Much of sustainable design and building is about taking advantage of what’s already there. Places that get lots of sunshine naturally default to solar energy collection. Developers who specialize in urban infill can build on transit-oriented sites, close enough to trains, bus lines and bike lanes to dedicate less space to car parking and put materials and space to other uses. I learned while working on a story about Facebook’s data centers that their Lulea, Sweden facility draws in cool Nordic air to keep their servers operating at peak efficiency.
My interaction with Boise architecture firm CSHQA told me that green architects sometimes take this as far as they can. The designers’ adaptive reuse of a warehouse for their company headquarters strongly indicates they walk the talk. Here are some building features of the build-out that illustrate how they took advantage of some fortunate existing circumstances:
Geothermal heating – Native Americans in the Idaho area historically used hot springs for winter warmth, as did European settlers who came later. As early as 1892, the city created a district heating system based on geothermal energy (water that comes out of the earth at about 170 degrees). For a fee, commercial buildings in the downtown area today tap into this system that was expanded in the 1970s. The CSHQA offices use the hot water with a floor-embedded coil system; it is switched to the cool municipal water system in summer.
Natural lighting – Diffused sunlight enters the office, set on a broad footprint, from windows and skylights. Electric fixtures are set to dim when the sun provides sufficient lighting, while individual task lights can provide more intensive light where needed.
Loading zone overhang – From the building’s warehouse years there was a canopy that protected on- and off-loading of goods in a trucking bay. As it turned out, the overhang was kept intact to serve the new building occupants by blocking sun glare and heat gain.
Computer heat capture – Shrouds on the backs of CAD-crazy computers effectively channel excess energy to a heat exchanger that warms incoming winter air in the HVAC system; it is expelled to the outside during the summer.
What’s important to note is that this LEED Platinum renovation saves energy where energy is already cheap – hydroelectric generation brings down cost/therms throughout much of the Pacific Northwest. The motivation is ecological in nature, however the firm principals say the ROI came soon enough to make these features worthwhile to the bean counters.
Russ Klettke is a business writer with strong interests in all things sustainable. Contact him to discuss your communications and writing needs.