Tag Archives: Measuring performance

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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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