What’s a BECx?

Researchers at Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory note that BECx should be viewed as “the single-most cost-effective strategy for reducing energy, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings today.”

Exterior building issues, you know, the stuff that facility managers’ nightmares are made of, make up 70% of all construction litigation. In the United States, the average value of a claim was $30.1 million in 2021, with the average length to resolve the dispute clocking in at 16.7 months. Add the human capital, carry the 10 from the lawyer fees, and that adds up to… well, a huge mess. To future-proof your strategy with smarter solutions, we’ll tell you how Building Envelope Commissioning (BECx) is breaking new ground in clean, cost-efficient, and energy-saving construction.

Caution: Under Construction

“I hired an architect to design the envelope,” said the Owner, “so what gives?” The reality is that design is getting more complicated and construction practices are ever-changing, not to mention those pesky material shortages that are requiring Owners, Architects, and Contractors to make decisions faster than ever before. If it sounds like a recipe for disaster, it can be, but the good news is it doesn’t have to be.

Enter the exciting world of Building Envelope Commissioning (BECx). Sure, it’s got a sporty name and cool credential abbreviations, but what is it, how is BECx different than just hiring an architect, and what’s the value to the Owner? The heart of the process is to ensure that buildings meet functionality and performance requirements; a description more effective at conjuring sleep than counting sheep. As architects, we needed more pizazz; after all, this is building science. BECx works to identify potential issues long before the project is under construction by confirming the building components – roof, walls, water management, thermal layers – are working in perfect concert to meet Owner requirements, reduce building energy use, and improve occupant comfort. Nothing is boring about that.

Breaking in BECx

The commissioning agent (CxA) works with the Owner in pre-design to establish the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) to capture what a successful project would look like on day one, through the life of the building, as well as those hot button maintenance items that make building ownership so complex. Design Reviews are conducted throughout the project with recommendations for adjustments provided by the CxA to the Architect and Owner. When the project breaks ground, the CxA remains a member of the project team to provide review of the construction quality to ensure alignment with the OPR. When the keys are turned over to the Owner, the CxA provides a maintenance plan with things only building facilities teams could love, like when to check your sealants.

All of that’s well and good, but in the famous words of Jerry McGuire, “Show me the money!” Researchers at Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory note that BECx should be viewed as “the single-most cost-effective strategy for reducing energy, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings today.” With savings averaging 13% for new construction and 16% for existing buildings, the payback for implementing the BECx strategy can be achieved in as little as 14 months. In addition to maintenance and energy savings, major first-cost savings are realized through rigorous envelope analysis directly affecting the rightsizing of HVAC equipment. With these savings, “the net median commissioning project cost was reduced by 49% on average, while in many cases they exceeded the direct value.” In short, a BECx strategy is well worth the investment.

If this discussion sounds like a bunch of geeky building scientists armed with a carafe of coffee, you’re probably right, but with a track record of success and added value, it can’t be wrong. The bottom line is Owners, Architects, and Building Envelope Commissioners alike, want solid projects that make a difference in the community and are enjoyable to own. The BECx process is geared to make this idyllic outlook a litigation-free reality.

Paying it Forward: The University of North Dakota (UND) Nistler College of Business & Public Administration (NCoBPA) was constructed under the watchful eye of building envelope commissioning, proffering remarkable outcomes in air leakage and energy performance. The commissioning agent was brought on board in the pre-design phase to fully execute Owner Project Requirements, Design Reviews, and Construction Observation services. Whole building air leakage testing was specified for the project, the most stringent method of air leakage testing set a target of 0.30 cfm75/SF and a stretch target of 0.15 cfm75/SF. The target value is 25% better than the applicable 2018 International Energy Code requirement of 0.40 cfm75/SF. Upon completion, the 140,393 SF building achieved .18 cfm75/SF, performing 39% better than the target goal and 55% better than energy code. 

With a building of this magnitude, the results are notable and testament to the commissioner’s and design team’s recommendations to meet and exceed their Owner’s targets. This kind of performance, while Greek to most, indicates that UND can expect their investment in commissioning will be recognized almost immediately. Eliminating air leakage from a project is the best way to bolster energy performance, particularly in this North Dakota project’s harsh winter environment.