Turning the Building Inside Out with Envelope Commissioning

Hey Building! Are You Comfortable? How About That IEQ…?

With tongue-in-cheek, let us say that the principles and practices of building green represent a work in progress. People used to moan that nothing ever stayed the same anymore, but you don’t hear that complaint much anymore. As technology advanced, so did our capacity to accept change. So what is changing now? The answer is: Our perspective on the influence of the building envelope’s importance in actually achieving the high green standards set for energy use, indoor environmental quality, occupant comfort, and much more.

The building envelope has always been important to sustainability, but it has been viewed in a bit of a detached manner. The choice of siding materials, for example, was made based on its ability to insulate and withstand weather conditions. It was not considered in terms of how well it integrated with the operation of the HVAC system. The building envelope influences things like air leakage, water leakage, noise level, microbial contamination, and thermal comfort, so the LEED v4 whole building, life cycle approach naturally places new emphasis on the building skin.

As Green as the Greenest Component

Bottom line: Does it make sense to worry about the efficiency of the HVAC system without concern for the gaps between the curtainwall frame and the windows? Hmmm….hmmm…thought so… Weaknesses in the building envelope in terms of environmental sustainability and protection of IEQ can degrade efforts to create a truly green building. So it was natural for professionals to start asking: Should we have the building envelope commissioned? Now that technology has improved materials and the ability to detect exterior issues that cause interior issues, doesn’t it make sense to look at the whole building? Considering how weaknesses in the building skin can create weaknesses on the building inside, shouldn’t we evaluate how all the building components work together? Oh, so many questions!

Here is our answer: Of course it does! However, some people still need convincing, and so the debate rages on. There are many reasons to commission the building envelope. Going for commissioning means the project team concentrates on avoiding design errors that can turn a potentially green building into an energy black hole. The commissioning process will consider factors like air, water, and microbe intrusion; coordination of decisions concerning the building envelope (outside) with decisions concerning interior systems (inside); regular review of specification documentation; coordination of the project team members; and so on.

No Building Black Eyes

Equally important is the fact that building teams will focus on the dual goals of meeting owner requirements and achieving green building performance. A topic not discussed a whole lot is the fact that owners have expectations based on “green promises” and failing to meet those promises gives the green industry a black eye. Building envelope commissioning will ensure that all is done to meet owner requirements and that realistic expectations are set.

The question to ask yourself is this: Is my whole building green? Since honesty is the best policy the course, Pushing the Envelope – Enhanced Commissioning, was developed by the Green Building Research Institute and Morrison Hershfield to explore the possible answers to that question. It begins Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 and may hold some surprises for people who were so sure their buildings are as green as they can be.

Have you ever pursued building envelope commissioning? Will you share some experiences with other professionals?

  • Jasmine  March 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I really like and appreciate your blog. Will read on…


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