April Fools

Passive Survivability Standard Modified for Post-Pandemic Office Buildings

The threshold for demonstrating habitability during power outages just got a lot easier for office buildings in the post-pandemic era.

April 1, 2021

Even during last summer’s wildfires, affecting California and other western states, commercial building managers received few complaints about power outages, air quality, and overall comfort in this unoccupied San Mateo office complex.

Photo: BuildingGreen, Inc.

Passive survivability—the idea that buildings should be designed to ensure safe thermal conditions during extended power outages—is about to get a whole lot easier, according to Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA. And all the credit goes to the ongoing pandemic, which proved that the best way to survive might be to avoid the building entirely.

Lazarus, who co-chaired the committee that created the LEED pilot credits on resilient design, explained this new shift in approach. “For years we’ve been looking at the passive survivability credit the wrong way: in terms of keeping occupants safe during power outages or loss of heating fuel. But if we just send everyone home,” she pointed out, “problem solved!”

Her committee recently approved the Post Pandemic Exception Rule (PPER), which allows the Passive Survivability pilot credit in LEED to be earned with no special envelope performance requirements as long as the building will remain unoccupied. “Here it was, right under our very noses!” exclaimed Lazarus. “If no one’s there, no one will get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter,” she explained.

Resilient design has gained attention as wildfires, hurricanes, and winter storms have increasingly caused power outages around the country. The state of Texas, for example, was brought to a standstill in February by a week-long freezing event, which left huge swaths of the population without heat, light, and water. “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” said a sheepish Lazarus, “but [Senator] Ted Cruz had the right idea when he left for Cancún. After all, it’s a lot easier to go where the heat is than to bring it somewhere it clearly doesn’t want to be.”

The credit language for the Post Pandemic Exception Rule even provides guidelines for vacating buildings, and points are awarded for posting instructions for the last occupant to go home when calamity strikes. “Just taping a sign to the door reminding people to shut off the water and empty the fridge is all you need to achieve this credit,” said Lazarus. “If only we’d known resilient design was this easy!”

When asked where occupants should stay during an extended crisis, Lazarus suggested identifying nearby buildings that achieved the prior version of the Passive Survivability pilot credit, and maybe making friends with people who live there.

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April 2, 2021 - 8:53 am

Thanks, gang.  Maybe more than most years we need a laugh.

April 2, 2021 - 9:00 am

Glad to help, Jonathan!