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October 27, 2022

Delivering campus energy and carbon savings 14 years ahead of schedule at UW Seattle

  • Founder’s Hall is designed to achieve a 79% reduction in energy consumption over the first 60 years of its life.



    The University of Washington relies on its 2020 Sustainability Action Plan for campus planning, which has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2035, among other essential targets. As a replacement for an older 1960s building, the new Founder’s Hall needed to be highly sustainable to fit into a new campus plan for the future of the UW. PAE’s vision for the project was one that could contribute to the overall goal of energy and carbon reduction and future-proof the design. As a result, Founder’s Hall is designed to achieve a 79% reduction in energy consumption over the first 60 years of its life.

    “When we first started on the project, we needed to balance the UW building standards with the project needs: to fit within the budget, allow the maximum program area as possible, offer ongoing low maintenance, and more,” says Allan Montpellier, PAE principal.

    The mechanical and electrical engineering design was a fine balance of overarching needs that demanded vision and a steadfast team to pull it off, which Founder’s Hall had in spades. One of the strategies that PAE acted on was putting priority investment in the elements of the building that had the most staying power. Future renovations might change walls and mechanical and electrical systems, but the building’s envelope and structure will remain constant, so the team invested in those as much as possible to get the best performance.

    Photo by Marissa Lordahl/Hoffman Construction [enlarge]
    The new building uses energy-saving passive heating and cooling strategies.

    As the first project on campus to use cross-laminated timber (CLT), the wooden beams helped create a sturdy structure that locks in carbon, while also offering higher floor-to-ceiling heights for easier mechanical system installation.

    For the building envelope, the solution was a high-efficiency envelope that allowed for passive house design strategies in the main wing. By investing in a tight envelope that performed extremely well, the team could reduce cooling or heating needs to such a degree as to be able to use an electric resistance heating solution through baseboard heaters along the perimeter. While electric heat is admittedly not as energy efficient as a heat pump, by putting more investment in the envelope the team could cut down on how often the heat was even used. This helped to reduce the overall carbon footprint. To put it more simply: It is very efficient if it is not on.

    Further passive strategies included proper ventilation and air recovery, with a highly efficient DOAS (dedicated outdoor air system) rooftop system that captured 90% of the energy being exhausted in the building, which dramatically impacted the energy savings. Operable windows and internal shades were key to offering tenants control, helping to increase comfort range. In a typical office building that has no operable windows, around 80-90% of people will feel mostly comfortable. Amazingly, that last 10-20% can be reached simply by giving occupants the option of pushing a button to open a window or turn on a fan. This allows for a higher range of acceptable temperatures, and therefore a lower energy usage to heat or cool a given space.

    A unique aspect the team undertook for the project was using the Target Performance Path to comply with the city of Seattle’s energy codes. Only a few projects in the Seattle area have pursued this method, as opposed to the Prescriptive Path, which lays out specific systems to use. The Total Performance Path allows building systems to be designed however the team would like, provided the Energy Usage Intensity (EUI) falls below a certain threshold after a 12-month period. If it doesn’t reach the target, the project can be fined based on square footage.

    While riskier if the EUI is not reached, the strategy meant that the team could pursue simpler mechanical systems and a less complicated install. PAE felt confident it could reach that lower EUI, and with buy-in from the university, LMN Architects, and Hoffman, it set out to coordinate the system to ensure the end result.

    “It was not an obvious choice,” says Mike Smolkowski, PAE project manager. “Only a few projects have gone down that path, we might have been the third or fourth, but we were very confident from our energy modeling and analysis that we could make it work.”

    PAE’s regenerative design lead, David Mead, led the modeling and analysis of the building, and credits the entire team for believing in the project. “It is a real success story from an integrative design standpoint. It is one of the more collaborative projects I have been on, and it really stands out for the integrative process.”

    During the schematic design phase, the analysis the regenerative design team provided was invaluable in helping demonstrate how the university could hit its energy goals. The team worked closely with LMN and even created a new tool for analysis, the Parallel Coordinates Tool. Based on energy load calculations, the tool runs through thousands of iterations to reach the ideal targets for performance, which then allowed the team to identify gaps in its designs. By translating that into clear targets for passive heating and cooling, the tool helped set the energy target and create models to achieve it.

    “It was a very smooth process working with the regenerative design team and getting the models,” says Smolkowski about the process of designing based on building analysis and models. “We would update energy loads, talk through glazing percentages, get the results from the analysis, and update the design until it was where we needed it to be.”

    Using the Parallel Coordinates Tool, the team was able to offer UW a clear demonstration of how it could reach the target sustainability plan emission goals, even across the entire campus. The university has hopes of reducing carbon emissions overall, but it also needs to build more buildings, which adds more square footage and more carbon. Rather than focusing on renovating older buildings to reduce carbon, Founder’s Hall demonstrates that new buildings can offer a substantial carbon savings by hitting, or becoming close to, net-zero carbon.

    Now that Founder’s Hall is open, the proving period of operation begins in order to assess EUI. “From a perspective of how the building looks, it is amazing,” says Mead. “The reality is that we won’t know the success from energy until a year or so under our belts. So far, it is looking very good.”

    The team has confidence in its design. “It is a huge success from a carbon sequestration and footprint standpoint,” points out Montpellier. “We have the balance of usable space and integration of systems correct, in my opinion.”

    With energy-saving passive heating and cooling strategies, carbon-sequestering CLT, and a long-lasting beautiful design, Founder’s Hall demonstrates how a campus with robust sustainability goals can be achieved with a dedicated integrative team and clear energy targets.

    Sarah Fischer is the marketing communications manager at PAE, where she creates compelling narratives and brand experiences to help achieve the firm’s vision to solve the planet’s energy and water challenges. Katrina Emery, marketing communication specialist at PAE, has been in the AEC industry for 10 years, and is an author with a guidebook on the historical Oregon Trail.

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