Building the Future: Recommendations from the NIBS Consultative Council

September 1, 2011

In its 2010 Annual Report to the President of the United States, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) addressed several high-level issues currently impacting the building community and offered findings and recommendations related to these issues. The National Insulation Association currently serves as the vice-chair of the NIBS Consultative Council, which represents leading organizations within the building community.

Among the topics identified for study by the Consultative Council are several areas of importance to the mechanical insulation industry. The following are excerpts from the NIBS 2010 Annual Report; the full report is available at

Defining High Performance and Common Metrics

Although the building practices and structures of the past have tended to optimize the pieces and parts of the building process and product, the result has been a less-than-optimized whole building. Alternatively, the current high-performance building initiative looks first to optimize the whole building and then to major systems on down to the parts and pieces. Whole building standards and measures are crucial to this initiative.

For standards and measures to be meaningful to anyone, they must be capable of being uniformly measured, expressed, and understood by all users. The first step must be the establishment of consensus standards and measures for performance. The second step is the implementation of standards at the project-specific level.

To ensure standards uniformity and aggregated building optimization, the Institute’s High Performance Building Council should convene a Standards Integration Group (SIG) to coordinate the work of attribute-focused Standards Development Organizations (SDOs). When owners/developers choose to pursue high-performance goals, they should take the opportunity to adopt an SIG family of SDO standards.

SDOs should develop standards based on the identified attributes (energy, environment, safety, security, etc.) to achieve high-performance legitimacy. These standards can be used to help assess to what degree a building is considered a high-performance building.

The following metrics can be used to help measure the actual performance of a building against the standards. Attribute Groups are encouraged to discuss how such measures can be defined for a particular attribute.

  • Baseline: a measure of standard performance for specific whole building and major systems when the measure is cost, or for a particular unit of measure for critical components. Standard performance and productivity relates to the market or industry average, based on conventional or customary means and methods at a particular baseline year.
  • Benchmark: a measure of in-progress high performance according to a viably optimized state. In many cases, this measure is derived as an interpolation between the baseline and an end goal. Also, in most cases, a target performance value should be determined as well.
  • Measured Results: a measure of actual results from the completed and operating building.
  • Performance Results Index (PRI): a ratio of component measures, where the numerator is the measured result and the denominator is the standard it is measured against.

A high-performance building exists once the measured results meet or improve upon the benchmark measures, or when the Baseline PRI is 1.0 or less.

The complex nature of the building process and facility operations requires a hierarchical structure, starting with whole-building high performance; then drilling down from the whole building to major systems, sub-systems, components, materials, etc., as well as concepts; and concurrently drilling across to address each attribute. The intersection of each item and attribute would create a “destination” to define relative performance in terms of the metric used, how it is measured, and how it is expressed.

Each intersection would be measured and expressed in two ways: (1) the Cost Benefit and (2) the High Performance (HP) Classification of: (a) Fails HP, (b) Meets HP, or (c) Exceeds HP. Individual building components and sub-components may include these cost and classification measures, but overall building performance would be evaluated according to units of measure relating to energy, carbon, light, sound, force, load, etc., as determined by the respective SDOs.

In order to accomplish these recommendations, the Consultative Council proposes a four-step process:

  1. The Institute’s High Performance Building Council would form a Leadership Council representing all stakeholders (owners; building producers; codes, standards, measures, and industry improvement organizations; and government agencies).
  2. The Leadership Council would convene a brainstorming session with a broad base of stakeholder volunteers.
  3. The Leadership Council would compile the brainstorming results, produce a roadmap for implementation, and promote it throughout the marketplace and to policy-making groups. The outcome should address the formation of the various SDO Attribute Groups and SIG, as well as identification of needed research and development projects.
  4. The building community would then implement the roadmap.


  • The Institute’s High Performance Building Council should form a Standards Integration Group to identify gaps in information where additional work is needed and coordinate consensus standards and measures development throughout the industry.
  • Standards Development Organizations should develop standards that address attributes of a high-performance building as identified by the SIG’s gap analysis. Where practical, SDOs are encouraged to engage in Attribute Groups to discuss the establishment and use of common metrics.
  • Owner and project delivery (production) teams should implement a high-performance building system that measures both the project and completed facility metrics according to the standards of accredited SDOs.

Energy and Water Efficiency

Conveying water consumes energy—from the source to the point of treatment, through the treatment process, while distributing water to the point of use, heating water during use, and going through the wastewater treatment process. Plumbing distribution systems within buildings need to be designed with a greater focus on water and energy efficiency in residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. During the design phase, designers should minimize the distance between the sources of hot water (generally the water heater) and the various points of use within a building. The use of on-demand or timer-controlled hot water circulation systems and increased use of pipe insulation materials on hot water lines will greatly improve both water and energy efficiency levels within the building.

The United States has a profound need to improve the indoor and outdoor use of water in buildings. The EPA reports that 36 states expect to experience local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013.1 The nation employs a very conservative approach of using potable water for nearly all applications, which may not be sustainable in an era of constrained supplies. Before additional improvements in indoor water efficiency can be confidently utilized, research on plumbing-related issues is required to better understand the implications of reduced flows in building supply and drainage pipes.


  • The federal government should redouble its leadership efforts and urgently work with construction community stakeholders to develop widely acceptable energy and water efficiency metrics to be deployed in developing future codes, standards, and efficiency programs.
  • The federal government should provide monetary incentives in the form of funding and tax incentives for the adoption and enforcement of energy and water efficiency stretch/above-baseline codes and standards.
  • The building community and policymakers should shift toward performance-based code provisions that work toward net-zero energy buildings and away from prescriptive requirements.

Codes and Standards
Adoption and Enforcement

Increasing code stringency provides new challenges to the building industry at large and to state and local agencies that are charged with administering and enforcing the codes. The success of the building and construction market to meet code requirements relies on the availability and pricing of products and equipment. Equally important are the appropriate knowledge and skills of designers and contractors. Yet product development and workforce training takes time, which may not be considered when adopting updated codes and standards. Although many in the construction community are aware when code changes are going into effect, they often are reluctant to support code compliance or embrace the changes.

The recent increase in development of stretch/above-baseline codes provides a straightforward potential solution. If these codes were to automatically become the next minimum code, they would provide the predictability and experience needed to support significant code compliance. Once established, incentive programs also could be used to promote the stretch code as a voluntary performance level for construction. Training, resources, and financial incentives would work to fuel product development, skills, and experience that would carry over to the broader market once the requirements became mandatory.

Resource constraints also tend to dampen the adoption of new codes. Some state policymakers are averse to adopting a code that will require significant and costly support. As codes advance further and faster, more resources will need to be invested to help the industry keep up. If resources are not available, code adoptions may stall.

An outcome-based objective that can be readily verified can assist jurisdictions in solving this problem. For instance, where code compliance is not achieved on an annual basis, penalties in the form of utility surcharges or property tax fines can be imposed. These outcome-based objectives may be more effective in the long run than the present situation, where buildings receive a certificate of occupancy upon completion, with limited or no inspections thereafter (depending upon the occupancy).

It is important for all stakeholders to know when a new code is expected to be implemented and to understand its requirements. Many states or jurisdictions start this education process months in advance of the code change and/or allow a window of compliance (e.g., permits can be issued for two different editions of the code during a specified grace period). Effective outreach, education, and training greatly enhance acceptance and use of the new code.


  • Policymakers and the public often misunderstand the codes and standards development, adoption, and compliance process due to its complexities. There need to be education initiatives to improve understanding.
  • Increasing the participation of federal, state, and local government agencies in the development of codes and standards would yield more uniformity and more consistently adopted and understood codes, thereby increasing the effectiveness of model building codes.


Sustainable buildings and related infrastructure advance economic growth, environmental stewardship, and social progress. They also are resilient to the effects of natural, accidental, and willful hazards. Achieving a sustainable built environment requires numerous approaches.


  • Economic growth, environmental stewardship, and social progress form the “triple bottom line” for sustainability that should be addressed in all building and infrastructure projects. Project goals and processes through the whole life cycle, from planning to renovation or removal, should demonstrate explicitly the economic, environmental, and social benefits to the communities affected.
  • Ensuring that concerted actions are taken to achieve sustainability in buildings and communities requires credible, knowledgeable, patient, and charismatic leaders (“champions”) for each group of stakeholders (at the national, state, local, industry, and project levels). The building community (through NIBS and other organizations) should give substantial attention to identifying, informing, and empowering potential champions.
  • Providing the body of knowledge and tools for sustainable building and infrastructure practices requires substantial, comprehensive, and sustained programs of research, development, and demonstration (RDD). Policymakers and the building community need mechanisms to coordinate and advance the programs of the numerous public agencies, private foundations, and private industries that fund RDD for sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Agencies should consider what interdisciplinary, multi-sponsored research is needed and stimulate the necessary funding, with clear indications of what benefits are to be achieved.
  • To achieve true long-term sustainability of buildings and related infrastructure, designers, constructors, operators, and owners must incorporate such concepts into the practices, standards, and codes used throughout the life cycles of constructed facilities. The multi-faceted nature of sustainability requires that standards and practices state explicit performance requirements and have conformance assessment systems capable of accepting innovations. Building codes and infrastructure regulations should cite up-to-date, performance-based standards to ensure acceptability of designs that provide better than minimal performance. As indicated above, the building community should undertake efforts to coordinate the establishment and use of consistent metrics.
  • Formal and continuing education programs should provide professionals and technicians with the multi-disciplinary body of knowledge required to achieve sustainability in buildings. Each discipline or specialty involved in construction needs to understand the economic, environmental, and social implications of its work, as well as its own special body of knowledge.
  • Nationally recognized professional and technician licensure and certification programs should demonstrate how sustainability can be implemented in regular practice to address the needs of clients, employers, and the public. Authoritatively accredited certification programs should be developed to recognize needed professional and technical expertise in sustainability.
  • The economy must have a strong financial and insurance capacity to provide society with the benefits of a sustainable built environment. To attract the financing required to produce sustainable buildings and infrastructure, investors need studies demonstrating increased public and private returns on investment.
  • Governance-focused organizations should develop and demonstrate model processes for improving the efficiency of the regulatory process for important classes of building and infrastructure projects. Where needed, the statutory authorities of regulatory agencies should be modified to enable participation in a streamlined process.

Education and Training

Buildings have a complex life cycle, from concept, design, and construction to commissioning, occupancy, modification/renovation, and deconstruction. Education and training within the building professions must reflect this complexity and the specific skill needs at each point in the building’s life cycle. These life-cycle considerations include efficient use of energy and water through reduced waste and demand management, improved occupant comfort and health, and upgrading the human-building system interface. In each period within the building’s life cycle, particular segments of the building community must be engaged and have the requisite knowledge to adequately address the unique needs within that period.

Essential audiences for education and training include:

  • owner
  • commissioning agent/authority
  • general contractor
  • engineer
  • architect
  • installation contractor
  • service contractor
  • facilities manager
  • operations and management
  • users/occupants
  • support contractors (including support contractors not directly related to systems maintenance, e.g., the cleaning and replenishment services)
  • inspectors and enforcement personnel.

Requirements may be different across residential, commercial, industrial, and specialized buildings (such as hospitals, laboratories, schools), so training should specifically relate to the building types for which personnel are responsible.

While it is essential that people who enter a particular career get education and training initially, training must continue throughout their careers. Best practices go stale, equipment and processes change, and new regulatory requirements go into effect. To ensure professionals seek out and retain it, such education and training must be dynamic and engaging.

Communication across all disciplines engaged in the building process is critical to achieving high-performance requirements. However, changes in current communication channels are needed because buildings are becoming more automated, and the technologies and management processes to operate, maintain, and minimize energy consumption are requiring increasing levels of integration.

Incentives are needed to motivate businesses and organizations to see beyond short-term, financially driven bottom lines and look to the future in preparing the U.S. workforce for the challenges, complexities, technologies, and competitive demands of the global economy. Education and training incentive programs should encompass all construction, maintenance, and operational core competencies in the three primary building sectors: residential, commercial, and industrial. Incentive programs should extend from apprenticeship programs and specific task training to professional development. Programs should include continuing education to achieve or maintain levels of recognized third-party certification or similar levels of accreditation. They also should be available to all Americans, especially veterans
and minorities.


1. U.S. EPA, Water Supply and Use in the United States (2008).

Excerpts from the NIBS 2010 Annual Report to the President of the United States reprinted with permission. For the full report, see