Imagine your company just bought a five-year-old office building in the heart of the city. Starting the new year off right, you move your staff in on January 1st, only to start receiving complaints of cold drafts and inconsistent temperatures in different spaces, despite running the heating system. Some rooms remain chilly, while others are hot, leading to discomfort, decreased productivity, and increased energy usage compared to the space you vacated. Energy consumption far exceeds expectations, and despite efforts to optimize energy usage, the bills remain astronomical. Furthermore, a few areas in the building, particularly those close to the windows and exterior walls, show signs of moisture intrusion with visible water stains, peeling paint, and a musty odor. Some employees even report allergic reactions and respiratory issues. How could owning a building cost more than renting one?
In this scenario, the building envelope issues are evident through the occupants’ discomfort, high energy bills, moisture intrusion, and mold growth, all of which may have been avoided if those who constructed the building had utilized building envelope commissioning early in their process.
The phrase building envelope, in simple terms, refers to the part of the edifice that “keeps what’s inside in and what’s outside out,” while commissioning (Cx) is the systematic process of ensuring that a building, facility, or system performs according to the owner’s requirements and expectations. Building envelope commissioning (BECx) ensures the performance and functionality of a building envelope. In other words, BECx helps verify that the design and construction teams did what the Owners hired them to do as it relates to keeping what’s inside in and what’s outside out.
While BECx focuses primarily on optimizing energy efficiency and indoor comfort, it can also play a role in guarding against water intrusion. A well-executed BECx process can identify and address potential issues related to the integrity and stability of the building envelope. This may include inadequate structural support, improper installation, material defects, or design flaws. By conducting thorough inspections, tests, and performance evaluations, commissioning agents can help identify and rectify any vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the building envelope system.
Five Reasons You Should Plan for BECx
Loring has been involved in several BECx projects and has identified five reasons, though often optional, is worth including in major projects.
01. It Enhances Energy Efficiency:
Commissioning the building envelope optimizes energy performance by minimizing air leakage, thermal bridging, and inadequate insulation, leading to reduced energy consumption and lower operating costs. It ensures proper installation and functioning of HVAC systems, optimizing energy performance while reducing heating and cooling loads. BECx also verifies the effectiveness of the building envelope in controlling moisture infiltration, preventing moisture-related issues that can impact energy efficiency. A good BECx process can identify and rectify deficiencies in the envelope, such as gaps, cracks, or inadequate sealing, which can lead to energy waste. At Loring, our experience in BECx has shown that these are only some of the ways in which the process can enhance energy efficiency.
02. BECx Reduces Environmental Impact:
Commissioning promotes sustainability by optimizing energy performance, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and minimizing resource consumption. In this way, it contributes to achieving green building certifications, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which demonstrates a commitment to environmentally responsible construction practices. In fact, Loring’s clients are thrilled to learn that having their building envelope commissioned increases their LEED certification point tally by two points! BECx also supports sustainable design strategies, such as passive solar design and natural ventilation, by ensuring the building envelope functions effectively, as well as validates the performance of sustainable building materials and technologies incorporated into the envelope. Another excellent reason for including BECx in your sustainability efforts is that it provides data and documentation on the energy performance of the building envelope, enabling post-occupancy evaluations and the identification of potential energy-saving opportunities.
03. BECx Ensures that Building Code Requirements for Certain Jurisdictions (e.g., Washington, D.C.) are Met:
The last thing anyone wants when they submit documents for approval at the municipality is to learn that mandatory standards were missed. Having a building envelope be properly commissioned by Loring or an equally reputable team helps ensure compliance with building codes and standards related to energy efficiency, thermal insulation, air leakage, and moisture management. The importance of adhering to building code requirements cannot be overstated, as doing so ensures occupant safety and minimizes the risk of accidents or injuries, among other things.
04. It Improves Insurability:
Building envelope commissioning can potentially have an impact on insurability. Insurers assess several factors when determining the insurability of a building, including its structural integrity, risk of damage or failure, and potential for claims related to water intrusion, mold, or other issues. One way that BECx can positively influence these factors and, in turn, impact insurability is through risk reduction by helping to identify and rectify potential weaknesses or deficiencies. Insurers generally prefer buildings with lower risk profiles, and a well-commissioned building envelope can contribute to a lower risk profile. The process can also help prevent claims: when a building envelope is properly commissioned, this can minimize the likelihood of claims related to water damage, mold, or other issues. By proactively addressing potential vulnerabilities, commissioning conducted by a team like Loring helps mitigate risks and reduce the frequency and severity of insurance claims, which can be attractive to insurers and may result in more favorable premiums or coverage terms. As mentioned earlier, BECx also facilitates compliance with building codes, which in turn results in these buildings generally being considered less risky from an insurability standpoint. Implementing commissioning demonstrates a commitment to quality and adherence to industry standards.
05. BECx Helps Protect Investments:
Loring understands the kind of capital outlay that goes into most of the projects we work on. BECX helps you to avoid costly mistakes by identifying potential or actual issues you may not have considered during your years of fundraising, planning, and preparing. By identifying and rectifying issues early on, the process safeguards the investment made in the construction or renovation project, minimizing costly repairs and ensuring long-term value.
While executing a recent project, Loring was part of a team that created a physical mock-up – a section of a wall constructed to the specifications of the larger project. The mock-up was then subjected to various conditions to which the finished building might be exposed to see how it would fare. The exercise informed changes that needed to be made during the design phase to mitigate against the kinds of issues that came up during the simulation. Although the construction of the mock–up increased the initial capital outlay, the building’s owners were able to take measures to avoid costly problems over the long term.
Water Penetration Testing, Field Quality Control Testing of Mockup
Pressure Test, Field Quality Control Testing of Mockup
In conclusion, planning for building envelope commissioning (BECx) offers numerous benefits that go beyond the initial construction phase. By embracing BECx, you can harness its power to enhance energy efficiency, reduce environmental impact, meet building code requirements, improve insurability, and protect investments. Proactively engaging in BECx ensures that your building operates at its highest potential, resulting in long-term cost savings, improved occupant comfort, and a sustainable future. By prioritizing BECx in your construction projects, you are not only making a wise business decision, but also demonstrating your commitment to energy conservation, environmental responsibility, and the overall well-being of your building occupants. In fact, we at Loring want you to consider BECx a mandatory component of your major projects. Contact our team today to discuss even more ways in which BECx can improve the value and longevity of your current or upcoming building work!
Todd Steffens is a Vice President, Benjamin Mank is an Associate and Brian Walker is a Senior Associate in the Washington office.