Real world examples of high-performance buildings cut costs and please end-users
High-performance buildings: That term is discussed in seminars, bandied about at conventions, and written about in more than a few magazine articles. But what does high performance really mean? How are high-performance buildings measured? And, most importantly, how can commercial building owners and facilities professionals create and operate high-performance buildings to maintain this efficiency?
Mapping Out a Beginning
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been grappling with these very issues for several years. Five years ago, the agency re-examined its approach to high-performance buildings research. “We started a process called roadmapping to revisit where we were spending our commercial R&D budget and to adapt our program’s focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy,” says Drury Crawley, High Performance Buildings Research initiative manager, Office of Building Technologies, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C.
For 18 months, the DOE collaborated with building owners, facilities managers, architects, engineers, and manufacturers on the roadmapping process. After this intensive process, the agency focused on four major areas:
Process change: changing the way buildings are designed, built, and operated. The agency would illustrate examples of true high-performance facilities.
Performance metrics: describing a building in terms of its performance.
Technology development: the DOE wanted to do additional research on some technologies, such as building controls and whole building integration.
Market transformation: broadcasting information to the building community through conferences, e-mail lists, and media interviews. High-performance buildings are recruited by the DOE for the database or the members of the building team can approach the agency and request to be included in the database.
“We really need to get the information out to people on what a good building is, describing the process, the technologies, how it works, the hard numbers [of] the financial benefits, the energy benefits, and if we can document the productivity and occupant comfort,” says Crawley.
Collaboration and Growth
The DOE’s High Performance database operates in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO, and features detailed case studies. This database represents the increasing maturation of the green design movement. Adds Crawley, “What we found is that none of [the other resources] had enough detail in them.” Previously, a number of charettes and workshops had been held; however, now the DOE decided it was time for an information-laden resource for the building community. The DOE portal of the database features extensive energy-saving information.
The agency worked with the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, CO, and the Green Building Advisor to determine the format and content of the database. Launched last May, the database currently displays complete documentation for 42 buildings, with another 110 facilities being added. This month, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) will begin inputting the winners from its Green Building Awards directly into the database. The AIA is working with the DOE to fine-tune the performance metrics listed on the site.
Presently, according to Crawley, the data showing end-user performance and satisfaction in relation to the built environment is limited. The DOE is gathering research in this area and following the developments of other government agencies, such as the General Services Administration.
According to Crawley, while the majority of interest in the site stems from design professionals, increasingly building owners have shown interest in energy-efficient design. “Building owners have said a lot of other case studies were fluff and glossy pictures and we would like to see more,” says Crawley. The High Performance Building database has proven useful to the building owner audience because of its financial information.
The database showcases a wide range of building types with a concentration in office and retail buildings. In the future, the DOE’s sister agency – the Federal Energy Management Program, along with the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, both based in Washington, D.C. – will be working to make the database a repository on all high-performance federal buildings. While the DOE portal to the database must feature energy-efficiency data either projected during the design stage or extracted from 18 months of utility bills, portals from other government agencies can be tailored to their own specifications.
Oakes Hall: Pioneering Meets Tradition
One of the notable facilities listed on the website is the James L. and Evelena S. Oakes Hall at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton, VT. Serving on average 300 students a day, Oakes Hall is the main classroom building for the college. Vermont Law School is one of the leading law schools specializing in environmental law. As such, there was overwhelming support to design, build, and maintain a green facility. “There is a devotion and recognition to having energy efficiency, so when a new building was planned, all of the constituencies – alumni, students, faculty, staff, and townspeople – had a great desire to produce a building that would be efficient. It is something the school believes in,” says Peter Miller, director of media relations, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT.
Vermont Law School is a private, independent educational entity on a 13-acre campus. Oakes Hall uses a wide array of thoughtful elements including:
The building is the first public, year-round facility in Vermont to use composting toilets, which require no water.
Its building envelope surrounds the building with a continuous layer of high-quality insulation, super-insulated windows, and airtight construction.
Oakes Hall, outfitted with occupancy sensors and end-user controls, only sends fresh, ventilated air into occupied rooms.
The building’s enthalpic energy recovery wheel in the ventilation ductwork controls humidity and recycles exhaust heat.
Fiber-cement siding replaces less durable, traditional wooden clapboards, thus reducing repainting needs.
Every feature of Oakes Hall was carefully considered for its efficiency, durability, and minimal usage of unhealthful substances. This high-performance facility was built with very competitive construction costs. “This is a model that can be replicated,” says Miller.
Careful consideration was also brought to the facility’s interior elements. To better handle moisture and mold issues, linoleum was chosen for the majority of the building’s flooring needs. In key areas where sound absorption was a major factor, such as the mock court room, Interface carpet was chosen. In addition to mock trials, the Vermont Supreme Court occasionally holds session in this courtroom. The building also features energy-efficient LED exit signs and compact fluorescent lamps, low mercury fluorescent lamps, and photoelectric lighting controls that complement the natural daylight to save energy.
“It is pioneering, although it appears to be a very traditional building,” says Miller.
BigHorn Center: Low Maintenence, High Customer Satisfaction
The BigHorn Home Improvement Center in Silverthorne, CO, is another surprising, pioneering facility. Typically, home improvement centers are no frills warehouse-style buildings. However, this 44,422-square-foot facility features numerous energy-saving innovations. Notable qualities are its extensive use of daylighting and a natural ventilation cooling system. Its roof-integrated photovoltaic system is the largest commercial PV setup in Colorado. The retail center was built in three phases, and its third phase houses a hardware store and lumberyard using environmentally responsible design.
“We have been interested for a long time [in] reducing pollution, and we found green design desirable for many reasons,” says Don Sather, owner, BigHorn Home Improvement Center, Silverthorne, CO. The retail center itself specializes in offering green building products and technologies.
Because of its energy-saving design, the center has a net metering agreement to sell electricity back to the utility company. Furthermore, the BigHorn building site is situated on wetlands, which were extended to help manage the facility’s storm water management.
“We have gotten a great deal of positive comments from the customers because this is a very desirable place to be and because of the use of daylight,” says Sather. In addition to the overwhelming positive customer response, the building has generated a high level of employee satisfaction and interest and curiosity from the surrounding mountain resort community. Several articles have featured this efficient example of the next generation of home improvement centers.
According to Sather, the group is still fine-tuning the PV systems to achieve the projected energy saving goals of 60 percent. Currently, the system is providing a 50-percent savings in energy, and the return on investment is scheduled for 10 to 11 years. Don and Betsy Sather were the driving force behind this project: assembling the design team, setting the agenda, and exploring the available technologies.
For example, instead of conventional large boilers, the facility sports four smaller boilers working in sequence. “Green design is definitely worth exploring. Many owners don’t want to spend the dollars up front to save money over the long term,” says Sather. Sather has learned the value of long-term thinking with his facility’s lower maintenance costs and inviting sun-filled design.
Lewis Center: Environmental Learning Tool
Learning green design lessons is what the Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH is all about. The college’s Environmental Studies program was rapidly outgrowing its cramped quarters. The program’s head, David Orr, wanted its new building to reflect the latest and most promising sustainability technologies and serve as a literal learning tool for students. After an exhaustive, open planning process, Orr raised most of the department’s funds to create the 13,600-square-foot Lewis Center.
“We had 13 charettes, and out of that [came] one strong theme … a building that would bring together environmental technology as it stands today. The [department] wanted a facility that would serve as a laboratory, a demonstration of what could be done on a campus and beyond,” says Cheryl Wolfe-Cragin, facility manager/lecturer, Environmental Studies, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH. Lewis Center was designed by famed architect William McDonough, Charlottesville, NC. The center’s numerous highlights include:
An abundant use of daylighting.
Occupancy sensors and photoelectric sensors.
Carbon dioxide sensors and automated operable windows.
Energy-efficient light fixtures.
A Living Machine wastewater treatment system where students provide daily maintenance.
A highly energy-efficient water-to-water heat pump.
The academic program works with the college’s maintenance and operations unions to have control of certain building maintenance and operations, such as landscaping.
In addition to her facilities manager duties, Wolfe-Cragin teaches environmental science courses and has a background in evaluating environmental health and safety on the campus. “A good portion of my job [in environmental health and safety] was to limit the liability of our institution. There are so many things in this building that were thought out thoroughly,” says Wolfe-Cragin. For example, carpet tiles and a raised flooring system were used for increased flexibility, and low-VOC paints and adhesives limit the occurrence of indoor air quality complaints.
So far, the program has only anecdotal information supporting the healthful environment of the Lewis Center, but there is no denying that the center has become a popular destination for social functions, lectures, film screenings, performances, and community meetings. The center has garnered praise, attracted students, and even helped to raise financial funding for the Environmental Studies department itself. Adds Cragin-Wolfe, “The collateral benefits to going green have been much more than I ever imagined.” The program is continuing to learn from the space and improve upon its design.
Currently, the Environmental Studies department is modernizing a residential building for use as laboratory space. Because of its scale and low-tech approach, this new project will present lessons for residential building owners.
The Lewis Center at Oberlin College and all of the high-performance buildings listed on the High Performance database are showing how energy efficiency can be achieved, as well as how better buildings can be created for future generations. These facilities are working examples of what can be achieved and how a holistic approach to facility design and management can raise the current standards of commercial buildings.
“It may sound corny, but I have an 18-year-old myself and I think more and more about what we are leaving in our wake,” says Wolfe-Cragin. “Institutions have such an impact when we make decisions, especially if they do so in a way where they can communicate with one another and share.”
Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.