How to Get to Zero


1. Assess the building

“Building assessment” is done to evaluate current building status and provide recommendations for future consideration. Typically, the core areas of building assessment are the capacity/robustness of the physical infrastructure, the suitability of the learning environment, the use of public space, the flexibility of spaces and uses, etc. Very often, building assessment focuses on the immediate needs of the building and overlooks goals such as energy performance, maintenance, and ongoing operations. Some key questions to ask during building assessment are: Is the site suitable? Is zero energy feasible in your climate? Can the budget accommodate envelope upgrades?

The answers may surprise you! Zero energy schools have been built on many types of sites, in most climate zones, and on very tight budgets. To help assess feasibility for your project, check out these case studies and other resources.



2. Engage stakeholders

The most important key to achieving a zero energy school and maintaining its performance is finding one or more champions with the vision, passion, persistence, and powers of persuasion to lead the project.

A clear but flexible communications strategy is essential. The benefits of zero energy are likely to appeal to different stakeholder groups in different ways, so be sure you understand the unique advantages for students, teachers, taxpayers, and others.



3. Establish a Procurement Process

You may be accustomed to a design-bid-build process, but this is not ideal for a zero energy school. Some form of Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) or Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) approach is most likely to result in a school that achieves and sustains zero energy performance.

Regardless of the process that makes sense for your situation, it’s essential to write an RFP that clearly supports the energy goals of the project. The procurement process drives all the decisions that are made, and by whom. It shows the level of commitment to hit the end goal.



4. Select the Right Team

Collaboration is central to achieving the low energy use intensity necessary for zero energy schools. Finding synergies through integrated design is not just an enhancement but an essential strategy.

Though there are some common technical strategies for achieving such low EUIs, a committed, collaborative, and integrated process is required of the project team that will plan, design, construct, and operate a zero energy school. Each project requires an innovative team and a customized solution.




5. Design to Meet Educational & Energy Needs

The pedagogical value of a zero energy school can’t be overstated. It’s important to align the energy targets of the school with the educational goals advanced by administrators, teachers, parents, and the general public.

With that in mind, leverage the power of the integrative process to develop strategies to support students’ engagement with the building. The zero energy school becomes an integrated learning tool through which the students themselves become the greatest advocates for environmental stewardship as they carry what they have learned in and from their school with them through their lives.

There are also some key checkpoints to ensure the building is designed to meet energy goals. If quantitative energy goals are included in the contract, then ideally the owner will not need a “heavy-lift” during the actual design. Refer the resources below for more details on the checkpoints.



6. Construct & Commission

When it comes to achieving the low EUIs necessary for zero energy, details matter. Everyone on the team—from the lead architect to each subcontractor to the facility manager—has a part to play in ensuring the building meets the highest standards of efficiency and durability.

Additionally, the commissioning process may be more intense than usual as the building envelope, mechanical and electrical systems, and indoor air quality require significant attention to help ensure the building operates as intended.



7. Engage Occupants & Evaluate Success

The success of a zero energy school depends on how occupants interact with its systems. If educational needs as well as energy needs have been accommodated, occupants are more likely to take ownership of energy goals. Yet education of occupants will still be required in order to succeed.

Especially during the first year of occupancy, frequent evaluation and correction is typically necessary in order to fine-tune building systems and ensure zero energy operation.



8. Replicate the Zero Energy Process

Although every project is unique and requires a customized solution, the lessons you learned from creating your zero energy project can be replicated all over the nation. Share your success story locally as well as with the whole world! The U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Catalogue is a great place to start.