After WWR – What’s Next?

Since the recent decision by ASHRAE to drop the proposed reduction of window-to-wall ratio (WWR) under the prescriptive code compliance path, I’ve been pondering what’s next? So many crucial topics were brought up during many months of this discussion. How can the glazing industry bring the crucial issues to light? Let’s go back to a very basic question: What defines a great building?

Is a great building one whose appearance knocks your socks off? Does it ideally fulfill the design’s purpose? Is its energy efficiency off the charts? Is a great building one that people are thrilled to work, live, shop and learn in? One that companies and their employees are proud to have as their address because it’s so rockin’ sustainable? Like fashion, great buildings are in the eyes of the beholders, but have some defining features.

Buildings, like our mobile devices, houses and cars, are multi-functional. If it’s winter in New York City, we want to keep the weather outside and let the little bit of sun that’s available inside. If we’re down South (not including Atlanta this winter!), while the sequel to Frozen is being made up North, we want to let the climate indoors. For most of us, sleeping with the windows open, the rolling waves of the ocean lulling us to sleep, is part of some distant dream this time of year.

The design of many buildings is driven by another key influence. If a developer constructs a new building at the lowest price, he wins. Cost downs that sacrifice high performance options, no matter the long-term impact on occupants, operations or maintenance costs, allow the developer to win even bigger. The tenants often pay the bill for the corners that were cut, including higher energy bills. They pay higher electricity costs for the oversized air conditioner that struggles to overcome the heat load from cheap lighting and the excessive solar heat gain due to poor glass choices. The bottom-line of tenants’ businesses are impacted by lost productivity from a wide range of indoor environment quality conditions. Poor, lower cost choices in building envelope selection increase the incidence and severity of a wide range of negative consequences on occupants; from headaches due to glare, isolation from nature due to having to draw the shades, to lack of control of natural ventilation.

Is the developer the bad guy in this scenario? I don’t think so. The developer’s approach to their business reflects the reality of the commercial real estate market. Historically there has been little premium paid for sustainable buildings. But that’s changing, and more quickly than one would guess. The market for high-performance building envelopes is transforming from a push market to a pull market. Why?

More and more tenants are demanding high-quality indoor environments in their rental contracts. They want naturally lit, quiet, office space with natural ventilation. A wide range of human comfort related issues are becoming better measured and understood – ranging from causes of employee lost-time, productivity, to their inability to focus on the task at hand. All of these factors equate to higher personnel costs and elevated financial risks, precisely what all of our businesses want to reduce, not increase.

How does this relate to After WWR – What’s Next? My company believe the next step is to create a new level of holistic building performance that balances energy efficiency and indoor environment quality, with positive paybacks to both the human and financial bottom lines. What’s next is a better qualitative and quantitative understanding of the essential role that high-performance building envelopes bring to high-satisfaction and high-value buildings.

Our industry needs more effective measurement of visual and occupant comfort, and verification of the holistic impact of investments in high-performance building envelopes. We need a fundamentally new approach to collaboration within the supply chain to comprehend, address, and ultimately solve the complex challenges of the built environment.

Like in Star Trek, let’s boldly go where no one has gone before. As we go forward together we owe it to ourselves and our stakeholders to commit to this new balance between indoor environment quality and energy efficiency as cornerstones of sustainable construction.