New ‘intelligent agents’ lab to help improve building energy efficiency

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is converting one of its laboratories into the equivalent of a small office building—not because of an increase in administrative overhead, but to develop and test smart software technologies designed to slash energy use in commercial buildings.

Architectural drawing of the new NIST 'intelligent agents' lab for more efficient building control systems. Credit: Kikkeri/NIST

Architectural drawing of the new NIST ‘intelligent agents’ lab for more efficient building control systems.
Credit: Kikkeri/NIST

From schools and hospitals to stores, offices and banks, commercial buildings account for a growing share of U.S. energy use—about 19 percent of the total and a third of electric power consumption.* More than four-fifths of this energy is consumed after construction by heating, cooling, lighting, powering plug-in equipment and other operations. By one estimate, day-to-day energy expenses make up 32 percent of a building’s total cost over its lifetime.**

NIST figures that these energy-eating operations can be accomplished far more efficiently and frugally with existing equipment by more intelligently coordinating their use. At the mock office building now under construction in a standard 1,000 square foot (93 square meters) modular lab space, NIST researchers will put this assertion to the test. There, they and their collaborators will investigate whether artificial intelligence tools already used in search engines, robots, routing and scheduling programs, and other technologies can work cooperatively to optimize building performance—from minimizing energy use to maximizing comfort to ensuring safety and security.

“Adapting intelligent agent technologies from other fields offers the promise of significant improvements in building operations,” explains Amanda Pertzborn, a mechanical engineer working in NIST’s Embedded Intelligence in Buildings Program. “The idea is a kind of ‘one for all approach’—use networked intelligent agents to manage and control devices and equipment subsystems to enhance the overall performance of a building rather than to optimize the operation of each component independently of all the others.”

Intelligent agents are combinations of software and hardware—sensors, mechanical devices and computing technologies—that perceive their environment, make decisions and take actions in response. They can monitor, communicate, collaborate and even learn, predict and adapt.

The energy-saving potential of this smart technology will grow with the evolution of the “smart grid” and its two-way communication capabilities, Pertzborn says. So, for example, cooperating teams of intelligent agents can parse time-of-day pricing, weather forecasts, availability of renewable energy supplies, and occupancy patterns to adjust individual equipment and systems to achieve optimal overall performance.

NIST’s simulated office building will serve as a proving ground for assessing whether intelligent agents dispersed among a structure’s multitudes of devices and subsystems can achieve this unity of purpose and work in concert. Prototypes will be tested on the most energy-intensive of building operations: heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC). So-called HVAC systems in commercial buildings account for about 7 percent of total U.S. energy consumption.***

Modern HVAC systems consist of thousands of devices from local dampers, heaters, thermostats and fans to boilers, air handling units, chillers and cooling towers. When a building’s HVAC system is first installed and tested, this vast assortment of components can be tuned so that the system starts out performing at peak efficiency. Over time, however, efficiency tends to degrade from the optimum and energy use patterns of occupants change, requiring retesting and retuning the system. Intelligent agents distributed throughout a HVAC system would enable continuous tweaking to orchestrate the operation of all components so as to maintain peak performance and efficiency throughout the building’s lifetime.

Using a real building HVAC system under controlled laboratory conditions will enable meaningful comparisons of prototype intelligent agents, Pertzborn explains. Scheduled to be completed in the fall, this building-in-a-lab will consist of four zones serviced by two chillers, three air-handling units, four variable air volume units to control air flow and one ice storage tank, plus pumps, heat exchangers and other equipment.

* U.S. Department of Energy, Buildings Energy Data Book, http://buildingsdatabook.eren.doe.gov/ChapterIntro1.aspx.

** Siemens, Integrated Building Optimization: A Crucial Convergence of Demand-side and Supply-side Energy Management Strategies, 2014.

*** J. Shonder, “Fact Sheets on HVAC Measures,” www.pertan.com/ORNL_govenergy/Shonders_HVAC.pdf

NCARB proposal would shorten time it takes foreign architects to become certified

ncarb-logoThe National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) recently proposed an overhaul of the Broadly Experienced Architect (BEA) and Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect (BEFA) Programs. The proposals would maintain appropriate rigor in the programs while significantly reducing completion time. These changes will optimize the process for U.S. and foreign architects who do not currently meet the requirements to earn NCARB certification for reciprocal licensure.

Currently, the BEA process allows architects without a degree from a National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredited program to earn the NCARB Certificate by proving they have six to 10 years of licensed practice in responsible control. In addition, they must have their education evaluated by the NAAB to define education deficiencies. Architects prepare a dossier to demonstrate, post-licensure, how they learned through experience to overcome identified education deficiencies. Then, their dossier is reviewed by NCARB’s BEA Committee.

The proposed change would remove those steps, and instead would ensure that the applicant has completed a state board’s education and experience requirements, passed the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), and practiced for one year. This proposal acknowledges that architects without an accredited degree are required by their original licensing jurisdiction to complete more rigorous experience requirements prior to initial licensure. The streamlining of the submittal process also ensures an objective rather than subjective review.

The BEFA process is in place for architects with a foreign license seeking NCARB certification to facilitate U.S. licensure. It currently requires establishment of an NCARB Record, at least seven years of licensed practice in the foreign country, preparation of a dossier to demonstrate experience in the areas tested in the ARE, and an in-person interview.

The proposal for consideration would remove these steps and instead would require an applicant to establish an NCARB Record, successfully complete the ARE, and document two years of experience either in the applicant’s home country or in the United States after licensure as well as have recognized education and licensing credentials. These changes preserve some of the threshold requirements currently in place, while acknowledging work experience in the United States and requiring passage of the ARE. The addition of the ARE requirement provides assurance as to familiarity with U.S. codes and facility with the English language.

The proposals will be distributed to NCARB’s 54 member jurisdictions for a special comment period. Member Board, collateral, and stakeholder feedback will be used to inform discussions by the Board of Directors in September and December. Depending on the feedback, the Board may move the proposals forward for a vote by the state boards at the next Annual Business Meeting in June 2015.

NCARB’s leading indicators show signs of a thriving architectural profession

ncarb-logoAmong the major findings of NCARB by the Numbers, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ annual report on architectural licensing are that architects are getting licensed at the youngest median age in a decade and that the number of women applying for architect credentials is growing.

A major finding in this year’s report is that the median age of people at initial licensure is at a 10 year low. This means architects are getting licensed at a younger age.

The report also indicates an increase since 2011 in the number of women applying for NCARB Records. The percentage of women applying for NCARB Records continues to hold around 40 percent—a marked increase from 10 percent in the early 1990s.

To receive a copy of NCARB by the Numbers, please contact Sandy Vasan, Director of Marketing & Communications for NCARB, at svasan@ncarb.org.

SkillsUSA sponsor donates steel framing products

sklllsusaClarkDietrich Building Systems is again sponsoring the SkillsUSA Championships, a one-day event that pits the nation’s top technical students against each other in 99 different trade, technical and leadership fields. ClarkDietrich will support the carpentry competition through a donation of its ProSTUD(R) Drywall Framing System and RedHeader RO(™) Rough Opening System.

This SkillsUSA Championships is part of the annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, taking place June 23-27th in Kansas City, MO. As part of the competition, nearly 75 participants will frame walls using wood and steel studs, cut and install rafters, as well as, install fascia board, sheathing and or exterior siding and trim. Contestants will be judged on accuracy, ability to read and interpret blueprints, workmanship, safety and the proper use of tools, equipment and materials.

SkillsUSA helps establish industry standards for job skill training in the classroom and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor. The organization serves more than 300,000 students and instructors annually. The organization has 13,000 school chapters in 54 state and territorial associations.

2014 Green Roof & Wall Industry Directory helps architects find resources

Green Roofs for Healthy CitiiesGreen Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC), the non-profit membership-based industry association working to promote the green roof and wall industry in North America, has released The Green Pages: 2014 Green Roof & Wall Industry Directory. As the green roof and wall industry continues to grow, this directory will help architecture and landscape architecture firms find key players in the green roof and wall industry (manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, nurseries, etc.) as well as accredited Green Roof Professionals. It also provides design inspiration by profiling different projects all over North America.

The Green Pages will be available at GRHC’s two upcoming conferences—Grey to Green: A Conference on the Economics of Green Infrastructure, Designing for Health in Toronto, August 25-26 and CitiesAlive: Green Roof & Wall Conference, Water: The Key To Everything Green in Nashville, TN, November 12-15.

For more information about the Green Pages contact Paul Erlichman, membership coordinator, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities at perlichman@greenroofs.org or Jennifer Foden Wilson, editor of the Living Architecture Monitor magazine at jfodenwilson@greenroofs.org.

Bipartisan Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act expected to create up to 40,000 jobs

us-senateU.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has reintroduced the “Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Jobs Act,” S. 2388, which would boost job creation in the construction industry and significantly increase the energy efficiency of buildings throughout the U.S., lowering energy costs and saving money. The bill would improve investment returns on building energy-efficiency improvements by shortening the tax depreciation period for the installation of new roofs on existing buildings that meet certain thermal performance and “cool roof” requirements.

S. 2388 is co-sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). Senator Cardin also filed the Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Jobs Act as an amendment (S. Admt 3186) to the EXPIRE Act (S. 2260). U.S. Representatives Tom Reed (R-NY) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) have introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 4740). The bill reduces the depreciation period for commercial roof retrofits, lowering the current 39-year depreciation period in the current tax code to a 20-year depreciation period for energy-efficient cool roof systems. To qualify, roofs must include systems with insulation that meets or exceeds the ASHRAE Standard 189.1-2011, a model green building standard, and have a cool roof surface in climate zones one through five.

The Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Jobs Act has attracted a wide range of supporters. The bill would create nearly 40,000 new jobs among roofing contractors and manufacturers; add $1 billion of taxable annual revenue in the construction sector; make the tax code simpler and more equitable for small businesses of all types; reduce U.S. energy consumption and save small businesses millions of dollars in energy costs; and reduce carbon emissions by 800,000 metric tons – an amount equal to the emissions of 153,000 cars.

New approach to energy code compliance clears major hurdle

nibsOwners and design teams working toward high energy performance buildings have a potential new ally in the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). The development committee reviewing new proposals for enhancing the IgCC voted 8-5 on May 4 to approve a proposal that would add a first-ever outcome-based compliance path in a model energy code.

The IgCC, which is updated every three years, defines the requirements that need to be met to be considered green. Local governments can then adopt the IgCC for new construction and deep renovation projects in their jurisdictional area.

Building energy codes by nature are prescriptive, but architects and engineers are finding that prescriptive requirements can limit their ability to use integrated systems and innovative technologies that are necessary to lower a building’s energy needs. The outcome-based compliance path would solve that problem, setting targets for the actual energy use of a building and determining compliance through the building’s achievement of that target once in operation. Unlike existing pathways to address energy use—prescriptive or modeled performance options—the outcome-based pathway allows the design team the greatest flexibility and relies on measured energy-use data that can help communities and building owners meet their energy and carbon emissions reduction goals.

The IgCC is developed by the International Code Council, a group of code officials and local government representatives that will meet for a final vote on the outcome-based compliance pathway and other proposals Oct. 1-5 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. However, this recent approval by the IgCC committee is extremely important because it means a much higher likelihood of ultimate adoption. With the committee’s approval, the proposal (GEW-147) needs only 50% of the voting body to approve.

Testimony submitted by an assortment of industry representatives, including the National Institute of Building Sciences, New Buildings Institute (NBI), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), Grundfos, Target Corporation and the Colorado Chapter of the ICC, was enough to convince the committee to favor the proposal.

LG Electronics selected for DOE tech program

lg-electronicsHVAC manufacturer LG Electronics is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on a new program designed to accelerate adoption of cutting-edge energy-saving technologies for commercial buildings. The technology is called variable refrigerant flow (VRF), and is being used in new commercial air systems. LG’s Multi V IV system uses VRF technology and brings a new level of energy efficiency, performance and flexibility to U.S. commercial office buildings, schools, hotels and hospitals.

Using the DOE TPEx program, product evaluators and purchasers can access a centralized, web-based portal for finding and sharing energy performance data for commercial building technologies such as VRF systems. This will allow them to quickly and easily identify best-in-class technologies and data for assessing their energy saving impact on a building.

Technology evaluators can leverage the raw data contained in the Technology Performance Exchange to greatly reduce the time required to evaluate technology performance and improve the quality of their assessments. Energy-saving products will thus be able to penetrate the marketplace more quickly than ever before.

LG has chosen to start work on the TPEx project by providing DOE the performance attributes of its VRF systems. With the TPEx, builders can better assess LG’s product performance, conduct financial analyses with greater confidence, and compete more effectively for limited organizational capital resources by presenting robust energy savings and payback analysis’ for approval, McNamara explained.

Meeting demand for energy-saving HVAC technology

The fourth generation in LG’s popular Multi V series uses industry-leading VRF technology that delivers significant benefits versus traditional HVAC systems, enabling improved energy efficiency by allowing occupants to choose whether to cool or heat only the zones in use. LG Multi V IV systems, whether Heat Recovery or Heat Pump systems, build on the success of the LG Multi V III, as LG’s flagship commercial HVAC system in the United States, where demand for high-performance, energy-saving HVAC technology continues to grow.

Among its many benefits, the LG Multi V IV offers users a more compact footprint and is lighter in weight than other models currently on the market. Equally significant, the new Multi V IV model allows for a wider heating and cooling operating range than its competitors and a wider range than thought possible.

LG VRF systems are engineered to significantly reduce the costs often associated with traditional HVAC products. Typical systems include large duct work, distribution fans, water pumps, water piping, cooling towers and complex controls. The LG VRF system eliminates these huge initial costs and lowers lifecycle costs. Multi V IV effectively eliminates efficiency losses experienced by current HVAC systems and provides more sustainable energy benefits. Multi V IV will help building designers achieve as many as 16 LEED* points.

Key VRF differentiators for builders and architects

The LG Multi V IV delivers a number of key differentiators to architects, commercial contractors and building owners, including:

  • Enhanced Energy Efficiency – New compressor design and optimized heat exchanger contribute to enhanced AHRI certified efficiency of up to 28.2 IEER.
  • AHRI 1230 Certification – Multi V IV is performance-certified. This ensures building owners receive verified ratings which comply with national energy codes.
  • LG Inverter Scroll – A high side shell innovation offers a more compact size for the same capacity output with greater reliability in cold climates.
  • Low Ambient Heating – Heating operating range down to -25F which provides greater comfort and saves on installation and operating costs for additional systems.
  • HiPORTM – High Pressure Oil Return removes efficiency losses and Smart Oil return eliminates timed oil recovery cycles.
  • Greater Elevation Difference – Owners can reach extra zones with an enhanced reach of 131 feet indoor unit to indoor unit and 360 feet elevation between outdoor and indoor units. This allows for more effective piping on one system and saves on installation.
  • Compact and Lighter – More indoor zones, less outdoor space. When space or access is at a premium, this equates to significant cost advantages for the owner on large projects.

LG Multi V IV systems are available now in the United States. Additional information about these current systems can be found online at www.LG-VRF.com.

Construction employment up in 40 states and DC

Associated General Contractors of AmericaConstruction firms added jobs in 40 states and the District of Columbia over the past 12 months and in 30 states and D.C. between April and May, according to an analysis today by the Associated General Contractors of America of Labor Department data.  Association officials said the employment gains help, but that construction employment remains below peak levels in every state and the District of Columbia, except North Dakota.

Nevada led all states in percentage gains in construction employment (12.5 percent, 7,000 jobs) between May 2013 and May 2014.  Other states adding a high percentage of new construction jobs for the past 12 months included Florida (9.8 percent, 35,300 jobs), Minnesota (9.7 percent, 9,700 jobs) and Kansas (8.9 percent, 5,000 jobs).  California added the most new construction jobs for the year (37,700 jobs, 5.9 percent), followed by Florida, Texas (26,500 jobs, 4.3 percent) and New York (12,000 jobs, 3.7 percent).

Ten states shed construction jobs during the past twelve months, with West Virginia losing the highest percentage, (-6.8 percent, -2,200 jobs).  Other states that lost a high percentage of jobs include New Jersey (-6.2 percent, -8,500 jobs), Montana (-5.7 percent, -1,400 jobs) and New Mexico (-5.0 percent, -2,100 jobs).  New Jersey lost the most construction jobs between May 2013 and May 2014, followed by Arizona (-4,100 jobs, -3.3 percent), Virginia (-2,800 jobs, -1.6 percent) and West Virginia.

Minnesota (3,800 jobs, 3.6 percent) added the most jobs between April and May, followed by New York (3,000 jobs, 0.9 percent), Colorado (2,800 jobs, 2.1 percent) and Pennsylvania (2,200 jobs, 0.9 percent).  Wyoming (4.1 percent, 900 jobs) had the highest percentage increase for the month, followed by Minnesota, Vermont (3.6 percent, 500 jobs) and Kansas (3.2 percent, 1,900 jobs).

Nineteen states lost construction jobs for the month, with Florida (-6,100 jobs, -1.5 percent) losing the most.  Other states experiencing large monthly declines in total construction employment included Arizona (-4,400 jobs, -3.6 percent), Ohio (-3,600 jobs, -1.9 percent) and Missouri (-3,500 jobs, -3.2 percent).  Arizona experienced the highest monthly percentage decline, followed by Missouri, New Hampshire (-2.7 percent, -600 jobs) and West Virginia (-2.4 percent, -800 jobs).

Association officials emphasized that Washington officials could bring additional security to construction employment levels by passing new legislation to finance highway and transit construction.  By passing a new surface transportation bill that includes the kind of revenue being proposed by Senators Corker and Murphy, a lot of stability would be added to what has been a very uneven construction recovery.

View the state employment data by rank and by state.

Paper connects green infrastructure, health and resiliency

Green Roofs for Healthy CitiiesGreen Roofs for Healthy Cities has published a research paper, “Exploring Connections Between Green Infrastructure & Healthy & Resilient Communities” that discusses the connections between green infrastructure, health and community resiliency. The paper reviews a growing body of literature which illustrates that how we design buildings and communities has profound consequences for our health and happiness.

The paper is part of Grey to Green, A Conference on the Economics of Green Infrastructure – Designing for Health on August 25th-26th, 2014 in Toronto. The Conference will discuss design and policy practices, and will include more than 75 leading thinkers and doers at the intersection of health and living green infrastructure. The multi-disciplinary program will cover project case studies, useful design and analytical tools, and cutting edge research.