2015 ForeverGreen Awards Program

USGBC Central Pennsylvania hosted their 2015 ForeverGreen Awards program on October 22, 2015.  The event was held at The Bond in York, PA.  The Bond is a beautiful old building which has been renovated by Royal Square Development in the art district of York City.  Their philosophy at The Bond is to provide a blank canvas for any event with an incredible backdrop of gorgeous finished atop a rustic, industrial framework of a historic building.

The nights top winners included:

Dickinson College – Field House

Hershey 19 East Project – Next Century 

Penn State Intramural Sports Building  

Connellsville Area Senior High School 

Educational Activities Building – Penn State Harrisburg

Ohiopyle State Park Office Laurel Highlands Falls Area Visitor Center

Brook Hill Residence

Indian Valley Intermediate School

Honorable Mentions Included:

Merck KGaA Life Sciences 

The Millworks – Harrisburg 

Prologis/Georgia Pacific – Shippensburg

Did you know? Buildings can make us happier and more productive

Did you know that we spend nearly three quarters of our life indoors?  For most of us, nearly half of that time is spent at work.  This is astounding considering the current conditions of the workplace.  An office with poor ventilation, no daylight, bad HVAC and terrible lighting… Sound familiar?  A recent study by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) shows that over time, these conditions start to take a serious toll on both our mental and physical health.

So what do we do about it?  What are the solutions?

Healthy Buildings Are A Basic Necessity

For years we have looked at buildings as a functional necessity to house “components”, when in actuality they are critical environments which can either improve or decline our health.  I am going to dissect for you some areas where we can improve the built environment in terms of wellness and hope that you will consider incorporating some of these into your office or real estate project.  We will also explore emerging design trends for high performing buildings and look at how they can drastically improve our workplace.

Per the WGBC report, here are some areas to focus within your building to maximize worker productivity:

Indoor air quality: A comprehensive body of research suggests that better indoor air quality (low concentrations of CO2 and pollutants and high ventilation rates) can lead to productivity improvements of 8-11%.

Thermal comfort (Does your space feel hot or cold?): Research demonstrates that thermal comfort has a significant impact on workplace satisfaction and modest degrees of personal control over thermal comfort can return single digit improvements in productivity.

Lighting and views of nature: Several studies have estimated productivity gains as a result of proximity to windows, with experts now thinking that views from windows are probably the more significant factor, particularly where the view offers a connection to nature.

Noise and acoustics: Research suggests that being productive in the modern knowledge-based office is practically impossible when noise provides an unwanted distraction. This can be a major cause of dissatisfaction amongst occupants.

Interior layout: The way the interior of an office is configured (including workstation density and configuration of work space, breakout space and social space) has been found to have an impact on concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity.

Active design and exercise: Health can be improved through exercise, and so active design within a building, and access to services and amenities such as gyms, bicycle storage and green space can help to encourage healthier lifestyles of building occupants. An example of active design can be standing desks, collaborative work spaces, a urban/campus environment (encouraging walkability between buildings) or even strategically locating stairs to encourage their use instead of elevators.  More info on Active Design can be found here –

Given these numbers, the total sum of the opportunity for improved productivity is in the 10-20% range which could prove to have large impacts to your company’s bottom line.  This is in addition to ability to gain or retain more talented employees.

Why Green Buildings are the solution:

Green buildings are designed and constructed to limit the amount of energy and natural resources used while at the same time creating the healthiest living environment possible for the occupant.  The term “green” is used because the buildings are better for the environment.  Statistics also show that in addition to these benefits, the buildings can save owners/operators of the buildings a lot of money over the duration of the facility.

Green Buildings Can Reduce

Green Buildings allow for balance within your building.  You can evaluate all of the critical impact areas of your facility:  Site, Energy, Water, Materials and Comfort – And choose what works best for you.  Green Building rating systems such as LEED® can provide you with a road map to create an ideal work environment for you and your business. To learn more about LEED® and the green building rating system, please visit

Emerging design trends are increasingly focused on occupant wellness and healthier environments.  The Living Building Challenge and the WELL Building Institute are definitely worth looking into if you are planning a new project.   Their philosophies push the limits past conventional design and force us to be creative in our approach to our buildings and how we interact with them.  Philosophies such as Biophilia (that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems) are now being used to design spaces and Green Buildings are being built to regenerate instead of degenerate our resources.  The hope is that one day all buildings are healthy, interactive, creative, generative and accessible to all people.

Twelve West Office - Portland, OR

Twelve West Office – Portland, OR

Let’s talk ROI:

What is the most expensive “component” within your business?  Is it energy?  Is it the building? Actually, it is the people!  Your employees… Salaries, Healthcare, Benefits… Cost of personnel is 90% of running a business. That means the cost of the building is only 10% of the cost of operating a business but it has the largest opportunity to make a positive impact on the personnel.  It’s time we begin investing more into the comfortability of the workplace and making it healthier for our employees.  Studies prove that the healthier and more comfortable that our employees are, the happier and more productive they become.  This means retaining and growing talented people and creating a work environment which helps them instead of hurts them.

Operational Cost Breakdown

Findings of the WGBC report conclude:

Costs of ill-health vary by sector and country, and are rarely comparable, but the impact is clear:

  • The annual absenteeism rate in the US is 3% per employee in the private sector, and 4% in the public sector, costing employers $2,074 and $2,502 per employee per year respectively.
  • Poor mental health specifically costs UK employers £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence.
  • The aggregate cost to business of ill-health and absenteeism in Australia is estimated at $7 billion per year, while the cost of ‘presenteeism’ (not fully functioning at work because of medical conditions) is estimated to be $26 billion.

How to start… Conduct a workplace survey:

I challenge you to start by creating a simple workplace survey of your employees and get feedback.  The survey will allow you to measure what is working well at your business in terms of the building, comfort, workplace habits, expectations and happiness.  This survey should be confidential and will serve as a baseline.  From here you will be able to target areas that seem to be the largest potential impact for your business and start to slowly make improvements.  Like any system or process improvement, you must track the impact, report back to the group and continue to monitor these improvements until you receive the desired outcomes.  It may be a good exercise for your leadership to reexamine your company philosophy and goals around employee happiness and productivity.

Areas of focus for the survey may include:

  • General information about the employee (age, sex, department, distance from work)
  • Impressions of the building/company in general
  • The role of sustainability
  • Building fabric and systems
  • Office Design/Layout
  • Location/Amenities
  • The workplace and me
  • Employee engagement
  • Move-in questions after occupancy

For more resources, please visit:

World Green Building Council –

Whole Building Design Guide –

International Well Building Institute –

Living Building Challenge –

Cargas Office Building In Lancaster, Pa Achieves LEED Silver

Cargas Systems is a local, family run business in Lancaster that has sustainability woven throughout its culture.  This culture starts from the top down with their innovative founder Chip Cargas.  Chip believes in creating a workplace that is fun, environmentally friendly and is dedicated to customer service.  From the early stages of planning, Chip and his team at Cargas were committed to incorporating sustainability into their office.  Chip was primarily focused on energy savings, daylighting and a minimalist approach with materials.  The envelope was designed to be highly insulated and allow for the maximum amount of daylight through skylights and large windows on the south face of the building.  Also on the south face of the building are solar panel covered sunshades on the exterior and Trombe walls on the interior.  In the winter, these trombe walls act as heat sinks and absorb the winter sun and radiate that heat throughout the interior space, reducing the cost of heating the building.  In the summer months, the solar sunshade absorbs the sun before it enters the building.


Cargas Office Building, Lancaster, Pa

Cargas Office Building, Lancaster, Pa

The major design strategy which remained throughout the entire project was sustainability and comfort.  Chip Cargas and his company (National Award Winning Business for Sustainability through the Green Plus Program) were dedicated to this process and implementing green strategies which made sense over the long term.  Another unique aspect of the building which is truly sustainable is that the structure was built to easily add a second story in the future.  The building was completely designed for vertical expansion to limit the impact to the surrounding area which is a fantastic concept.

Early in the design process, a charette was conducted to determine the LEED Credits which were both feasible and necessary to receive the High Performance Building Grant. Through the use of an energy model we were able to determine an approximate payback cost for using a variety of systems. The team compared using water source heat pumps, rooftop VAVs, and geothermal heat pumps. We finalized on using geothermal heat pumps. We submitted for and were approved for the high performance grant, which had us on track for LEED Platinum Certification. During the design-build phase, it became apparent that the cost for achieving the high performance building was more than the grant had to offer. The HVAC system was then revised to a water source heat pump (still highly efficient) with a roof top cooling tower and high efficiency gas boiler. The final outcome was a solid and very energy efficient LEED Silver building (nearing Gold Status) that was built both within budget and on schedule.

Cargas Custom Bike Rack

Cargas Custom Bike Rack

A very important design strategy that was included in the project was the inclusion of a 50 kw Solar Photovoltaic array.  This array provides 20% of the electrical demand for the entire building which coupled with the 40% more efficient HVAC & Lighting system, reduces the overall building energy consumption by over 60%!  This is a remarkable feat for a new building.

The construction process included many different aspects for the subcontractors involved.  Training on LEED, the process, waste management, indoor air quality management and general green building practices.  The end result was a team effort from all parties involved, including the ongoing training and education which is provided by Chip and his staff to various local organizations and schools.

Trombe Walls at Cargas Office

Trombe Walls at Cargas Office

Some Of The Unique Green Aspects Of The Building:

  • 53 kw PV Solar Array which provides close to 20% of their annual energy
  • Water source heat pump system for heating and cooling (Utility bills average $.20-.50/sf)
  • Trombe walls to act as a heat sink inside the main windows of the building
  • Highly Efficient Glazing with sun shades and blinds to control sunlight and heat
  • Lighting control systems to dim entire areas when natural daylight is available
  • Flexible design for vertical expansion in 5-10 years (can add a 2nd story)
  • 100% Low VOC Materials
  • Local materials were a focus
  • Recycled content of materials was high (Over 20%)
  • Custom bike rack and shower facilities (numerous employees bike to work!)
  • Preferential parking for low emitting and high efficiency vehicles

Their new office building is located at the old site of the Lancaster Stockyards (contaminated site).

Check out some of the before photos here :

Cargas is an innovative business focused on custom software and technology for a broad range of industries.

Cargas Celebrates 25 Years!

Cargas Celebrates 25 Years!

Learn more about their company here:

Feel free to share your success stories with me on twitter!


Shippensburg University Student Housing Project Profile

Presidents Hall

Presidents Hall pays homage to various architectural features found across campus at Shippensburg University
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.


Shippensburg University Student Services, Inc. (SUSSI) is an independent non-profit organization that serves as the voice for the student community regarding policies that govern the general welfare of students.  SUSSI hired Campus Apartments (CA) to assemble the design and construction team which consisted CUBE 3 Studio (Architect), Greenman Pedersen, Inc. (MEPFP, Structural and Civil Engineers) and Fortune Johnson Inc. (General Contractor).  The purpose of the project is to replace several on-campus student housing buildings in multiple phases.  Phase 1 consists of Buildings 1-3 (306,436 SF) and Phase 2 consists of Buildings 4-6 (284,128 SF).  A third phase is under consideration.  It was determined early in the project by Campus Apartments that LEED Certification and Sustainability would be a focus for the project.   The buildings themselves are comprised of a series of suite and semi-suite units with a bathroom shared by every 2 students.  There are main common lounges, study lounges and laundry rooms on every floor.  At the main entry level, there are a series of larger assembly areas for student interaction and for the academic portion of the University to co-utilize.


1.  ENERGY EFFICIENCY – The buildings have provided the students with flexibility of comfort within their suites through the use of a North America’s Largest VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) System with each suite having its own terminal unit to control temperature.  This approach allows one suite to utilize cooling while the next is heating, to meet the individual needs of the students.  VRF reduces energy usage by nearly 25% over a conventional unit by unit HVAC system.  All of the buildings are tied to a campus wide building management system which allows the University to setback all of the HVAC systems when the units are unoccupied and save nearly 20% energy on an annual basis.  Given the entire buildings envelope and HVAC system, the buildings will reduce the overall energy usage by 16% annually per the energy model required to be submitted for LEED (actual usage and savings noted below).

2.  WATER USE REDUCTION: Each building was provided with at least one water fountain that had a bottle filling function built in.  This element was used to help encourage the students to reuse water bottles, creating a smaller waste stream.  The fountain keeps a running tally of how many bottles have been saved.  Low flow fixtures were used in every possibly situation throughout the facility giving the total water use reduction of over 40% annually.

3.  REDUCED DEVELOPMENT IMPACT: The siting of the buildings was done in a way to utilize previously developed sites within the core of the campus, while not disturbing the existing residential buildings housing students, and providing the students with meaningful outdoor spaces at the conclusion of each Phase of the project.

Each Dorm Room Allows For Fresh Air, Daylight and Quiet Surroundings resulting in maximum comfort for the students

Each Dorm Room Allows For Fresh Air, Daylight and Quiet Surroundings resulting in maximum comfort for the students
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.

4. RESPONSIBLE MATERIAL USEAGE: Where possible local materials were purchased and used on the project giving it over 20% regional material usage.  The major ones included Steel, Masonry (York, Pa), Drywall (Baltimore, MD), Paint (Frederick, MD) and Acoustical Ceiling Products (Lancaster, PA). Also over 10% materials contained recycled content.

5. IMPROVED ACOUSTICS – It was a main focus of the project team to provide a high quality studying environment inside their dormitory.  Many studies show that the quieter the environment, the more productive the student and the easier it is to retain the information they are studying.  For that reason each unit was constructed with special insulation and sealants giving an incredibly high STC rating of 55 to the units.

Open Lounges For Students To Convene

Open Lounges For Students To Convene
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.

6. IMPROVED INDOOR ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY – The students are given the opportunity to control their own environment within each dormitory unit.  The HVAC, lighting and windows all enable the student to provide themselves with optimal comfort.  The buildings receive maximum ventilation (100% outside air HVAC systems).  Studies also show that productivity and alertness go up with the level of fresh air inside a building.  All low or no VOC products were used

7. STUDENT ENGAGEMENT – The design and construction team has engaged with the Shippensburg University Student body to educate them about the benefits of green building.  The students have been very excited to learn about the reduced impact on the environment their new campus will have once the entire new student housing is occupied.

Fooseball, Pool Tables, Flat Screens - Great amenities for any college student

Fooseball, Pool Tables, Flat Screens – Great amenities for any college student
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.

8. DAYLIGHTING AND VIEWS – Each dormitory unit includes a large operable window for the student to achieve the maximum amount of daylight and views of the outside.  They also have the opportunity to open these windows to give added ventilation to their space.

9. COMMUNITY CONNECTIVITY – Numerous bus routes are located on campus which allow for the occupants to take advantage of public transportation.  Also, naturally being on a campus, there are many amenities within walking distance for the students such as dining services, shipping and receiving, recreational areas and classrooms.

All the comforts of home right inside the new student housing facilities

All the comforts of home right inside the new student housing facilities
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.

10. RESILIENCY – Given the nature of the occupants and the usage of the facility, the design team worked closely with the maintenance team from the university to specify and use resilient materials.   Materials that were easy to replace or repair were also used such as Acoustical Ceilings and Carpet Tiles.

11. WASTE DIVERSION – 98% of the demolished buildings were salvaged through an extensive scrapping, crushing and stockpiling operation.  Nearly 12,000 cubic yards of concrete was salvaged for the future use of the University on a roadway project.  Anywhere from 75% to 98% of construction waste was salvaged during the construction project (varied by building).  Each building also has dedicated areas for the students to recycle all of their waste materials.

12.GREEN POWER – The development team offset the energy usage for the Phase 1 buildings by purchasing 70% green power (Renewable Energy Credits) for two years.  The offset is 4,117,914 kWh which is equivalent to the following:

The removal of


passenger vehicles from the road for a year



tree seedlings and growing them for ten years



acres from being deforested for a year

Avoiding the carbon emissions from consuming


gallons of gasoline

Avoiding the carbon emissions from consuming


barrels of foreign oil

Avoiding the carbon emissions from burning


railcars worth of coal


Post-design and pre-construction (during the demolition and compaction grouting process) Fortune Johnson facilitated extensive collaboration using BIM software.  Use of BIM and collaborative meetings amongst the construction team allowed the team to raise potential field conflicts early in the project and identify them through the RFI and Submittal process.  This streamlined the pre-construction process and eliminated conflicts later in the project.  Pinpointing these conflicts and eliminating them early in the project reduced delays, errors in the field which would need to be corrected, extra material and waste, etc.


McLean Hall II
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.

The design and construction teams work closely throughout the project to come up with solutions, on the fly, that meet the various goals of the project (schedule, budget, quality, maintenance and LEED considerations).  Also given the Phased approach and maintaining the design and construction teams, there have been many lessons learned and improved efficiencies amongst the teams moving into the second phase.  This makes for a better finished product, a more efficient schedule and improved cost savings.


Our team found a variety of different challenges, especially in the construction process.  The project consisted of major demolition, and demolishing old buildings have challenges from both a safety and sustainability standpoint.  The older buildings contained hazardous materials which were remediated appropriately and then the large structures could be demolished.  To salvage as much of the old buildings as possible was a significant challenge.  Being on a college campus, the amount of area to perform these activities were limited and there was large scale crushing and sorting operations going on around the clock to maintain the schedule.  Nearly 98% of the demolition debris was salvaged.  Metal (rebar and steel) was stripped from the old buildings and the concrete and masonry was crushed for stockpiling and reuse by the construction team on future projects.

Given the type of construction, multi family, there were varying levels of experience from subcontractors pertaining to LEED projects.  Some had zero experience and some had extensive experience.  This can always pose a significant challenge when preparing and documenting all that is required for the LEED certification.  The construction team held various training courses for the bidders and subcontractors both on the documentation and material management on-site.  This went a long way toward educating the subs who were less familiar with the LEED process.


Seavers Hall
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.

Wood frame construction poses a unique indoor air quality challenge in that it can be susceptible to mold when exposed to the elements for extended periods of time.  The general contractor did enlist an environmental consultant who treated the buildings to prevent such issue but it was a constant battle until the buildings were completely dried in.  Buildings were tested for air quality prior to enclosing them to ensure the highest indoor air quality.

The soil composition in the Shippensburg region is considered “karst”.  In addition to having to blast massive amounts of rock, these karst soils can become unstable underneath of the large buildings.  Soil depressions were encountered during construction which caused delays to the project but also compaction grouting fields were constructed underneath each of the buildings to support them and ensure that settlement did not occur given the soil composition.


Phase 1 was completed on-time and within budget with students occupying the building in December of 2012.  Phase 2 began in January of 2013 and is slated for occupancy in August of 2014.  Each building was fully occupied after they opened and upon completion of Phase 2, the project will house 2,688 students during the school year and various visitors throughout the summer.  In the first year of occupancy (2013) the University projected that they saved 7,500,000 gallons of water and 1,500,000 kWhr of energy usage.  These are truly high performing green buildings.  While the energy modeling was only able to capture/project 16% savings from baseline/code energy usage, what we have seen from real usage of the buildings incorporated with the universities set back of the buildings, the savings are much greater as seen below.  The buildings are saving between 37% and 51% compared to what is required by code.

Energy Consumption Summary Based on First Year of Occupancy (2013)

Energy Savings By Building (Percentage) Energy Savings – Actual usage vs. baseline code (As Buildings Are Being Operated) Actual Energy Usage Measured by SU Projected Energy Usage in LEED Energy Model (16% better than code) Projected Energy Usage Required By Code

















The projects will become the first LEED Certified (Certification of Phase 1 anticipated Q1 of 2014) on campus. The engagement with both the Staff & Students has shown Shippensburg University that Green Buildings can be aesthetically pleasing, resilient, healthy for the occupants and energy efficient.  They also can be really fun spaces for the students to live in.  All of these aspects engage the occupants on a higher level.  The hope is that the students, occupants and staff understand how buildings can in fact improve the environment and improve our life.  Ultimately this is the goal for green building and we feel that these student housing projects speak to what is possible in terms of sustainability in the built environment.

Shippensburg University

Shippensburg University
Photo Courtesy of Fortune Johnson, Inc.

GreenBuild 2013 – Tips for your Philly visit!

This year I will be attending my third GreenBuild Conference & Expo.  With the previous two experiences I have learned a couple of tips & tricks which may make your trip even more memorable!

1.) Schedule some time before or after the conference to take in the local scenery – My last trip to Chicago unfortunately I missed out on this and still regret it to this day.  Philadelphia is full of art, culture and exciting venues to check out – I highly recommend any of the following activities during your visit:


2.) Take advantage of the exclusive tours made available to you through the conference – Yes they may have a fee associated with them but they may be exclusive, once in a lifetime tours that shouldn’t be passed up

Take a half day tour of Philadelphia’s Navy Yard and learn how they are reinventing their campus into a sustainable model for the 21st century

3.) Take the train – There is nothing cooler than the train.  Free wifi, a comfortable seat, great views, food and beverages… Not to mention, it’s about the most sustainable way to travel.  Also, pricing is very reasonable when you compare against driving/parking and flying.

4.) Enter to win the prizes – At my first GreenBuild Conference I won a TV, the second I won an iPad… Enough Said!  The conference offers a fun scavenger hunt called “Passport to prizes” which I encourage you to try and many of the vendors have great giveaways.  It’s fun, it’s a conference, it’s about the free swag… Enjoy it.

5.) Find a cause – GreenBuild isn’t all about shameless promotion of the vendors.  MANY non-profits and small organizations will be in attendance sharing their mission and their vision and looking for support.  Here is a list of “Partners” who are involved in this years conference  Do yourself a favor – Find a cause that resonates with you and get involved.  When you return home, feel free to find your local chapter and volunteer your time or money to helping the cause.

6.) Treat yourself to at least one good meal – If you are in seminars or on your feet on the expo floor all day, the chances are you don’t get to eat very well during the day.  Take the time to research the local scene and find a good restaurant.  Treat yourself to one good meal when your there and make sure to invite some friend you have met at the conference.  Book in advance!  Here are some good spots around the convention center:

All in all, I hope that you have a fantastic conference and it leaves you motivated to take what you have learned and your new found connections back with you to propel the movement of sustainability.

Here are some quick stats about this years conference:


Green Apple Day Of Service


Mark Kurowski (K&W Engineers) and I taking part in the Green Apple Day Of Service

What is the Green Apple Day Of Service?

USGBC and The Center For Green Schools created this annual event to engage people around the world and give them an opportunity to give back to their community.  The goal is to educate children/students about sustainability in their very own backyard.  They have a fantastic website ( which has tracked, organized and reported on the thousands of service projects that have been going on around the world on September 29, 2012.

Who was involved?

Our local Green Apple Service event was coordinated by The Emerging Professionals Committee of USGBC Central Pennsylvania.  In just a couple of weeks, Sarah Knehr and Justin Kovaleski were able to secure over $1500 in donations for trees/mulch/tools and round up 30+ volunteers to help.  People of all backgrounds came out to chip in… Professional engineers, occupational therapists, construction workers, parents, children and college students.  It was great to see such a positive response to the event and really inspired me to do more projects like this on an ongoing basis.  Penn State Harrisburg and their newly founded USGBC Student Group was there with numerous volunteers.  Penn State Harrisburg also visited with Middletown Area Middle School students this week to teach them about green buildings and the environment.

Penn State Harrisburg USGBC Student Group

What did we accomplish?

We accomplished many things today…  We connected people… We improved City Island by planting 15 trees… We supported a struggling city in need (Harrisburg)… We educated students about giving back… and most of all We Had FUN!  People really do enjoy rolling their sleeves up once in a while and getting dirty.  It was great to see so many smiling faces and people really looking to help each other with this project.  I even got to see a mom teach her two middle school age children how to plant a tree… quite remarkable!

How can you get involved and support future projects like this one?

Become a volunteer with your local chapter of the US Green Building Council… Our website in Central Pennsylvania is  Our chapter covers 37 counties throughout Central Pa and includes large areas such as State College, Lancaster, Berks, York, Harrisburg, Carlisle and Chambersburg.  We have many great committees doing good work and fun interactive events on a monthly basis.  Check here for upcoming events!

Donate now… Non-profits like USGBC Central Pa need financial resources in order to continue to provide community service projects, educational programs and to advocate for sustainability to local and state government.  Please consider donating today to ensure this organization can continue to support sustainability in your community for years to come.

Zero Energy Buildings: Myth Or Must?

As the immediate needs for more environmentally friendly and energy efficient buildings become more and more apparent, a logical question begins to come into focus: Where does it end?

Many in the design and construction community believe the answer is Zero Energy Buildings.  Zero Energy is a term used to describe a building that consumes as much energy as it generates in a given year or net zero.  Conversely, carbon emissions, which are directly related to the energy consumed, are zero. This is not to be confused with the notion that the building consumes zero energy all together.  This would be nearly impossible given all of the HVAC, Lighting, and Life Safety System demands that are needed to operate a building, especially a commercial one.  The key is to reduce the amount of energy consumed to the lowest possible amount and then create that amount of energy on-site by renewable means.

Here is a DOE’s database of Zero Energy Buildings in the US Today:

Science House (Minnesota) is a Net Zero Building Used as A Teaching Tool

It all starts with the building envelope and conservation: 

This encompasses the entire surrounding perimeter of the building including the roof, the walls, fenestration (windows/glass), and the foundation below.  The envelope is the first building system which must be optimized to achieve the most efficient building possible.  Several new building envelope concepts have emerged, most notably the use of air/vapor barriers and insulation on the outside of the building in lieu of the traditional installation on the interior of the building.  Driving this concept is the fact that thermal bridging has been found to drastically reduce the functional R-Value of an exterior wall when substrate and exterior finishes are attached directly to the framing of the building with no layer of thermal protection on the outside.  Not only must a building envelope be well insulated but it must also need to be sealed well enough to prevent air leakage.  Air leakage is one of the top reasons for energy loss in existing buildings today.

Click here for a link to a great resource, the passive haus institute on more information to maximize envelope efficiency:

System Optimization & Proper Sizing: 

The next step to achieving net zero energy consumption in a building is through the optimization of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems that operate the building.  Virtually on a monthly basis new mechanical, electrical, lighting and plumbing equipment are released to the market with increased efficiencies.  Designers are finding new ways to integrate these systems and make them efficient as possible.  Also, these systems need to be engineered to be properly sized and configured based on the envelope and the anticipated demands of the occupants.  After occupancy, the use of building management systems, smart controls and variable settings on equipment have all helped to integrate these systems and provide constant feedback on the amount of energy being used at a given time.  The proper sizing and smart usage can combine to reduce the energy consumption by nearly 50% by using highly efficient systems and equipment.

For more information and great articles on optimizing energy efficiency in buildings:  Check out the M-Files Blog

Studies and energy models have shown that maximizing both the envelope and the major building systems can reduce the energy consumption of a building by 70% (over the baseline energy usage established by ASHRAE 90.1).   Where does the remaining 30% come from?

On-Site Energy Generation:

The final step of achieving net zero energy consumption is through the generation of on-site energy for use by the building or the purchase of renewable energy through a green power provider.  The plausibility of generating your own energy or using renewable energy sources has increased recently due to a heightened awareness and a drop in costs (avg solar array runs between $3.50 and $5.00 per watt).  Systems that incorporate energy recovered from these various systems are becoming more of a common place for those planning to construct a new building: Solar, Geothermal, Cogeneration, Energy Recovery, Micro turbines, Wind and hydroelectricity.  Utilizing this energy locally first, at the building location, is where the remaining 30% reduction occurs.

Whether Net Zero is Feasible or Not, Raising the bar is a Must:

Buildings and optimizing their performance must be a focus for the design and construction communities because they have the single largest impact on the environment today (and the costs of operating our buildings).  Our collective commitment to creating buildings that perform optimally from a comfort, consumption and generative stance is imperative.  Finding creative ways to reduce energy (as much as fiscally possible) and then operating these buildings in an optimal manner is a must.  I am confident that the technologies and the strategies will continue to evolve and netzero will eventually become commonplace.

The Living Futures Institute (Creators of the Living Building Challenge) has now implemented a Net Zero Certification Program, for more information, go here: