Commercial Zero-Energy Building

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DPR Construction, a builder specializing in highly complex and sustainable projects, has built a net-zero energy consumption building for its Phoenix Regional Office. Producing as much or more energy than it consumes, DPR’s Phoenix office is the largest building in the world and only the second in the United States to achieve Net Zero Energy Building certification to date. Dave Elrod, Regional Manager for DPR Construction, will discuss his company’s net-zero energy building.

Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on trainability looks at Arizona's first net zero energy commercial building. DPR recently completed a net zero energy consumption building for its regional oil. Dave Elrod is regional manager for DPR construction. Thanks for coming.
Dave Elrod: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: What is net zero energy building?
Dave Elrod: The term net zero means we will produce on site renewable energy that will exceed what we use for the year.
Ted Simons: As much or more in other words.
Dave Elrod: Correct.
Ted Simons: Who makes this particular certification?
Dave Elrod: So ILFI, the international living foundation institute, is the certifier for that program.
Ted Simons: This is the first net zero energy construction in Arizona?
Dave Elrod: Is that certified.
Ted Simons: Why so few?
Dave Elrod: I really couldn't tell you why that is. There is -- it is a bit of an arduous process to become certified. I think that of the program that they are looking at there's four aspects to it which is the site, brown field or gray field sites are more typical what they are looking for, as well as the beauty of the building, the energy use, the certification of that.
Ted Simons: We're looking at the building now. It's a beautiful building. This was actually if I'm not mistaken like a building that you guys just absolutely overhauled, didn't you?
Dave Elrod: Yes, it was a retail outlet originally. It had some hard years on it. But the bones of the building were fantastic. I went in in June it was about 105 degrees, and when I went in, there was about a 20 degree difference in the interior from the outside. There was no power or water to the building at the time.
Ted Simons: You knew something could happen here. It was holding its own even though it was an older building.
Dave Elrod: The structure was good, something we could work with and the location was fantastic.
Ted Simons: This is the largest net zero certified commercial building in the world?
Dave Elrod: Because of the limited number of people who have gone through the certification process.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about some of the things on this. Temperature sensitive windows.
Dave Elrod: The temperature sensing is done by the building automation system. It is a living, breathing building because of the system. So the windows are operated by the system based on air quality. So if the air outside is better than the air inside the windows will open. Then simultaneously with the windows the 84 foot long solar chimney on the roof will, the dampers on that will also open which as the Chimney heats up in the morning from the sunshine it will create that convection current, creating that air flow which creates that sensible cooling for people. Even as we operate the building at a higher temperature we're able to still feel as cool or cooler than if you were operating at a plus or minus 72 temperature.
Ted Simons: Pushing air out, drawing air in, all by way of sensors? Like a central location that senses all this?
Dave Elrod: There's sensors through the building monitoring temperature and humidity. We're also monitoring the -- we're very close to the airport at 44th and Van Buren, which we're able to use I have that web link we use the weather information from the airport. So that allows us because the building operates automatically we could run into issues with monsoons and Haboobs.
Ted Simons: Some of the lighting structures look like there's outdoor light coming through there. How do you divert that? Is there a need for daytime lighting?
Dave Elrod: We depend on daytime lying. Today there won't be any lights on in our building.
Ted Simons: My goodness.
Dave Elrod: We did significant analysis and through our analysis we realized that LED lighting internally was not the best most efficient use of the money that we spent on the building but we did use LED where the lights are on all night.
Ted Simons: There is old fashioned technology I would assume, I think I read about this, evaporation coolers, big old fans.
Dave Elrod: Yes. The convection cooling has been used over 100 years in the valley was the original cooling system. The chimneys that you're talking about that we use as our evaporative coolers are on the exterior of the building. We use water flow from shower heads that will creating an air flow through those and funnel that into the building.
Ted Simons: What were some of the challenges you faced building this? Again, for someone else that maybe runs a business and has a property manager, I wouldn't mind something like this for my company, my corporation. Some of the things to watch for, some of the concerns you had going in.
Dave Elrod: I think the biggest thing is the change in how you operate your space. With respect to your employees and the people you work with every day. It was a drastic change from coming to an office building that just operates like I said plus or minus two degrees off 72 degrees. We operate from 68 to 84 degrees in our temperature band which means that now we have air flowing across people and it's just it's a shift in the paradigm for people and how they work at their desk.
Ted Simons: How are they responding?
Dave Elrod: Very well. We have had great results with people understanding what we're trying to accomplish with our net zero building and sustainable initiatives.
Ted Simons: How long ago was this completed?
Dave Elrod: We finished October of 2011. So we have completed over one year cycle which we achieved -- net zero based on our electric bill but until we got the ILFI certification we couldn't really say we were certified as net zero.
Ted Simons: Even on a day like today or even tomorrow or coming newspaper July and August when the humidity hits people will be able to go to work, sit down and still in this kind of a building be comfortable.
Dave Elrod: Absolutely. So we operate with the passive cooling when the air will allow it, so in the morning the windows will be open tomorrow morning but as the temperature rises they will close automatically and as we cross that threshold of 84 degrees internal temperature, then we'll go to mechanical cooling.
Ted Simons: Are there other net zero projects on board? Anyone else looking to do something like this?
Dave Elrod: Locally we have a lot of people that are very interested. We have toured thousands of potential project customers through our space. Whether they use pieces or parts, what we're trying to do is create this living lab that people can come do and see how you can live or work differently here in the desert.
Ted Simons: It's a fascinating structure. Thank you so much for joining us.
Dave Elrod: Thank you.

Dave Alrod:DPR Construction, Regional Manager

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