Smarter Buildings Require Smarter Building

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More than 190 commercial architects, engineers, building owners and facility managers from across North Carolina spent the day at the Brady Earthwise Expos in late April. Focusing on where the commercial construction industry is heading, attendees explored more than 30 booths featuring the latest in building technologies for improved energy efficiency.

Driven primarily by new code requirements to reduce energy consumption, software, systems integration and dashboard discussions were as prevalent as talk about construction materials and mechanical equipment. John Roberts, senior mechanical engineer at Dewberry and North Carolina Energy Ad Hoc Committee member presented an analysis of the 2012 energy conservation code governing new construction in the Tarheel state. The code is designed to save energy, reduce pollution and decrease energy costs by requiring new buildings to be 30 percent more efficient that those built under the 2009 code. Along with reducing lighting wattage and increasing insulation, the code is requiring buildings to be smarter with occupancy sensors and demand controls.

Although the new requirements can save the building owner money in utility costs over the life of the building, it is adding expense lines to the construction budget that did not exist five years ago. To help manage the new requirements with tight budgets for new construction, many, including the Wake County Public School System are turning to technology for solution.

“Growing school systems, like Wake County, are facing a heightened challenge with the 2012 Energy Conservation Code,” says Jim Brady, president, Brady, a company that provides energy systems and comprehensive HVAC building solutions for commercial and industrial facilities. “Finding the right balance of where to invest in best-in-class building components and where to cut costs with lower-priced options will increase reliance on building information modeling (BIM) software. This means the school system will need to make a choice between purchasing the technology, keeping it up to date and training staff, or paying for the assistance of private-sector construction and engineering experts that provide BIM services.”

WCPSS is just starting to look at how to maximize the application value of BIM according to Greg Clark, senior director of maintenance and operations for WCPSS. “We are beginning to discuss how construction managers are using BIM on WCPSS projects and what portions of the intellectual property generated by these systems is owned by the school system,” says Clark. “Beyond the direct benefit of managing construction costs, I see a future where BIM will be able to integrate with our asset management system. This could eliminate manually populating each building’s parts and components inventory, which would save hundreds of labor hours. It could also expedite the competitive-product comparison process when buildings need repairs.” Clark sees a future where BIM and the transfer of the systems IP will be an important consideration in awarding construction contracts.

Dr. Michael Walden, N.C. State economist notes, “The fiscal situation in North Carolina is improving.” This combined with commercial building vacancy rates on the decline and the need for additional classrooms means the construction industry is poised for an influx of new projects. However, budgets are still tight. Therefore, the A/E/C firms that will be the most successful in winning new business will be the ones that are tech savvy, both in how they build and in how the building will operate in use for many years to come. Whether by architects, engineers or contractors, it all comes down to smarter buildings requiring smarter building.  Read More