High Performance Semantics

A version of this post will be published in the Spring edition of the Western MA AIA journal. WMAIA Newsletter - Spring ’14


High Performance building semantics

I have been thinking a lot about the term ‘high performance’ to describe buildings. I like the term because it is broad, meaningful, and has yet to be co-opted by window sales people. High performance implies that the building functions- that the parts work together. High performance is flexible. It does not evoke a specific standard such as LEED, Energy Star, PassivHaus and it’s not energy load centric like ‘net-0’. High performance is a relative term. Our ‘high performance’ building may be moderately performing in twenty years (or today in Germany.)

High Performance is about systems working together. 

A building that performs at a high level works really well. The components are designed, installed, and constructed with intention to serve the overall function of the building: to provide a durable, safe, affordable,and comfortable space for the occupants. Since fossil fuel energy is dirty and costly, it’s important that a high performance building uses less energy to condition and power the building. The thermal enclosure and the mechanical systems should be designed together. Insulation and air barrier controls should be aligned. Air and water control layers should be continuous to ensure a durable structure. With these systems and others working together, the building can perform higher and better than buildings without 

Marketing High Performance with health, comfort, and savings. 

A building designed to be energy efficient and high performing better be designed to be healthy as well or the building will be sick. ‘Build tight, ventilate right’ is the adage to follow. As practitioners we may understand this, but to increase general awareness, we must describe the value of the building we are designing and building. Calling it ‘green’ isn’t enough. Giving the building a label isn’t enough. Using the term high performance starts to describe how the building works, but only if the systems are integrated in a way that can be communicated through drawings and accessible terminology.