Designing For Tomorrow: Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB)

Designing For Tomorrow: Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB)

A paradigm shift
Today, construction accounts for nearly 40% of carbon emissions[1]. Add to that growing concerns about climate change and rising energy prices and you’ll find an industry in need of a paradigm shift. But, daunting as they are, these facts also represent an unparalleled opportunity to push the boundaries of sustainable design: Net Zero Energy Buildings.

In the past, sustainable construction practices have mainly focused on harm reduction: recycling materials, conserving energy, avoiding waste. But the power of Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) is that they have the power to move the industry from “do no harm” to doing active good, all without sacrificing beauty or functionality.

Redesigning the design process
Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) are defined as structures that produce as much renewable energy as they use, measured over the course of the year. While this might seem daunting from a budget and design standpoint, the secret is all about having the right team and an iterative process.

“In a Net Zero Energy Building every professional has to pay attention to energy consumption,” says Patrick Cote, MONTONI Sustainable Building Project Manager and AP LEED BD+C. “At first view it seems easy, but many regular designs can’t be used for this type of project. Professionals have to get out of their comfort zone.”

By using in-house teams that are integrated at every stage of the construction process - from drawing up the plans to adding the finishing touches - boutique construction firms like MONTONI are perfectly situated to tackle these demanding and innovative projects. A NZEB is all about the details and teams have to work together seamlessly to succeed.

“Every design decisions has an impact on the overall success,” adds Patrick. Because everything has to be considered and planned: from the orientation of the building to reduce heat load to estimating occupants’ energy needs. But the results can be startling in both beauty and functionality.

Building the future
Take the Bullit Center in Seattle as an example. Finished in 2013, this landmark Net Zero Energy Building is a stunning example of the future of sustainable design.

“[The Bullit Center] is living proof that a large, urban office building can operate on the rainwater that falls on it and can generate as much energy as it uses over the course of a year - in the least sunny city in the country,” said Robert B. Peña of the University of Washington Center for Integrated Design in his High Performance Building Case Study.

Not only was the Bullit Center designed to minimize its environmental impact in terms of its construction and daily energy usage, it was also designed to last for centuries to come.

“Building is a big part of the solution for lowering our environmental impact,” adds Patrick. “Buildings of the future will have to use less energy, less water, produce less garbage, use healthier materials and focus on user wellbeing.”

For sustainable design the time has come to go beyond “do less harm” and forge new pathways in green construction.