For the past year and a half I have been the acting AIACC Liaison to the California Energy Commission (CEC), reporting directly to the AIACC State Agency Liaison Committee (SALC). In addition, during the same period, I have been educating architectural firms about the value of adding Applied Building Science services to their practice through a PG&E-sponsored educational program entitled “Moving Architects Toward Building Performance.” In speaking to over 150 Architects, both AIA and non-AIA members, one aspect of our profession has become clear. Many architects are out of touch with the thermal performance of the buildings they design, regardless of a strong belief that there are practicing energy efficiency. Thermal performance analysis is relegated to the Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing (MEP) engineers in large projects and deferred to a mechanical contractor in small ones. While architects have neglected the thermal performance of their building envelopes, the CEC has made the building envelope the highest priority. As a result, the 2013 Energy Code will require mandatory schematic design review of non-residential buildings by a registered Professional Engineer (PE), specifically excluding architects. And its requirements can have substantial, visible impact on building form; for example, it will require architects to choose between what, for many, is an unfamiliar construction technique—rigid insulation outboard of metal studs—and limitations on the allowed area of glazing. Does this mean that architects are losing control of the way buildings will look?
There is one certainty with the proposed 2013 Energy Code changes; whether it means revenue gained or lost, all architectural firms will be spending more time providing a rising “standard of care” for Energy Efficiency services to clients. These services will include some form of building science-based thermal modeling analysis, energy efficiency design, detailing, construction and compliance verification / commissioning; or adding a mix of specialty consultants to projects that will provide these services, such as CEA Energy Consultants, Commissioning Professionals, Home Energy Rating System (HERS) II Raters, HERS Compliance Testing, Green Point Raters, and LEED AP Professionals.
Considering the changing profile of architectural firms in California (mega vs. petite firms, with not much in between) the simplest option is to add the mix of specialty consultants to a project and pass these fees on to the client; that is, if the project can afford it. The downside of this option is the architect continues to lose credibility and design influence over their projects, not to mention potential billable services. As the CEC’s Zero Net Energy goals for non-residential construction are targeted for 2030, and large scale Applied Building Science is in its infancy, it is understandable why the large commercial architecture firms would see no urgency.
On the other hand, as Applied Building Science is booming in the small building sector (residential and small commercial) and as California’s Zero Net Energy goals for residential construction are targeted for 2020, the petite architectural firms in California do have something to worry about, are interested, and have been listening. Simply put, their livelihood may depend on it. When considered, it becomes obvious that adding energy modeling and applied building science services puts a petite architectural practice back in the energy efficiency game, exactly where an architect should be.
The architectural community needs to begin a dialogue on California’s Energy Efficiency Plan, and if it means starting only with those who are listening, then let’s start. It is too late for the AIACC to meaningfully participate in the 2013 code cycle, but not too late to become informed and prepared to assist and debate the technical realities of California’s long range energy efficiency goals.
So, did you know:
- The AIA has not had a working relationship with the California Energy Commission for thirty years.
- The CEC and the California Public Utilities Commission consider practicing architects lacking in energy efficiency knowledge and skills.
- PG&E is creating an extensive energy efficiency training program for architects, because of the insufficient energy efficiency education provided to students in all California NCARB accredited institutions.
- Architects are not included among the approved professionals in the statewide Energy Upgrade California program.
- The Savings By Design Energy Efficiency Integration Awards, given independently of but in parallel with the annual AIACC Design Awards, challenge the absence of such criteria in the AIACC awards.
- The general public believes that LEED certification ensures energy efficiency, yet the first LEED for Homes Platinum House in Berkeley and has proven, in an LBNL Deep Energy Retrofit Study, to be a poor example of energy efficient design.
To initiate a dialogue on energy efficiency in California, the following discussion points are offered:
- Do architects really think the Zero Net Energy (ZNE) ambitions of the State are realistic?
- Who is responsible for the energy efficiency of the buildings architects design; the architect or the energy consultant?
- Is energy efficiency a Health, Safety & Welfare (HSW) issue tied to architectural licensure?
- Will California establish a licensing procedure for energy efficiency consultants, and will architects lose their current responsibility for energy efficiency HSW?
- Will the California Architectural Board start requiring energy efficiency continuing education for architects?
- Will the CEC establish a certification process for a Building Performance Architect, as they have for a Building Performance Contractor?
- If architects lose the HSW responsibility for energy efficiency, will the exterior appearance of buildings become the purview of a new energy efficiency engineering profession?
Thank you for your interest; we look forward to your comments.