The next revolution in Net Zero buildings: Occupants

What will the next generation of Net Zero energy buildings look like?

Ask a panel of engineers and architects who built the first generation and you'll hear that they may be bit smarter, perhaps a lot bigger, but they will be designed using the same principles. What’s new, they say, is a greater focus on the occupant’s role in operating these buildings.

About 100 people, mostly from the design and build community, gathered on Feb. 26 in San Francisco for a discussion about some of the industry's most successful Net Zero buildings, including IDeAs Z Squared, the first Net Zero commercial building in the U.S., and the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, which was one of the first buildings designated as a Living Building.

The panel, which was moderated by Integral Group's Lisa Fay Matthiessen, included Integral Group's Peter Rumsey, DPR Construction's Mike Humphrey and BNIM Architecture's Steve McDowell and Matthew Porreca, all of whom played a part in designing and engineering these early Net Zero buildings.

Much of what these designers and buildings pioneered is now becoming standard in sustainable design. So where do they see untapped potential in the next generation of Net Zero buildings?

"Occupant behavior change plus creative ideas equals Net Zero," says Humphrey of DPR Construction.

To these panelists, many of whom collaborated on Net Zero project teams together, paying more attention to the occupant means paying attention to plug loads. That's the amount of energy consumed by devices plugged into electrical sockets.

"When we started working with the Packard Foundation, just walking through their space we found space heaters everywhere, everyone had their own printer and on and on," Humphrey says.

Next page: Targeting plug loads