The 2013 Vision 2020 chair for Codes, Ratings, and Standards, Mark Frankel is the technical director for the New Buildings Institute (NBI). A U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) board member, and one of the first LEED project reviewers, Frankel has been consulting on energy efficiency and sustainable design for more than 20 years. He helped NBI spearhead development of code and incentive programs for energy savings of 20 percent to 30 percent over current codes, which became the basis of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Currently, Frankel is involved in coalitions to improve building performance feedback and working on the development and implementation of codes and programs focused on building performance outcome. A licensed architect in Washington state and a LEED Fellow, Frankel also serves on the board of directors of the International Living Future Institute and the Seattle 2030 District.

You grew up in Seattle?
No, in Utah, but I’ve been working in Seattle for about 22 years. I studied environmental policy at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and then went back to the University of Utah for a master’s in architecture. I moved to Seattle a year out of school to practice architecture, but I was always most interested in energy use in buildings and alternative energy. I worked for over 10 years as an energy-efficiency consultant at Ecotope, then went to work at a pioneering sustainability firm called Paladino & Co., which served as the first technical consultant to the USGBC. Many of the first 100 LEED reviews came across my desk. I did this for nearly five years before moving to my present position at NBI, where I’ve had the opportunity to become more engaged in policy work and have an even greater impact on energy efficiency and sustainability.   

NBI helped develop the 2012 IECC. What was your involvement? 
Most of the revisions adopted in the 2012 IECC are modeled directly on the NBI Advanced Buildings Core Performance program. NBI developed the program in 2007 to provide a prescriptive path to deep energy savings for small commercial buildings and multifamily. The small commercial sector represents the vast majority of commercial buildings in the U.S., but it is also the most underserved by efficiency programs. The program was adopted by a number of utilities around the country as the basis for a whole building incentive program, and by the USGBC as a prescriptive path in LEED. In 2010, the state of Massachusetts decided to develop Core Performance into code language, which was adopted in 2010 as a state stretch code. When the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) were tasked to develop the basis for an aggressive code increase for the 2012 IECC, they asked NBI to develop a national code proposal based on the Massachusetts stretch code language, which was eventually incorporated into the I-code structure as the 2012 IECC. This was the biggest single step forward in code stringency ever. The 2012 IECC resulted in buildings that are more than 20 percent more energy efficient than previous code versions. 

What’s next?
A few years ago, many agencies and NGOs started adopting the 2030 Challenge, which essentially challenges us to forge a path to net-zero-energy use for all new construction by 2030. Until now, all code and incentive program targets have been based on percentages of improvement over a baseline. But the specific targets of the 2030 Challenge require the industry to start to talk about actual performance outcomes instead of more nebulous “percent better than code” metrics. Because codes do not regulate all aspects of building performance, codes cannot achieve net-zero-energy goals based on building physical characteristics alone. Successfully achieving net-zero-energy goals will require that building-operating characteristics and occupant behavior be part of the policy landscape. This approach to building performance has come to be referred to as “outcome-based energy codes/policy.” NBI has been working with various entities and code jurisdictions to explore new approaches to code and building performance that address actual building energy use outcome.

A key step on the way to net-zero-energy use and outcome-based policy is the ability to track and manage ongoing building energy use. In addition to excellent design of building physical characteristics, building operations and occupancy patterns must be effectively managed to achieve ultra-efficient and net-zero-energy performance. This means that better metering capabilities and performance data tracking must become part of the building lexicon.  

Don’t we have utility meters?
We can track total energy use by utility, but we need fine-grained feedback on discrete systems to identify energy nosebleeds. We focus a lot on equipment efficiency and insulation requirements, but the effect of the failure to turn off computers at night, or improper thermostat settings can have energy impacts several times as significant as the difference between different insulation levels or cooling equipment efficiencies. Better data at the building level about how the building is using energy on an ongoing basis will allow for more effective management of the building and more efficient building operation. Currently, these kinds of issues are outside the scope of energy codes.

What is your Commercial Energy Services Network (COMNET) project about?
NBI manages the development of COMNET, a quality assurance initiative designed to provide more standardization to building energy modeling. Right now, energy modeling remains an inexact science. A significant percentage of model inputs have to do with assumptions about how the building will be operated and occupied, as opposed to the actual physical features of the building and its systems. Yet there is little guidance available to the modeling community on actual plug and equipment loads and operating characteristics, occupancy patterns, and control system functions to maintain consistency in these areas. Inaccurate assumptions about use patterns and internal loads can significantly skew model results away from actual building performance.

COMNET is designed to incorporate better information about building operation into the modeling process, and provide consistency among modelers with regard to assumptions about building-energy-use characteristics that are outside the scope of code. The core component of COMNET is a set of guidelines and procedures that governs this standardization. Over time, as more attention is focused on actual building energy outcomes, there will be significant pressure on the energy-modeling industry to better calibrate the energy-modeling process to actual building-energy-use outcome.
 
Any predictions for 2020?
We will start paying attention to building-performance outcome. More people will rely on hard measures such as EUI, or Energy Use Intensity—defined as kBtu per square foot per year—which provides a comprehensive measure of total building energy use when making purchasing and leasing assumptions, instead of today’s more fuzzy ratings. This will put pressure on the design community to better understand and predict how buildings will perform in use, and on building owners to better understand how operation and occupancy affects building energy use, and to manage these aspects of their buildings more effectively.

With increased availability of performance data, codes and utility programs will change, too. The availability of actual performance data will represent an opportunity for codes and incentives to focus more on results and less on pre-defined physical characteristics of buildings. This will be critical to achieving our aggressive performance goals for the building stock; while there is still room for improvement in building characteristics like insulation and system efficiency, the real low-hanging fruit in efficiency now is in better building operation and more efficient tenant equipment use patterns. The better our buildings get with respect to envelope and system efficiency, the larger the significance of operating and occupant loads become. Without effectively addressing these loads, we’ll never get our buildings to net zero.

These trends will lead to much more attention from utility incentive programs and policymakers on building-operating characteristics--rather than on widgets--to achieve energy-performance improvements. The availability of performance data will also impact the responsibilities of design team members, owners, and tenants to predict and allocate responsibility for building performance among the various groups that have a direct role in building-performance characteristics. I believe we will see changes in design contracts, operating agreements, leasing arrangements, and building valuation and sale based on the availability and attention to actual building performance data.

Building on its successful launch in 2012, ECOHOME’s Vision 2020 program continues in 2013, focusing on eight critical areas in sustainability: Energy Efficiency + Building Science, Building Design + Performance, Materials + Products, Sustainable Communities, Water Efficiency, Codes, Standards + Rating Systems, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Economics + Financing. Track our progress all year as our panel of visionary focus-area chairs, our editors, and leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates share their perspectives on initiating, tracking, and ensuring progress toward sustainable priorities and goals in residential construction between now and 2020. The program will culminate in an exclusive Vision 2020 Forum in Washington, D.C., in September 2013, and with a special edition of ECOHOME in Winter 2013. Click here to see the 2012 Wrap-Up.