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New Buildings Design

Most new buildings on a research campus will be in use for many years, so their designs represent unique opportunities for energy savings. When calculated over a building's lifetime, energy efficiency represents the lowest cost strategy for reducing energy use and the accompanying emissions of greenhouse gases.

The following links go to sections that describe how new building designs may fit into your climate action plans.

This one-time opportunity is especially tangible for new laboratory buildings, because they are so energy intensive. Labs21 data indicate that laboratories consume 3–8 times more energy than a typical office building. Most labs can reduce energy use by 30% or more with current technologies that have reasonable payback periods.

Many key decisions that affect energy use—including the building form and footprint, layout, adjacencies, and mechanical systems—are made during the programming phase of design.

New Buildings Design Options

There are two basic ways to establish energy performance goals for new buildings:

Photo of a large, open room with cubicles in the middle and a high ceiling that distributes indirect sunlight from the center line of the room onto a white ceiling.

One effective strategy to reduce energy consumption in buildings is to use natural light whenever possible, coupled with automated controls that dim artificial lighting when it is not needed. This strategy saves electricity for both lighting and for cooling, shown here at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Science & Technology Facility (see below).
Credit: Pat Corkery

  • Benchmark Goals

    One of the most specific and verifiable energy standards is total energy consumption, which is usually expressed in British Thermal Units per square foot per year (Btu/ft2·yr). You can use the online Labs21 Energy Benchmarking tool to compare energy consumption at your facility with that of more than 170 campus facilities.

  • Ratings and Certifications

    Another increasingly common approach is to certify a rating organization such as the U.S. Green Buildings Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). In this case, the design team will consist of professionals who are certified in this system for scoring up to 10 points under the LEED Energy and Atmosphere Credit. Labs21 publishes a voluntary Environmental Performance Criteria that coordinates with and extends LEED ratings to set appropriate and specific recommendations for laboratory buildings.

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy publishes a High Performance Buildings Database that includes information about these buildings.

  • Standards

    The most common standards are published by the American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA): ASHRAE–IESNA 90.1 latest version. ASHRAE bases these standards on consensus-based input from many stakeholders, so the goals can be readily achieved. Organizations that want to set more ambitious goals thus often set them at a percentage of this standard. For example, the federal government recommends energy performance goals at 30% below the latest version of ASHRAE–IENSA 90.1.

The design and build team can use many strategies to meet its energy performance goals; these can be reviewed in detail under Labs21 Case Studies. Similarly, there are a number of methods for verifying that a new building will meet its energy performance goals during construction, during occupancy, and at the end of its useful life.

  • Simulations

    The simplest approach is to require designers and builders to use computer programs called energy simulations to substantiate that energy performance goals are being met throughout the design and build process. Usually these simulations are required as deliverables for the design and build contracts.

  • Commissioning

    A more thorough approach is to check the settings against factory specifications and measure the performance of all energy-consuming equipment before the building is occupied. This process, called commissioning, can then be undertaken again, later in the building's life or at regular intervals. You can read about how this process works for federal buildings in a report titled, Commissioning for Federal Facilities.

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Considerations for New Buildings Design on Campus

Before undertaking an assessment of new building designs, a research campus should ask these questions:

Is new buildings design right for your campus?
  • Do you know how much it costs to operate your laboratory buildings?
  • Do you plan to own the building for more than 10 years?
  • Do you have the budget and authority to design a new building?

Compare with Existing Buildings

Campus facility managers report (based on Labs21 case studies) that annual energy costs range from $2 per square foot per year (ft2·yr) to $16/ft2·yr. This means that if you are designing a new 100,000-ft2 building, it could cost as much as $1.6 million per year to operate. Given this baseline, life cycle cost calculations are eye opening. Over its 30-year lifetime, energy bills will total $48 million—more if the cost of energy increases.

Own New Building Longer Than 10 Years

The longer you plan to own the lab, the more important life cycle economics of energy efficiency become to your bottom line.

Budget Authority for New Design

If you are the project officer, you can prioritize and balance the competing priorities for a new laboratory: sustainability, scientific functionality, budget, aesthetics, and safety. Energy-efficient laboratory design often goes hand in hand with safety, because the air flow is contained in fume hoods and equipment is turned off when not in use.

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Leading Example: NREL Science & Technology Facility

The DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Science and Technology Facility (S&TF) in Golden, Colorado, has a LEED Platinum rating.

Photo of the silver exterior and entrance of a building on a sunny day against a background of blue sky.

The S&TF combines high-tech controls with conceptually simple technologies such as natural lighting for high energy performance.
Credit: Bill Timmerman

The S&TF building is a Labs21 pilot project, and its energy performance and measured energy use are both well documented. The S&TF is a two-story, 71,347-ft2 laboratory building completed in 2006 at a total construction cost of $22.7 million ($318/ft2) and a total project cost of $29.8 million. Researchers in the building investigate the use of semiconductor materials for generating electricity from solar energy, manufacturing techniques for producing thin-film solar cells, and next-generation solar technologies.

Energy costs for this building are estimated through computer simulation to be 41% lower than those of a comparable facility designed to ASHRAE–IESNA Standard 90.1-199. This results in an estimated annual energy saving of 10,648 million Btu and annual cost saving of $96,000. The added cost for the energy efficiency features was $482,500 more than building to the standard. Altogether, this investment in energy efficiency has a simple payback of 5 years.

You can read a feature article describing the building, including its measured first year energy performance, in the 2008 edition of the ASHRAE on-line magazine High Performing Buildings. The first year of data shows slightly greater energy consumption than the computer simulations predicted.

Labs21 has a detailed case study about the S&TF building that shows savings calculations and lists systems parameters.

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The following links to documents and Web sites that list specific strategies for energy efficiency in new buildings design. Some of these documents are available in Adobe PDF format.

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