Developers shifting toward net-zero construction

More American real estate developers could be poised to enter the era of the net-zero-energy building, industry experts predicted during Urban Land Institute’s 2018 Spring Meeting in Detroit.

That drive to aim for net-zero energy in new construction and major renovation projects comes as building codes become more stringent and energy efficiency and renewable technologies become more cost-effective.

Developers said that unlike the scheduling for other projects, the team for a net-zero-energy building should start working together from day one, ULI reported in its coverage of the Detroit event.

“But the team must work together from the start,” said David Kaneda, a managing principal at the Oakland, California–based Integral Group and an expert on building energy efficiency. “Architects sometimes don’t talk to the engineers until later, but with a net-zero-energy building, engineering affects the building design from the very beginning and everyone should be involved.”

A net-zero-energy structure produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements, thus reducing the use of nonrenewable energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Net-zero structures use cost-effective measures to reduce energy use through efficiency and include renewable-energy systems that produce enough energy to meet remaining needs. Net-zero buildings lower environmental impacts, lower operating and maintenance costs, are more resilient to power outages and natural disasters and improve energy security.

Yolanda Cole, senior principal and owner of Hickok Cole Architects, a large commercial architecture and interiors firm in Washington, D.C., noted that a vast majority of net-zero buildings have been completed in sunny California. However, Hickok Cole Architects undertook the net-zero-energy renovation of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in the historic neighborhood of Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. 

“It was a retrofit of a 65,000-square-foot building that was coming to the end of its useful life,” she said. “The AGU wanted to change the way they worked and become a role model and catalyst for others.”

Working closely with the engineering, contracting and AGU teams, Hickok Cole used a municipal sewer heat exchange system to recover thermal energy from wastewater.

Beneath the street near the building was a large combined storm and sanitary sewer line built in the 1890s. The municipal sewer heat exchange system will tap into the sewer line and divert wastewater to a settling tank outside the building, Cole said. Water from the settling tank will then be circulated inside the building to an exchange system that will extract energy from the water for heating and cooling before the water is returned to the sanitary sewer system.

Net zero matters to developers, too. 

Andrew Bush, founder of Boulder, Colorado–based Morgan Creek Ventures, said his firm recently developed a 100,000-square-foot mixed-use net-zero-energy project powered by a full solar roof array and an east-facing, exterior solar wall.

Morgan Creek has overseen more than 1 million square feet of commercial development across the United States, including one of the first commercial interior spaces in the country rated platinum by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and one of the first net-zero multi-tenant buildings in Colorado.

“We model everything. And we continuously learn,” he said. “Then we go on to the next project — repeat, refine, and expand. … Lenders like net-zero buildings because lenders believe in lower operating costs. We’re getting there.”


Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Cost of Ownership, Going Green, GREAT GREEN HOMES, Healthy Homes, Rebates / Tax Credits, Sustainable Communities, Trends / Statistics

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