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Resilience, Retooling, Renewables and Resonance

2019 State of the Industry Report

Scott Alan

Of all the sustainability trends I have been following over the past year, there are four that stand out and that I believe will become increasingly important in the year ahead. While these trends apply broadly to residential and commercial building of multiple scales and construction types, there is some of particular importance to the metal building industry.

Resilience

We are already feeling the significant and serious impacts of climate change, 2018 was the third year in a row of above-average hurricane seasons in the U.S., (including the record-setting Hurricane Michael that devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle). It was also one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, culminating in the deadly and destructive Camp Fire in Northern California.

Resilience is, in part, described by the ability to resist and recover from shocks, which is an increasingly important aspect of sustainable buildings and communities in the face of such hazards. High-performance, resilient buildings reduce their impact on the climate in normal operations, and then protect their occupants and support recovery and resumption of normal operations after hazard events. A significant part of resilience in buildings, from single-family homes to high rises, is a structure and shell that is resistive to lateral forces (seismic and wind), uplift, impact, combustion and moisture. Metal buildings offer economical options to address these criteria.

Retooling Construction Processes

The construction industry is ripe for disruption. While there have been advances in some materials, systems and job-site technology, very little has changed over the last hundred years about the fundamental process of constructing buildings. Traditional construction practices are prone to weather delays, safety issues, coordination conflicts between trades, defects due to suboptimal installation conditions, and tremendous waste. While not new concepts, panalized and modular off-site construction is getting more attention as a solution to these common issues. Industry transforming examples include:

  • Portland, Ore.-based Hoffman Construction’s innovations in off-site fabrication of building components, as part of their LEAN construction program.
  • Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction’s recent hotel project in Seattle, using completely pre-fabricated plug-and-play modular rooms stacked like blocks.
  • Technology companies like Katerra, Menlo Park, Calif., reimagining the end-to-end process from design to procurement and construction with modular design and robotic fabrication.

This evolution will improve sustainability by reducing waste, increasing envelope efficiency, and improving the quality and longevity of structures, while also lowering cost, speeding up schedules and improving safety. Metal building lends itself to new approaches like these.

Renewable Energy

The price of solar panels continues to ease down, and battery prices for energy storage are dropping rapidly, making “solar plus storage” a growing trend. The California Building Standards Commission just approved a provision in the 2019 Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards the will require all new homes under three stories to include solar (starting in 2020). The code will require systems to meet the net annual kilowatt electricity usage of the home, creating an incentive for energy-efficient construction, energy storage and demand response technologies.

Overall, the new code is estimated to cut energy use in new homes by more than 50 percent. A similar requirement for solar on commercial buildings may follow in the 2023 code. As with other energy and environmental initiatives in the past, California leads the way, and we can expect other states to follow in adoption, with the demand further reducing costs and increasing viability of solar plus storage. In addition to being fire-resistant, metal roofs lend themselves to easy installation of solar array racking systems and integration of thin-film solar, so the new code could boost their popularity.

Resonance with User Experience

Finally, while we have long recognized that people matter in sustainable building, the data from new studies continues to quantify how much, and they make the business case for investing in occupant-centered workplaces and smart buildings clear. This includes:

  • Improving user experience in security access and wayfinding.
  • Optimizing workspace variety and choice to meet preferences and changing needs (both quiet and collaborative options); improving sensors and controls to monitor air quality and increase thermal comfort.
  • And—my favorite— promoting wellness, visual comfort and productivity by maximizing access to daylight and views with office layout, optimized façade design and advanced technologies like dynamic glass.

The combination of smart design and smart buildings (PropTech) results in improved satisfaction, creativity, collaboration and wellness.

Because they make buildings safer, better and more efficient, supporting people, planet and prosperity, I am excited to see these trends advance in 2019!


Alan Scott, FAIA, LEED Fellow, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, WELL AP, CEM, is an architect with over 30 years of experience in sustainable building design. He is a senior associate with WSP in Portland, Ore. To learn more, visit www.wsp.com/en-US/services/built-ecology and follow Scott on Twitter @alanscott_faia.