How Net-Zero Building Developers Deliver Projects at Scale


As net-zero-energy project commitments emerge around the country, residential and office building developers are adopting new strategies to deliver at scale.

This week sustainability program development expert Billy Grayson looked at how developers are preparing for the realities of net zero in an in-depth Urban Land Magazine article. The executive director for the Urban Land Institute’s Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance — and a speaker for ELEMCON 2018 in May — highlighted several success stories.

“While a perception remains that achieving net zero is too costly for most residential and office development, a few pioneering development companies are figuring out how to deliver net-zero and net-zero-ready projects with a high net-present value at scale,” he wrote.

One example is Meritage, which delivers 10,000 energy-efficient homes to the market annually. The company achieves net-zero-ready homes using streamlined manufacturing operations and economies of scale, Grayson says.

They view energy efficiency and sustainability as market differentiators, and charge about the same per square foot as their competitors do for less energy-efficient homes so customers get better ROI from the start. “Meritage spends a little more on these homes, but believes that the additional cost is an investment in its marketing efforts.”

Retrofits are also on the rise. A decade ago, DPR Construction began retrofitting its 24,000-square-foot multi-tenant office in San Diego. “With all the energy-efficiency improvements, DPR was able to get the building’s energy efficiency to 65% below LEED 3.0 prerequisites,” Grayson wrote. “This saved the company about $22,000 in energy costs per year.” The building increased its asset value by $3 million post-retrofit, he added.

One of DPR’s strategies involved incorporating off-the-shelf technologies. That approach helped a project for the American Geophysical Union as well. Their 84,000-square-foot headquarters in Washington, DC, is currently undergoing a net-zero retrofit led by MGAC, Hickok Cole Architects, Interface Engineering, Skanska, and Stratacomm.

“To achieve net zero, the AGU design and construction team used four key engineering principles: reduction, reclamation, absorption, and generation,” Grayson wrote. “From these four principles came 24 major energy efficiency and energy generation strategies, working together to get the buildings’ energy consumption to a level that could be offset with on-site renewable energy sources.”

Grayson pointed to varied market incentives driving more builders and owners toward net zero, including tax credits, rebates from utilities, and “green mortgage” products from lenders. Tighter building codes are also spurring net-zero building. California actually requires net zero for new home construction by 2020, he notes.

“In 2016, over 4,000 net-zero-energy buildings were completed, a 33% increase from the previous year,” Grayson wrote. “Today, there are thousands of net-zero projects covering all asset classes in the development pipeline.”

Billy Grayson will be leading an interactive workshop at the 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference, which takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver.

Jennifer Hermes


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