Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

Another Year of More of the Same!

by Brent Sauser

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As 2014 comes to a close and with 2015 waiting in the wings, I find myself asking the question . . . is the transition to Net Zero making measurable progress?  I’d like to think so.  I am aware of several new developments all over the country that feature renewable energy systems.  I am aware of retail’s recent venture into Net Zero design (refer to Walgreen’s Evanston, Illinois store) as well as many more examples of Net Zero office and institutional construction.

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However, as enthusiastic as I am about the movement to Net Zero I am occasionally reminded of the relentless reluctance of developers to make this inevitable transition. Such has been my experience while visiting my daughter’s family in Utah for the holidays.  I love visiting Utah for many reasons.  Being with family for the holidays ranks high in the why I enjoy a visit to the greater Salt Lake Valley.  It’s been 18 months since our last visit and it’s amazing how much new construction has sprung up.  My daughter lives in a bedroom community where all construction is under 10 years old and where new sub-divisions of single family homes, condos, and townhomes are springing up everywhere.  NONE OF THE NEW CONSTRUCTION IS NET ZERO!  NOT ONE!

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Utah families like square footage and a lot of it.  Many homes feature full basements with two stories above. 3,000 to 4,000sf homes are more the rule than the exception requiring additional heating and cooling for the excessive volume of space.  Prospective buyers purchase these energy hogs thinking they are buying the most current construction  . . . because it is new.  Instead, what they end up getting is construction that meets the minimum standards under the current building codes.  They are buying more of the same that adds to the utility grid burden and forces the buyer into considering energy saving renovations in the near future that SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN THE ORIGINAL CONSTRUCTION.  Now the owner is faced with the challenge of how to retrofit Net Zero features into construction that was never intended to be Net Zero.  The developer walks away with the money and the owner is left with the burden of fixing what the developer should have provided.

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Whether done because of defiance, ignorance, or indifference there is no longer ANY reasonable reason to NOT build Net Zero.  Costs have come down substantially to result in a net impact of an additional 10% on traditional construction methods.  Architects may need to be more attentive to passive design features and minimizing square footage and volume as much as possible, but the age of Net Zero construction is dawning just as 2014 makes way for 2015.  When it comes to Net Zero . . . size matters!  Net Zero is not a trend or a fad.  It is Here and Now!  We need to demand Net Zero construction and not settle for convenient, outdated 20th century solutions.  Denial is not a construction method and will not get us closer to cost saving, renewable energy solutions! Hopefully, Utah will make the transition to Net Zero soon.  Because, whether voluntarily or kicking and screaming,  Net Zero is the new mainstream . . . the direction construction is going as sure as the dawning of a new year.


Category: Editorial
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