The 2030 Challenge and commitment for plumbing engineers
By Winston Huff, CPD, LEED AP BD+C
Reducing fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions are important goals for our industry; however, they are difficult to achieve and measure. Designers, contractors, owners and operators start with good intentions, but many new buildings ultimately have minimal energy-efficiency improvements over the buildings they replaced.
Buildings are major consumers of energy. To decrease greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption, the building industry must have an energy plan. Two years ago, Architecture 2030 took a bold, proactive step and developed a challenge for those in the building profession. The 2030 Challenge sets goals with target years for reducing the use of fossil fuels in buildings. With goals and endpoints in place, the building design, construction, operations and manufacturing teams will have time to adapt and develop practices, methods and products to reach the goals.
The Challenge defines a performance standard of 60 percent below the average for the building type. At first this would seem to be a difficult task. In reality, technologies and methods are available to achieve this standard in most building types. The Challenge includes existing buildings and encourages them to be renovated.
The targets include a timeline in which buildings achieve a 70 percent performance standard in 2015. Every five years the standard increases, with the goal of being 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030. This means using no fossil fuel or other greenhouse gas-emitting energy to operate. Since this challenge was introduced, new buildings in design and in operation have met the 100 percent challenge.
A new demand for high-performance buildings has appeared as a result of this challenge and other forces in the marketplace. These buildings use less fossil fuel than other buildings of the same type. Because owners and developers are using financial models to make the buildings profitable, this trend should continue.
With this demand in the building industry comes a need for high-performance building design (HPBD) practices. Building designers are finding ways to incorporate elements with the potential to meet the operational energy goals of the building owner. Design architects and engineers are looking at new technologies, strategies, procedures and methods to help buildings have a better chance of meeting these goals.
“To reach our goal of carbon neutral buildings by 2030, there is a crucial need for design experts to apply their experience, innovations and talents to current practices that will lead to significant reductions in the use of natural resources, nonrenewable energy sources and waste production,” said former AIA executive vice president/CEO Christine McEntee in an article in Building Design + Construction.
HPBD is resulting in new methods and technologies for contractors to construct buildings. Many plumbing training programs are helping installers understand the new methods and develop procedures to ensure that high-performance features are installed and operate properly.
The new technologies in HPBD also are changing the way buildings are operated. These buildings include new systems and tools for operators, so it is important for operators to know how to keep the new technologies working to realize the improvements in energy efficiency. The best designed and equipped facility means little if the operator does not know how to keep it running to its full potential. Thus, the building operator should be included in the early schematic phase of design to give the design team direction when the energy model is being developed.
In May, AIA EVP/chief executive officer Robert Ivy, FAIA, said, “Integrating energy modeling into the design process is the best way for architects to implement strategies to reduce energy consumption in their projects and educate their clients of the potential for savings on utility costs over the entire life cycle of the building.”
In the past, the energy model was created by the HVAC engineer to design the HVAC system after the building was designed. Other building team members, such as the architect or operations manager, offered little input. However, with HPBD it is important for all of the design and operating professionals, including the plumbing engineer, to be part of the whole building model.
Cooperation has the best impact in the schematic phase of a project. Adding elements after the schematic design can increase costs and frustrate the design, construction and operations teams, and such elements are at a greater risk of being eliminated from the project.
How plumbing systems can help
Energy models using the whole building concept are changing the way plumbing systems are designed because they highlight how plumbing systems contribute to a building’s energy use. For example, in buildings with food-service dishwashing demands or dormitories with extensive shower demands, a large percentage of the building’s energy usage is from plumbing and water systems. Building modeling can show how water efficiency brings energy efficiency. Reducing the flow of water in showers can reduce the energy load on both the water heater and the pumping system.
Building pumps can use large amounts of energy, so pumps with energy-efficient motors and operational controls or with variable-frequency drives are required in high-performance buildings. Accurate sizing of the pump is crucial, because oversized pumps can waste energy during the life of the building. The piping design also is important. The pumps should be located in the overall system where they provide the most efficient operation.
Water heater designs are changing as well. Condensing-type HVAC and domestic water boilers are taking over a larger percentage of the water heater market. Energy modeling is looking at water heating and space heating as one system. Because of this, plate and frame heat exchangers are now viable options in many building types. Controls are improving, and more sizing options are available. Energy modeling is showing that efficient heat pump water heaters also are a viable option.
When energy modeling is used and options are evaluated, many building owners are discovering that thermal solar-powered systems can be used to work with the space heating or the domestic water heating system. When compared to photovoltaic solar systems, solar thermal systems can generate more energy in a smaller footprint for less cost.
Now is the time for plumbing engineers to develop ways to design plumbing systems that meet or exceed the 60 percent target. Plumbing engineers should be familiar with the energy-efficient elements, technologies and strategies of other trades so they know how the plumbing system can help reduce the overall energy load of the building. They will also need to know how these systems will be installed by the contractors and operated by the building staff. They should also plan for the carbon-neutral target and should be asking important questions: are there any non-fossil fuel alternatives for plumbing systems available? And when is it more efficient to have photovoltaic solar panels and an electric water heater or to use a solar thermal water heating system? These are questions we will need to answer.
Winston Huff, CPD, LEED AP BD+C, is a project manager, plumbing fire protection designer and sustainable coordinator with Smith Seckman Reed Consulting Engineers in Nashville, Tenn. He serves as an ASPE representative on the ICC Green Construction, Energy and Water Code Development Committee and is on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Water Efficiency Technical Advisory Group. He was the founding editor of Life Support and Biosphere Science and has served as its editor-in-chief. He also is editor of Me Green You Green (megreenyougreen.com), a LEED credit databank.