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Report: For Better Buildings, We Need Better Data

By Paula Melton

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com.

January 03, 2012
Image courtesy National Institute of Building Sciences
An integrated dataset could take many existing databases and put all the information in one place.

The massive Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS)—akin to the U.S. Census but for building energy performance—has underpinned a number of key policies and building certification programs for years. While a major blow, the recent loss of new CBECS data due to funding reasons (see Key Energy Data Hit Hard by Federal Budget Cuts) has led to a conversation about how we can better collect data to support better building performance.

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It’s not just about energy anymore, says Ryan Colker, director of the consultative council at the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), which has just released the report “Data Needs for Achieving High-Performance Buildings.” Building performance also includes everything from financial viability to indoor air quality, occupant satisfaction, and resiliency. “We really need to have a robust data set to understand where we are,” says Colker. “While energy is key, we’d like to be able to relate various building performance attributes to get a complete picture.” In the long run, this picture might include the ability to “set up a robust data set on indoor air quality and make the connection of what choices on the energy side have an impact on indoor air quality,” he says.

Where this data will come from remains an open question, but a great deal is already being collected by many different organizations, points out Aurora Sharrard, Ph.D., director of innovation at the Green Building Alliance. Her organization, along with the American Society of Heating, Cooling & Air-Conditioning Engineers (AHSRAE), is developing a comprehensive database of multiple building performance attributes, known as DASH (Database for Analyzing Sustainable and High Performance Buildings). “We’re not re-creating anything else that’s out there, but partnering with other organizations and integrating it in one place,” Sharrard says.

According to Sharrard, DASH will be released in beta in April 2012. However, while potentially powerful, it will not replace CBECS. “Being a voluntary tool, it will probably never be that representative sample because it will include buildings that want to get better,” she says. It won’t necessarily include buildings of all sizes, ages, and performance characteristics, like CBECS did. Regardless, somebody needs to start asking the questions and reporting to standard reporting protocols, she says.

Colker agrees, adding that DASH will be most successful if it can “make the process easier on building owners and building managers” by soliciting data in a streamlined and simple fashion. Right now, many building managers are responding to multiple surveys on multiple issues using many different metrics, and the data is being put in many different places for multiple audiences. “We’d get further if we only asked them once for everything that we need,” Colker says.

In the meantime, CBECS may return, thanks to a recent Senate appropriations committee allocation of $10 million to the Energy Information Administration with the recommendation that the agency complete a new CBECS survey during fiscal year 2012.

Copyright 2012 by BuildingGreen Inc.

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