Zero Energy Buildings – To Retrofit or Start Fresh?

Zero Energy Building

Architects are increasingly designing zero energy buildings (ZEB) – buildings that create zero net carbon emissions and consume zero net energy annually – as a means of reducing the impact people have on the fragile environment.

As significant contributors to greenhouse gases into the environment, traditional buildings consume almost half the total fossil fuel energy in Europe and North America. Eco-friendly ZEBs harvest energy on-site through solar and wind technology and can often operate completely off the power grid.

People often wonder whether an old building can be retrofitted into a zero energy building or whether the building needs to be designed from scratch. Designing a ZEB from scratch is the easiest option, yet both can be achieved.

Four notable net-zero energy buildings can be used as models and proof that older buildings can achieve zero energy status.

Zero Energy Building

In San Jose, California, the IDeAS Z2 Design Facility is a newly transformed zero energy building which used to be a concrete cube built in the 1960s. A new retrofit design led to the building producing more energy than it consumes.

A rooftop photovoltaic system creates solar power by harvesting the sun’s rays. The building’s zero energy status was also achieved by installing high quality insulation, daylight harvesting technology, energy-monitoring equipment and highly efficient office equipment.

Salem Oregon’s Painters Hall was retrofitted in 2010 to achieve zero energy status by focusing on deep energy conservation. The building is 100 per cent solar powered and produces more energy than required. Excess electricity is used to pump well water through the hall’s geothermal loop.

The 92-year-old Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is being retrofitted, with the work due to be completed later this month. The facility will be America’s first net-zero energy building of historic status. Simple methods such as adding window film and solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, plus lights that adjust based on natural light all contribute to the building’s zero energy status.

Zero Energy Building

A BCA (Building and Construction Authority) Academy building was retrofitted to achieve zero energy status in 2009 with green classrooms and offices. Used as a tester for new technologies, the building uses low-e glass, energy-efficient lamps, natural light, and an advanced building management system.

Retrofitting existing buildings can be expensive, but the price is worth it to achieve sustainability. New buildings can be strategically designed to achieve zero energy status without being extremely expensive. Both are a smart investment for the future of the planet.

By Kristen Avis
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