The Second Step in Creating a Net Zero Building: Creating the Energy Team

At Page, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of green architectural design, the implementation of sustainable practices, and we strive for environmental friendliness and cost effectiveness in every building we design. In a series of posts, Page Associate Principal and Senior Design Architect Peter Hoffmann details the methodical approach that Page used for a net zero-targeted multifamily project for the benefit of other designers also seeking to create an energy- and cost-efficient building.

The Second Step in Creating a Net Zero Building: Creating the Energy Team

An important consideration at this point is assembling the right team for the task. The success of any energy reduction building project is directly correlated to how early a team begins to integrate this aspect of a project into the overall design process.  For all but the most experienced owners, assembling the core of the energy team should precede establishment of the owner’s project requirements so that the energy team can contribute its knowledge base toward the goal definition and project requirement phases.

The owner of a greenfield multifamily project we'll call Riverside Apartments had done considerable research prior to engaging Page, but had numerous ideas under consideration and no defined targets for their strategy.  Page proposed that in light of the importance of energy to the project and the complexity of some of the systems, an energy programming phase should precede the typical schematic design phase. The client agreed and Page assembled a core team consisting including architects, engineers, energy modelers and cost estimators.

Putting together the right team involves a few key factors. Unlike the historical linear design process, cutting edge design today is more comparable to parallel processing in computers for two reasons.  First, systems in buildings today are complex and interrelated.  Changes to one system often has a significant impact to others. In a traditional design methodology, this would lead to a lengthy process of identifying and correcting the ripple effects of one decision through other systems, only to find that those corrective changes in turn impacted the initial system parameters. Having experienced team members from all relevant disciplines in a meeting at the same time allows a much more nuanced and cost effective exploration of systems and their relationships. Experienced energy team members with the ability to understand issues outside of their immediate area of expertise are therefore crucial. 

Second, because of that deeper understanding of system relationships by the energy team, the other similarity to parallel processing comes into effect: speed, or reducing the length of the design schedule by evaluating options and their impacts in real - or close to - real time at a conceptual level. Given the ever-increasing demand for compressed design schedules and speed to market, this is an important factor. Thus having a dynamic team on board early improves the quality of the design process while simultaneously shortening the overall schedule. 

In the case of the Riverside Apartments, the Page-led energy team included a cost estimating firm that had substantial experience pricing cutting edge mechanical and energy systems.  Initial assistance to the owner in developing project goals and project requirements was handled primarily by the architectural and energy modeling teams. Based on a very conceptual energy model created by the energy team, the design team was able to establish that a net zero site energy strategy and LEED Platinum certification were realistic goals and add them to the owner’s project requirements.

This is the second in a series of posts on designing NetZero, or low energy consumption, projects based on a white paper by Page Associate Principal Peter Hoffmann. To see previous posts, click the links on the right hand side of the page.