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A Beginner's Guide to How a Zero Energy Building Works

Plant In Front Of Family

With our society's focus on improving energy efficiency and sustainable living, there has been increasing interest in green construction techniques and design. One option that many builders and developers have gained interest in are zero energy buildings. Designed to produce no overall energy usage from the building, these designs are extremely efficient while producing their own energy through renewable methods on site. Here's the basics of how these structures work:

1. Reduce Energy Load as Much as Possible

Solar On Red Roof

The first half of the design approach is focused on reducing the building's energy load as much as possible. This includes super-insulating the structure, using building design that minimizes thermal transference, using natural and low-energy lighting as much as possible and incorporating elements of solar heating and cooling into the design. With the development of new materials and new technologies to help improve building material efficiency, this provides a large amount of the energy savings necessary to create a zero energy building envelope.

But beyond the structure, the designer will also need to take into account the best energy-saving appliances and mechanical systems to ensure it's drawing as little energy as possible while under operation. For that matter, lighting, HVAC, plumbing and similar systems will also need to be run using peak efficiency while the building is under operation, potentially harnessing geothermal heating in the winter or air source heat pumps for cooling in the summer. Creating a design that uses higher gauge electrical wiring may be another option as it helps reduce transmission losses within the building itself. The design should also promote changes in behavior for the building's occupants, such as taking the stairs through a beautiful greenhouse or arboretum instead of using the elevator or features that encourage working during the daylight hours to minimize after-hours lighting and HVAC use.

2. Add Renewable Energy Generating Equipment for the Difference

Wind Turbines and Solar Panels

Though many designers can reach very impressive levels of efficiency, there will always be a need for additional energy as the building is occupied and used on a daily basis. For zero energy buildings, this is typically achieved by adding renewable energy assets, such as solar panels, hydroelectric power or wind turbines. Because the building is designed to minimize energy use, it will require a much smaller array of renewable energy assets compared to conventionally constructed buildings that are not as efficient. However, planning for electrical usage also needs to include the energy used to run office machinery, computers, telephone systems and similar components of the average office or commercial building. By encouraging the use of more energy-efficient machinery, this step is easily obtainable by understanding the tenant's or owner's needs during the design process.

However, this does not mean that the building must always balance the energy needs perfectly. A zero energy building, by definition, is one that uses no additional energy beyond what it produces over the course of a year. Even if a building uses extra energy from the grid for heating in January, the additional power it generates and feeds back into the grid in April and August offset the difference, so the building reaches a neutral energy consumption rate on the average for the year. So if you design an office building that requires outside energy from the grid for part of the year but produces and delivers excess energy back to the grid for part of the year and the amount you sold back to the grid during times of excess production is higher than the amount you purchased from the grid during times of shortage in production, your building would be considered a net zero building.

Zero energy buildings require comparatively complex design than conventional buildings, but the serious savings that can be recognized are often well worth the extra trouble. If you're considering a zero energy building project and need help finding the perfect materials for it, please feel free to contact us today. Our experienced associates are happy to help you find the perfect fit for your new project.

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Wallboard Supply Company is a third generation, family run business that has been serving New England's building needs since 1970. Bob Filion started the company with a commitment to provide quality drywall and finishing products with unmatched customer service. The company has grown over the years, expanding its' product range, but never wavering from its' core values.