We (Matt, Shay and Maria) have just returned from the Living Future '17 unConference in Seattle where we ran a workshop on leveraging exemplar projects to change the built environment. Output from the workshop can be found here; next week we'll publish a post specific to the workshop.
This post is a summary of useful takeaways from both the conference and meetings we had in Seattle.
Living Future 17
The conference was themed ‘Genius and Courage’ and was set against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s policies and controversies, and the current divisiveness in the American political landscape. The conference is widely attended by developers, engineers, architects, and policy makers, and aims to move the building industry towards creating much better buildings. The conference is hosted by the Living Future Institute, who administer a wide range of building certification tools including the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The LBC is widely recognised as the most stringent performance standard for buildings.
Key note speakers were inspirational, including Van Jones (founder of Dream Corps), Naomi Klein (author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine), and New Zealand’s own Kirsty Luke (Chief Executive of Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua). Outside of the keynote speakers, the conference consisted of a huge number of panel sessions and workshops. A summary of some of our favourites below:
Rocky Mountain Institute office
The new office for Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), designed to meet the energy petal for LBC. Achieving this level of performance is particularly challenging as the building is in the coldest climate zone in the United States, with snow on the ground for much of the winter. The building is a working lab for RMI staff who have a strong focus on sustainability.
Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 16kBTU/f2/a (~50kWh/m2/a).
Highly efficient building envelope resulted in heating loads so low that the most economic long term heating solution was electric underfloor.
Extensive attention to the comfort of staff, including external shading for glare and solar gain, ceiling fans, radiant electric slab heating, and the hyperseat™.
Batteries and energy management system that allows the building to achieve a maximum demand of 10kW through the year, and increase self-use of generated energy.
The project encountered significant challenges with the implementation of the control system. In particular with the ability for communication between the various proprietary controls for each system, and with the ability to implement an effective overall strategy using the required control variables.
RMI have identified the need for more sophisticated control approaches such as predictive models for weather/energy/indoor environment.
Read more about the building here.
Georgia Tech Building
A new building for Georgia Tech, targeting full LBC in the challenging environment of Atlanta, Georgia which has low rainfall, high temperatures and high humidity. The building is still in the design stages. The workshop focused on three key design areas that were explored with the audience.
The best structural material. Timber, concrete and steel were considered, with a largely timber structure chosen to significantly reduce embodied carbon of the building.
A best-practice waste-water system to meet Net Zero Water at the site. The chosen solution was composting toilets, used in combination with a cultivated wetland for treatment of greywater were chosen over a black-water treatment system. This solution reduced energy use and water consumption to the point where the building can achieve both Net Zero Water and Net Zero Energy.
Ground source heating and cooling for efficiency. The project is planning on using in-slab cooling, which requires close attention to indoor humidity levels to avoid issues with condensation.
Read more about the project here:
The Bullitt Center is the world’s greenest office building and was completed three years ago. It achieved full Living Building Challenge certification, and is the middle of Seattle. We had meetings during and around the conference with people involved in design, project management and education.
The Bullitt Center was developed as part of a Seattle city ordinance program that approved up to 10 LBC pilot projects. This program provides flexibility over key planning rules, e.g., building height, floor area ratio, identified as necessary to achieve LBC.
The Bullitt Center is one of a handful of high-performing buildings in Washington State making use of an innovative agreement where the utility subsidise energy efficiency measures and energy generation systems, the utility receives stable cash flow, and both the building owner and tenants are incentivised to operate the building as efficiently as possible through payments made from the utility at the end of each year.
Like many of the buildings we heard about, the Bullitt Center has struggled to develop an effective building monitoring system.
Read more here.
IslandWood is an educational facility on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle. IslandWood was founded by Debbi and Paul Brainerd, our clients on the Camp Glenorchy project in the South Island.
The vision for IslandWood was formed in 1999. It is an environmental education centre for inner-city children who don’t normally have access to such facilities.
The design of the site included consultation with 4th, 5th and 6th graders regarding what they saw as important. Many of the features onsite were first discovered from this process.
Each year the site hosts 12,000 students from 160 schools for overnight (or longer) stays where they explore the natural world, experience the joy of learning outdoors, and discover their own capacity to change the world around them. Much of the learning is led by graduate teachers who live onsite for a year, deeply embedded in the learning environment.
Read more here.
Integrated design is essential
All of these projects required significant cross-team input early in the design to find the most efficient and cost effective solution to meet the performance objectives.
Control and monitoring challenges
A theme that came up a number of times was the difficulty with commonly used energy monitoring systems. Key issues included:
Implementation errors resulting in many un-metered loads.
Accuracy of the data collection systems.
Ability to provide access to the data for analysis in the require format.
Difficulty in bringing together data from multiple systems, e.g., Building Management Systems and metering systems.
As highlighted by the RMI project, lack of inter-compatibility of control systems is creating issues with being able to efficiently control the building.
We believe the Control and Monitoring solution we are developing for Camp Glenorchy will address many of these challenges.
Upcoming changes to LBC certification
Living Future Institute is focusing on partnerships to grow the LBC:
Developing ‘Crosswalks’ which map LBC certification to other tools, e.g., LBC/PassiveHaus, LBC/GreenStar.
Net Zero Energy certification is being renamed Zero Energy, simplified, and partnered with other building programs in the US with the aim of making Zero Energy the ‘new normal’.
LFI is starting discussions at local and state levels regarding embedding Zero Energy and Living Building Challenge in city/state policy.
New Zealand has a role to play
The conference had over 1,300 attendees, and the Living Future community is growing around the world. However, New Zealand has achieved key successes:
Zero Energy House. This was the first Net Zero Energy certified building outside of the United States.
Te Kura Whare. Headquarters for Tūhoe, this was the first building outside of the United States to achieve full LBC certification.
Innovation. Some of the approaches being taken in New Zealand to building monitoring, data aggregation and display are addressing many of the challenges faced by leading-edge buildings in the US.