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Zero-Energy Building: Better for New or Existing Buildings?

December 18, 2012 | 0 comments

Is zero-energy design more achievable in new construction or existing building environments? Some professionals debate that zero-energy buildings (ZEBs) are easier to complete when they’re newly constructed vs. working with an existing building.

There are existing buildings, however, that have been successfully retrofitted to achieve net-zero-energy status. Here are four inspiring examples:

  1. The IDeAS Z2 Design Facility, located in San Jose, CA, was a 1960s concrete cube before it was transformed into a zero-energy building. The retrofit involved a new design allowing the building to produce more energy than it uses. The building makes use of solar power by harvesting the sun’s rays via a rooftop-mounted photovoltaic system. Quality insulation, energy monitoring equipment, daylight harvesting, and high-efficiency HVAC and office equipment all helped IDeAS reach this zero-energy goal.
  2. Painters Hall in Salem, OR, underwent an extensive renovation in 2010. The 1930s industrial building started its path toward zero-energy status by focusing first on deep energy conservation. After cutting back on energy use as much as possible, the owners then looked into 100-percent solar power. Its 20.2-kilowatt rooftop solar system produces more energy than the building needs for its café, office, art gallery, and event venue, so excess electricity pumps well water through the building’s geothermal loop.
  3. The U.S. General Services Administration is currently renovating the 92-year-old Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. After completion in January 2013, this renovation will turn the facility into the country’s first net-zero-energy historic building. Geothermal heating and cooling, a solar panel array, window film, and lighting fixtures that adjust based on natural light all help the building reach zero-energy status.
  4. An existing building at the BCA Academy was retrofitted into a zero-energy building in 2009. The building houses green classrooms and offices, and also functions as a test-bed for green building technologies. Low-e glass, natural light, energy-efficient lamps, automatic switching via photosensors and daylighting, and an advanced building management system all helped this building reach ZEB status.

To read some of our other blog posts on zero-energy buildings, check out Zero-Energy Buildings: How Do They Do It? and The Future of Energy Efficiency: Net Zero Energy Buildings.

Would you ever consider retrofitting your building to achieve zero-energy status? Why or why not?


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