Buildings perform a wide array of services to us humans, from the most fundamental service of shelter from the natural elements to our most complex physical and even psychological needs for comfort and health.
The extent to which buildings have evolved to provide for these needs over the course of history has been in some ways great, and in others found wanting, depending on the building in question. Buildings that perform these services – remaining structurally sound; keeping you dry always, warm in the winter, cool in the summer; and free of drafts, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other air quality issues – to a high level of quality without compromising the natural environment on which our society depends, stand apart from the majority of construction today, thus they are aptly named high performing buildings.
You might have heard about passive house buildings – those that require 90% less energy to heat and cool, and which maintain even, comfortable temperatures year round; or net zero buildings – those that generate enough renewable energy on site to cover all of the heating, cooling, and electrical needs of the occupants. These buildings absolutely can be high performing buildings. But we need a better rubric, because a Passive House built with energy-intensive concrete or a Net Zero building that is uncomfortable, ugly, or full of toxic materials… aren’t checking all the boxes. Therefore to truly create a high performance building, we must combine a variety of strategies, like Passive House, Net Zero, the Living Building Challenge, Energy Star, R-2000, LEED, and other well-known building performance standards, while making smart decisions to keep these buildings affordable, just, and attainable for as many people as possible.
We in the high performance building industry do a lot of assuming that our clients know what “high performance” means, when really it’s worth more clearly defining – for ourselves as much as for them.
Our rubric for high performance buildings is simple. A high performance building should: