Human Factors and High Performance Design
People play an under-appreciated, yet critical role, in building performance. Engineers, architects and construction managers spend their careers developing and constructing facilities that maximize energy efficiency and elevate the human experience. Despite our advances in sustainability, many high performance buildings fail to produce the benefits modeled during design. There are three elemental steps we can take to help high performance buildings achieve their potential.
First, the design must respond to the capacities of the occupants and operators. This in no way implies that vision and innovation are not important. However, there needs to be an understanding that the final product – its program, materials, and systems – are consistent and useful for the stakeholders. There also needs to be an expectation that users will modify their environments when the building opens. This is the human factor that teams must consider when designing building systems.
Second, most buildings are not set up and operated as designed from the day the doors open. Most finished buildings are not commissioned. Today’s building systems are complex, and the role of commissioning agents and other start-up professionals are increasingly important to ensure building optimization. Following substantial completion, the building design team has very little interaction with building operators to ensure that systems are set to ensure optimum performance. It’s in the best interest of all parties for an invested design professional to participate in an educational meeting with operating staff and occupants to address the human factor and explain the building design and how it is intended to operate.
Finally, there are very few buildings being tracked for energy performance. The process for an energy benchmark study is simple – gather 12-to-24 months of utility data, organize the data for comparison with similar facility types, set goals for performance, and develop strategies to achieve the goals. Strategies can be renovation projects or similar notions categorized as Behavioral Modifications. This, again, is essential to understand and address the human factor and its impact on operation. The very process of energy benchmarking has the added benefit of improving occupant comfort and satisfaction within the facility.
It’s time for design professionals to embrace the human factor associated with building performance. The road to a successful project and a happy client does not end when building construction is complete. It is just beginning.