Beauty is only skin deep. That’s why the exterior and interior of architectural designs get all the glory. But when it comes to comfort and how well a building performs? Well. You’ll just have to get under its skin.

Comfort, affordability and sustainability are outcomes enjoyed when a building uses energy well. Two tools are primarily used to assess how well a building meets these tests.

1. Life-Cycle Assessment

A Life-Cycle analysis is about the carbon impact of the materials used in the building. The Heat Balance is about energy used in the building operations. They are related and overlap to some degree. A heat balance study though, is a lot more operational than a life-cycle assessment.

A Life-Cycle Assessment gives useful information when planning a new building or an addition. It looks at the total carbon and energy embodied in the materials used to construct the project. A Life-Cycle Assessment considers the energy required to produce, install and use the construction materials over the full lifespan of the building. It also takes into account the end-of-life disposal of the materials. A properly-conducted life-cycle analysis can provide the most complete information on the carbon footprint and the environmental impacts expected from operating a building throughout its useful life.

The rigour involved in conducting a credible life-cycle analysis may seem daunting. Fortunately, tools are available to make the task easier. The Athena Impact Estimator  and Athena EcoCalculator, provide holistic building assessments that go beyond the initial energy intensity calculations of individual materials. The Athena modeling includes an end-of-life disposal tracker. Reusing or recycling materials significantly reduces the climate impact of a building.

2. Heat Balance Study

A Heat Balance Study is useful in assessing the actual energy use in existing buildings. Essentially, it’s an energy audit. A Heat Study examines the energy required to run equipment like boilers, process heating, process cooling, and HVAC. The study also takes into account local climatic and weather conditions that influence how energy is used inside the building.

If the use of energy exceeds what should be expected, taking into account the site specific conditions, a heat balance study can identify possible improvements like insulation or heat exchangers. These energy conservation measures help building owners optimize their energy use and reduce unnecessary losses that bump energy bills higher.

Given that for most of our lives we work, sleep, learn and play inside buildings, isn’t it time we knew more about what makes them tick and ensure they perform well?

When it comes to building performance, beauty and function are more than skin deep.

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