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Transforming Existing Buildings Into High Performance Sustainable Buildings

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While the environmental performance of new commercial buildings in the United States has been improving dramatically in recent years, most existing buildings were constructed when energy was less expensive, technologies were less advanced, and environmental performance rarely a priority. Older, existing buildings generally use significantly more energy and water than new buildings of the same size and function. According to the Institute for Building Efficiency, existing buildings that are 20 years and older make up more than 70 percent of the built environment by square footage.1 Thus, existing buildings offer tremendous opportunities to conserve energy and water as well as provide healthier, more productive work environments.

The Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed in January 2006, introduced the first federal requirements for green buildings, known as the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance Sustainable Buildings (commonly referred to as the Guiding Principles). Executive Order (EO) 13423, signed in January 2007, required that federal agencies implement the Guiding Principles at 15 percent of their existing building inventory by fiscal year (FY) 2015. In December 2008, the federal government issued its first guidelines establishing specific requirements for meeting the Guiding Principles in existing buildings. EO 13514, signed in October 2009, reaffirmed the federal government requirement to improve the environmental performance of its existing buildings.

To meet the requirements of EO 13423, EO 13514, and the Guiding Principles, EPA developed a comprehensive, multi-step process for converting its existing buildings into high performance sustainable buildings.

EPA's Approach to Transforming Existing Buildings Into High Performance Sustainable Buildings

EPA transforms existing buildings to meet the Guiding Principles by evaluating, improving, and documenting each facility's operations and environmental performance against the Guiding Principles. The process involves reviewing more than 30 different environmental performance aspects and relies on an integrated and coordinated effort by facility managers, facility operations and maintenance contractors, technical experts, and project managers to:

Together, these efforts establish a framework to improve the future environmental performance of existing buildings.

Selecting Buildings to Upgrade

EPA used building sustainability assessments, performed between FY 2009 and FY 2011, to gauge the facilities' potential to meet the Guiding Principles. EPA reviewed each facility against the requirements and performance metrics of the Guiding Principles to identify gaps and estimate the effort needed to meet the Guiding Principles.

Improving energy efficiency is the most costly requirement in the Guiding Principles for EPA to meet, as the majority of EPA facilities are energy-intensive laboratories. In addition, energy-saving mechanical system upgrades in laboratories are complex and frequently take several years to design, complete, and commission. EPA narrowed the field of existing buildings for its initial Guiding Principles work by selecting buildings that were either scheduled for extensive mechanical system upgrades or had already reduced energy use via mechanical system upgrades.

These two approaches helped EPA identify candidates to pilot the Guiding Principles process and helped prioritize buildings for future efforts.

Initial Pilot Process

In FY 2011, EPA began developing draft policy and procedure documents to address the Guiding Principles in existing buildings; these documents became the basis for the model Building Management Plan templates for building operations and procedures. In conjunction with the facility staff and operations and maintenance personnel of its Large Lakes Research Station in Grosse Ile, Michigan, and its Environmental Science Center in Fort Meade, Maryland, EPA worked to validate, refine, improve, and augment the Building Management Plan templates. EPA simultaneously conducted technical assessments; addressed assessment findings; and implemented projects to improve energy efficiency, water conservation, and other aspects of building environmental performance not meeting the Guiding Principles. These facility-specific documents and projects addressed the following principles:

Employ Integrated Principles

Optimize Energy Performance

Protect and Conserve Water

Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality

Reduce Environmental Impact of Materials

This pilot process resulted in one of EPA's facilities being certified in November 2012 as meeting the Guiding Principles for existing buildings—the Large Lakes Research Station. The Environmental Science Center was on the cusp of receiving certification in spring 2013.

After a lengthy period of policy and procedure reviews and refinements of the Building Management Plan templates, including extensive feedback from local facility managers and staff, and implementing energy projects and other facility performance upgrades, the pilot confirmed the value of the Building Management Plan templates and that the approach used produced an effective and efficient evaluation, improvement, and verification process for EPA’s existing buildings.

Expand Pilot to Additional Facilities

Using the Building Management Plan templates and the lessons learned from the pilot programs at the Large Lakes Research Station and Environmental Science Center, EPA will use this same approach at other facilities to help them meet the requirements of the Guiding Principles and increase the number of existing buildings that satisfy these requirements.

1The Institute for Building Efficiency. Why Focus on Existing Buildings?Exit EPA Disclaimer


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