Architecture Firms Fall Short of Energy Benchmarking Goals; Here’s Why

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued an ambitious challenge to architectural firms in 2006: Make all new buildings, developments, and major renovations carbon-neutral by 2030. In the intervening decade-plus, more than 400 firms with projects in nearly 100 countries have signed onto the AIA’s 2030 Commitment. However, the latest survey of participating firms shows that many are far from reaching the target for predicted energy use intensity savings.

The overall 2030 Commitment target for predicted energy use intensity (pEUI) savings is 70% or more. In 2016, projects reported an average pEUI savings of 42%, up slightly from 38% the year before, the AIA reported. Although the portfolios of six participating firms did reach the 70% or higher average savings goal, the reason many firms fell short could be attributed to a lack of energy modeling.

“One way the AEC industry can improve building performance, contributing to carbon-reduction goals, is through energy modeling,” Construction Dive’s Hallie Busta points out. “Modeling allows teams to optimize design early on, adjusting building orientation, envelope composition, material selection and even internal layouts to help the building perform efficiently.”

AIA’s findings support that: When 2030 Commitment firms used energy modeling for their projects, they averaged pEUI reductions of slightly over 50% whereas the ones that didn’t only saw a 35% pEUI reduction. When AIA reported on the industry as a whole last October, it found that only 13% of the responding firms surveyed used energy modeling for billable work. Larger firms, however, had a higher 59% adoption rate.

Given the effectiveness of building energy modeling, why don’t more American architectural firms use this kind of tool? The primary reasons are concerns about cost, software usability, and a persistent silo mentality among architects, AIA’s Architect Magazine reported last year. Energy modeling requires an investment, and making the argument to include that cost from the start can sometimes be intimidating for architects, the magazine points out. And, although the software has grown easier to use with less of learning curve, a big hurdle to adoption appears to be outsized egos. Architects may think that modeling would somehow impede their creative process or compromise their vision, SmithGroup JRR sustainable design director Greg Mella told the magazine. “The software is now there,” he says. “The challenge is getting people to use it.”

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