A Trickle of Living Buildings Could Become a Waterfall

Dec. 1, 2016

As projects aspire to meet the requirements of the Living Building Challenge and net zero, it necessitates a new model for publicly funded projects. The ‘new normal’ must examine net-zero and passive technologies as a 5- to 10-year system investment, rather than simply a cost liability associated with the purchase individual products and construction materials.

© Nic Lehoux
The New Buildings Institute reports 53 verified net zero buildings and nearly 300 others in the “emerging” state. One of those projects is Pittsburgh’s Frick Environmental Center which truly demonstrates smart sustainability. The project, orchestrated for the city by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, proves that net-zero can be achieved within a reasonable budget. The team had to model every technology it considered from an energy and a monetary standpoint recalls Rob Aumer, the project’s architect. If the energy savings or the monetary savings didn’t pan out, it was eliminated from the project—for instance, radiant floor heating and the Earth Tube passive air conditioning. “We couldn’t pick every sustainable technology, because if you’re not proving ROI, it’s not sustainable or valuable,” says Aumer. Modeling both energy performance and savings over time illustrates a technology’s true value, in system context, allowing a different take on budgeting as the owner takes a longer-term investment to gauge its return-on-investment. Elsewhere, the Hotel at Oberlin (pictured above) is a rare glimpse into net-zero hospitality. What was once thought to be impossible and then improbable has come to fruition near the Oberlin College campus in Ohio, as the project seeks LEED platinum certification.

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