Carmel Software has recently received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technology Office (BTO) to develop a software tool that helps disparate software tools in the building energy audit space to communicate with one another, all in the name of reducing building energy usage. Remember, buildings use 40% of all energy in the United States, so this is a HUGE problem to solve.
The BTO released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), or a request for proposal in government-speak, to expand the number of third-party software tools that can import data from DOE’s Asset Score Audit Template (https://buildingenergyscore.energy.gov/ ) and the accompanying data format that it supports: BuildingSync XML (https://buildingsync.net/ ).
First, what is a building energy audit? The purpose of an energy audit is to determine where, when, why and how energy is used in a facility, and to identify opportunities to improve efficiency. Energy auditing services are offered by energy services companies, energy consultants and engineering firms. The energy auditor leads the audit process but works closely with building owners, staff and other key participants throughout to ensure accuracy of data collection and appropriateness of energy efficiency recommendation. The audit typically begins with a review of historical and current utility data and benchmarking of the building’s energy use against similar buildings. This sets the stage for an onsite inspection of the physical building. The main outcome of an energy audit is a list of recommended energy efficiency measures (EEMs), their associated energy savings potential, and an assessment of whether EEM installation costs are a good financial investment.
There are 3 levels of energy audits according to ASHRAE:
Level I: Site Assessment or Preliminary Audits identify no-cost and low-cost energy saving opportunities, and a general view of potential capital improvements. Activities include an assessment of energy bills and a brief site inspection of your building. Level II: Energy Survey and Engineering Analysis Audits identify no-cost and low-cost opportunities, and also provide EEM recommendations in line with your financial plans and potential capital-intensive energy savings opportunities. Level II audits include an in-depth analysis of energy costs, energy usage and building characteristics and a more refined survey of how energy is used in your building. Level III: Detailed Analysis of Capital-Intensive Modification Audits (sometimes referred to as an “investment grade” audit) provide solid recommendations and financial analysis for major capital investments. In addition to Level I and Level II activities, Level III audits include monitoring, data collection and engineering analysis.
Software Tools We are Working With
Let me explain what some of the tools we are working with:
Asset Score is a national standardized web-based software tool that can be used to assess the physical and structural energy efficiency and identify retrofit potentials of commercial buildings using whole-building simulation. The Audit Template tool is a subset of Asset Score and is used to create a standard building energy audit report and submit to selected jurisdictions to comply with local ordinances, such as New York City’s LL87 or San Francisco’s BRICK.
BuildingSync® is a common XML schema for energy audit data that can be utilized by different software and databases involved in the energy audit process. It allows data to be more easily aggregated, compared, and exchanged between different databases and software tools. This streamlines the energy audit process, improving the value of the data, minimizing duplication of effort for subsequent audits, and facilitating achievement of greater energy efficiency. BuildingSync can be exported from Audit Template so all information in an Audit Template project can be used externally by another software tool.
BuildingSync was developed to address the lack of an industry-standard collection format for energy audit data. Standardizing energy audit data can help energy auditors, software providers, building owners, utilities, and other entities by maximizing the value that can be obtained from each set of data – value obtained through collaboration, comparison, and reuse.
ASHRAE Building EQ (see blog post here about ASHRAE Building EQ) is a web-based portal that provides a quick energy analysis that benchmarks a building’s energy performance. Building EQ assists in the preparation of an ASHRAE Level 1 Energy Audit to identify means to improve a building’s energy performance including low-cost, no-cost energy efficiency measures and an Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) survey with recorded measurements to provide additional information to assess a building’s performance.
The Problem and Solution
Currently, the number of software tools that import Asset Score Audit Template data and BuildingSync is limited. The whole purpose of Asset Score Audit Template is to store energy efficiency data about a commercial building. However, this data is useless if it cannot easily be consumed by other related software tools that can perform building energy benchmark tests, building energy modeling, and other types of building analysis. The term used to describe how one software tool communicates with another is: interoperability.
Unfortunately, developing interoperability integration tools in existing building analysis software is a tedious and time-consuming process. Therefore, it discourages software developers from creating functionality such as those that import BuildingSync.
For Phase I of this DOE SBIR project, we proposed developing a web-based software tool (called Schema Server) that will completely streamline the flow of information from Asset Score Audit Template into third-party software tools such as ASHRAE Building EQ, so that all the user has to do is press one button on the producing or consuming software tool, and the software will perform quick data checks and validation and then seamlessly transfer data to the consuming tool, thereby eliminating the user having to manual enter the data. Phase I will focus solely on the workflow from Asset Score Audit Template to ASHRAE Building EQ. Once it is proven that this workflow can be streamlined, future phases will focus on other software tools. Phase I will also focus on making it easier for a third-party software developer to program BuildingSync import functionality into their building analysis software tool.
Designing energy efficient buildings is of utmost importance today due to a wide variety of factors including limited fossil fuel resources, pollution, global climate change, federal and state laws, high energy costs, and a host of other reasons. Buildings use 40% of all energy and a whopping 75% of electricity. If society is going to rely less on fossil fuels, we need to design more energy efficient buildings for both new and existing construction. The first step in designing more energy efficient buildings occurs during the initial design phase which involves running building energy simulation and analysis software that will predict yearly building energy usage. Improving the interoperability workflows discussed above will benefit the following stakeholders:
Energy modelers: Give them more incentive to use various software tools to design energy efficient buildings since it will be an easier and more seamless process to enter the same data in more than one BIM authoring and building analysis or benchmarking software tool.
Software developers: Gives them more incentive to integrate interoperability functionality into their tools if there is an easier and less expensive way to do it.
Building owners: By designing more energy efficient buildings, it will save building owners a significant amount of money in utility and energy costs over the lifetime of the building.
Society as a whole: Whatever people’s political beliefs, there is no arguing that our fossil fuel supplies are finite, we are polluting the earth, and adverse climate changes are occurring all over the world including in our own backyard of California with unprecedented wildfires. Designing energy efficient buildings is just one step toward reducing our reliance of fossil fuels and cleaning the air for future generations.
ASHRAE’s Building EQ Web Portal provides a quick energy analysis that benchmarks a building’s energy performance. Building EQ assists in the preparation of an ASHRAE Level 1 Energy Audit to identify means to improve a building’s energy performance including low-cost, no-cost energy efficiency measures and an Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) survey with recorded measurements to provide additional information to assess a building’s performance.
Two different evaluations can be used independently to compare a candidate building to other similar buildings in the same climate zone or together for an assessment of a building’s design potential compared to actual operation:
In Operation compares actual building energy use based on metered energy information.
As Designed compares potential energy use based on the building’s physical characteristics and systems with standardized energy use simulation.
The Old Way
When Building EQ was first introduced, building owners and engineers could submit information about their candidate building to ASHRAE using an Excel spreadsheet template. This was a very inefficient way of doing things. It involved filling out the required data into a spreadsheet, and then uploading the spreadsheet(s) to the ASHRAE Building EQ website. Then, ASHRAE personnel would open the spreadsheet and determine whether the data was valid, and if it was, what rating to assign the building. The spreadsheet method was wrought with many inefficiencies including:
If data was missing or invalid, the spreadsheet would be sent back to the building owner to be corrected. This involved working with multiple versions of the spreadsheet which could very quickly become confusing and could potentially result in working with outdated and incorrect data.
ASHRAE personnel would validate all of the data manually, which was a slow and inaccurate process.
There were no links within the spreadsheet to ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager that would allow users to migrate data to/from other programs into bEQ.
The spreadsheet was only in IP units.
Many more inefficiencies too numerous to list here
The New Web Portal
In 2016, Carmel Software was hired to develop the web-based user interface that would solve all of the problems above and introduce even more efficiencies and features that a spreadsheet could never provide. In addition, Carmel has tasked to develop a website that would be able to accommodate many types of connected devices including Windows and Mac desktops/laptops, all iOS and Android mobile smartphones and tablets. After about 9 months of development, the ASHRAE Building EQ portal was officially launched, and it has been a resounding success. More project submissions were made within the first 2 months of the website launch than within the first 5 years of existence of the Building EQ rating system with only spreadsheet submissions. As of November 2019, over 500 projects have been submitted.
What Does Building EQ Measure?
The Building EQ rating system rates building energy usage only. It is not meant to compete with LEED which measures far more including water usage, material sourcing, and much more. The Building EQ rating system works as follows:
Based upon the building type, climate zone, and heating and cooling degree days, a lookup for a benchmark value is performed using an ASHRAE Standard 100 site median table derived from CBECS (Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey) 2012 building energy usage data. This usage data is expressed in units of energy use intensity (EUI) which is the amount of energy used per square foot per year.
The user then enters a year’s worth of utility data and the total square footage of the building to calculate the specific building’s EUI. This building-specific EUI is compared with the normalized benchmark EUI and a Building EQ score is derived by dividing the two numbers then multiplying by 100. The range of the score is from 0 to 200 where 0 is the most energy efficient and 200 is the least. A score below 100 is considered energy efficient since the specific building beats the benchmark EUI derived from CBECS.
There are many additional inputs in the ASHRAE Building EQ web portal above and beyond those that are used to calculate the Building EQ score. Below is a list of these additional inputs for the In Operation method:
Building Performance Credentials
The “Building Performance Credentials” section allows the user to input any other ratings or scores the building may have received including Energy Star, LEED, Green Globes, and more.
The “Indoor Environmental Quality Screening” tab includes a number of accordions (sections) that allow the user to input additional information about the building.
The objective of the building indoor environmental quality (IEQ) screening is to verify that the IEQ of the building as it affects the occupants has not been obviously compromised in the pursuit of energy efficiency and energy savings. The screening is intended to go beyond professional judgment with the inclusion of actual measurements. The measurements are focused on areas identified in the screening and are therefore representative of the building spaces and not intended to be all inclusive. If no issues are identified, the Assessor should take representative spot measurements throughout the building in order to provide feedback to the building owner/operator. Representative space types may be determined by space type (office, conference room, corridor), by space usage (different tenants or floors), or by space system type (building served by multiple system types). The information is provided to the building operator for follow-up actions and to benchmark, evaluate, and diagnosis building systems that affect indoor environmental quality including thermal comfort, lighting quality, and ventilation for indoor air quality. The IEQ screening is not intended to serve in the place of a full IEQ evaluation performed by an expert in that field. For this reason, it is important that the building owner follow up separately on any deficiency or potential problem noted on the forms by having a full IEQ evaluation performed by a qualified professional.
Energy Efficiency Measures (EEMs)
This tab allows the user to input any energy efficiency or conservation measures that have been implemented. The measures are divided by category: Building Envelope, Lighting, HVAC, Refrigeration, Energy Generation/Distribution, Other). Within each accordion is a drop down with a list of pre-populated measures. These measures are outlined in Informative Annex D and Informative Annex E of ASHRAE Standard 100-2015. The measures are divided by category: Building Envelope, Lighting, HVAC, Refrigeration, Energy Generation/Distribution, Other).
The user is also able to enter a cost range and payback period for each measure.
There are 3 additional inputs in each accordion that allow the user to input their own custom measure descriptions along with cost ranges and payback periods.
Photos and Attachments
This final tab allows users to add photos and attachments along with descriptions and categories. These photos will appear in the narrative report.
Building EQ Reporting
Standard 211 Audit Spreadsheet
Building EQ does something else that no other rating system does: It works closely with ASHRAE Standard 211 – Standard for Commercial Building Energy Audits. This is an ANSI standard that formalizes the process of performing building energy audits. ASHRAE Standard 211 protects a building owner/operator’s energy audit investment by providing an outline for auditors and offering best practices that ensure quality audits. It sets forth requirements for the experience and credentials of energy auditors, specifications for compliance and clear definitions of the audit processes and scope.
A Standard 211 audit spreadsheet is included along with the actual text of the standard. This spreadsheet allows users to fill in all information related to Level 1 and Level 2 energy audits.
Remember, the primary function of an energy audit is to identify all of the energy streams in a facility in order to balance total energy input with energy use. The ASHRAE Level 1 is a simple and quick audit that requires a brief review of building operating characteristics. It mainly identifies low-cost/no-cost measures and will only uncover major problem areas. Level 1 audits are a great way to prioritize energy efficiency projects and to assess the need for a more detailed audit. The ASHRAE Level 2 audit includes the Level 1 audit plus more detailed energy calculations and life cycle cost analysis of proposed energy efficiency measures. This type of audit identifies all energy conservation measures appropriate for the facility given its operating parameters.
Much of the information required to fill out the Level 1 inputs in the audit spreadsheet are already inputted into the ASHRAE Building EQ web portal. Therefore, the portal allows the user (for a fee) to create a Standard 211 spreadsheet with many of the Level 1 inputs pre-populated. Even though the spreadsheet also includes Level 2 parameters, Building EQ does not include most of the information required for Level 2 audits. Therefore, this information needs to be manually filled in.
Below is a screenshot of one of the tabs in the Standard 211 Excel spreadsheet:
ASHRAE Building EQ Label
Once a Building EQ project is approved by ASHRAE personnel, the user is able to print out a Building EQ label that includes the Building EQ logo along with a sliding scale showing the final Building EQ score. The following is an example of the Building EQ label:
Building EQ Energy Audit Narrative Report
This Microsoft Word doc report provides a template for an ASHRAE Level 1 Energy Audit that follows the information in Section 6 (Reporting), Annex C (Reporting Forms), and Annex D (Report Outlines) in ASHRAE Standard 211. The template provides recommended text and boiler plate language to assist the user in preparing a comprehensive report and is automatically populated with information collected and entered into the Building EQ Portal as part of the Building EQ In Operation assessment process. The recommended text can be edited as needed by the user. The audit specific information populated from the Building EQ Portal is shown in filled-in tables in the report. Below is an example of two pages of the report:
The Building EQ portal includes additional functionality that helps expand its usefulness:
Integration with Energy Star EUI Data
Depending upon the building type that the user selects, the energy utilization index (EUI) data will either be pulled from ASHRAE Standard 100 database in Building EQ or from an Energy Star service hosted by Architecture 2030 Zero-Tool. Each Energy Star building type has a different set of parameters associated with it so the user will be prompted to input many different types of values. Once the user has inputted all of the required information, pressing the “Get EUI Values” button calls a remote calculation engine that retrieves the appropriate Energy Star EUI value based upon the building type and parameter inputs.
Integration with Energy Star Portfolio Manager
For electricity, natural gas, and other “non-delivered” fuel types, the user can import utility data that already exists in Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager software. All the user needs to do is export the utility data from a PM project to a .csv file. Then, import the .csv file into the appropriate fuel type. The data should be monthly for one year taken within the past 18 months.
Integration with BuildingSync
BuildingSync® is a common schema for energy audit data that can be utilized by different software and databases involved in the energy audit process. It allows data to be more easily aggregated, compared, and exchanged between different databases and software tools. This streamlines the energy audit process, improving the value of the data, minimizing duplication of effort for subsequent audits, and facilitating achievement of greater energy efficiency.
Several tools utilize BuildingSync including U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Energy Asset Score. Asset Score is a national standardized tool for assessing the physical and structural energy efficiency of commercial and multifamily residential buildings. The Asset Score generates a simple energy efficiency rating that enables comparison among buildings, and identifies opportunities to invest in energy efficiency upgrades. Data exported from Asset Score (specifically Audit Template) via BuildingSync can be imported into BuildingEQ to populate relevant (but not all) data.
The following are the latest stats as of December 1, 2019:
For years, we have worked with ASHRAE to develop mobile applications related to a number of their standards and Handbook of Fundamentals chapters including ASHRAE 62.1 Standard, a duct fitting database app (which is quite popular, surprisingly), and an interactive psychrometric chart app. These apps have all helped bolster ASHRAE’s entry into the mobile age. Below are descriptions and screenshots of the various apps we have developed for ASHRAE:
Duct Fitting Database
The HVAC ASHRAE Duct Fitting Database (DFDB) app for the iPhone and iPad allows users to perform pressure loss calculations for all 243 ASHRAE fittings listed in the ASHRAE Handbook of Fundamentals.
This app is based upon the popular ASHRAE Duct Fitting Database desktop application, and you can do pretty much everything in this app that you can do in the desktop program that is offered by ASHRAE. The advantage of this mobile app is that you can easily use it out in the field to perform quick duct pressure loss calculations. The following is a list of features of this app:
You can create individual projects, each with unique input values and results.
Each fitting has its own custom set of input parameters and results
It includes a useful search feature that allows you to type in a partial or full fitting code name to quickly retrieve it.
It allows you to display and email two types of reports. These are similar to the reports available in the desktop version of the DFDB software. The app reports also include a spreadsheet attachment that you can open on your desktop computer to do further analysis.
All fittings include pictures that you can view within the app.
The app displays inputs and results in both english and metric units.
ASHRAE 62.1 App
The HVAC ASHRAE 62.1-2013 app for the iPhone allows you to perform comprehensive minimum ventilation calculations for a wide variety of commercial buildings based upon Standards 62.1-2007 and 2010/2013 (which are essentially the same). This app is based upon the “62MZCalc.xls” Excel spreadsheet that accompanies each copy of the ASHRAE 62.1 User’s Manual. You can do pretty much everything in this app that you can do in the Excel spreadsheet, in addition to creating multi-system projects and emailing results so you can perform further analysis.
ASHRAE Psychrometric Chart
The HVAC Psychrometric Chart (HVAC Psych Chart) app is the first truly interactive graphical psychrometric chart for the iPad, and it includes both IP and SI units. Using your finger, you can easily plot HVAC and other psychrometric processes on the iPad screen while out in the field, save the graphs, and then email the graph and results to clients.
It includes a number of features that allow the user to:
Customize the graph in many different ways including specifying the psychrometric chart line colors, chart background color, hide/display status of chart lines, point colors, process line colors, units of graph values, and the min/max limits of the chart
Create non-standard charts with high maximum dry-bulb temperatures or ones for high altitudes and low barometric pressures
Using a finger, plot as many points as wanted on the screen. As the user moves their finger around the graph, the psychrometric properties at the top of the screen dynamically update. In addition, users can double-tap a point to display the point properties and then edit them
ASHRAE Standard 90.1
ASHRAE 90.1 (Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings) is a United States standard that provides minimum requirements for energy efficient designs for buildings except for low-rise residential buildings. Percent improvement over ASHRAE 90.1 is the basis for awarding energy points within the LEED rating system. In addition, many states apply ASHRAE 90.1 to buildings being constructed or under renovation.
There are 2 methods of complying with ASHRAE 90.1: the prescriptive and performance paths. The prescriptive path requires that all components of the building meet the minimum standards specified by ASHRAE 90.1. The performance path involves modeling the proposed building design and demonstrating (through building energy simulation) that it uses less energy than a baseline building built to ASHRAE 90.1 specifications. In the performance path approach, a baseline Energy Cost Budget (ECB) is established, based on the building size and program.
Section 11 of Standard 90.1 describes the ECB Method, an alternative approach to demonstrating compliance of a building design with Standard 90.1. Compliance with Section 11 is described in detail in Section 11.1.4 of the standard. With the ECB Method, a computer program is used to calculate the design energy cost for the proposed building design and to calculate the energy cost budget for a budget building design. In the budget building design, which is a variant of the proposed building design, all mandatory and prescriptive requirements of the Standard are applied. In other words, the energy cost budget represents the building as if it complied with the Standard. The design energy cost for the proposed design cannot exceed the energy cost budget.
This standard has always confounded us in terms of determining the best type of app or software tool to develop for it, and that’s ASHRAE Standard 90.1. ASHRAE 90.1 is such a comprehensive and wide ranging standard for building energy efficiency that is hard to develop just one software tool that will “automate” everything needed by stakeholders. We’ve talked with ASHRAE Publications for years and even created a joint SurveyMonkey to gauge interest in the type of software tool that would best serve the 90.1 community. Here are a couple of screenshots of the questions and responses from the SurveyMonkey:
Based upon the responses from the survey above and talking with members of the ASHRAE 90.1 standards committee, we decided to develop a software tool to aid in filling out the 90.1 Energy Cost Budget method (ECB) compliance form located on page 395 of the ASHRAE 90.1-2010 User’s Manual. At first, we were contemplating developing a mobile app for iOS, but then received feedback that most users would not use it in the field. Therefore, we decided to develop a web app that would work on any device (laptop, iOS, or Android) as long as it was connected to the Internet. This would allow users to easily use it in the office and in the field.
The web app that we developed is based upon a variation of the ECB forms that start on page 395 of the User’s Manual. The altered forms were developed into the form of an Excel spreadsheet by Greg McCall of Vancouver, Canada. The variations in the spreadsheet have helped better tailor the forms toward building code officials. For example, it breaks down the energy end use and fuel type sections into building, parkade, and site/other sections that allow for more intelligible categorization by space type within the building. In addition, the spreadsheet includes a number of statistical values that help code officials visualize the relationships between the different values.
The following two images are the ECB forms from the User’s Manual:
The 90.1 ECB website allows users to export all of the information and calculated results to an Excel spreadsheet in the exact same format as Greg McCall’s original spreadsheet. From this exported spreadsheet, you can alter values, export reports to PDF, and print reports. Below is a sample of the statistics page in the web app:
While not everyone is utilizing the standard by implementing the ECB method, this web application is a good start to digitizing the ASHRAE 90.1 standard. The link to the ASHRAE 90.1 website is here: http://901ecb.ashrae.org.