Opportunities and Risks for BEPS

Contractual recommendations for designers to reduce liability

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Introduction

Washington, DC has been a leader in green building policy for 15 years. This resource explores how the District’s Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS), which regulate energy use in existing buildings, will affect building design and construction for architects and related practitioners. It serves as an introduction to the following resources:

Webinars that provide a detailed review of these resources

  • Scope development, contract language (Based on AIA E204-2017 Sustainable Projects Exhibit), and setting expectations with the client.

  • Energy target setting and modeling by design phase (Based on ASHRAE Standard 209); defining the scope, and managing execution throughout a project.

  • Reviewing specification language (For Division 01 – General Requirements), substitutions and RFI procedures, project turnover, commissioning, and post-occupancy considerations.

Opportunity

The District’s sustainability policies bring opportunities for investment in high-performance buildings and deep green retrofits. While the District’s energy code continues to move rapidly towards requiring net-zero energy in 2026, approximately 71% of the District’s current greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings—and they are almost entirely from existing buildings. This is why BEPS could be a very powerful environmental and economic tool. The District estimates that thousands of buildings may ultimately be affected by BEPS.

These building requirements will ultimately help the District achieve its goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. Building owners will be looking towards practitioners—architects, engineers, and sustainability consultants—to help them navigate these regulatory requirements and make improvements to their building’s performance.

Risk Management

However, along with opportunity comes risk. Architects and the larger design community want to set expectations, establish clear guardrails to keep projects on track for successful compliance with DC’s codes and policies, and manage optimal project outcomes. This process starts with the following steps:

Risk Management Steps

  • Required minimums

    A project’s sustainable design objectives need to first be defined by size, occupancy type, and ownership. Projects that fall under the Commercial Energy Code and the Green Building Act are generally required to obtain some level of LEED or Green Communities certification. Projects that fall outside of the Green Building Act due to size, occupancy type, or ownership structure fall under the DC Green Construction Code, but may use LEED or Green Communities as an Alternative Compliance Path to the green code. All projects fall under the DC Energy Code and must comply with its mandatory provisions, as well as either the prescriptive or performance path.

    Below is a quick reference chart indexing high level requirements for commercial buildings under: Green Building Act, Clean and Affordable Energy Act, DC Green Code, Clean Energy DC Act, DC Energy Code.

    Table 1. Reference Chart for District Commercial Building Requirements

    Project size (SF): 10,000-24,999 25,000-49,999 30,000+ 50,000+
    Commissioning requirements under current energy code: MEP Cx mandatory MEP Cx mandatory MEP Cx + Building Enclosure Cx mandatory
    First time fit-out in privately- owned commercial building Green Code Green Code LEED Certified

     

    Any privately financed fit-out in DC-owned building LEED Certified LEED Certified
    New commercial building (or Level 3 alteration to whole building) Green Code; Benchmarking 2024;

    BEPS Cycle 3: 2033

    Green Code;

    Benchmarking 2021; BEPS Cycle 2: 2027

    LEED Certified; Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Multifamily building (>85-100% privately financed) Green Code; Benchmarking 2024;

    BEPS Cycle 3: 2033

    Green Code;

    Benchmarking 2021;

    BEPS Cycle 2: 2027

    Green Code;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Affordable housing (privately-owned, >15% financed by DC, or equivalent) Green Communities;

    Benchmarking 2024;

    BEPS Cycle 3: 2033

    Green Communities;

    Benchmarking 2021; BEPS Cycle 2: 2027

    Green Communities;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Affordable housing (DC-owned) Green Communities;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Green Communities;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Green Communities;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    DC-owned commercial (non-residential) LEED Silver;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    LEED Silver;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    LEED Silver;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Schools, DC-owned LEED Gold;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    LEED Gold;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    LEED Gold;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Schools, privately-owned LEED Gold;

    Benchmarking 2024;

    BEPS Cycle 3: 2033

    LEED Gold;

    Benchmarking 2021; BEPS Cycle 2: 2027

    LEED Gold;

    Benchmarking already underway;

    BEPS Cycle 1: 2021

    Once construction is complete, a project is delivered and it is issued a certificate of occupancy, it is subject to benchmarking (annual performance disclosure to the Department of Energy and Environment as well as the public) and the Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS), the onset of which is dependent on size and ownership structure.

    BEPS considerations

    The only way to predictably comply for several BEPS cycles would be to deliver a net zero or net positive building (one that generates as much, or more, clean energy than it uses annually). However, these performance goals may not fit within an owner’s program, schedule, or budget, so it is important to mutually identify the right target between meeting code and safely meeting the BEPS for one or more cycles. Determining how many cycles ahead the project should plan for should be part of early project scoping discussions between owner and architect. Once these goals and estimates are determined, they may influence team selection and subconsultant scope. Therefore, it is critical to have this conversation as early as possible.

    In addition to future BEPS compliance, sustainable project objectives may include LEED or Enterprise Green Communities certification; WELL or Fitwel certification; compliance with the DC Energy Code under Appendix Z; Passive House or the Living Building Challenge Energy Petal; ENERGY STAR certification; or other targets.

    Note: Estimate a project’s ENERGY STAR Score and source energy use intensity (EUI) throughout the design process by using ENERGY STAR Target Finder.

  • After the owner has clarified project objectives and scope (or at least defined a range of potential sustainable project objectives that they wish the team to explore), the architect can assemble team members with the right experience and skills. They can do so by asking team members for their familiarity with the current policies and codes in DC, as well as aspirational objectives if relevant. Potential team members should provide examples demonstrating how they have set goals and tracked compliance on other projects, and how they maintain accountability.

    Most importantly, it is critical to identify who will be conducting energy simulation and modeling and ensuring the team member is on board from the project start. In some cases, the energy modeler will work directly for the owner (this is sometimes coupled with commissioning services) or for the architect as a subconsultant (this can be a standalone service or be coupled with MEP engineering services). Optimally, building operations teams and commissioning agents would also be engaged from the start of a project, but commissioning agents should be engaged by the end of schematic design or early design development to support DC Energy Code compliance as well as green building certification(s). Mechanical, engineering, and plumbing (MEP) systems commissioning (Cx) and building enclosure commissioning (BECx) may be provided by the same consultant or two different consultants. To meet DC Energy Code requirements, they should be independent from the design team and contracted directly to the owner.

  • Even though a project may be constructed to meet the current code, and even though it may achieve a green building certification such as LEED or Enterprise Green Communities, it may still have challenges in terms of its actual energy performance and it could still fall short of meeting BEPS in its first or a subsequent compliance cycle. To avoid this, it is critical for the owner, the architect and key consultants to discuss:

    • Performance goals beyond code
    • Performance goals beyond certification
    • The impacts of tenant or occupant behavior and plug loads
    • Potential changes in how the building may be used
    • How the building will be operated and maintained
    • The appropriate level of building automation, metering, and submetering, (including tenant metering) to monitor and manage energy information
    • How to leverage simulation and energy modeling throughout design and construction to make informed decisions
    • How to leverage the commissioning process to not only meet the DC Energy Code but to also validate performance expectations and meet BEPS
    • How to leverage onsite, post-occupancy measurement & verification to further understand actual building energy usage, fine-tune systems, and optimize performance
    • How to right-size the risk by targeting a performance target that should meet BEPS for one or more cycles.
    • Team selection. Identify the right consultants and specialties to get the level of skill needed to execute high quality work. An integrated team should be identified prior to the start of design and should include, at a minimum, the architect, MEP engineer, energy modeler, and the owner’s commissioning agent.
    • Integrated design. Ensure early multi-disciplinary collaboration starting with a charrette or workshop, mutual goal-setting and visioning, and clear allocation of responsibilities and work planning.
    • Proactive management. Encourage owner to anticipate budget, schedule and operational impacts so that they don’t become challenges. Plan ahead for ongoing commissioning and monitoring during first 1-2 years of operations.
    • Clear documentation. Maintain consistent communication that references back to stated project goals. Circulate documentation (meeting minutes, memo) after a performance-related issue is discussed and key decisions are made.
    • Leverage energy modeling. Leverage ASHRAE 209 modeling practices to balance performance objectives and budget. Not all cycles have to be included in base scope and fee; some can be part of basic services and other cycles can be picked up as additional services if needed. (See Module 2: Energy Modeling. Energy Target Setting and Modeling by Project Phase for more detail.)
  • Once consultants have been selected for the team, it is important to clearly define the scope and expectations in contract language.

Each of the following modules provides guidance on best business practices as BEPS take effect, how to ensure provisions for building performance are integral to the entire design and construction process, and ways to manage risk while expanding potential opportunities to support larger sustainability goals.

Conclusion: Planning a Future-Proof Performance Target

Can you predict the BEPS in future cycles? Not really.

The DC BEPS are currently based on the local median ENERGY STAR Score for each property type, where available, which is in turn based on national building data collected through the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). Because the ENERGY STAR Score is based on a comparison to a national data set that is updated every four years, this score is heavily dependent on the relative performance of other buildings in the database, which is beyond the control of the designer or the owner. Furthermore, the local median ENERGY STAR Score is dependent upon the performance of peer properties in DC, where new buildings are delivered every year under some of the nation’s most advanced energy codes and green building policies. Therefore, it is impossible to predict the exact trajectory of BEPS, but assuming the compliance threshold will increase in rigor each successive compliance cycle and therefore targeting a higher ENERGY STAR Score would certainly be safer than cutting it too close to the current BEPS cycle’s minimum performance requirements.

It bears repeating that the only way to be predictably safe for several BEPS cycles would be to deliver a net zero or net positive building—one that generates as much or more clean energy than it uses over the course of a year. But aspirational performance goals may not fit within an owner’s program, schedule or budget, so it is important to mutually identify the right target somewhere between meeting code and safely meeting BEPS for one or more cycles. Determining how many cycles ahead the project should plan for and therefore estimating what the ballpark ENERGY STAR Score or source EUI should be are a critical part of managing a successful project that is positioned to comply with the BEPS in the future. In addition, selecting the right team and planning for iterative energy benchmarks at key points along the way will keep the project on track and well equipped for future success.

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