New York City found a lot of surprises last year after requiring commercial buildings to disclose energy consumption. Most shockingly, some newer LEED-rated buildings ranked behind much older buildings when it came to energy efficiency.
Of course, the LEED rating system accounts for other factors beyond energy consumption like building materials, water use, and construction techniques. And those older buildings did get an efficiency upgrade. But the results show that a prominent rating doesn't necessarily mean a building has the best energy performance.
So it may not come as a surprise that the New York Times Building -- a non-LEED building -- is seeing some very impressive gains in efficiency. The building, constructed in 2007, hosts a dimmable lighting system, an automated roller shade system for windows, and an underfloor air distribution system. It also gets roughly 40 percent of its energy from a 1.4-megawatt natural gas co-generation plant nearby.
The building isn't yet required to disclose its energy consumption to the city. But a team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab monitored the building's performance for a year and recently released a detailed analysis of how it's faring. After comparing performance to a standard building efficiency code in place during construction, the researchers found the building reduced annual electricity by 24 percent, cut heating energy use by more than 50 percent, and reduced peak electric demand by 25 percent.
Here's the monthly comparison between a standard building (left columns) and the Times Building (right columns):
Here's what that looked like on a yearly basis:
What does this show us? Well, that pretty standard efficiency measures can have a substantial impact on the performance of a building. As New York City's recent energy benchmarking report showed, even much older buildings with proper retrofits can outperform new buildings with a prominent environmental rating.
It also shows that good performance comes from thoughtful design early in the process. It's not just about technologies; it's about how they're integrated. The designers of the New York Times Building understood that thinking holistically about the interaction of different systems can result in much better savings. For example, if a building simply hosts a facade for minimizing heat to meet a standard efficiency code, it may also minimize the potential for daylighting, thus increasing demand for artificial lighting and potentially increasing heat gain.
"It is essential to start with a sound, integrated building design, and then to pay attention to details such as procurement of building equipment, and verifying the proper performance of the equipment after it is installed. The Times Company did its homework in 2004, well before construction began on the building, evaluating and optimizing the shading and daylighting technologies," concluded the Berkeley researchers.
It will be interesting to see how the New York Times Building performs next to other LEED and non-LEED buildings this year when the city starts benchmarking its performance. That will be the true test.