A slow-moving trend, as tracked by the Washington-based American Institute of Architects, is showing some traction with 27 of the group’s member firms reporting that they have executed net zero projects.
That number is up from the 11 firms who reported similar results in 2017, but still not as large as some experts in the field had hoped, given that the AIA’s total firm membership is more than 19,000.
Net zero construction essentially means designing and building a structure that will produce as much energy as it consumes. Such structures typically include heat pumps, high-efficiency windows, natural ventilation, LED lighting, and green roofs.
While many architects, according to several industry sources, have been more than willing to tackle the net zero challenge, the move has been hampered by a variety of factors, including project costs.
Notes the Wall Street Journal: “Few contractors have experience on high-performance buildings, and those that do say they can cost 2% to 3% more than regular construction.”
In November, the AIA redoubled its push for net zero projects, noting in a policy statement that the “hard truth is that building construction, operation, and construction materials manufacturing creates nearly 40% of the earth’s carbon dioxide emissions.”
In a move designed to highlight the possibilities of reaching net zero goals even in existing buildings, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers recently moved into a nearly 67,000 square foot structure in Atlanta that was built in 1978 and updated along net zero lines.
The renovation has seen the installation of a radiant ceiling panel system, overhead fresh air distribution system, and water source heat pumps, among other features.
In a statement, Ginger Scoggins, chairperson of the group’s building ad hoc committee, noted that while “new construction of net-zero energy buildings make a lot of headlines, reuse of existing structures is a basic tenet of sustainability.”
The structure, according to ASHRAE officials, will be fully net zero upon the completion of a new photovoltaic system in March.
But whether the project is a new building or updated existing structure, the cost factor seems certain to remain an obstacle, say industry experts.
Ultimately, said Tim Hawk in a statement, the most effective way for the industry to tackle the cost challenge may be through a “push for updated building codes that prove the value of sustainable design.”
Hawk is the co-chair of the AIA’s government advocacy committee.
In its latest climate policy platform, the AIA is calling for the creation of what it calls a “Zero Code,” mandating that all new federal government buildings must achieve net zero standards.
Hawk added that once federal building codes are so updated, “the rest of the industry will follow.”
By Garry Boulard
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