Amory Lovins Interview, Continued

BUILDINGS - Smarter Facilities Management


Amory Lovins Interview, Continued

Energy Strategies Special Report - Part 2 of 6

BUILDINGS:  You’re a proponent of integrated building design. Any recent work in that area? Is there a perfect building type?

LOVINS: As an example of where good design can lead, I might mention some work we’ve been doing for Gerry Hines and Art Gensler on an integrated building design that we think will redefine market expectations in both the build-to-suit and the spec markets.

Suppose you integrate the following elements in a very careful way:

1.   Deep daylighting, so the whole floorplate is flooded with glare-free natural light.
2.   Super-efficient direct and indirect lighting.
3.   Very efficient plug loads.
4.   No or very small and efficient HVAC, depending on the climate, and underfloor displacement ventilation.
5.   No or almost no dropped ceiling.
6.      Superwindows that insulate typically as well as eight to 12 sheets of glass, but look like two, cost less than three, and are tuned to have different infrared properties on different elevations.
7.   Careful shading and massing of the whole design.
8.   Optimized dimensions of structural bays.
9.   Optimized surface optics on the outside of the building – for example, rejecting solar absorption but radiating away heat well in the infrared.

If you combine those things artfully, then compared with the best codes in the country, like California Title 24, you save about half the energy if you cannot influence tenant loads; if you can, you save at least three-quarters. You’ll fit six stories, not five, into the 75-foot low-rise limit, but the ceilings will be six inches higher. That does quite a bit for economics. You’ll get unprecedented quality of lighting, thermal comfort, air, and acoustics – in fact, the building will be so silent that you may want to put in a waterfall as an acoustic mask. The airflow and temperature will be under the individual control of each worker. The reconfiguration costs when you move people around in the space will be almost eliminated, because all the power and signal wiring is plug-and-play under pop-up floor and carpet tiles. Capital costs will be the same as normal or slightly less, mainly because mechanicals will be sized [to reflect] the very low cooling loads and the effects of underfloor displacement, and construction will be simpler and six months faster.

As far as a perfect building, it’s pretty close. And I should add we are consistently seeing in buildings with superlative lighting, thermal and acoustic comfort, and air quality about 6- to 16-percent higher labor productivity.

BUILDINGS:  What about the existing stock of buildings?

LOVINS: As for retrofit, it’s a very rich area. I still have to gently wipe away the drool as I go through most commercial spaces looking at lighting systems, because we now know how to save   70 to 90 percent of the lighting energy … and the space would look better and you’d see better, with paybacks of typically one or two years, counting both the energy savings and the maintenance savings.

Lighting improvements are almost a no-brainer, and sometimes there’s no capital cost. I was at a big office the other day that had terrible glare, and I just went along the interior of the curtainwall adjusting the venetian blinds properly, so the inner edge angled up somewhat to bounce the sunlight up on the ceiling while keeping the blinds from looking too bright. In fact, adjusting venetian blinds properly is a lost Victorian art that I try to reteach.

BUILDINGS: Is there an evolution in building design under way?

LOVINS: I think the next revolution in commercial building design is in two parts.

One is increasingly passive buildings. We’re already seeing some in the 100,000-plus square foot range, for example, that use all passive ventilation – no fans.

Secondly, you have to do the right things in the right order. Consider, for example, how to provide comfort in hot weather. First, you would expand the range of conditions in which people feel comfortable. There are about 10 ways to do this. For example, a ceiling fan at an airspeed that will not blow the papers off your desk can buy you about 9 degrees F. of high-end comfort. And displacement ventilation has important effects as well, although they’re achieved in quite a different way. An Aeron® chair keeps your backside several degrees cooler because you’re sitting on a ventilative mesh rather than insulating upholstery. And the list goes on like that…

This just takes a highly integrative design. It’s not rocket science; it’s good Victorian engineering rediscovered.

Let’s think for a moment about lighting retrofits. People will normally say, “A lighting retrofit: Well, I’ll change what’s in the luminaire. I’ll use better lamps and ballasts and maybe imaging specular  reflectors, and maybe I’ll do something about controls.” That’s starting at the wrong end of the problem. To get there with the greatest capital cost savings and best performance, you’ll do seven things – which are actually in the fundamentals part of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Handbook but often get ignored:

1.   First, improve the visual quality of the task. If people are having trouble reading the paper because the image is blurry off the photocopier, go clean the dust out of the photocopier optics.

2.   Second, improve the geometry of the space. If there’s some bright luminance glaring in your computer screen, move things around so the light isn’t behind you any more. And improve the cavity reflectance – especially the ceiling, then the floor, and then the walls so light bounces around better in the space.

3.   Next, improve lighting quality. Cut veiling reflections, particularly through more indirect light distribution, and get rid of discomfort glare. When you walk in many offices, you will fail the baseball cap test. If you put your hand on your forehead to shade your eyes like a baseball cap, and you feel your face muscles relax, that’s a flunk. It means something too bright in your field of view is causing you discomfort.

4.   The fourth step is to optimize the lighting quantity. Look at what’s actually recommended for office space [according to the IES Handbook]. It is not 50, or 75, or 100 footcandles. Ambient is typically about 15 or 20. That will vary according to whose eyes, an individual’s age, how tired they are, how difficult and important the task is.

5.   Fifth step is to harvest or distribute natural daylight.

6.   Sixth step is to optimize the technical equipment – the luminaires. This is where you get to the lamps, ballasts, reflectors, and so on. It is Step 6, not Step 1.

7.   And the seventh step is controls, maintenance, training – and that’s a whole other conversation.

Again, if you do the right things in the right order, you’ll save more money and produce better results.  But I’m afraid most practitioners don’t do that.

BUILDINGS: You make it sound so simple.

LOVINS: It’s common sense, but it comes from whole-system design. And that isn’t how we normally do design. It has become highly specialized, and also within organizations it’s hard for departments to talk to each other.

BUILDINGS: And asking different questions – as you did in the soft energy path?

LOVINS: If you ask the wrong question, of course, you get the wrong answer. We find in design it’s much more important and difficult to ask the right question. Once you do that, the right answer becomes obvious.

We’re often taught in design school that design is the art of trade-off and compromise, as if it were a process of negotiating with yourself so you can’t get what you want. That may be a good political process, but it’s a bad design method. Our friend J. Baldwin realized this one day as he was being taught this nonsense while looking out the window watching a pelican catch a fish. He said to himself,  “What this lecturer is saying can’t possibly be right, because nature does not compromise, nature optimizes. That pelican,” he said to himself, “is not a compromise between a seagull and a crow. It’s the best possible pelican (so far).” So if you find yourself needing to compromise between desirable design objectives, it typically means you haven’t yet quite gotten to the correct statement of the design problem. Keep at it and you’ll get there, and typically it will give you everything you wanted, plus a lot of cool stuff you didn’t think to ask for.

It will also typically achieve multiple benefits from single expenditures – a superwindow gets 10 kinds of benefits; a premium motor or dimming ballast gives about 18 each. Why are we just counting one?  The arch that holds up the middle of my house does 12 different things, but I only pay for it once. This is the kind of design we need to encourage and reward – for example, by paying architects and engineers for what they save, not for what they spend. We’ve tried such “performance-based fees.” They yield much better designs.

Continue Article >> Part 3) Rocky Mountain Institute: Approach to Energy

Linda K. Monroe ( is editorial director at Buildings magazine.


Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.

Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.

When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality. 

Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.

Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.

When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality. 

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