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Archive for April 1st, 2011

Quite Simply, The World’s Most Energy Efficient Office Building

Try as you might to save energy at home—wear sweaters, hit the lights on the way out of the room—and you can still see vast amounts of energy going to waste at work. Empty rooms have lights on. Large, nearly empty spaces have the heat cranking. It turns out that buildings take up the bulk of our energy use.

The environmental sustainability goals of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system have been taking a crack at this problem in recent years. WSU’s own Compton Union Building was refurbished with the guidelines in mind, earning a silver rating by saving energy and water and recycling construction waste, among other things. WSU Vancouver’s undergraduate classroom building went one better, earning a gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Rendering courtesy of Miller Hull.

But such efforts pale in comparison to the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, a six-story office building slated for East Madison Street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. All the building’s energy demands will be handled on the site. All the building’s water will come from rainfall. Where other green buildings compete over certifications of silver, gold and platinum, this will simply be the most energy-efficient office building in the world.

Participants in the project—the Bullitt Foundation, PAE Consulting Engineers, and the Miller Hull Partnership—spoke about the effort earlier this week in a seminar put on by WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach, or CEREO. A look at just some of the steps in the effort shows it is indeed possible to make such a dramatically sustainable building. It also shows how hard it can be.

A typical building uses more than 70,000 British thermal units of energy per square foot a year. This translates to an “energy use intensity” of about 70. A LEED platinum building cuts that by more than half, to 32. The Cascadia Center cuts that in half again, to 16. Craig Curtis, a Miller Hull partner and lead designer for the architecture team, said this is probably the lowest of any office building in the state.

All the building’s electrical needs will come from solar panels. To get the most surface area, and therefore the most energy from Seattle’s intermittent sunshine, the architects extended the roof outside the property line and ran panels down much of the building facade.

The roof’s rainwater will be filtered and disinfected for drinking and showers. Water from the low-flush toilets, as well as the solid stuff, will be composted and used to fertilize and water plants.

Laptops, which use less energy, will replace desktop computers. In some cases, computing will be done through common servers.

Tenants will include the building’s owner, the Bullitt Foundation, which focuses on environmental issues in the Northwest. The foundation, said Amy Solomon, a program officer, decided to develop the building to create a “replicable prototype” and inspire more environmental policies, including building codes.

Other tenants will need to agree to limit their energy use, although heavier energy users may be able to take advantage of an inter-office “cap and trade” system. Workers will need to expand their comfort zones, tolerating a few degrees warmer in summer—there will be no air conditioning—and a few degrees cooler in winter. The only on-site parking will be for a shared electric car. And with an elevator using as much as 4 percent of the building’s energy, tenants will be encouraged to use a glassed-in stairway with views of downtown Seattle and Puget Sound.

Miller Hull has several charts and images of the building here.

The firm is also featured in the spring issue of Washington State Magazine.