The next revolution in Net Zero buildings: Occupants

Integral Group and DPR were on the project team for the David & Lucille Packard Foundation headquarters in Los Altos, Calif., which achieved Net Zero and LEED Platinum certification. After completing a plug load study, the project team reduced plug loads in the building by 50 percent.

The project team also wrote an occupant manual and put in a dashboard panel to monitor temperature and wind speed. A green light means it's a good day to open windows and doors. A red light indicates windows and doors should be closed.

Mention of the dashboard brings a lively audience discussion at the Net Zero event. Should smartphones have dashboards that sync up to building systems, or should we drive behavior through something more intrinsically elegant, like roundabouts in roads, for people who are suffering from data overload?

Smarter ways to engage occupants will be one of the challenges for the next generation of Net Zero buildings, already under way and scaling up. Integral Group, for example, is currently stretching its zero energy engineering skills on San Francisco's new 230,000-square-foot Exploratorium museum.

Scaling up Net Zero, it seems, requires no new silver bullets. 

"It's simple," Rumsey says. "First, look at the building envelope; then look at the lighting and daylighting; then the HVAC; last, look at plug loads."

While technology is improving and costs are coming down, many of the goals architects and engineers are trying to accomplish can be solved with off-the-shelf technology.

"It helps to have good gear, but it's not always about the gear," he says.

Larger zero energy buildings and communities loom as codes adopt Net Zero as a standard.

"Our work is really important in terms of influencing codes. If it's cost effective now, it makes it into code," Rumsey says. "We just have to make these buildings more clear, more understandable, more affordable and then it will be standard."

Socket image by State Farm via Compfight cc.