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://​app​s1​.eere​.ener​gy​.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