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Metrics and Tools for Sustainable Buildings Project


Building stakeholders need practical metrics, tools, and data to support investment choices and policymaking related to sustainable building designs, technologies, and regulations. EL is addressing this high priority national need by extending its metrics and tool for sustainable building products, known as BEES, to whole buildings. This involves developing whole building sustainability metrics based on innovative extensions to Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life-Cycle Costing (LCC) approaches involving building energy simulations. These new metrics assess the “carbon footprint” of buildings as well as 11 other environmental performance metrics, and integrate economic performance metrics to yield science-based measures of the business case for investment choices in high-performance green buildings. 


Objective:  By FY 2014, develop, integrate, apply, and deploy measurement science assessing the sustainability performance of energy technologies and systems in an integrated building design and operation context.

What is the new technical idea?  The new idea is to address building sustainability measurement in a holistic, integrated manner that considers complex interactions among building energy technologies and systems across dimensions of performance, scale, and time. At the whole building scale, NIST is developing an extensive database of energy, environmental, and cost measurements for prototypical  buildings based on detailed energy simulations, innovative life-cycle material inventories, and life-cycle costing (LCC). These measurements will be used to assess and compare sustainability performance for whole buildings meeting a range of building energy codes and standards on a state-by-state basis. The comprehensive sustainability performance metrics and database will be embodied in a decision framework including eco-efficiency measures, policy options, and assessment and reporting tools to help building industry stakeholders develop business cases and policies for sustainability investment choices.

What is the research plan?  A unifying framework for sustainability measurement will be developed for the U.S. economy and then applied to the U.S. construction sector and its constituent building types. Through this “top-down” approach, a series of baseline sustainability measurements will be made for prototypical buildings, yielding a common yardstick for measuring sustainability with roots in well-established national environmental and economic statistics. Using detailed “bottom-up” data, the baseline measurements for prototypical buildings will then be adjusted to reflect a range of improvements in building energy efficiency, enabling assessment of their energy, environmental, and economics benefits and costs.

The research plan consists of developing a series of sustainability measurement databases grouped by major building sectors and energy efficiency improvements. These databases cover (1) new buildings except low-rise residential designed for use with conventional energy technologies (completed in FY 2012), (2) new low-rise residential buildings using conventional energy technologies (FY13), and (3) new low-rise residential buildings using advanced energy technologies enabling net-zero energy performance (FY14). As each database is completed, its results will be published and included in a software tool that disseminates science-based measurements of the sustainability performance of energy technologies and systems in an integrated building design and operation context.

Databases. Baseline databases enabling sustainability performance assessment for a range of new low-rise residential building types, energy technologies, and systems will be compiled. These databases will include energy, environmental, and economic performance measurements. In FY13, 10 prototypical low-rise residential designs will be developed and simulated, and cost data will be compiled. Compatible bottom-up life cycle environmental data will be completed for 34 conventional low-rise residential energy technologies and integrated with a top-down database for low-rise residential buildings. On a parallel track, the energy simulation model for the NIST Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) will be refined based on in situ measurements, and bottom-up environmental data will be collected for 5 of its advanced technologies.

Reporting. Upon completion of the sustainability measurement database for new buildings except low-rise residential in FY12, several publications can be produced in FY13 to document its development and report its results. A NIST report will be compiled that summarizes operating energy, carbon emissions, and life-cycle costs on a state-by-state basis. Detailed documentation will be prepared on development of the life-cycle material inventories for all the energy technologies for buildings except low-rise residential. A peer-reviewed journal article, developed at the request of International Green Construction Code (IGCC) leadership,  will report on the benefits and costs of sustainable building design.  These documents—together with those published in FY12—will be integrated into an extensive Help  System for the Building Industry Reporting and Design for Sustainability (BIRDS) tool, which will be completed in FY13.

This research plan addresses needs gathered from an industry stakeholder group and refined through ongoing team feedback as well as from participation in the FY14 code development hearings of the International Green Construction Code Committee. The economic importance of this research plan and those of other NIST construction-related programs will be documented through annual updates to construction industry supply chain statistics for the Engineering Laboratory (EL) Director and the Manager of the Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program. These statistics incorporate both investments in energy-related systems and components and metrics for measuring energy-related expenditures at the industry and sector levels.

Major Accomplishments:

Recent Results:


  • 4 peer-reviewed articles (FY10-FY12).
  • 1 invited chapter for Sustainability Science and Engineering textbook (FY12).
  • 1 software tool, BEES Online (FY11).
  • 9 NIST publications (FY11-FY12).
  • New technical expertise in energy simulation and top-down LCA enabling science-based sustainability assessment of whole building energy, environmental, and economic performance on a life-cycle basis.
  • New database for U.S. building sustainability assessment covering 228 locations, 12 building types, and 5 levels of energy efficiency.
  • New guidance for policymakers on benefits and costs of energy codes.
  • The environmental importance weights developed by the BEES Stakeholder Panel are used in LEED version 3 and standardized in ASTM E1765-11 for Multiattribute Decision Analysis.
  • 50,000 Unique Visitors to BEES Online in its first year.
Standards and Codes:
  • Expected impact: Adoption of more efficient and cost-effective energy and green construction codes by states currently using outdated or no codes.
  • B. Lippiatt, International Green Construction Code Committee.