“Getting Back to Net Zero – Rediscovering Our Sustainable Roots”

by Brent Sauser

Getting Back to Net Zero“Getting Back to Net Zero-Rediscovering Our Sustainable Roots” provides  basic information regarding what Net Zero is and what it takes to achieve a Net Zero solution, resulting in a building that produces more energy than it consumes on-site.  It covers easy to understand passive and active design principles as well as other essential information to help the reader understand that the ability to build Net Zero is HERE, NOW.  Download your copy today!

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New Arts Center Falls Flat on Efficiency!

by Brent Sauser

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I had the opportunity to tour the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts recently and was impressed with the grand scale of this world-class facility. A group of us was escorted to a five-story-tall “wave” wall that stretches the entire width of the expansive lobby. This wall will be flooded with colorful, moving light that can be easily seen from the street and can be modified to suit any occasion.

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As I walked the many levels and stood at center stage, I imagined the many great performances that will soon grace these theaters. Without doubt, the new center will stand as a monument to excellence in the performing arts. This is a structure all Central Floridians can be proud of.

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Except . . . . . .

When the tour ended, I thanked our guide and turned back to take another look at the building. A thought crossed my mind: If so much careful attention has been given in the pursuit of excellence in theatrical performance, surely the building itself would reflect excellence in its own performance.

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I wondered what level of effort had been given to assure the center would perform to the highest level of energy conservation and sustainable design possible. After all, who is going to pay to heat and cool the massive volume of space? Who is on the hook to pay for the electricity and marvelous moving lights of the wave wall? Who is left to bear the utility burden of this facility? Surely, all this was taken into consideration in 2007 when the contracts for design and construction were signed.

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After some online research, I discovered that the performing-arts center was contractually obligated to comply with the lowest level of sustainable design requirements for 2007. Many of these requirements are now part of our building codes. The project team could have elected to pursue higher levels of environmental design excellence, but chose to stay with the minimum requirements and incur the higher utility costs.
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It is a shame that such an impressive facility does not demonstrate performance excellence for itself. How much will this missed opportunity cost in utility bills for decades to come? As for me, no standing ovations here!

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Net Zero Design Does Not Have to Look Goofy!

By Brent Sauser

Does building Net Zero mean giving up on traditional or conventional design?  That is a common misunderstanding when I speak to others regarding whether they would be willing to live in a Net Zero, off-the-energy-grid house.  The misperception is that they need to give up the aesthetics of traditional or conventional residential architecture.  Many of the photos they see look very different from what they are more comfortable with.  It’s a leap they are not willing to make.

Net Zero design is the thoughtful and sensitive combination of sustainable design principles with a desired aesthetic appearance, all working in harmony.  That is, Net Zero design is not just frosting, but also the cake, where form and function rise together.  In reality, a Net Zero design can incorporate most any conventional shape.

As an example of this, please consider the following Net Zero house, designed by dbs Architects PLLC.  This is a 2,240SF conventional-looking, two story, three bedroom home that is made from seven 8ft x 9’6”x 40ft shipping containers. The lower roof incorporates a 9kW solar panel system.    The floor plans illustrate a traditional layout that could be used in non-Net Zero construction.  Living Net Zero, off the power grid, is not a sacrifice . . . but a giant leap toward energy independence!  The cost for this Net Zero home would be in line with a similar home built non-Net Zero.  The ways and means are here and now to transition to Net Zero and free ourselves from rising utility costs and live a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

 

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Front Elevation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Net Zero Design – A Cure for Insanity!

By Brent Sauser

insanity 03Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.  Yet, consider the priorities that have motivated construction over the past 50 years. Depending on which side of the bottom line you stand on will determine if your assessment is positive or not.  For those who feel pretty good about it, are probably doing very well financially.  For all the others, how is it working for you?  With the almighty dollar as the predominate motivator, those who benefited most did so (in general) at the expense of the environment, the unsuspecting buyer, and common sense.  Oh sure, they may have paid lip service to how important these other factors are, but the GO, NO GO decision usually has been based on the margin of profit obtainable.

insanity 04Knowing no other alternative, the gullible buyer “bought” into the bottom line agenda thinking it to be the best (and only) standard for conventional construction.  Decades have passed and very little has changed.  The movement toward a greener, more energy efficient built environment is slowly gaining speed, but still too much construction is holding on to the outdated, 20th Century, dollar driven standard.  I don’t need to travel far to find new housing developments featuring monster sized homes that look like all the others . . . bigger versions of their smaller counterparts.  They are monsters notinsanity 01 only because of their size, but are beasts when it comes to energy consumption.   These unsuspecting buyers have not considered that energy costs are going to continue to rise. Just ask those living in Hawaii how they feel about their power bills.   Continuing to build as we have in the past and expecting a change in our environment is nothing short of INSANITY!

Triple bottom line 1Significant and meaningful change that demonstrates measurable energy efficiency and compatibility with the environment, requires a change from the singular, dollar driven, bottom line, to the Triple Bottom Line.  The Triple Bottom Line provides long term benefits that are sustainable, not only for the buyer, but for the environment, and community.

One creative way to embrace the Triple Bottom Line is by thinking inside the BOX.  The trade imbalance with China has resulted in a countless supply of shipping containers that are choking our ports. Shipping Container Photo 03 One way to relieve the environmental blight is to reuse the containers in an entirely different context.  This “Up-Use” of a readily available resource (at very low cost) may sound insane from a conventional standard, but using the BOX to think outside the box can provide the results the Triple Bottom Line is promoting . . . . and that is not insane, but just good ole common sense.

LET’S GET GOING!

The following Net Zero, Shipping Container Townhouse design provided by dbs Architects PLLC:

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Sometimes It Makes More Sense to Think INSIDE the Box!

by Brent Sauser

Shipping Container Photo 03There’s been so much talk about thinking outside the “box” over the past several years that we have looked past the value of the box itself.  The box I refer to is the common, utilitarian shipping container.  Relied upon for decades as the primary source forShipping_container_condos_03 transporting goods and merchandise all over the world, the shipping container is becoming much more than a mere storage device.  The box itself has become an effective construction resource for designers to experiment far beyond its storage capabilities.  Limited only by the depth of their imagination, more and more shipping containers are appearing in urban and rural locations in unique sizes and shapes, whether commercial or residential in application.Shipping_container_condos_08

The attention toward recycling shipping containers not only helps to reduce the surplus, but opens the door for new, unique designs that contribute to the overall community character.  The relative low cost of shipping containers help to control construction costs.  Because of their structural Shipping_container_condos_04integrity, each container is designed to support several others stacked on top of each other.

Shipping containers and modular pre-fabrication go hand in hand.   After all, the box is a self-contained unit that is the perfect shape and size for transporting via ship, rail, or truck to its destination.  Depending on the actual design and number of containers used, the interior can be pre-fabricatedShipping_container_condos 01 in controlled conditions, which reduces the overall costs.  Once on site, the pieces can be assembled in preparation for the finishing touches. Construction time is reduced and construction waste is virtually eliminated.

1st floor plandbs Architects PLLC has created a pre-fabricated, apartment/condominium design that features the use ofShipping_container_condos_07 8’-0” wide x 9’-6” high x 40’-0” long shipping containers. Two containers are spaced 12 feet apart with the area in between comprising a 12ft x 28ft modular unit of similar construction.  The total net square footage is 917sf, featuring two bedrooms, kitchen, 2nd Floor Plandining area, living area, patio/balcony, and bath.  The open layout optimizes useable space with a minimum of circulation space.   All lighting is LED.  The plumbing fixtures are all low-flow type and WaterSource compliant.  Appliances are Energy Star compliant.  Efficient wall and ceiling insulation, along with low-E window fixtures help to conserve energy and assure a tightly sealed, quiet environment.  A ductless HVAC system is provided because of its greater efficiency, without the use of ductwork to preserve optimum ceiling height.

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Civil Support Team Ready Building (CST)

CST North ElevationPublic emergencies can happen anywhere, anytime, and in any form.  Local, State, and Federal agencies are trying to address the issue by constructing facilities that provide a “first response” to any potential public threat.  Whether it’s weapons of mass destruction, chemical, or biological attack, etc., these first responders utilize CST facilities to train and prepare for any possible situation.  Specialized vehicles Slide2are equipped for any contingency and are housed in the “Bay Areas”.   This space is climate (humidity) controlled to reduce maintenance and extend vehicle life.  A Command Center is included becoming a well-equipped central location with the capability of accessing all possible resources from any government agency.  Classrooms are provided for trainingCST Entry Wiew existing and future first responders.

Passive solar design features have been incorporated to capture illumination from the south, with overhangs to provide shade in the summer; angle windows on the east and west elevations to avoid direct heat gain (especially on the west side); south orientation on anCST SE View east/west axis to optimize energy efficiency; R48 insulation at the roof and R24 insulation in the walls; LED lighting throughout; Water Sense and Energy Star fixtures and appliances; high efficiency mechanical system; LEED Silver Certification; and AT/FP (anti-terrorism force protection) compliant.  Energy efficient but not energy independent , the south facing lower roof can be retrofitted with solar panels to achieve Net Zero in the future.

 

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Another Tornado Tragedy in Oklahoma!

Moore 03By Brent Sauser

The death toll continues to rise as 1st responders and rescuers relentlessly search through the expanse of rubble and waste caused by the EF-4 (Enhanced Fujita scale) tornado that cut a two mile wide and twenty mile long swath up to and through the town of Moore, Oklahoma. The destructive aftermath of such devastation is not new to Moore. In 1999 Moore, Oklahoma was hit head on by an EF-5 tornado where destruction was widespread. Some experts are saying that yesterday’s tornado may be upgraded to an EF-5, but is too early to know for sure. Children are still missing from the direct hit on a local elementary school. But, so far, twenty children are known dead. My heart aches for them, the parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, etc. with this life-changing disaster.

Moore 02Although I am writing this from Orlando, Florida; Moore, Oklahoma still hits close to home. My daughter and her young family lived in Moore for a few months while her husband attended FAA training. They lived on the second floor of a two-story apartment complex . . . with no basement or place of refuge in the event of a tornado. I recall my daughter expressing some anxiety over this and wondered what she would do in the event of a tornado. Luckily, the weather cooperated until their return to Utah a few months later. The photos of yesterday’s tornado evidence the extreme degree of destruction with mobile homes and wood frame homes. “Structural” framing strewn everywhere. I place the word “structural” in italics because one might question the structural integrity of these homes and buildings, and inquire WHY they couldn’t withstand the brunt of the storm. The story of the Three Little Pigs come to mind.

Moore 01Seeing this through the discerning eye of an architect with 34 years experience, I am not convinced that we chalk this up to just another tragic event in Tornado Alley. Do we all raise our arms in the air and declare nothing more can be done. After all, these buildings were built to Building Codes and Standards that were upgraded from the Tornado of 1999. Better weather forecasting and warning systems are in place. It could have been so much worse. Perhaps. . . But we need to ask ourselves if we have gone far enough with upgrading the Building Codes and Standards in Tornado Alley. Are we still too intimidated by the singular “bottom line” to not totally embrace the “triple bottom line” that takes into equal consideration the surrounding community. I suspect there is still much room for improvement. Weather warning technology will continue to improve. The question is, if serving the community carries an equal level of importance with the environment and economic factors, will we embrace this opportunity to make the appropriate changes to protect our fellow citizens. May I suggest the following enhancements:

For all construction that is within the region known as Tornado Alley:

  • Structural systems (foundation, walls, and roof) will be designed to withstand a minimum of 200mph.
  • Mobile homes in this area must be designed to withstand a minimum of 200mph and be anchored to withstand a minimum of 200mph uplift.
  • Window and door framing will be constructed to withstand 200mph wind forces.
  • Window glazing will meet Miami-Dade requirements for impact resistance.
  • All construction shall have an area of refuge, or Safe Room, where floor, walls, and ceiling can withstand 250mph forces. The access door will be rated accordingly.

Town Hall 01The above list will help to protect our children and families who expect to be safe in the buildings they live, learn, and worship in. But, what about the extra cost to build to this higher standard? Eventually, the Three Little Pigs ended up in the house made of bricks. They were safe there. I can imagine sometime in the not-to-distant future where yet another EF-5 tornado passes through the town of Moore, Oklahoma, and the aerial photographs show trees down, cars turned over, Pyrimid Office Complex Rendering 04barns leveled, and shingles everywhere. The wide path of the tornado is clearly evident. Power lines are down, infrastructure needing attention . . . . but not one life lost. Not one! I submit to you that it can be . . . and should be done. Our very lives depend on it. Building smarter and safer is the answer!

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Net Zero Design . . . It’s not log cabins and grass huts!

by Brent Sauser

log cabin 01Living off the power grid is still a radical concept for most people.  Images of grass huts and log cabins come to mind.  Granted, a Net Zero life-style for our ancestors was the norm, without any other choice.  They learned to live off the land  in harmony with the seasons of the year.  It simply was the only way of life.  However, as modern technology continued to improve, our choices expanded.  We now enjoy a life-style of expected creature comforts that, for the most part, are common place in society . . . choices any 19th century king would envy.  In the process, we have separated ourselves from the natural cycles of the seasons, with energy dependent mechanical and electrical systems that sustain artificial environments inside, regardless of what is going on outside.  It seems easier to turn on the air conditioning than to open a window!  We have been raised to believe that this is progress.  This way of thinking reflects a 20th century mentality . . . back in a time when cost effective, viable energy alternatives that could take us off the power grid were not available, and yet allow us to maintain a large portion of our expected creature comforts.

 
Pyrimid Office Complex Rendering 01Today, however, is a much different story.  There is a growing awareness for the need to be more environmentally sensitive in design and construction, as well as placing a greater focus on sustainable design.  Federal, State, and local governmental agencies have aligned themselves to measureable green building programs (i.e. LEED by USGBC) while countless zoning ordinances are being modified to reflect a more sensitive and sustainable approach to building.  This is being accomplished due to the amazing advancements with Net Zero technology.  Utilizing smart passive design principles with an appropriate amount of high-tech systems, Net Zero is not only a real possibility, but a cost effective one.  Passive features such as:  earth integration, clerestory light, skylights, triple low-e glazing, super insulation, building materials, building orientation, etc.,  help to bring the building a majority of the way to Net Zero.  Adding  modest amounts of high-tech options bridges the remaining gap to achieving Net Zero.

Pyrimid Office Complex Rendering 06We are at an exciting time of transition.  We can continue to use the obsolete specifications of the 20th century, or embrace the wide variety of cost effective, high-tech options that will give your building added energy flexibility and money back in your client’s pocket.  Welcome to the exciting options of Net Zero design!  Welcome to the 21st Century . . . where we can have it all and give something back in the process!

Give us a call!

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WHAT IS ARCHITECTURE?

by D. Brent Sauser

Sustainable Design CaptionNo matter how you define it, architecture must be more than bricks and mortar, more than pure aesthetics, and much more than the “bottom line”.   Architecture for the 21st Century must have a sustainable focus and aggressive approach to achieving a Net Zero solution, environmentally balanced to benefit children, families, and the community.

dbs Architects PLLC offers over 30 years of experience that brings green building and sustainable designChildren Caption 01
into the 21st Century.  As principal of dbs Architects PLLC, Brent Sauser is a LEED (BD+C) accredited professional, and brings 34 years of experience to the company,
that includes U.S. Embassies in EasternFamily Caption 01 Europe; Churches in Bolivia, South America, and a wide variety of building design in every U.S. time zone.  He has a strong background in all climatic regions ranging from the Arizona desert, to the
Wasatch Mountains of Utah, to the Community Captiontemperate regions of  Southern California and the midwest, to the frigid winters of Minnesota, and to hot and humid Florida.

dbs Architects PLLC has the expertise Environment Captioned photo 01to integrate passive and active “green” design features in a balanced manner that optimizes sustainable materials and Net Zero systems with the careful and sensible use of solar panels, wind generators, and ground source heat pumps, etc.

Make  dbs Architests PLLC  your choice for your next project.  You can take comfort in knowing that your project will be designed for the demands and expectations of the 21st Century.  Give us a call!

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Solar Power is Cost Effective!

by Brent Sauser

When I speak to others regarding the virtues of building Net Zero I usually hear a response like, “It sounds great, but how much more will it cost?”  The general perception still remains that achieving Net Zero is a high-cost, future goal, perhaps in 5 to 10 years.  It’s hard to argue the fact that Net Zero technology is accelerating and will continue to reduce material costs and increase product efficiencies.  However, it is also a fact that technology has advanced to the point where building Net Zero is cost effective for today’s construction.   In some states the cost for kilowatt hour (kWh) achieves “grid parity” with the local utility.  Efficiencies are such that a private, on-site power plant is cost competitive (per kWh) with conventional utility sources.

NetZeroMax.com and dbs Archtects PLLC are dedicated to promoting a balanced approach to achieving a Net Zero solution.  This balanced approach includes maximizing as many passive design features as practical prior to incorporating more expensive high-tech Net Zero features.  Such considerations are:

  • Building orientation
  • R24 exterior wall insulation
  • R48 roof insulation
  • Low-E, Double glazed windows (minimum)
  • Daylighting (i.e. Solatube, etc)
  • Energy Star roof
  • LED lighting
  • On demand (tankless) water heater
  • High efficiency HVAC (ductless or geothermal preferred) SEER 28
  • Energy Star appliances
  • 5kW Solar array on roof

The incorporation of these considerations along with appropriate building sizing can go far in achieving a Net Zero solution.  Adding more square footage adds more volume and more energy (kW) is needed to bridge the gap between passive and high-tech design features.  The “sweet spot” for design using a 5kW solar panel system maximizes at around 2,500 SF depending on location, where 2,000 SF to 2,200 SF is more ideal.  In a residential application, this square footage range should be well in the compliance zone for a majority of home owners.

We don’t need to build bigger.  We need to build smarter!  Doing so will enable the incorporation of the above Net Zero considerations with minimal cost impact.   Incentives and rebates can account for over 50% savings on the installation of a solar panel array.  That means a 5kW solar system installed at $20,000, with a 50% incentive and rebate, will take only 5.5 years to pay back . . . using a $150 p/mo electrical bill.

This is the 21st century.  Isn’t it time to move past the age old, public utility infrastructure, and into the independent freedom that comes from generating energy from your very own on-site private power plant.  Not only is there the satisfaction that comes from energy independence, but money in your pocket.  The energy you generate on-site is clean and carbon neutral.  It is a benefit to you, the community, and the environment. This isn’t some future whim, but a reality that can be achieved TODAY . . . NOW!

Please join with me in accepting nothing less than a Net Zero solution.  dbs Architects PLLC can help get you there.  Give us a call!

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