Building a Net Zero Future

Green building is not a fad; it is the future of the AEC industry and it is already shaping our built environment.

Just recently the USGBC announced the certification of the 20,000th LEED commercial project, and the newest version of the green building program, LEED v4, has more stringent requirements for energy and water use, material life cycle analysis, indoor environmental quality in addition to a new focus on an integrative design process and building performance after construction. Not only more prevalent, green building is becoming even greener.

But how do we reach beyond LEED? In response to The 2030 Challenge, California has adopted a Title 24 building code revision mandating that all new commercial construction be Net Zero Energy (NZE) by 2030. This goal will push the industry beyond the bounds of LEED and CALGreen, shifting away from the construct of creating buildings that do less harm to the environment to ones that actual do good.

We all know that renewable energy technologies are required to achieve net zero energy buildings, but how do we actually get to net zero? Early coordination coupled with a balance of active and passive strategies optimize energy-efficient design for high performance buildings and net the most significant energy savings. Reducing energy load demands is a key component. There are many ways to effectively reduce energy consumption such as integrating advanced building systems, incorporating lighting controls, completing commissioning to ensure systems are functioning as planned and per energy models, and even designing buildings to maximize daylighting.

In California more rigorous requirements for building controls and commissioning will go into effect on July 1, 2014 under Title 24, paving the way for more energy-efficient buildings and use of renewable energy sources, whether now or in the future. With these changes, many of the methodologies for reducing energy and monitoring loads will no longer be optional, but rather mandated by building code getting us one step closer to a net zero future.

The Zero Net Energy Center, an educational and training facility for electrical workers from IBEW Local 595 and the NECA Northern California Chapter, created quite a buzz within the community when the project completed in May 2013. Featured in both Forbes and Rolling Stone, the Center garnered the attention of a broad audience and was the first ever retrofit to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as a zero net energy building. Presented at a recent CoreNet Global Northern California Chapter Meeting, project architect Galen Grant of FCGA Architecture held copies of both magazines and declared, ”It doesn’t matter what side you’re on; it’s time to be green.”

A convergence of issues around design, sustainability, and social responsibility are transforming the market and creating new opportunities and green building strategies. Pushing the envelope of the widely adopted LEED standard is the next big thing for the green building industry and will get us closer to realizing net zero energy buildings.

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