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Because energy waste isn't readily visible, one must thoroughly analyze the physics of the building details and energy transfer. This isn't derived from hard science so much as from experience with knowing what to look for in conjunction with knowing how energy transfers through a steel beam, an aluminum window section, and so forth.
A little help from Mother Nature comes in handy, too. For example, looking for visible evidence when inspecting the system on a really cold day, which affects the thermal bridge for components of the structure such as steel or concrete, might produce condensation that will likely form on the warm side of the assembly. This is why continuous analysis is advantageous during all phases of the building envelope's construction.
Building envelope commissioning is straightforward and practical, but it requires intention and time to do it — and that requires extra capital investment from the owner. The trade-off with avoiding costly future repairs is well worthwhile.
Too many owners and operators have experienced high-performance buildings that performed well on paper, but didn't perform in reality. High-performance buildings "get real" when they are designed for performance and practicality, are constructed to specifications, and the results are verified through building envelope commissioning.
Design reviews of detailed BIM models, work-in-progress inspections and field testing of mock-up and as-built sections provide a detailed look into the integrity of the building's "skin" — and the tightness of the building's skin is every bit as important to high performance as its heating, cooling, ventilation and electrical energy systems.
Correcting problem areas tested during all phases of construction alleviates expensive repairs later in the building's life cycle and provides peace of mind for the owner as well as the occupants.
David Reid, AIA, LEED AP, and John Wilkins, AIA, are design principals with Gould Evans Architects for higher education projects across the country. Reid can be reached at email@example.com. Wilkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finding Energy Waste Requires Knowledge of How Energy Transfers Through Building Components