Performance-Based Building Codes are a Game-Changer
Nobody can design a building in a vacuum anymore. On an integrated design team, it's not just engineers who have to worry about energy modeling and building performance. Performance-based building metrics are changing the field of design dramatically, and for the better, but there's more to be done. We're going to have to develop low-energy consumption systems that still deliver a great building environment.
The unifying force in all this is the Architecture 2030 challenge, pushing us to all to be carbon neutral. Even if the energy code doesn't always force us that far, public money often does. On the private side it's more difficult, but that's changing, too.
The phenomenon of performance-based codes will become more and more mainstream, and I count three big trends that might be crucial in helping it get there.
1) A deep desire for the traditional approach to evolve past a prescriptive code structure
Instead of settling for a one-size fits all model, clients and users are pushing to prioritize their goals and objectives for the built environment. A performance-based approach enables us to utilize creative thought and freedom of technique to evaluate the best approach for each project.
Moving away from the traditional prescriptive method allows a wider thoughtfulness to both the structure and its inhabitants. With this model, we are able to better deliver a custom, client focused solution and still meet rigorous code requirements.
This shift can already be witnessed in the use of credits to create a certain flexibility in design methods, however, we have not seen this reach its full potential.
2) Performance-based metrics will become more standardized as they continue to spread
Right now there's not a lot of consistency across the jurisdictions that enforce performance-based building codes—it's basically every locality for itself, with predictable results. There are a lot of states that are way behind from an energy perspective and others that are bleeding-edge. I'd like to see more consistency, although that's a political question. If we're serious about energy efficiency the federal government could set a baseline based on weather and climate conditions. States, municipalities and other entities will start to work together once there's more standardization in the market.
3) Codes will bring in metrics beyond energy efficiency
Our challenge as design professionals is to create a building that people want to work in, live in, and visit. We can design a building with perfect energy usage, but nobody's going to want to be there. So we have to balance energy goals and performance criteria with metrics that will create the kind of environment where people actually want to spend their time. Performance-based codes should embrace quality of life as aggressively as they've tackled energy efficiency.