DJC Green Building Blog

The next big thing in energy conservation? Small commercial buildings

Posted on June 11, 2013

The following post is by the Preservation Green Lab:

A new report released by the Preservation Green Lab in Seattle says an array of energy savings in small commercial buildings across the United States could profitably yield more than one quadrillion Btu annually, which translates into more than $30 billion in annual cost savings and improved financial performance for small businesses.

Conservation efforts commonly focus on larger structures, but 95 percent of all commercial buildings are less than 50,000 square feet. This is a massive and largely untapped opportunity for new energy savings.

“The energy savings detailed in our report represent the equivalent of 580,000 permanent new American jobs,” said Mark Huppert, Director of the Preservation Green Lab, and a lead author of the report. “Harvesting energy efficiency from small buildings is like striking oil, except it’s domestic, clean and keeps dollars in our local economies. The savings will produce real jobs that can’t be offshored or outsourced.”

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Ninety-five percent of all commercial buildings are less than 50,000 square feet — a largely untapped opportunity for energy savings.

The report, “Realizing the Energy Efficiency Potential of Small Buildings,” was produced by the Green Lab in partnership with the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit that works collaboratively with commercial building interests to remove barriers to energy efficiency. The analysis was funded jointly by The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Here are the key findings:

  • Small buildings are responsible for 47 percent of the energy consumed by commercial buildings.
  • Small businesses or firms with fewer than 500 employees own 84 percent (3.7 million of 4.4 million total) of small buildings.
  • Potential energy savings in small buildings range from 27 to 59 percent, depending on the building type. This represents 1.07 quadrillion Btu annually or 17 percent of commercial energy use.
  • Small, neighborhood businesses such as restaurants, grocers and retailers can improve profitability by more than 10 percent through smart investments in energy savings.

The report recommends that utility regulators create incentives for energy efficiency to unlock the potential savings in these smaller buildings. Pilot projects that pay customers for measured energy savings could demonstrate how the private sector can drive down energy costs while utilities continue to earn a profit. These innovative programs also offer utilities the opportunity to burnish their images.

Some utilities are already embracing this approach. “I believe the cleanest power plant that I will build in the future is the one that I don’t build,” said Duke Energy CEO James E. Rogers during a 2012 address to the Urban Land Institute.

Programs that engage small businesses owners represent a big opportunity for the financial sector, as well as for the businesses themselves. “Since 2005, Wells Fargo has financed more than $21 billion for “green” businesses, “green” buildings, and “clean” energy customers, including $900 million in loans and investments benefitting low-income communities or housing projects,” said Andrew Kho, senior vice president with Wells Fargo Commercial Banking. “These investments can help our customers reduce their monthly operating expenses and support a transition to a “greener” global economy.”

The Preservation Green Lab is a sustainability think tank focused on the reuse and retrofit of older and historic buildings. A project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Green Lab was launched in 2009 and is based in Seattle.

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Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

Posted on November 16, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I've been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that "preservation" equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County's Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, "Stewardship of the Built Environment." He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the "three E's"): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as "balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment."

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, "the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism." He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a "sunk cost" and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it's because of our societal preference for the glitter of "new" vs. the practicality of "existing," which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed "the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today." And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young's figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl -- even if it's "green")!

Young's talk introduced some great food for thought, but I'm so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, "Putting it All Together," he provides a list of "challenges" for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to "decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies." Lots to work on.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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When greening your office space, don’t overlook the plugs

Posted on November 6, 2012

The following post is by the New Buildings Institute:

To help commercial building owners and occupants get control of the growing amount of energy used by office equipment and other electronic devices, New Buildings Institute released the Plug Load Best Practices Guide. It is based on research done by Ecova and NBI for the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research Program, and gives advice on how to save money by reducing energy use in offices.

Lyn Baxter | Dreamstime.com

Plug loads account for 15-20 percent of electricity use on average.

On average, plug loads account for 15-20 percent of electricity use. For offices that have already improved the efficiency of lighting and HVAC systems, that number can be as much as 50 percent. The impact of plug loads can be reduced by up to 40 percent through a combination of no- and low-cost steps such as:

•  aggressive power management settings

•  inexpensive hardware controllers like timers and advanced plug strips

•  occupant-based strategies

When the time comes to replace equipment, buying new energy-efficient models can also reduce energy bills. The guide also gives advice on how to manage energy used by computer server rooms.

According to NBI Senior Project Manager Amy Cortese, "Owners, tenants, purchasing managers, IT directors and building occupants all have a role in managing plug load energy use. Our goal with the Plug Load Best Practices Guide is to help them establish a workable plan for cutting that energy use."

The largest plug load energy users are computers, monitors, imaging equipment, server rooms and computer peripherals.  The guide outlines steps for selecting the highest efficiency equipment for a given job when it's time for replacement. "Simple equipment upgrades and making sure that control settings in most office equipment are enabled can make a huge difference," said Cortese.

"Through this research, we found that occupants can and should play a significant role in managing energy use," she said. "This guide will help office managers engage tenants and occupants in learning about these simple measures and ultimately reducing their own energy and utility costs."

The Plug Load Best Practices Guide is part of Advanced Buildings, a set of tools and resources designed to help improve the energy performance of commercial buildings. Funding support for development of the guide was provided by the California Energy Commission's PIER Program.

New Buildings Institute works with commercial building professionals and the energy industry to promote better energy performance in buildings.

 

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Community Power Works expands services to all of Seattle

Posted on April 13, 2012

The following post is by Christine Grant, an associate at Cascadia Consulting Group.

“We just got a $1,200 bill from the oil company.  We just can’t afford it anymore,” lamented a Seattle resident who recently called the Community Power Works for Home customer service line.

The Community Power Works customer service team is used to hearing stories like this. Hundreds of Seattle residents have turned to CPW over the last year because of high energy bills, drafty windows, an old furnace that just can’t warm the house, or moldy insulation that is worsening allergy symptoms.

CPW contractors Bob Thorson and Charlie Rogers

“The best part of the job is being able to tell residents that have cold, leaky homes and high energy bills — Community Power Works can help!” says Maryellen Hearn, a customer service representative.

Participating in Community Power Works starts with a home energy assessment called an Energy Performance Score, or an EPS.  The EPS measures your home’s energy efficiency and determines the recommended upgrades that will reduce energy use and make your home healthier and more comfortable. This assessment is valued at $400, but costs Community Power Works participants just $95 thanks to a special rebate from Seattle City Light. Over 800 Seattle residents have received an EPS through Community Power works since the program started last April. The results from the EPS are educational — and often motivational too.

“When we learned that 86 percent of the warm air in our house was escaping each hour and being replaced with cold air from outside, we were shocked. That provided us with the motivation to act,” said Washington Park home owner Allyson Adley.

Common energy efficiency upgrades include duct sealing, floor and wall insulation, window replacements, and heat pump water heaters.  A very popular upgrade has been the installation of a ductless heat pump — especially for customers who had oil heat and wanted to switch to electric heat.  Community Power Works home energy auditor, Charlie Rogers, explains that, “if you heat with oil, you are probably spending between $1,000 and $2,000 annually on oil to heat your home, and possibly more based on fluctuating crude prices.” Yearly heating costs for an average Seattle home with an electric ductless heat pump are much lower — usually between $189 and $394. Community Power Works is also currently offering a $1,200 incentive for all customers who install a ductless heat pump, in addition to a range of other incentives that could save you thousands of dollars.

The average Community Power Works customer increases the energy efficiency of their home by 30 percent — this not only increases the comfort of a home, but also the asking price once it comes time to put the home on the market. Starting last fall, the green features and energy efficiency of homes are now being considered formally as part of the home appraisal process. Buyers are also quick to start adding up what utilities are going to cost them — especially if they are looking at an older home.

Community Power Works for Home recently expanded to serve all of Seattle — you can sign up here.

Community Power Works also plans to conduct energy upgrades at four local hospitals — Virginia Mason, Swedish, Harborview, and Group Health — by June 2013 while also upgrading hundreds of small businesses and more than a dozen municipal buildings.

 

 

 

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9 green warehouse retrofits

Posted on March 23, 2012

The following post is by Michael Koploy, an ERP analyst and manager with Warehouse Management Systems Guide.

The goal of many modern supply chains is to become more sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint. A great way to do this is by retrofitting older warehouses to reduce energy usage.

Unfortunately, this is often a costly initiative. These facilities are old and deteriorating, and investing in expensive green technology is sometimes a poor investment. How can these facilities be improved to become more sustainable without breaking the bank?

I sourced four experts to discover the answer to this very question: Sean Canning, LEED AP and owner of 10|70 Architecture; Shawn Casemore, supply chain consultant President at Casemore & Co; Dan Gould, president at energy-efficiency firm Synergy; and Dave Homerding, marketing manager of commercial contracting and roofing company WeatherSure Systems.

Image source

Based on their conversations, here are nine affordable retrofits to can help make the warehouse more sustainable.

1. Use solar tubes to increase natural lighting -- Solar tubes, or light pipes, can introduce natural lighting through skylights without major construction that will impact the building’s integrity.

2. Apply a cool roof -- White, reflective coatings can be applied to roofs to reflect UV rays and reduce the amount of heat the warehouse absorbs.

3. Upgrade batt insulation to sprayed-foam or loose-fill -- Loose-fill and sprayed-foam insulation are much more effective at insulating commercial facilities, and can be installed with little financial investment.

4. Move to task-lighting to reduce usage -- If intense lighting isn’t necessary to perform routine operations in the warehouse, reduce electric ambient lighting, introduce natural light and use “task-lighting,” or localized light around areas that need increased visibility.

5. Upgrade metal halides to fluorescent, induction or LED lights -- These lighting fixtures are much more efficient than the traditional metal halide lights used and warehouses, and can often be paid off in only a couple years of energy reduction.

6. Purchase destratification fans -- Destratification fans circulate heated air in warehouses, and can greatly reduce the amount of energy exerted to heat facilities.

7. Deploy (or program) networked thermostats -- Again, energy exertion can be reduced using controllable thermostats that eliminate extraneous heating and cooling cycles.

8. Use daylight or motion sensors to reduce light usage -- If electric lighting is necessary, invest in motion sensors to only use lighting when workers are present, or daylight sensors to dim lighting according to the natural sunlight throughout the warehouse.

9. Join a energy-reduction demand-response group -- Finally, participating in a peak-energy response group can reduce energy and add extra cash-flow to the business.

For more on these retrofits, check out: 9 Warehouse Retrofits to Go Green and Reduce Energy Consumption.

 

 

 

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Working together better – a quiet construction trend

Posted on January 13, 2012

I've noticed a quiet trend over the last year: more and more teams are crediting each other on successful projects.

I'm not sure whether teams are actually collaborating more or whether they just say they

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are. I don't know if it's related to the increasing use of integrated project delivery and more open bidding methods or if its culturally related to social media. But it's happening. More and more people I talk to are highlighting the importance of different team members.

Sustainable design is inherently related to integrating. The whole point of green building is to cut down on waste and redundancies. The idea behind collaboration and working together, is that you accomplish that goal more efficiently.

Just to give you a few examples:

In December, I went to the AIA Seattle's forum on IPD and wrote this story called "Form Right Team for Successful Construction Project." The story condenses a big theme from the event, which is that the team is the most important element in creating good IPD projects. Speakers said more effort needs to go towards selecting team members for IPD projects, but the lessons seem to be worthwhile for any type of project.

Dave Kievet, group president of California operations for The Boldt Co., said all sorts of questions about experience, work ethic and outside interests are asked when a company hires a new employee.  But when a contractor is hired, very little time is spent on those issues. Instead, questions are about safety record, balance statements and licenses.

“You can have the best team assembled that can be absolutely destroyed by one bad apple on that team,” he said. “It's the people that deliver a project, not the companies.”

The forum also highlighted the importance of working together to move through negative situations. Barb Jackson of California Polytechnic State University said she often counsels her IPD teams to have "you suck meetings" so everyone can clear the air. It's better than dwelling on problems and letting them stifle a team, she said.

Last week, I toured this $56 million new water treatment plant in Anacortes. The team

Image by Katie Zemtseff
members were practically glowing with descriptions of each other (and these were real reactions - they weren't just buttering me up). Fred Buckenmeyer, Anacortes public works director, said the camaraderie at project meetings is real. Matt Reynolds, assistant city engineer, said everyone has been fair with each other and works to solve problems when things go wrong, rather than place blame.

Brandt Barnes of MWW, the owner's representative and construction manager, said all team members took a partnering approach to the project that they will be proud of for many years to come.

Todd Pike, project manager at Imco General Construction, said the construction process in general is becoming more open, due in part to the influence of new contracting methods like GC/CM and design-build. But he said being open is a conscious effort at Imco.  “You (can't) miss one person... It's a purposeful, intentional effort on all sides of the contract,” he said. “We don't have to have a design-build contract or GC/CM contract to reach out and have this positive, open communication with the owners and the design team.”

Image courtesy SPU
Then in the Jan. 13 edition of the DJC here, I wrote about the "swale on Yale project." The swale is an innovative public-private partnership, in which Vulcan contributed over $1 million to a city stormwater treatment project. The swale, once comple, will treat over 190 million gallons of stormwater per year that currently flows straight into Lake Union. Jason Sharpley, project manager with SPU, said both Vulcan and city team members went out of their way to work together, and put the good of the project above anything else. Team members included KPG, KPFF, The Berger Partnership and Runberg Architecture Group.

Now, it's not like people have never talked about collaboration before. The difference is that more team members are talking about its importance. What do you think? Do you think this is a noticeable trend?

 

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Area’s first commercial building made of cargo containers up for sale

Posted on December 16, 2011

In February of 2010, I wrote this story about an office building in Georgetown that was constructed of reclaimed cargo containers. The owner, Jay Stark, said it was the first project of its kind in the country.  I also produced this video-tour of the space at the time. Here is our story from Dec. 16 about the sale.

Now,  nearly two years later, the space is for sale for $1.5 million. Sadly, it was a foreclosure. I

GeorgetownShowroomPhoto_big
haven't spoken to the owners so I don't know what happened but it's too bad things likely didn't turn out as planned.

The slight upside is that it will be really interesting to see who buys the site when it sells. I recently spoke to Evan Lugar of Kidder Mathews, who is representing First Savings Bank Northwest on the sale. He said the bank has owned the property since August. He also said it's a tricky space to sell because it isn't typical retail or commercial and is unique. He's targeting creative businesses.

The building is made of 80 percent recycled materials by weight. The complex has two buildings, which are each made of six cargo containers that came from the Port of Seattle. They have halogen and fluorescent lighting, an efficient reverse-cycle chiller HVAC system, and windows with argon gas sandwiched between the panes for increased insulation. There is a rooftop deck with views of downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier.

Typically - the super green, innovative projects that have been built have been created with the intent of the owner using it for many years. (Houses don't count). The greenest commercial projects I've profiled over the years have been built or are being built by the Bullitt Foundation, the U.S. General Services Administration, a consortium involving the city of Portland, universities or by firms that intend to stay in a space for a long time.

My point is: they don't turn hands. Because of that, there isn't much information about the resale value and market for super green projects in the U.S. created for a specific client. People hypothesize uber-green buildings hold their value better and that there's more demand, but it's hard to prove - without proof. No matter what, this is just one building. But the more sales we see, the more accurately we'll be able to guage the true value of innovative sustainable buildings and whether it's the LEED credential or a building's inherent sustainability that translates as value.

As a sidenote, this is the second time spaces made of cargo containers or using "cargotecture" has been in the news in a week. Earlier this week, the DJC covered a new pilot project Starbucks drive though in Tukwila made of cargo containers. Here's our story and here's the story the AP ran based on our story.

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Northgate – what exactly is light rail’s urban development responsibility?

Posted on November 30, 2011

On Nov. 17, the DJC published this article I wrote about Sound Transit's Northgate light rail station. The Northgate station is one of three that will be part of Sound Transit's North Link light rail extension, running from the University District to Northgate Mall. The Northgate station is the only one that it above ground. Because of this, and a number of other factors, it is also the most complex of the three. It is designed by Hewitt.

The article centered on the station's design, and was based off a Seattle Light Rail Review

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Panel meeting I attended. The panel, which reviews the station's design, had a lot of criticism that is detailed in the story. Their main point was that the structure wasn't living up to its responsibility in helping to transform the neighborhood.

This is from the story:

Julie Parrett, who is on the review panel and the Design Commission, said this station is unique because the area around it is going through a transformation. Northgate was built for cars and a more suburban lifestyle, but today there is a city-wide effort to make it a place that works for pedestrians, residents and the surrounding community.

Thornton Place, she said, has helped set a standard for new development and the station can reinforce that. She said she doesn’t view the current design as helping shape a new Northgate.

“These are buildings and projects that are going to last for 50 to 100 years and we can’t forget that,” she said. “They do have a civic responsibility and right now, I feel like this building is really turning itself inward and not reaching out and not thinking in a conceptual way what its role (is) as a precedent or precursor in this area."

After publication, Ian Hernandez, a friend of mine, posted this comment on my personal Facebook page:

"Speaking of, great article on the North Link Northgate station the other day! Some of those panel comments crack me up - it's like they think that Thornton Place somehow turned that area into a shining jewel of urban transition, when it's really still just a bunch of crapshacks bordered by a giant movie theater and ugly parking garage."

Image courtesy Sky-Pix
Big, boxy Thornton Place certainly isn't perfect but it's better than the empty parking lot that used to be there. At least the space now offers movies and a few retail and eating options. Whether you like it or not, it's there. The question is what happens next and what is the light rail station's responsibility in helping to guide that change?

When I went to the last Northgate station open house, the audience members seemed generally pleased with the station design and some even commended Sound Transit for its work. The Light Rail Review Panel was quite critical, but it looks at the project with the eyes of people who have a responsibility of curating the city's future through projects and urban development.

Here's what's sure: The Northgate area is changing and light rail will be transformative, no matter what it looks like. Given these two things, how much does the station's design really matter? Does it need to serve as a bridge to the future or does it just need to be there? In a perfect world, what would you like to see the station look like?

Also, as a sidenote, this station will have restrooms unlike the ones at Brooklyn or Roosevelt.

Also, if you're really intersted in this topic, go to this open house on Dec. 8 at Aljoya Senior Apartments (a part of Thornton Place). Sound Transit says it has drawn up a "few options that show future urban design and development possibilities for this area south of the mall."

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Dan Bertolet looks at success, cost efficiency of Issaquah’s zHome

Posted on November 10, 2011

This is a guest post by Dan Bertolet, founder of Citytank and an urban planner with Via Architecture.

Over the past few decades designers and policymakers have been working to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, and solid progress has been made. Still, today in the United States buildings account for 49 percent of energy use and 46 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Successfully tackling the dual challenges of rising energy costs and climate change is going to take massive reductions of building energy use.

A conceptual holy grail for energy-efficient building design is a building that generates as much energy as it consumes, a.k.a. a zero net energy building. And that's the goal of a recently completed 10-unit townhome development in Issaquah, WA, known as zHome, touted as the “first multifamily, production, zero-energy, carbon-neutral community in the United States.”

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

Spearheaded by the City of Issaquah, the zHome project was awarded to David Vandervort Architects in Fall 2007, but subsequently the real estate bust forced the original builder to back out. Howland Homes took over in Summer 2008, and the project broke ground that September. Faced with financing challenges and delays, Howland then partnered with Ichijo, a large Japanese builder known for energy-efficient production homes, and the project finished in September 2011.

zHome was designed to achieve zero net energy use through efficiency measures that reduce consumption by about two-thirds, and photovoltaics (PV) that generate enough electricity to cover the remaining third---approximately 5,000 kWh per year. That requires a hefty amount of PV, and indeed, the south-facing panels that cover the roofs are a prominent feature. During the sunny summer months the PV produce more energy than the buildings need, and the excess is fed back to the grid. If the building operates as expected, that "banked" energy will offset the energy consumed during the dark winter months when PV output is low, the result being zero net energy use on an annual basis.

Energy-efficiency measures incorporated in zHome include ground source heat pumps that provide space heating and domestic hot water, heat recovery ventilation, a tightly sealed and highly insulated envelope (R38 wall, R63 roof, U-0.33 double pane windows), efficient appliances, LED lighting, switched outlets to reduce phantom loads, and a real-time energy monitoring system. (The project is also designed to reduce water consumption by 70 percent.)

So how much did all that extra stuff increase the cost? Asking prices for the units are relatively high for Issaquah: $385k for 799 s.f. 1-bedroom; $530k for 1350 s.f. 2 bedroom; and $625k for 1694 s.f. 3-bedroom. Apparently the free land and significant logistical support provided by the City weren't enough to negate the cost premium. Eventually the upfront investment in efficiency would be offset by savings in the energy (and water) bills, but given current energy prices payback periods are relatively long. Of course, if all the externalized costs of our energy were included it would be a different story, but unfortunately a carbon tax is not happening any time soon.

It remains to be seen if zHome will achieve zero net energy performance in the real world, and success will likely depend to some extent on the energy use habits of the occupants---one thing designers don't have much control over. In any case, whether or not a building can produce enough energy on site to hit net-zero isn't necessarily the be all and end all for sustainable design. Arguably, what's more important is the practice of "efficiency first"---that is, first figure out how to fully minimize the building's energy use, and then worry about how to supply the remaining energy demand.

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

For example, the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building is targeting zero net energy and incorporates cutting-edge energy-efficient design. But analysis suggests that it could have been even more efficient if it had been built to the European Passive House standard, in which case it would have required less PV, potentially reducing both cost and physical design constraints.

Furthermore, when you look beyond the single building and consider larger systems of buildings and energy production, in some cases powering a building from an offsite energy source may make more sense than struggling to max out on-site generation. And for buildings taller than about six or seven stories, there simply won't be enough solar energy impinging on the site to meet demand, even for a hyper-efficient building.

In conclusion, while the concept of zero net energy buildings may have its limitations, projects like zHome and the Bullitt Foundation building remain hugely important for making progress on energy-efficient design. That's because they challenge designers to (1) work within a highly constrained energy budget, and (2) explore the limits of on-site energy production. And then there's also the potential for the big win as the designs move into the mainstream. Indeed, Ichijo has ambitions to ramp up the zHome concept to high-volume production. It won't be a moment too soon.

Dan Bertolet is an Urban Planner with VIA Architecture. VIA thanks City of Issaquah Program Manager Brad Liljequist for generously providing a tour of zHome. All photos by the author.

P.S. The DJC's Green Building Blog has written extensively about this project. To read more, and follow its progress, type 'zhome' in our search bar.

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Will private developers pick up living buildings?

Posted on November 3, 2011

In Fremont, a different kind of living building is in the works: it's being built by a private developer.

The five-story, 120,000-square-foot building is being developed by Skanska and

Rendering_Brooks
is Skanska USA’s first development effort in the Seattle market. (Talk about a way to come to the market with green guns-a-blazing!)

Brooks Sports is the anchor tenant and will take 80,000 square feet and move 300 employees into the space in late 2013.  Skanska said it would lease the site from the owner, Fremont Dock Co. The site is at 3400 Stone Way N., next to the Burke Gilman Trail and near Lake Union.

This project is of course fascinating because it’s a living building, widely considered the toughest green building certification on the planet. But another thing that makes it stand out is who’s building it. All living buildings on this coast that I'm aware of are built by schools (University of British Columbia's CIRS project); nonprofits (the Bullitt Foundation's headquarters in Seattle); consortium's of city groups or donors (The Bertschi School Science Wing); or partnerships involving all of the above (the Oregon Sustainability Center in Portland). There's also a few home projects thrown in. These groups have various resources (tax credits, donors, endowments etc.) that a standard developer doesn't have access to.

Skanska's project in Fremont is the first I'm aware of to be built by a commercial developer on its own. Granted, it is being self-financed. But the fact that Skanska is building it means the company sees a future in living buildings. It's taking a chance! In the scale of things, it will be incredible to see how this project works out because it will inevitably be used as a living building test case for other developers.

Living buildings are fascinating creatures but they're not cheap. Generally, I'm hearing that developing a living building costs a third more than a standard project. Schools and nonprofits are willing to make that investment. But the formula gets more complex with private development. Adding to the complexity, Skanska is aiming for its project rents to be market rate.

Chris Rogers of Bullitt’s development partner Point32 says Bullitt's space will be market rate too, though it's being marketed towards environmentally-minded businesses and organizations. The Cascadia Green Building Council is one tenant. For these organizations, the environment is a critical part of what they do. For Skanska's more mainstream tenants, locating in a living building says they care. But Skanska's also got to do more convincing.

In this DJC article from last June, Peter Busby of Vancouver's Busby Perkins + Will said it cost his team $100,000 to go to living building status on two Vancouver projects. He said it generally costs $40,000 to have a project certified LEED gold. The Bullitt Center project is costing about $30 million, with Bullitt putting up half that amount and borrowing the rest from US Bank. Rogers of Point32 says a lot of the cost is a first-cost premium, because it’s the first time his team (or any team) is moving through a living building project of this size with the city. But there’s still a premium.

According to the International Living Future Institute, it costs $20,000 for living building certification of a building that is between 107,640 and 538,195 square feet.

Skanska’s project is also interesting because of what it could bring to the neighborhood. The end of Stone Way near Lake Union has a handful of stores but is kind of a dead zone. In a Seattle Times story, Ryan Gist, a neighbor called it "an odd, pseudo-industrial street that really doesn't do much for the neighborhood."

Once complete, the ground floor of this building will house Brooks' first ever retail concept shop. The goal is for the shop to act as a gathering place for the community and trail users.

There are some neighborhood concerns about the structure's height. Here's hoping a clean agreement can be made on that topic so this revolutionary project can move forward.

By the way, back in January, I wrote this post about the launch of Skanska's Seattle commercial development division. In it, I said:

"I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of  course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative."

I don't want to say I told you so but it's fair to say this project falls to the later half of that spectrum. Now the question is to see how it plays out.

P.S. It's interesting to see the architecture firms with living buildings under their belts. This project is being designed by LMN. Bullitt's is designed by Miller Hull. The Bertschi project was designed by members of KMD Architects. I'm going to be waiting to see how long it takes for the area's other big green architecture firms to add a living building to their project list. At the current pace, I'd bet we'd see another two or three pop up.

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