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ASHRAE Unveils Design of New Building Energy Label

The ASHRAE Label, Officially Due Out Next Year, Borrows Many Traits from its European Forerunner
June 24, 2009
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) this week unveiled a flurry of new details about its building energy labeling program, including a prototype label design.

A select group of building stakeholders will begin testing the program, called Building Energy Quotient (BEQ), this fall ahead of a public release expected sometime next year, ASHRAE said on Monday during its annual conference. (See the building energy label.) The organization said it could not yet release the names of the pilot participants.

“As the United States looks to reduce its energy use, information is the critical first step in making the necessary choices and changes,” Bill Harrison, the immediate past president of ASHRAE, said in a statement.

With building energy disclosure laws moving forward in several cities, the labeling program “couldn’t be better-timed,” he said.

ASHRAE, the mechanical engineering association with 55,000 members, began developing the program last year. It would require property owners to document the energy characteristics of their buildings and package that data into a label, energy certificate and technical documents.

The energy label is the program’s most visible component, although until recently, what exactly it would look like was not known.

But as many expected, the prototype borrows heavily from the U.K.’s Display Energy Certificate, an energy label that is required for some buildings in England and Wales. Unveiled Saturday by Harrison, it grades energy efficiency on a color-coded letter scale from “A+” to “F”, with the highest grade reserved for net-zero energy buildings.

The energy use of a typical U.S. commercial building compared to others of the same property type would score in the “C” to “D” range, according to ASHRAE documents. Buildings that have earned the government’s Energy Star label, which signifies the top quartile of energy-efficient buildings, would earn at least a “B”. Complying with California’s Title 24 energy requirements would net at least an “A-”.

The two main components of the label are an asset rating, which is based on energy models and represents the building’s designed efficiency, and an operational rating based on actual performance. The ratings would ideally appear on the label side-by-side, although the operational rating requires 12 months of utility bills, which would disqualify newer buildings.

Building energy label proponents have said that seeing both grades could help property owners easily identify buildings that are operating less efficiently, and costing more money, than they should.

The minimalist appearance of the label was designed with public display in mind, according to a report published this month by ASHRAE’s label implementation committee. The label does not include greenhouse gas emissions disclosure, as does the U.K.’s label, although it would display the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification and the U.S. Government’s ENERGY STAR label for applicable buildings.

Other required components of the labeling program, such as an energy certificate, would explain why a building received a high or low score and include a summary of energy efficiency measures that have been implemented. Some documents would provide technical details on building systems and energy usage for engineers and building operations personnel.

Attaining the label will require building systems commissioning and a site visit by an energy assessor to verify performance for the operational rating, while the asset rating requires energy modeling. ASHRAE said it also plans to charge a fee for the label, although that cost has not been determined.

Yet, there is a huge opportunity for the label to spur cost savings, both short- and long-term, by creating a larger market for energy-efficient properties, said Ron Jarnagin, staff scientist in the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Energy & Environment Directorate and chair of ASHRAE labeling committee.

For most tenants right now, the energy efficiency of buildings “is not a big part of the conversation” in lease negotiations, said Olivia Millar, managing director of sustainability for the tenant brokerage firm Studley.

According to Jarnagin: “When potential building tenants and owners have information on the properties they are interested in, they can understand the full cost of their investment and place a value on the energy efficiency of a building.

“ASHRAE’s label will help building owners differentiate their product in a technically sound manner while providing tenants with the tools they need to select energy-efficient spaces,” he said.

ASHRAE is also looking to leverage the labeling program. The implementation committee recently recommended efforts to integrate the label into the popular LEED and Energy Star programs. And with building energy disclosure laws ramping up in Washington, DC, California and possibly New York City, opportunities exist in partnering with local policy makers.

Less clear is exactly how the label would align with an energy labeling provision in the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, which is before the House, although ASHRAE was involved in the structuring that provision.

The ASHRAE label “can serve as a model for mandatory programs,” Harrison stressed on Monday.



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