FMJ, the official magazine of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), is written by and for workplace professionals and is published six times a year. FMJ is the only magazine that draws on the collective knowledge of IFMA’s global network of thought leaders to provide insights on current and upcoming FM trends. For more information on FMJ, visit

Optimizing the Building Envelope

Understanding which building decisions make the most impact on energy performance

by Harry Yeatman — Originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of FMJ—Constructing a new facility based simply on how many square feet the operation needs? Those days are long gone. Today, successful facility development and management involves deftly understanding the importance of the building envelope, energy efficiency and local energy codes. It’s a complex equation many businesses view as important as well as confusing.

Energy management is now no longer a “nice-to-have” but rather a “must-have” to be competitive in the marketplace. Consider that 91 percent of companies invest in energy management programs and nine out of 10 businesses indicate they have energy management goals in place.1 Given that more than a third of those companies cite competitive advantage as a primary driver for their energy management programs, it’s surprising how many clients try to save money on the up-front costs of a building.1

The case against up-front cost savings

Often, construction trades win business by providing what seems to be the lowest cost during the bid stage. In many instances, decision makers have finite budgets that drive the selection of these lowest-cost proposals.

What decision makers might not realize, however, is that savings up front can easily come back to bite the budget down the road. In fact, a facility’s construction budget accounts for only 10 percent of its total lifetime costs. Operation accounts for the other 90 percent.2 In these cases, the up-front savings on materials end up burdening owners throughout the life of the building. Lower-quality products create energy inefficiencies followed by maintenance and complete replacement sooner than higher-quality products.

It’s easy to see that saving money on just 10 percent of costs is a misguided approach.

Optimizing the building envelope

Once companies understand the importance of building performance over the life of ownership, the next step is understanding what building decisions make the biggest impact on energy performance. That discussion starts with the building envelope.

So what is the building envelope?

The building envelope includes all of the exterior components of a building, such as walls, roofing, foundations, windows and doors. It includes all components that make up the shell or skin of the building. Any living space equipped with heat or air conditioning would be included and impact the rest of the building, specifically regarding climate, ventilation and energy consumption within the structure.

The building envelope covers four basic functions. These include: adding structural support, controlling moisture and humidity, regulating temperature and controlling air pressure changes. By serving these different functions, the envelope also affects ventilation and energy use within the building. Of note, space heating, cooling and ventilation account for the largest portion of end-use energy consumption in commercial buildings.3

Specifically, 42 percent of the energy consumed by nonresidential buildings in the United States is lost through the building envelope, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This demonstrates the need to focus on the building envelope when developing an energy management strategy. The challenge is to build an envelope that is airtight and well-insulated so the energy that comes into the building stays within the envelope, and any inclement weather outside has little impact on the comfort inside.

The building envelope significantly impacts a company’s energy use and maintenance requirements. It should be a top concern when looking to reduce total cost of ownership and future operating expenditures. Making the right material decisions for the building envelope is vital to energy management strategy.

The International Energy Agency’s Technology Roadmap for Energy-efficient Building Envelopes states that, “The quality and energy efficiency of building envelopes are the most important factors that affect the energy consumed by heating and cooling equipment.”4

Addressing energy management in the planning stage

The building envelope is a great place to start an energy management strategy. What other factors affect the opportunity for envelope optimization? Building owners and facility managers should consider many factors when making sustainable decisions:

  • Product lifetimes: Building material product lifetimes are an important aspect to building envelope decisions. Many product material life expectancies are determined through research and testing based on regular recommended maintenance and conditions of normal wear and tear, and not extreme weather conditions, neglect, overuse or abuse. They should be considered guidelines, not guarantees or warranties. That said, it is important to consider the level of product testing that various materials undergo, as well as the anticipated weather conditions in the building location.
  • Maintenance requirements: Infrastructure sustainability has a major impact on future maintenance budget requirements. In fact, a Metal Construction Association study finds that by simply opting for a Galvalumecoated metal standing-seam roof system, businesses can save more than 90 percent on maintenance because this choice offers an average 60-year lifespan. Other options with shorter lifespans will require multiple reroofs in that same 60-year time period.
  • Financial incentives for choosing energy-efficient building designs: Financial incentives can help energy-efficiency projects overcome cost barriers. These include grants and rebates, tax incentives, government risk mitigation guarantees, revolving loan funds, tax-lien financing and policies that enable energy performance contracting. Check with the local municipality to verify whether your building decisions can earn rebates or incentives.
  • Local energy code requirements: Buildings account for approximately 41 percent of all energy consumption and 72 percent of electricity use in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy codes and standards set minimum efficiency requirements for new and renovated buildings, ensuring reductions in energy use and emissions over the life of a building. Efficient building design presents an opportunity for building owners to reduce environmental impact and achieve energy expense savings.
  • Adaptable design: Design your building for change and growth. In some cases, the intended purpose of a facility changes over time. When materials, context, occupants and technology change, buildings can be designed in a way that flexes with them. Create an architecture that stands the test of time, considering how it will weather, change and grow.
  • Retrofit: For facility managers looking to improve the performance of existing buildings, a retrofit is a great option. Federal, state and local standards have led to an upsurge in energy efficiency retrofits for existing structures. Before investing in major capital improvements to heating and cooling systems, however, consider making simple, less-costly upgrades to the building enclosure. A sound exterior envelope acts as a thermal shield, reducing demand on HVAC equipment, improving indoor comfort and extending the lifespan of building components.

Energy modeling

To ensure your building envelope decisions prove beneficial, incorporate energy modeling into your process. An estimated 91 percent of companies invest in energy management programs, with an average investment of 12 percent of the total capital budget, regardless of company size.1

Energy modeling is essential for defining which parts of a building envelope are responsible for maximum energy consumption. It is important to involve this process at an early stage because the energy performance of a building is only as strong as its weakest link. Energy analysis and simulations help you understand the building performance and make informed decisions before the building design progresses to the construction phase.

For example, if the building envelope allows heat loss, address the problem through early design optimization. Resolving the issue later in the build process, or once the building is constructed, becomes more expensive and time-intensive.

Long-term focus

Today, 61 percent of companies reported a high degree of effort and resources allocated to energy management programs, and more than one-third of those companies cite competitive advantage as a primary driver for their energy management programs.1 Focusing on the total cost of operating your building is a smart way to approach your construction budget. Smart building envelope decisions will ensure the initial expenditure will pay off in the long run.

  1.  Deloitte. Deloitte reSources 2014 Study, Informed and In Charge, 2014.
  2.  Facility Maintenance Decisions. New Technologies Require Life Cycle Analysis.–12546. Accessed June 19, 2015.
  3.  Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Building Envelope. Accessed June 19, 2015.
  4.  International Energy Agency. Technology roadmap, energy efficient buildings, 2013.

Harry YeatmanHarry Yeatman is vice president of Butler Manufacturing™, a building solutions company. Yeatman joined Butler Construction in 1984 as a project manager in the Birmingham, Alabama, USA office. He transitioned to Butler Manufacturing in 1989 as a construction specialist for the southern region.

Since that time, he has held positions of area manager in the southwest region, national insulation manager and southeast regional sales manager in Laurinburg, North Carolina, USA. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in building science from Auburn University in 1983.

FMJ, the official magazine of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), is written by and for workplace professionals and is published six times a year. FMJ is the only magazine that draws on the collective knowledge of IFMA’s global network of thought leaders to provide insights on current and upcoming FM trends. For more information on FMJ, visit

Articles in FMJ are the exclusive property of IFMA and are subject to all applicable copyright provisions. To view abstracts and articles not shown here, subscribe or order individual issues at Direct questions on contributing, as well as on permission to reprint, reproduce or use FMJ materials, to Editor Erin Sevitz at

IFMA is the world’s largest and most widely recognized international association for facility management professionals, supporting 24,000 members in 104 countries. This diverse membership participates in focused component groups equipped to address their unique situations by region (133 chapters), industry (15 councils) and areas of interest (six communities). Together they manage more than 78 billion square feet of property and annually purchase more than US$526 billion in products and services. Formed in 1980, IFMA certifies professionals in facility management, conducts research, provides educational programs, content and resources, and produces World Workplace, the world’s largest series of facility management conferences and expositions. To join and follow IFMA’s social media outlets online, visit the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages. For more information, visit