A high-performance building is one that is better than an average building with regard to energy savings, economic benefits, and environmental impact. High performance buildings are not only energy efficient but also healthy places to live and work in, having a minimum impact on the environment. These buildings are designed using a process, that integrates all aspects of energy, economic, and environmental performance called the whole-building design approach.
The whole-building design approach attempts at integrating the building structure, its systems and sub-systems so that these work together in minimizing energy consumption, maximizing comfort and utility, and reducing environmental impact. This approach calls for inputs from all professionals involved in the project right from the design stage. Thus, the design team would typically not only include civil and structural professionals but would also draw upon the expertise/experience of professionals from HVAC, acoustics, energy conservation etc. apart from the owners and occupants.
It has been estimated that commercial buildings account for 17% of the total energy consumed in the United States. Using this approach drastically reduces the energy required to operate a building compared to conventional buildings. It enhances the comfort level of building occupants by using aesthetic designs to brighten up work areas and using sunlight rather than electrical lamps and fittings to provide adequate illumination.
Buildings that consume less energy will greatly help conserve energy, lowering electricity demand and contributing to the robustness of the buildings as well as the power grid. This results in reducing the need for fossil fuels and minimizing their harmful effects on the environment.
There is a growing movement towards using the whole-building approach to design energy efficient buildings. Experience has shown that the additional costs involved in the construction of high performance buildings work out to around 10% of the cost of conventional buildings. On the other hand, total energy costs average about 50% less than that for a conventional building. This makes high performance buildings a worthwhile investment over conventional building design.