Tag Archives: Energy efficiency

4 Ways to Make Your Office More Energy Efficient

The following post is by Alaska Structures:


Every workplace has its upsides and drawbacks. Whether it’s the quality of the coffee in the break room or squabbles over cleanliness of shared areas, navigating the politics and interested parties of an office environment can be taxing. One thing everyone can get behind is energy efficiency and using resources more effectively, but as with every project in the workplace, getting started requires a budget, a manager, and a dedicated team to see it through to completion. Especially if you’re a small business or startup struggling to make ends meet each month, it’s possible to simultaneously improve both your workplace and bottom line with a few smart energy efficiency upgrades and strategies.

Educate Your Employees

Every office has a few key figures who are noticeably wasteful or ignorant to their lack of eco-friendly habits, but they may not be leaving the refrigerator door open or the sink running on purpose. Investing in energy-efficient tools and appliances will only fully pay off if everyone on your team gets behind the initiative. And as anyone who has dealt with HR or employee criticism will tell you, it’s important to consider your approach when implementing energy-efficiency standards and initiatives.

The good news is that going eco-friendly in your office can be fun! Aside from the ideal scenario in which no lights are left on in empty rooms and all computer equipment being shutdown at night, the potential savings is huge. By informing employees of the cost-saving potentials and offering financial rewards in exchange for reaching benchmarks could help engage your employees into action.

Use Power Strips and Smart Lighting

Connected electronics often use “phantom energy,” or energy drawn and used even when the device is switched off. Investing in higher-quality power strips with scheduled on/off times and smart power utilization methods is a great first step, but sometimes the simpler route is just as effective. Have each employee unplug their machines at the end of the day will have a tremendous short and long-term impact on your bottom line. Otherwise, you can retrofit many electronics with smart Wi-Fi plugs to ensure they turn off automatically after regular business hours.

Installing a smart lighting system can also help reduce your energy costs while improving indoor comfort levels in the workplace. Replacing older bulbs with smart Wi-Fi connected models is expensive, but many may even last longer than traditional LEDs – some models claim to last 15 years during regular use.

Invest in New Space

While it’s generally easier to find and relocate to a more energy efficient office environment, some industries call for more specialized real estate to grow and expand their operations. As energy experts tell us, it’s crucial that energy efficiency standards are considered in the very early stages of the project to ensure complete adherence during construction and finalization in new spaces.

Many in the industrial sector have turned to high-performance polyvinyl fabric buildings to help bring down their energy costs and maintain profit margins as their business expands to a new facility. Because modern fabric buildings are low maintenance and quick to assemble, organizations with remote locations, camps, or secondary facilities outside of their headquarters have invested in portable fabric buildings. They’re also a great cost-saving alternative to brick-and-mortar buildings thanks to the natural light and comfort that comes with the energy efficient design and engineering that comes with higher-end fabric structures.

Make a Few Key Upgrades

Studies have shown that laptop computers are nearly 80% more energy-efficient than their desktop counterparts. Not only will switching to laptops help reduce the amount of energy expended in your office, they’ll save room in the workplace and allow your employees the flexibility to jump up and bring their work home or at a nearby coffee shop if so desired.

Finally, swapping out your office’s old refrigerator for a new Energy Star-rated unit will have a near immediate impact on your energy consumption and most importantly, your monthly bill.

There are plenty of strategies employed by business owners to maximize their company’s cost-saving potential and we hope more of an effort to improve energy efficiency across the board begins to catch on in throughout the business world as solutions become more and more affordable for companies of any size.

Alaska Structures has manufactured fabric buildings for industrial and commercial applications around the world since 1975.

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NFL strikes gold with new 49ers’ stadium

Levis StadiumThe new home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers has achieved LEED Gold status, a first for an NFL stadium. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, has many green features, including a green roof, solar-paneled pedestrian bridges and a solar-paneled roof deck. But, its most crucial green feature may be the state of the art grey water system.

Up to 85 percent of all water used in the 68,500-seat stadium comes from recycled water. A recycled-water pressure booster system taps into the Santa Clara Valley Water District water recycling system, eliminating the need to use freshwater to flush toilets and irrigate the natural grass field and green roof.  The system is powered by Bell & Gossett brand pumps.

“A recycled-water pressure booster system ensures adequate water is available when everyone goes to the bathroom at one time, like halftime at a football game,” said Mark Handzel, Vice President, Product Regulatory Affairs, and Director, HVAC Commercial Buildings.

The stadium’s water assessment estimates the recycled-water pressure booster system will save over 42 million gallons of water per year. And there are twice as many toilets in Levi’s Stadium as were in Candlestick Park, the 49ers’ former stadium.

The stadium uses highly efficient building systems by Bell & Gossett, including:

  • The centrifugal pumps were selected for the recycled-water pressure booster system.
  • The Rolairtrol air separators, Series 60 inline pumps, 1510 end suction base mounted pumps, and VSX double suction pumps were chosen for the hydronic systems.
  • A brazed plate and GPX gasketed plate, and frame heat exchangers were selected because of their high thermal efficiency for the condenser water system.

The Levi’s Stadium will host Super Bowl 50, next year, on Sunday, February 17, 2016.

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It’s time to redesign our neighborhoods

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

After participating recently in the King County Sustainable Cities Roundtable to discuss “Beyond Net Zero: Resilience, Regeneration, and Social Justice” Ron Sims agreed to an interview for the Daily Journal of Commerce’s Green Building Blog.

Q. As the King County Executive, you worked to promote sustainable development through policies, such as the green building and low impact development demonstration ordinances. And, as the Deputy Secretary of HUD, you got to see first-hand how communities across the country are addressing the issue of sustainability. From these vantage points, where do you think we should be focusing our energies?

Ron Sims

A. The neighborhood.  A well designed neighborhood correlates directly to a good quality of life. And that means things like community gathering places and safety, such as from crime, pollution; access to nature, such as street trees; and more transit options, such as walkability, and bike lending stations.  It’s easier to create new neighborhoods with these features than it is to redevelop existing neighborhoods, but we have to incentivize reinvestment that incorporates these design features for truly sustainable communities.

Q. How would you propose going about doing this?

A. I’ve never seen a developer turn down density bonuses in return for more bus stops, low-income housing, etc.  We need to get creative and open the door to more thoughtful mixed development, including residential options. We can tie some of this to demolition in an area. But we need to plan further out.  We need to ask the question: “What should this neighborhood look like in twenty years?”

Q. Sustainability advocates hold that sustainable development incorporates not simply environmental health, but economic vitality, and social equity, as well. Sometimes this gets lost in the development timetable. How can we do a better job of maintaining the prominence of all three legs of the stool as we try to practice what we preach in the field?

A.  I repeat: We need to begin planning long term to take advantage of opportunities as they come up, and to have a roadmap in place.  It’s by redesigning existing neighborhoods to be healthier, safer, greener that we’ll be addressing social equity, and the health of our economy.  Right now, energy efficiency is “hot.” But new technologies and new neighborhoods are still the domain of the well-to-do. It hasn’t gone viral. If we really worked on existing neighborhoods, we’d be addressing issues faced by the poor and culturally diverse.  You know, you can predict health and longevity rates by zip code.  Neighborhoods should and will still have their personalities, their “feel,”  but every neighborhood should have the basic green features I mentioned earlier.

Q. Is there a leverage point that sustainable advocates can focus on to bring about better neighborhoods and a better quality of life for all?

A. There’s actually two.  Most people are unaware, but at HUD we learned that the most significant cause of mortgage defaults in this past recession was the cost of transportation —  it amounted to 42% of income. This was often in excess of the 34-36% of income of the average mortgage. If someone lost a job that required them to have a car, they were still left with a car payment. So better transportation planning (including infrastructure improvements) would help.  Energy costs was another big chunk of the reason for defaults — 28-30%, so the emphasis on energy efficiency is good.

Q. With the specter of climate change-related disasters becoming more real, there has been a greater focus among sustainability advocates on “resilience” in the face of catastrophes. Disasters seem to bring out both the best and worst of us. How do we prepare and use the opportunity to course correct for the greater good?

A. I’m repeating myself, but it’s to plan, plan, and plan again.  We learned a lot from the Nisqually Earthquake; we were able to apply what we learned when 9/11 happened.  After the earthquake we decided we needed to build a structurally and technologically sound center that could function independently.  We learned to plan for the “worst” case — and not the best “reasonable” case.  We had to plan, memorialize in writing, and train.  Going forward, we need to take climate change and related disasters into consideration when we are re-designing our neighborhoods — particularly the infrastructure side of things.

Q. Last question: What advice would you give young green building professionals and public sector advocates who are looking to be leaders in the kind of sustainable transformation  you are talking about?

A. People think change is easy. I like to say, we are running a marathon, but because we’ve run out of a lot of chances, we need to do it at a sprinter’s pace.  Will this be rewarding every day? No it won’t be. Will it be a long path? Yes it will be.  If you believe that what you are doing serves the greater good, some day (not now) you will be able to take a deep breath, reflect on what you’ve been able to accomplish, and say WOW.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.


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Dan Bertolet looks at success, cost efficiency of Issaquah’s zHome

This is a guest post by Dan Bertolet, founder of Citytank and an urban planner with Via Architecture.

Over the past few decades designers and policymakers have been working to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, and solid progress has been made. Still, today in the United States buildings account for 49 percent of energy use and 46 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Successfully tackling the dual challenges of rising energy costs and climate change is going to take massive reductions of building energy use.

A conceptual holy grail for energy-efficient building design is a building that generates as much energy as it consumes, a.k.a. a zero net energy building. And that’s the goal of a recently completed 10-unit townhome development in Issaquah, WA, known as zHome, touted as the “first multifamily, production, zero-energy, carbon-neutral community in the United States.”

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

Spearheaded by the City of Issaquah, the zHome project was awarded to David Vandervort Architects in Fall 2007, but subsequently the real estate bust forced the original builder to back out. Howland Homes took over in Summer 2008, and the project broke ground that September. Faced with financing challenges and delays, Howland then partnered with Ichijo, a large Japanese builder known for energy-efficient production homes, and the project finished in September 2011.

zHome was designed to achieve zero net energy use through efficiency measures that reduce consumption by about two-thirds, and photovoltaics (PV) that generate enough electricity to cover the remaining third—approximately 5,000 kWh per year. That requires a hefty amount of PV, and indeed, the south-facing panels that cover the roofs are a prominent feature. During the sunny summer months the PV produce more energy than the buildings need, and the excess is fed back to the grid. If the building operates as expected, that “banked” energy will offset the energy consumed during the dark winter months when PV output is low, the result being zero net energy use on an annual basis.

Energy-efficiency measures incorporated in zHome include ground source heat pumps that provide space heating and domestic hot water, heat recovery ventilation, a tightly sealed and highly insulated envelope (R38 wall, R63 roof, U-0.33 double pane windows), efficient appliances, LED lighting, switched outlets to reduce phantom loads, and a real-time energy monitoring system. (The project is also designed to reduce water consumption by 70 percent.)

So how much did all that extra stuff increase the cost? Asking prices for the units are relatively high for Issaquah: $385k for 799 s.f. 1-bedroom; $530k for 1350 s.f. 2 bedroom; and $625k for 1694 s.f. 3-bedroom. Apparently the free land and significant logistical support provided by the City weren’t enough to negate the cost premium. Eventually the upfront investment in efficiency would be offset by savings in the energy (and water) bills, but given current energy prices payback periods are relatively long. Of course, if all the externalized costs of our energy were included it would be a different story, but unfortunately a carbon tax is not happening any time soon.

It remains to be seen if zHome will achieve zero net energy performance in the real world, and success will likely depend to some extent on the energy use habits of the occupants—one thing designers don’t have much control over. In any case, whether or not a building can produce enough energy on site to hit net-zero isn’t necessarily the be all and end all for sustainable design. Arguably, what’s more important is the practice of “efficiency first”—that is, first figure out how to fully minimize the building’s energy use, and then worry about how to supply the remaining energy demand.

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

For example, the Bullitt Foundation’s Living Building is targeting zero net energy and incorporates cutting-edge energy-efficient design. But analysis suggests that it could have been even more efficient if it had been built to the European Passive House standard, in which case it would have required less PV, potentially reducing both cost and physical design constraints.

Furthermore, when you look beyond the single building and consider larger systems of buildings and energy production, in some cases powering a building from an offsite energy source may make more sense than struggling to max out on-site generation. And for buildings taller than about six or seven stories, there simply won’t be enough solar energy impinging on the site to meet demand, even for a hyper-efficient building.

In conclusion, while the concept of zero net energy buildings may have its limitations, projects like zHome and the Bullitt Foundation building remain hugely important for making progress on energy-efficient design. That’s because they challenge designers to (1) work within a highly constrained energy budget, and (2) explore the limits of on-site energy production. And then there’s also the potential for the big win as the designs move into the mainstream. Indeed, Ichijo has ambitions to ramp up the zHome concept to high-volume production. It won’t be a moment too soon.

Dan Bertolet is an Urban Planner with VIA Architecture. VIA thanks City of Issaquah Program Manager Brad Liljequist for generously providing a tour of zHome. All photos by the author.

P.S. The DJC’s Green Building Blog has written extensively about this project. To read more, and follow its progress, type ‘zhome’ in our search bar.

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Will private developers pick up living buildings?

In Fremont, a different kind of living building is in the works: it’s being built by a private developer.

The five-story, 120,000-square-foot building is being developed by Skanska and

is Skanska USA’s first development effort in the Seattle market. (Talk about a way to come to the market with green guns-a-blazing!)

Brooks Sports is the anchor tenant and will take 80,000 square feet and move 300 employees into the space in late 2013.  Skanska said it would lease the site from the owner, Fremont Dock Co. The site is at 3400 Stone Way N., next to the Burke Gilman Trail and near Lake Union.

This project is of course fascinating because it’s a living building, widely considered the toughest green building certification on the planet. But another thing that makes it stand out is who’s building it. All living buildings on this coast that I’m aware of are built by schools (University of British Columbia’s CIRS project); nonprofits (the Bullitt Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle); consortium’s of city groups or donors (The Bertschi School Science Wing); or partnerships involving all of the above (the Oregon Sustainability Center in Portland). There’s also a few home projects thrown in. These groups have various resources (tax credits, donors, endowments etc.) that a standard developer doesn’t have access to.

Skanska’s project in Fremont is the first I’m aware of to be built by a commercial developer on its own. Granted, it is being self-financed. But the fact that Skanska is building it means the company sees a future in living buildings. It’s taking a chance! In the scale of things, it will be incredible to see how this project works out because it will inevitably be used as a living building test case for other developers.

Living buildings are fascinating creatures but they’re not cheap. Generally, I’m hearing that developing a living building costs a third more than a standard project. Schools and nonprofits are willing to make that investment. But the formula gets more complex with private development. Adding to the complexity, Skanska is aiming for its project rents to be market rate.

Chris Rogers of Bullitt’s development partner Point32 says Bullitt’s space will be market rate too, though it’s being marketed towards environmentally-minded businesses and organizations. The Cascadia Green Building Council is one tenant. For these organizations, the environment is a critical part of what they do. For Skanska’s more mainstream tenants, locating in a living building says they care. But Skanska’s also got to do more convincing.

In this DJC article from last June, Peter Busby of Vancouver’s Busby Perkins + Will said it cost his team $100,000 to go to living building status on two Vancouver projects. He said it generally costs $40,000 to have a project certified LEED gold. The Bullitt Center project is costing about $30 million, with Bullitt putting up half that amount and borrowing the rest from US Bank. Rogers of Point32 says a lot of the cost is a first-cost premium, because it’s the first time his team (or any team) is moving through a living building project of this size with the city. But there’s still a premium.

According to the International Living Future Institute, it costs $20,000 for living building certification of a building that is between 107,640 and 538,195 square feet.

Skanska’s project is also interesting because of what it could bring to the neighborhood. The end of Stone Way near Lake Union has a handful of stores but is kind of a dead zone. In a Seattle Times story, Ryan Gist, a neighbor called it “an odd, pseudo-industrial street that really doesn’t do much for the neighborhood.”

Once complete, the ground floor of this building will house Brooks’ first ever retail concept shop. The goal is for the shop to act as a gathering place for the community and trail users.

There are some neighborhood concerns about the structure’s height. Here’s hoping a clean agreement can be made on that topic so this revolutionary project can move forward.

By the way, back in January, I wrote this post about the launch of Skanska’s Seattle commercial development division. In it, I said:

“I’m curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn’t be able to. Of  course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.”

I don’t want to say I told you so but it’s fair to say this project falls to the later half of that spectrum. Now the question is to see how it plays out.

P.S. It’s interesting to see the architecture firms with living buildings under their belts. This project is being designed by LMN. Bullitt’s is designed by Miller Hull. The Bertschi project was designed by members of KMD Architects. I’m going to be waiting to see how long it takes for the area’s other big green architecture firms to add a living building to their project list. At the current pace, I’d bet we’d see another two or three pop up.

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