The Path to Zero
Using its own offices as high-performing living labs, DPR is surpassing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) standards with its own regenerative or net-zero energy buildings, which produce as much or more energy as they consume.
Project: DPR Phoenix
- Shower towers with misters to provide pre-cooled air
- 87-ft.-long, zinc-clad solar chimney
- 79 kW photovoltaic-covered parking system
- 82 Solatubes
- Lucid Building Dashboard
- Targeting LEED-NC Platinum certification
Energy Consultant: KEMA
Project: DPR San Diego
- Solatubes and daylight sensors
- Roof Monitors
- 64 kW photovoltaic array
- 100-gallon solar water heating system
- Lucid Building Dashboard
- Only commercial office in San Diego to achieve both LEED-NC Platinum certification and net-zero energy status
MEP Engineer: KEMA
Last October marked the beginning of a new era for DPR’s Phoenix office, which relocated to the Discovery Triangle redevelopment area near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The new DPR office is on track to be the first net-zero energy private office building in Arizona.
“We’re proud of our new office and how it physically, environmentally and visibly represents our core values and culture,” said Dave Elrod, regional manager of DPR’s Phoenix office. “While many building owners may think it’s impossible to turn a 30-year-plus-old building at the end of its intended life cycle into something forward-thinking and sustainable, that is precisely what we think we have achieved for our new home.”
Featuring modern lines, the 16,000-sq.-ft. office building, designed by SmithGroupJJR with sustainability consultant, KEMA Engineering, is targeting LEED-New Construction (NC) Platinum certification and employs some of the most advanced green technologies currently available, including:
- shower towers with misters and showerheads at the top of the units that provide pre-cooled air;
- an 87-ft.-long, zinc-clad solar chimney, the largest of its kind in Arizona, that creates passive cooling by drawing air through the shower towers and operable windows with a convection current;
- 79 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic-covered parking system that not only is expected to produce 180,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year but also provides shade for 36 parking spaces;
- 82 Solatubes® high-performance daylighting systems strategically positioned throughout the building to eliminate the need for daytime artificial lighting; and
- a Lucid Building Dashboard® system that allows DPR to view, compare, and share building energy and water use information in real time.
Savings in San Diego
Designed with the goal of achieving net-zero energy usage within its first year, the Phoenix office is following the lead of DPR’s San Diego office, which recently became the first and only commercial office in San Diego to achieve both LEED-NC Platinum certification and net-zero energy status.
Located in the University City community of San Diego, the 33,600-sq.-ft. building is the city’s first and only net-zero energy commercial office greater than 20,000 sq. ft. To achieve net-zero energy, the building had to generate at least as much energy onsite as it consumes from the utility grid within one year.
According to DPR’s Whitney Dorn, a champion of sustainability throughout Southern California, the initial cost outlay for the San Diego office’s renewable energy systems, which include a 64 kW photovoltaic system and a 100-gallon solar thermal water heating system, was $435,000, or $12.90 per sq. ft. Over the last year, the office generated nearly 12,000 kWh more than it consumed, and utility bills dropped from $1.60 per sq. ft. annually from the previous office space to only twenty cents per sq. ft. annually.
“That’s an approximate energy savings of $33,000 a year and a conservative estimate of $1.1 million in energy savings over the next 20 years,” added Dorn. “Plus, DPR receives and will continue to receive rebates averaging over $1,200 per month for the next three years from the California Solar Initiative.”
To reduce consumption, DPR’s San Diego office utilized strategic building improvements, such as roof monitors, auto-operated windows, and Solatubes to naturally light and ventilate the space. The Tridium building management system and Lucid Building Dashboard connect the passive and active systems together.
“We wanted to set an example in our industry by changing the way commercial office buildings are designed and built with the goal of improving the world we live in,” said Jay Leopold, regional manager of DPR’s San Diego office.
Sustainable Approach to Sustainability
These net-zero energy office buildings come 10 years after DPR first sought to effect real change in the way its office buildings perform. In 2001, three years after the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) piloted its LEED rating system, DPR pursued certification for its ground-up 52,300-sq.-ft. Sacramento regional office building.
The project, which won the 2004 California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for Sustainable Facilities, was also the first privately held LEED certified building in California’s Central Valley, achieving LEED Silver and LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI) Gold certifications. Building performance data shows the return on the additional $85,000 outlay for sustainable features was recouped within two-and-a-half years through water and energy-efficiency gains. To date, more than 100 companies and organizations have toured the space.
“Our Sacramento office gave us the opportunity to better understand the pain points and benefits of pursuing LEED for our customers and helped serve as a launching pad for hundreds of green projects over the last decade,” said DPR’s Peter Salvati. “Now, we are taking what we have learned to go beyond LEED certification. Ultimately, as a company, we want to develop a more sustainable approach to building in general. Sometimes that means not only producing what you use but also reducing what you think you need.”
For the San Diego office, Salvati added that part of the process was “recalibrating the zones of comfort from the traditional office” within more of a 10- to 12-degree range and making both environmental and behavioral adjustments to get closer to people’s natural comfort levels. “When you’re cold sitting at your desk, rather than turning up the heat, sometimes all you need to do is get up and walk around. Or when you’re hot in the office, it might be time to open a window or walk outdoors to get some fresh air. It’s about creating ‘living environments.’”
Beyond its noteworthy efficiency, Leopold added that the goal of the San Diego office was to “transform a typical San Diego suburban office building into a cutting-edge facility that respects the environment, our employees, our customers and our culture.”