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M|O Perspectives

Check back here for our thoughts on the latest developments in our industry.

Going net zero: What about the envelope?

March 10th, 2016

Setting new precedents in green energy, California made significant revisions to energy requirements as part of the state’s 2014 building code. The revisions also proposed an extensive mandate for new commercial buildings to be “zero net energy” by 2030.

While we assume the rest of the country will eventually follow this progressive state’s lead, there is clearly panic in the industry. However, most of the heightened discussion about how to get to net zero has been driven by building systems and technology. Architects are left in the dark, wondering what happens to the building envelope in all this.

  • Will there be an architecture left in the envelope while achieving net zero?
  • Will sexy glass buildings still be allowed or will walls all need to be solid and insulated?
  • If there is glass, will it have massive overhangs and shading devices?
  • Will everything be synthetic, using the latest and greatest technology to achieve required ratings?

A more holistic approach?

As a comprehensive architecture and engineering consulting firm, Marx|Okubo is interested in seeing a more holistic push for improvements for the exterior building system. Product insulative values and weather barriers have been improved. However, unlike advances in mechanical or lighting/electrical systems that now have Building Automation Systems (BAS) to monitor and control efficiency, the improvements in exteriors have been piecemeal at best.

Some sustainable buildings have begun tying operable window operation with the mechanical system, for example. But unfortunately this development appears limited to superficial steps toward earning a sustainability “badge of honor,” rather than being incorporated throughout, an effort likely hindered by installation as well as maintenance costs. This discrepancy does beg the question of whether or not the exterior envelope should be rethought as a holistic system rather than just parts that make up a whole.

So what can an industry concerned with the entire built environment do next? The answer will take some soul searching among owners/operators of new-construction buildings. Are they ready for the change, considering 2030 is less than 15 years away? Very soon these investors will be challenged not just by building equipment, new technologies and entire proprietary systems, but major marketing issues as well. How will they balance meeting energy-efficiency code while still building attractive, saleable structures? These are just some of the compelling questions facing our changing profession today.

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Marx|Okubo is a national architecture/engineering/construction consulting firm that works with real estate owners, investors and lenders—at every point of the property lifecycle—to evaluate their building projects, solve complex challenges and implement tailored solutions. We help clients understand their projects’ complexities, so they can make more informed decisions and, ultimately, mitigate their risk.