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Building performance and comfort: Human factors and their influence


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March 3, 2018 by Robert Bean

well living lab building performance

The Well Living Lab opened in 2015. The 5,500 sq. ft. laboratory is located inside the Minnesota BioBusiness Center in Rochester, MN. Photo used with permission from the Well Living Lab

Over the course of your career you have probably used a number of strategies to compete for projects. Maybe your choice de jour was to do battle using a lowest price model. Maybe you got tired of dealing with headaches for no money and moved into the “we’re more skilled” segment. Perhaps you shifted into the “value based” or “great service” models, or some other system. More than likely you have played with one or more models to earn your clients’ business.

If you still have your business hat on and intend to keep it on at least for the immediate future, you may want study the evolving field of building performance programs. You are likely familiar with the government schemes of R2000, ecoEnergy and ENERGY STAR. These are good programs but there are many others. You will likely get a call soon to participate in one of the mostly non-government building performance programs such as Passive House or Passivhaus, LEED, Net Zero Energy, Green Globes, Active House, Well Building Standard or Living Building Challenge.

You might be thinking: “More programs, are these people nuts?”


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I agree with those who believe the last thing contractors and engineers need is more building performance certification programs. However, consider that the government-influenced building performance programs are beholden to a limited number of conservative metrics.

At their roots they focus primarily on national energy efficiency and conservation, which is great if that was the only thing society wanted from its housing stock. In reality homebuyers and progressive building owners want more than energy efficiency.

The latter programs are typically somewhat independent and mostly internationally positioned. These programs are based on multiple metrics brought together by the principles of integrated design and typically include enhanced or advanced energy metrics. Requirements around, for example, health and indoor environmental quality (IEQ) differentiate independent programs from government programs.

Here are a few examples. An ingredient of Active House is “…buildings that create healthier and more comfortable lives for their residents without impacting negatively on the climate and environment.” This is aligned in part with the International Living Building Institute’s Living Building Challenge, which includes measurements for healthy environments.

I am particularly fond of its sub category of “Civilized Environment.” I have interpreted this as a position against the uncivilized environments created by the minimum requirements of building codes. Even the Passive House/Passivehaus folks whose feet are planted in energy efficiency promote, “unmatched comfort” and “superb indoor air quality.”

One group that sits front and centre on my radar screen is the Well Living Lab, a Delos and Mayo Clinic collaboration. The lab positions itself as “The world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness.”

It is engaged in ongoing collaborative work with several health scientists to “introduce wellness standards, programs and solutions into the built environment.” Its lab work is “exclusively committed to researching the real-world impact of the indoor environment on human health.”

Podcast colleague Adam Muggleton and I interviewed Well Living Lab scientist Dr. Nicholas Clements, who provided some background on the lab’s initiatives.i It is as far as I know the only full-time partnership that includes a behavioural psychologist in its research efforts. That is cool–it also confirms that independent programs share a focus on human factors. These drive the design of the interior and ultimately the design of the enclosure. This logical sequence aligns perfectly with my philosophy of “design for people, good buildings follow.” They also fly in the face of the status quo, which is why I love these offerings.

So why is this important? Your working knowledge of non-government offerings can set you apart from all the other players who focus on the hardware, that being the energy equipment and systems. Consider that everyone and their dog is pushing the hardware.

Training on equipment and systems is prolific and has become a competitive field. Over the past decade there has been an industry-wide race to develop the supreme training facility. Associations and institutes have piggybacked on this wave with generic training programs teaching design principles to use industry’s equipment and systems. But let’s set aside the mainstream training and consider that the independent international programs are marketing machines and they, not government programs, are getting the press. The principles of IEQ are slowly and surely finding their place within the world of building science, interior design and architecture.

Here is the rub–nobody is doing IEQ training (see footnotes). ii There is nothing in the plethora of training in the gamut between trades to engineers that includes human factors, yet this is a key measurable metric that the independents use to differentiate themselves. Additionally, performances derived from non-conventional mechanical and electrical systems underlay many of the non-government building performance programs.

IEQ from non-conventional systems is the honey pot of the future. You can wait until everybody is doing it and the profit is gone or you can prepare now for when the sweet spot arrives. It is your choice.

Robert Bean is a Registered Engineering Technologist in building construction (ASET) and a Professional Licensee (Engineering) in HVAC (APEGA). He is president of Indoor Climate Consultants Inc. and director of www.healthyheating.com; a past ASHRAE Distinguished Lecturer; recipient of ASHRAE’s Lou Flagg Award and ASHRAE Distinguished Service Award; and a member of ASHRAE technical committees 2.1 (Physiology & Human Environment) 6.1 (hydronics), 6.5 (radiant), 7.04 (eXergy) and SSPC 55 (thermal comfort). Bean is also the author of numerous industry courses and seminars covering the building sciences, indoor environmental quality, energy, and radiant-based HVAC systems.

References:

i <https://edificecomplexpodcast.com/episodes/002-dr-nicholas-nick-clements-behavioural-building-science/> accessed 2018.01.19

ii Got ya! Let me guess. You have taken courses on indoor air quality and disagree with me. As I have said ad nausea, using IAQ to exclusively represent IEQ is akin to saying baking soda is a cake. When it comes to the quality of the indoor environment you must take all of the senses into account.


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