Tips from the Architect: Be Kind to Your Wallet and the Environment with Zero Energy Building

December 17, 2016

Every year Catalano Architects attends the Architecture Boston Expo (ABX), the largest building industry event in the region.  We explore the hundreds of exhibits, demonstrations, and products on the showroom floor and attend conferences outlining various innovations in the field. We at Catalano Architects pride ourselves on our efforts to incorporate green building practices into our projects, so we often seek out conferences and workshops geared toward green solutions.

One of this year’s workshops, entitled “Zero Energy and Cost Competitive – Can These Go Together”, focused on the cost competitiveness of building Zero Energy projects and the advancement of Zero Energy specifications for both commercial and residential buildings. According to a report by the Massachusetts Zero Net Energy Buildings Task Force, “a Zero Energy building is one that is optimally efficient and, over the course of a year, generates energy on site using clean renewable resources in a quantity equal to or greater that the total amount of energy consumed onsite.”

There are many ways to work towards lowering energy consumption and towards generating energy on-site. Solar Electricity is one cost efficient way of generating energy. Solar panels convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity, which is then converted into alternating current (AC) electricity by inverters. The building then uses the AC electricity. Solar energy can be used to fully power a building or to offset electricity purchased from the grid. If the building produces more energy than it needs, this extra energy may be sold to the electric companies. Solar energy is a great option for all types of buildings.

Another way to incorporate renewable energy into your building is through various heating and cooling systems.  There are many options for this, including:

·      Air Source Heat Pumps: This system uses the temperature of the outdoor air to heat or cool a building. These require electricity to operate but can do so at three times the efficiency of traditional electric heating.

·      Ground Source Heat Pumps: This system uses the temperature underground to heat or cool a building. Ground Source Heat Pumps also require electricity to operate, but they are considered the most efficient type of heat pumps, using 65-80% less electricity than traditional electric heating.

·      Biomass Heating: These systems use organic matter (similar to the way a traditional boiler or furnace uses oil, propane, or natural gas) to produce heat for a building.

The higher up-front cost of implementing renewable energy sources is typically offset within a few years by the energy savings of the building.  A well-integrated design process will consider the energy source during preliminary phases of design and can incorporate this into the design, which will reduce the capital costs as well.

As we head into winter, a time when we consider the energy efficiency of our houses, renewable resources are a great option to keep in mind. Zero Energy buildings offer interesting and creative new design considerations, and we at Catalano Architects are excited to continue our work with green building solutions.

Additional Notes:

For more information on Zero Energy and other green initiatives, visit the links below.

Special thanks to the ABX presenters of "Zero Energy and Cost Competitive - Can These Go Together?":

  • Jacob Knowles LEED AP - Director of Sustainable Design - BR+A Consulting Engineers

  • Paul Ormond - Energy Efficiency Engineer - Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER)

  • Alex Pollard LEED BD+C - Energy Efficiency Commercial Programs Manager - Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER)

  • Carter Scott - President - Transformations, Inc.