Randy Newton

While the efficiency of commercial buildings has improved significantly in recent decades, the building industry has only begun to tap the energy reserves trapped in underperforming facilities.

Our company is currently celebrating 100 years of heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) innovation in 2013, and we foresee a wide range of groundbreaking innovations in high performance building technologies, operating practices and intelligent building services that will create better, healthier, more comfortable and more productive indoor environments in the years to come.

Opportunities abound in high performance buildings

For the foreseeable future, the greatest energy, operating and service performance-improvement opportunities can be found in the world’s inventory of existing buildings, which account for about one-third of the electricity consumed, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Energy Efficient Buildings Private-Public Partnership. These generate about 18-20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are a target-rich environment for energy efficiency improvements, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), which notes that residential facilities consume more energy than schools and about the same amount as office buildings per square foot of occupied space.

Thus, this is a watershed moment in the evolution of the high-performance building movement as technologies and practices mature and the body of evidence supporting adoption of these principles continues to grow. High performance buildings use 20 to 30 percent less energy and cost as much as 50 percent less to operate over their full occupied life, compared to conventionally equipped and operated buildings, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Following are some of the factors driving adoption:

  • Continuing improvements in the economy will likely cause organizations to resume historic levels of capital investment, including new construction, building additions and HVAC system retrofits.
  • The expanded capabilities of building-modeling software make it easier to analyze and predict the long-term impact of choosing high performance building alternatives during the design and construction phases. Meanwhile, the “green premium” is shrinking; the USGBC estimates that the incremental cost of choosing high performance building features ranges from 0-6.5 percent. We have found that the cost of implementing energy conservation measures is recouped many times over a building’s long occupied life.
  • Evidence continues to grow that better-performing buildings yield better-performing organizations. For example, research by Michigan State University shows that workgroups moving into Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings achieve higher levels of productivity. A CoStar Group study found that commercial buildings with Energy Star or LEED credentials commanded premium rents, achieved higher occupancy rates, and sold for higher prices.
  • Building automation systems, the key enablers of optimal building performance, automatically perform tasks that used to require human intervention. Wireless communications technology, applied in these systems with open communications standards, will prove to be a breakthrough in improving controls and energy optimization. Moreover, new technologies will make it easier for operators to personalize comfort settings for individuals and reduce energy costs by avoiding cooling or heating vacant areas at the same level as occupied ones. 
  • Government regulations driving environmental performance go hand-in-hand with energy efficiency. While exact rules, reporting requirements and milestones are up in the air in many jurisdictions, most organizations are expected to be compelled to comply with more stringent requirements.


  • More organizations will adopt commissioning, re-commissioning and continuous commissioning strategies as performance of even the best-designed and operated buildings degrades over time. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) advocate continuous monitoring, fault detection and diagnosis, and commissioning to keep buildings operating at their original design performance (ODP) levels.
  • Many of tomorrow’s buildings will generate some or most of their own energy onsite, often using alternative generation methods such as solar, wind or fuel cells. An alternative to large regional power plants, this distributed generation model enables buildings to sell any excess power they generate to the public power grid, realizing the potential of a net-zero building that creates more energy than it consumes. 
  • Operators of nursing homes and long-term care facilities will continue to look for ways to reduce energy consumption while also creating a better physical environment of care for their residents. According to Energy Star, every dollar a nonprofit facility saves on energy is equivalent to $10-$20 in new revenues.  More new facilities will be designed using high performance building concepts and operating practices, as well as intelligent services approaches. Existing facilities will invest in high efficiency HVAC and other systems, which pay for themselves multiple times over the property’s occupied life.

Building owners and operators can realize a wide range of benefits by adopting high performance building technologies and operating principles, including higher levels of energy efficiency, better overall performance, lower lifecycle costs and a smaller environmental footprint. Just as importantly, better-performing buildings also help organizations accomplish their missions by creating better, healthier, and more productive places for people to work, learn, teach, live, heal, shop, stay and visit.

Randy Newton is vice president of global engineering for the Climate Solutions business of Ingersoll Rand, which includes the Trane and Thermo King brands. He has more than 30 years of experience with Trane, including leadership positions in operations, quality, product management, product planning and engineering. Matt Gates is vice president, energy management services and solutions for Trane. He has more than 22 years of experience in the HVAC, building management and construction industries, including more than eight with Trane.