More aggressive energy performance requirements for new construction are being integrated into building codes in a number of states, giving rise to more passive house design and net zero building construction. In fact, net zero buildings have recently been built in student housing, affordable housing and even conventional market rate apartments.
During the 2016 OPTECH Conference & Exposition, Mary Nitschke, director for ancillary services at Prometheus Real Estate Group, led a discussion on these trends with Lori Hanson, manager for operations at Greystay; Rachel Kuykendall, senior program manager at the Association for Energy Affordability; and Robert Schock, senior vice president at Yaroo Company.
Hanson kicked off the discussion by describing a net zero community as one that on an annual basis produces as much or more energy than it consumes and that such efficiencies can be achieved through the latest in proven energy saving and solar technologies. While these technologies have often been considered out of reach for the average developer, Hanson said that’s changing. She estimates that there are currently approximately 3,500 net zero buildings in the United States.
She stated that there are two primary aspects of achieving a net zero community. First, she recommended a focus on reducing energy use by incorporating high performance glass, high efficacy lighting, upgraded insulation and high efficiency heating and cooling systems into a project’s design. Second, she called for the use of solar panels to provide the entire energy load for the building.
While net zero development results in the highest level of energy performance, Schock explained that passive building design can also significantly reduce a building’s ecological footprint and reduce utilities through more careful design. A rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency, passive design results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. At its simplest, it means wrapping a building in a blanket of concrete and insulation to negate heat loss.
In some cases, utility savings from passive structures can be as much as 80 percent. While more popular in Europe than in the United States, there is currently a large-scale project under development in Kansas City.
Kuykendall focused on the Living Building Challenge, a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy that defines an advanced measure of sustainability.
The holistic program is comprised of seven performance categories called petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of 20 imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence. This approach can be applied to almost any building project or existing structure.
While the three approaches to energy efficiency differ in their difficult and rigor, each promised to return significantly more savings than conventional standards and development practices.
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