Multifamily design is making huge strides in energy performance and the development of comfortable, healthy places to live. Yet, there's plenty of room for continued improvement.
Advancements can come from design considerations, collaboration, new processes, new approaches to product integration, new and different materials, and much more. This year’s Multifamily Executive Concept Community, "Building Positive + Living Well," is reshaping the discussion around sustainable, healthy multifamily housing.
AMLI Residential is teaming up with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to offer a concept that will provide future direction for housing design, developing best practices for the strategy, tactics, sourcing, and more that drive thought leadership in sustainable, healthy developments. Much of that direction will come from data—access to real-time data to manage operations and to inform future design.
AMLI Residential has been tracking developments across the country to obtain such data and incorporate new findings and best practices into future developments. SOM, a global firm, too, is tracking trends from around the world to incorporate into the Concept Community's design.
Here, Erin Hatcher, vice president of sustainability at AMLI Residential, and Serene Almomen, co-founder and CEO of IT and services firm Senseware, share insights on how technology and data are improving the development process for developers, architects, and property managers.
What best practices are you seeing in terms of using data for better building performance in multifamily?
Hatcher: Collecting and analyzing energy data in platforms like Energy Star's Portfolio Manager allows building managers and owners to set reduction goals and track energy reduction projects. Measuring performance empowers the business case for sustainability.
Almomen: Real-time data visibility is the key to unlocking today’s best practices. We know that performance improvement doesn’t just happen. It requires effort. Property managers need to be strategic; they're empowered when they know what's happening in their buildings now, not yesterday. Real-time utility consumption data, asset condition monitoring data, indoor air quality data, etcetera, will provide a sustainable path to better building performance.
How is technology improving this process?
Hatcher: Automation of utility-data tracking enables building managers and owners to better identify energy savings and track real-time performance, both at a building and a portfolio level. However, completely automated, quality data are still a work in progress. Additionally, technology within buildings that automatically identifies and responds to issues can maximize energy-efficiency potential in new and existing buildings.
Almomen: Even a 2-year-old expects data at his or her fingertips anytime, anywhere. We live in a “now” generation and there's no turning back. Modern cloud-based sensor platforms are bridging the gap between sensors in buildings and real-time dashboards that are accessible over any mobile device. Companies that fail to deliver real-time sensor data and analytics to their customers run the risk of obsolescence. Access to real-time data is the most pressing issue because everyone already knows their operations can be improved with data.
How is the industry responding to what it’s learning in terms of energy efficiency and data that have never been accessible in the past?
Hatcher: Benchmarking has emerged to show who is truly a top performer in energy efficiency. It’s also become required in many cities to report building performance. As a result of this and new pressure to disclose environmental, social, and governance performance to investors, many multifamily companies have enhanced sustainability efforts and have in-house experts leading the charge.
Almomen: Energy-efficiency analysis is becoming increasingly granular in focus. Whereas conventional analysis efforts relied primarily on utility billing data, current analysis trends increasingly rely on real-time submetering data within a building. The data sets required for such analyses continue to expand. As HVAC systems can dominate a building’s overall electricity consumption, many ongoing industry efforts are implementing real-time HVAC-asset condition monitoring to assess operational efficiency and to implement preventive-maintenance programs.
Where and how is this leading to net-zero or net-positive construction?
Almomen: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Realization of true net-zero or net-positive building projects requires targeted sensor data sets for electricity consumption and HVAC performance from a building to implement an effective continuous-commissioning program. Whether part of a retrofit isolation or a whole-building measurement and verification plan, electricity-consumption and HVAC-performance data are needed to ensure that net-zero or net-positive goals are realized.
What innovations in design have you been exposed to that are leading to smarter buildings?
Hatcher: The combination of renewable energy, battery storage, quality construction, smart building systems, and real-time data could have great environmental effects by reducing peak demand.
Almomen: Design innovations that enable workforce management are leading the way. Smart-building technology brings the greatest impact when occupants are empowered to interact with the building environment. For example, space utilization efforts are enabled by arrays of occupancy sensors, tenant comfort is enabled by user-directed HVAC controls, and tenant assurance is enabled by real-time environmental sensors. These and other workforce management innovations are bringing outsized returns on investment, which go far beyond energy-efficiency returns.
Can you specifically talk about the importance of indoor air quality?
Hatcher: We can’t ignore the health and experience of occupants when attempting to maximize energy efficiency. We spend most of our day indoors, so it’s a key factor in everyone’s health. Additionally, if occupants have poor comfort or high irritants, it could cause them to compromise other energy-efficiency measures. Clearly counterproductive.
Almomen: The renewed emphasis on people is one of the reasons behind the indoor air quality (IAQ) requirements in standards such as the WELL Building Standard. Studies conclusively show the impact of IAQ on occupant productivity and health. The impact is real. The technology is readily available today to provide any tenant with real-time monitoring of IAQ levels in their occupied space. It's only a matter of time before the industry suddenly awakens to the outsized benefits that can be obtained by ensuring compliance with today’s IAQ standards.
How are you tracking that, and who's doing the best work to support improvements in living with better air quality, ventilation, and so on?
Hatcher: Internally, we follow research and new health/wellness-focused certifications. But we also know there are some toxic elements that need to be avoided inside buildings, and other measures taken, like using improved air filters, that can remove other, more-challenging irritants such as pet dander, dust, and pollen.
Almomen: Senseware has developed a suite of wireless IAQ nodes to provide our enterprise customers with real-time dashboards of IAQ metrics required by standards such as the WELL Building Standard.
AMLI Residential and SOM also are pairing with leading experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Passive House Institute US. For more information about the Multifamily Executive Concept Community and the way the partners are using data to design for the future, visit www.multifamilyexecutive.com/concept-community.