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Measuring up to Zero: Maximizing the Return on ‘Re-Skinning’ Projects

Friday, October 7, 2011

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By Rebecca Pinkus

“A building is green if it operates green.”

That’s the bottom line for Zerofootprint founder and CEO Ron Dembo, who co-hosted a TED-style breakout session with San Francisco-based Siegel & Strain Architects at the 2011 Greenbuild Conference & Expo last week in Toronto.

 Ron Dembo
 Ron Dembo

The presentation, “Towards Low Carbon Buildings and Cities: Energy Benchmarking and High-Performance Building Envelopes,” combined Zerofootprint’s “reskinning” and energy-benchmarking initiatives with technically detailed case studies of recent projects directed by Siegel & Strain.

While energy efficiency is without question a top priority among designers and building owners, Dembo said strategies to accomplish this objective must be measured and “reproducible” to deliver the intended result, especially for large-scale initiatives.

Without an effective energy-efficiency component, the “green” credentials of a building or design are incomplete, no matter how environmentally friendly the materials used, he says.

The challenge is formidable, but that means the opportunity is equally substantial, Dembo said, citing statistics suggesting that on average, commercial building operations account for about 40% of CO2 emissions in North America.

The ‘Re-Skinning’ Approach

One creative approach to achieve efficiencies, Dembo said, is by covering the exterior of an old building with a new exterior. This technology of “re-skinning” provides a way to retrofit a building to improve energy efficiency while minimally disturbing the building’s occupants.

 Benny Chan

 Benny Chan

The winner of the 2011 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Award (Residential) and Best Overall Winner is The Palms, Venice, Calif. (Daly Genik Architects).

As a way to prompt discussion about applying this approach on a broad scale, Zerofootprint in 2009 initiated the Re-Skinning Awards, with the winners of the 2010 inaugural competition announced before a global audience at the UN Habitat World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro. The awards showcase global best practices in retrofitting and re-skinning.

This year the Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards partnered with the John H. Daniels School of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto. The jury was comprised of experts in architecture, engineering, and design, including the celebrated Canadian Architect John Patkau and Architecture 2030 founder Edward Mazria.

 Hendrik Daniel

 Hendrik Daniel

Award winner (Institutional): HKW Building, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen Germany (iParch, Imagine Envelope).

The winners of the 2011 Re-Skinning Award were Daly Genik Architects for Best Overall entry and iParch, Bürö Für Integrale Planung GmbH in the Institutional category.

Award finalists included:

Institutional—Centre for Justice Leadership, Humber College, Toronto, Canada (Gow Hasting Architects);

Commercial/Industrial—honorable mention for Aesthetics and Community Benefits, Orange Cube, Lyon, France (Jakob+MacFarlane); and

Commercial/Industrial—honorable mention for Community Benefits, King & King headquarters, Syracuse, N.Y. (King & King Architects).

Keys to Hitting the Target:
Reproducibility and Benchmarking

While re-skinning buildings shows much promise, Dembo emphasizes that the only way to maximize energy-efficiency results on a large scale is to make sure that re-skinning designs can be easily reproduced. Zerofootprint’s newest initiative focuses on establishing benchmarks for utility data as a way to help prod large-scale retrofitting programs.

Without standardized, hard data on the energy consumption of buildings, there’s no way to identify how much they contribute to carbon emissions, and no way to prove that retrofitting and re-skinning solutions are worth the up-front costs, Zerofootprint says.

More on Zerofootprint’s benchmarking initiative can be read at Universal Benchmarking in the Fight Against Global Warming.

Once a measureable scale is available for application to analogous buildings, financial institutions can get involved. This could pave the way for smaller-scale adaptations of efficiency programs, where homeowners could provide their home’s “green credit rating” and standardized energy-efficiency data as part of a mortgage application.

On a large scale, globally benchmarked data could facilitate funding for major re-skinning projects on a high-volume basis, Dembo says.

Innovative Projects Reviewed

In Siegel & Strain Architects’ portion of the program, the firm’s Principal Henry Siegel and Project Designer Stet Stanborn reviewed some of the firm’s more innovative design concepts and its experiences with cutting-edge building-envelope tools and approaches.

The firm, based in Emeryville, Calif., works to integrate sustainable and passive design, and says its approaches are built around designs that are connected to nature, designed for place and climate, and are aesthetically beautiful. These guiding principles contribute to enhanced value—and thus sustainability—within the community.

In the presentation, Siegel and Stanborn offered a glimpse at the firm’s design of Orinda City Hall and an educational center at Yosemite National Park.

The city hall building design balances daylighting with heat gain, integrates natural and mechanical ventilation, exploits ground-coupled thermal mass, combines shading with a high-performance building envelope, and offers a high degree of occupant control. See Orinda City Hall by Seigel & Strain.

Also reviewed was Siegel & Strain’s design for the Yosemite Environmental Education Center, an extensive complex that includes a dining hall, cabins, bath houses, classrooms, and support facilities. The buildings will combine state-of-the-art green design and energy concepts with the site’s “inherent attributes” to produce an “interactive model of sustainability.” Projected to be a net-zero energy project, the design will bid for a LEED Platinum rating. See Yosemite Environmental Education Center.

Rebecca Pinkus is a Toronto-based writer, editor and communications consultant. She specializes in science, technical and engineering communications.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Energy efficiency; Greenbuild

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