets that exceed current mandated minimums, and that ensure long-term market competitiveness.

Don’t skimp on energy modeling.

According to the AIA, projects that use energy modeling are 32% more efficient than non-modeled projects. For a nominal professional services expense, owners can recognize large cost savings at the construction phase—through the right-sizing of equipment and systems—and during operations—through reduced utility expenses. Energy modeling can pay for itself within a couple months of building operations and can be cost effective for projects of all sizes. Modelers should be part of design discussions in all phases and update models accordingly throughout. Alongside the energy model, ENERGY STAR Target Finder should be updated every time a new model is run to ensure a project is on track to meet its targeted ENERGY STAR score.

Energy modeling is not always standardized, so it’s best to follow ASHRAE Standard 209. While some sections are required for compliance with DC code, others should be included in a project’s baseline scope of work in order to get the most benefit. Box modeling in the conceptual design stage is strongly recommended to set the energy performance direction as early as possible. It is also strongly recommended that design refinement and operational consideration modeling are also included as basic services, as they will have an effect on programming, envelope, and system design.

Past performance will not necessarily indicate future performance, which means it’s critical to model beyond code minimums in order to minimize risk.

Apply the “belt and suspenders” approach to specifications.

The scope development and contract negotiation process will establish project priorities and inherently guide the final construction drawings and specifications. The specifications should reinforce project priorities by including explicit language that should be embedded in Division I — General Requirements and within all other performance-related sections (a “belt and suspenders” approach) to ensure that designed performance is executed in construction.

Attention should be focused on BEPS and building performance requirements in all pertinent sections, submittal cover sheets, and related checklists. Additionally, the specifications must include specific building performance target definitions because they set the baseline of understanding for the requirements listed in the remainder of the contract language. Clarify in the specifications that the project must achieve BEPS compliance, and how many BEPS cycles are covered by the contract, but that BEPS compliance is not a condition of substantial completion.

When it comes to product substitutions, criteria that acknowledges BEPS goals will keep procurement aligned. Clear criteria for documentation of any proposed substitutions, requiring re-modeling with any substitution that could affect energy usage, and including the energy model summary in the specifications tie substitutions to their performance outcomes. Asking the energy modeler to review proposed substitutions will paint a clearer picture of potential impacts to energy performance. Whatever is substituted must result in the same or better energy performance, and the project owner should be kept abreast of how the BEPS bottom line may be affected.

Continuous involvement of the integrated project team is paramount.

Energy performance should be evaluated with essential project team members at every major milestone in order to keep building performance top of mind. This process starts during scope development and contract negotiations and must continue throughout design, construction, commissioning, project turnover, and well into occupancy.

To help building owners make performance-related decisions, designers need to take a holistic approach and incorporate information from the full project team. The energy modeler, commissioning agent, and specification writer should be involved early and often. Designers can do this by providing a robust scope for energy modeling services, maximizing the impact the commissioning agent can have throughout project phases, and ensuring that specifications have utilized the “belts-and-suspenders” approach.

See the following for specific recommendations:

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