The Advanced Building Construction (ABC) Initiative builds on a number of different efforts already underway to improve the energy performance of buildings while increasing the productivity of the U.S. construction industry. Below are some of the primary organizations and reports that inform BTO’s work in this field.
An “ABC” Approach to Existing Buildings
RetrofitNY is a $30 million initiative that aims to “revolutionize the way buildings are renovated in New York State.” The project’s goal is to spearhead the creation of standardized, scalable retrofit solutions that will improve the aesthetic and comfort of residential buildings while dramatically improving their energy performance. RetrofitNY intends to bring a large number of affordable housing units to net-zero or near net-zero energy use by 2025 while providing new business opportunities in the State of New York.
Thus far RetrofitNY has produced six pilot designs for net-zero retrofits for multifamily buildings across New York State, with some projects now in the site planning and construction phases. The initiative has also partnered with the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to request proposals for high-performance retrofit designs of a university dormitory and a public housing building. In addition to RetrofitNY, NYSERDA is investing in R&D projects for HVAC and building envelope technologies with similar goals to the ABC Initiative.
As part of RetrofitNY, NYSERDA commissioned a report by Taitem Engineering called “Energiesprong: A Dutch Approach to Deep Energy Retrofits and Its Applicability to the New York Market.” Taitem’s research evaluated an innovative Dutch whole-building retrofit approach called “Energiesprong” to determine its feasibility in the New York housing market. The report lays out every aspect of the program, from the technical approach of the retrofits to financing and regulations. The report ultimately suggests that the Energiesprong approach, or some derivative, is transferable to New York State and other U.S. markets.
The REALIZE Initiative aims to combine demand aggregation, a "zero over time" approach, and supply chain coordination to deploy high-quality, prefabricated mass-scale retrofit packages that are easy to install and are financed through utility cost savings. The initiative envisions a future where buildings are heated, cooled, and powered using renewable resources and where historically disenfranchised communities fully benefit from building improvements and can take part in the new retrofit workforce.
The U.S. Department of Energy previously awarded the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) with a Building America cooperative agreement to initiate a pilot retrofit project using the REALIZE approach. More recently, RMI was awarded a $7.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to use the REALIZE Initiative to carry out “turnkey” retrofits for 300,000 square feet of apartments for disadvantaged communities. The REALIZE Initiative has also released several reports that helped inform the ABC Initiative, including this “How-To Guide: Net Zero Retrofit Technical and Cost Benchmark Studies” for entities considering launching their own net-zero retrofit programs.
“Energiesprong” is a comprehensive whole-house refurbishment, new build standard, and funding approach currently being pursued in five European countries. Among other innovations, the typical Energiesprong retrofit utilizes customized facade panels that fit precisely onto the existing building’s exterior, giving the house a new “shell” that dramatically improves thermal performance and aesthetic appeal. Energiesprong construction companies capture an existing building’s dimensions using a laser scanner, transform that data into a building information model (BIM) to design the retrofit panels, and then use the information from the BIM to fabricate the panels using computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). As a result, the vast majority of work is done in the factory, with installation steps at the actual home site requiring less than a week.
The Energiesprong approach originated in the Netherlands as a government-funded innovation program. To date, it has delivered net-zero retrofits for more than 5,000 Dutch homes. The mission of the Energiesprong Foundation is to scale this approach to more markets and create an industry capable of designing, producing and delivering high-performance whole-building retrofits to millions of homes and apartment units. The Energiesprong Foundation works with independent market development teams that create large-scale demand for these high-performance, desirable and affordable retrofits. The foundation also provided input to NYSERDA and RMI as the two organizations were designing their respective retrofit programs. This overview document for an Energiesprong Foundation projected called “Transition Zero” provides a deeper description of the Energiesprong approach and plans for scaling from the Netherlands to other European countries.
An “ABC” Approach to New Construction
In this seminal 168-page report, the McKinsey Global Institute examines the root causes of poor productivity growth in the construction industry and recommends seven key steps that could improve construction sector productivity by up to 60%. The report also discusses the potential gains that could be achieved through a more dramatic shift toward mass production, standardization, prefabrication, and modularization—which McKinsey claims has the potential to boost construction labor productivity by five to 10 times in relevant parts of the industry. According to McKinsey’s calculations, productivity gains in the construction sector could boost the industry’s value added by $1.6 trillion per year, the equivalent of 2% of global GDP.
While it is just one study, the “Reinventing Construction” report has provided the construction industry with a common framework about how to solve its challenges. With its specific recommendations for change, the report has has had a profound effect on the construction industry and the trend of investments in new construction technology. Many companies across the building construction supply chain are actively working to implement the report’s advice, from startups developing digital apps to infuse technology into construction worksites to established general contractors opening modular production facilities.
The National Institute of Building Sciences established the Off-Site Construction Council (OSCC) in 2013 to serve as a research, education and outreach center for relevant and up-to-date information on off-site design and construction for commercial, institutional and multifamily facilities. The OSCC strives to be an unbiased source for evaluating the applicability and potential benefits of off-site construction methods such as prefabrication, unitization, modularization, and panelization, for determining where and when fabrication is appropriate, and for identifying the range of choices inherent in integrating and collaborating with fabricators.
The OSCC Resources webpage contains a wide range of publications, including whole-building design guidelines for off-site construction methods, case studies, industry surveys, and studies showing how off-site methods can improve construction productivity and efficiency.
Founded in 1983, the Modular Building Institute (MBI) is the international nonprofit trade association serving modular construction. As the voice of commercial modular construction, it is MBI's mission to expand the use of off-site construction through innovative construction practices, outreach and education to the construction community and customers, and recognition of high-quality modular designs and facilities. Associate members are manufacturers, contractors, and dealers that supply building components, services, and financial services. MBI strives to keep up with the latest trends of the modular/off-site construction industry and has expanded its membership over the years to include architects, owner/developers, and general contractors.
The MBI “Research, Whitepapers, and Studies” webpage includes many informative resources, including analysis of the growth of the modular industry. The broader MBI network is made up of over 400 companies including general contractors, manufacturers, owners, developers, and financiers.
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