As seen in the Austin Business Journal

By Paul Brown, President, Bautex Systems

As property owners and tenants recover from summer’s higher elec­tric­i­ty bills, October has the title of Energy Awareness Month. Its efforts are partly directed at our behavior at home and in the office, but unless we change the ways we build, modifying our behavior will only make small improve­ments in energy con­sump­tion and effi­cien­cy compared to what could be saved over the 50+ year life of a building.

Nearly 75 percent (74.9%) of all elec­tric­i­ty produced in the U.S. is used to operate buildings, and heating and cooling accounts for more than 25 percent of energy used in com­mer­cial buildings**. The global building stock of com­mer­cial buildings is projected to increase 195 percent by 2045. We can’t meet our future demand for elec­tric­i­ty or energy con­ser­va­tion goals simply by changing behavior. Real improve­ment for energy effi­cien­cy starts with the building envelope. We have the proof in our 3,900 square foot office building in San Marcos.

At our office, our average energy bill this year was $120, when a com­pa­ra­ble building its size may cost $385 a month (or more) to heat and cool year round. Our path to greater energy awareness and effi­cien­cy includes some changes to behavior and envi­ron­ment – such as task lighting, LED overhead lights and pro­gram­ma­ble ther­mostats – but none of these things are respon­si­ble for our impres­sive­ly low utility bills. Most of the credit goes to our airtight building envelope with con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion, con­struct­ed with insulated concrete block made here in Texas.

It’s time to wean ourselves from the light frame con­struc­tion method that rose to pop­u­lar­i­ty because of our country’s vast natural resources that made stick-frame and steel-frame widely available. There are better materials and methods available to design and construct energy efficient buildings and homes. Investors, owners, archi­tects, engineers, builders and building materials man­u­fac­tur­ers must get on the same page to build better per­form­ing buildings in the 21st century, whether they are building tiny houses, second homes in the Hill Country, or three-story light office buildings in our suburbs.

Energy con­ser­va­tion shouldn’t be our only goal in improving building per­for­mance. We should also seek to improve life safety, indoor air quality and dura­bil­i­ty at the same time. Incre­men­tal improve­ments to effi­cien­cy in tra­di­tion­al frame systems and designs do not create better buildings. Often those improve­ments only increase the com­plex­i­ty and cost to construct tra­di­tion­al light-frame buildings without sig­nif­i­cant­ly improving what also matters: indoor air quality, and safety and dura­bil­i­ty against fire, wind storms, mold, and rot.
Of course we support behavior change to improve energy awareness, and in turn, con­ser­va­tion. It’s good to unplug our devices when not in use, swap out our bulbs for LEDs, and even use our favorite coffee mugs instead of styrofoam. However, when we want to advance real energy con­ser­va­tion, we must start with the building envelope. Real changes in how we design and build will provide the biggest impact for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Paul Brown, MBA, LEED GA, is president of Bautex Systems and a Board Member – At Large, US Green Building Council Central Texas Balcones chapter.

**“Energy use for heating and air-con­di­tion­ing accounts for more than 25% of the primary energy consumed in com­mer­cial buildings in the U.S. (EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 1998, Reference” http://​apps1​.eere​.energy​.gov/​b​u​i​l​d​i​n​g​s​/​p​u​b​l​i​c​a​t​i​o​n​s​/​p​d​f​s​/​c​o​m​m​e​r​c​i​a​l​_​i​n​i​t​i​a​t​i​v​e​/​h​v​a​c​_​v​o​l​u​m​e​2​_​f​i​n​a​l​_​r​e​p​o​r​t.pdf