Beyond the Numbers: Understanding the Impact of User Behavior and Flexibility on Plug Load Studies

Nicholas LaVita, Payette
Jeffrey Abramson, Payette

With advances in heating, cooling and lighting system efficiencies, equipment plug loads can now account for more than half the total energy consumed by a high performance laboratory. HVAC systems in today's high efficiency laboratories can no longer be designed solely based on "nameplate" rated data, or outdated standard values, but how can measured plug load data be logically applied to the design of new high efficiency laboratories?

This session will examine the benefits, limitations and risks of utilizing measured load data for both HVAC system design and refinement of energy model inputs. Through the lens of a recently completed plug load study at Amherst College, the speakers will share their process for navigating the often inconsistent data and ever-changing user requirements while remaining focused on designing a responsible and energy efficient building. The session will also take a broader look how measured plug load data can be utilized for establishing equipment loads on other projects.

Learning Objectives

  • Participants will be able to describe the importance of considering user behavior patterns and desire for future change when evaluating and applying data obtained from plug load studies.
  • Participants will be able to explain the significance of leveraging benchmark data in establishing 'new norms' for peak laboratory equipment loads.
  • At the end of the session, participants will be able to understand which HVAC system designs most efficiently accommodate variability and readily allow for flexibility and growth.
  • Participants will learn how measured plug load data can not only validate and drive efficient system design, but also influence energy model accuracy and identification of individual high-energy use equipment.


Nick joined Payette in 2007 after graduating with a B. Arch from Syracuse University. Since joining the firm he has worked on Science buildings at Wesleyan, Princeton, Georgetown, UMass Amherst, Amherst College and Lafayette College. His interests are in integrating MEP systems with architecture, working with the building users, and laboratory design. Nick has been active in the firm's Core Science Group and Design Technology efforts related to BIM.

Since joining Payette in 2003, Jeff has been particularly instrumental in the design, technical development and graphic documentation of highly complex envelope systems. Jeff believes architecture today must harmoniously balance both building performance and aesthetics. He has leveraged his work on high performance envelopes to focus more broadly on developing and implementing sustainable design strategies specifically for undergraduate teaching and research science facilities


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