In the last decade, architects have had to make significant adjustments to their design toolbox, so to speak. Designers have adopted more tools grounded in virtual reality, shifting from 2D to 3D, and rethinking the ways in which partner input is incorporated earlier than ever in designs. So, it stands to reason that a shift in design focus to zero net energy solutions construction would require that architects take up altogether new tools as well.

The momentum driving more zero net energy solutions forward has made numerous new tools available to support this journey. Architects attempting to sort through the noise around zero net energy may find a few solutions to be particularly indispensable.

Energy Modeling Tools

Energy modeling tools are perhaps the clearest example of the type of new tool architects may find they need to adopt to design for zero net energy construction. Solutions vary widely, and range in expense, complexity, and market adoption. However, even basic energy modeling tools may carry a price tag that makes the technology seem cost-prohibitive to small and medium-sized architecture firms. What’s more, as energy efficiency measures become increasingly sophisticated, more elaborative energy modeling tools are needed to accurately simulate baseline energy usage and the impact of energy measures taken.

Instead of turning to energy modeling tools, small and mid-sized firms have relied on manufacturers’ information about the performance of certain energy-efficient products or the expertise of their subcontracting partners, including mechanical, electrical, and façade engineers. One challenge with this approach is that it focuses on individual system or material performance rather than a component’s impact on an integrated whole. Another challenge is that architects tend to have a more limited understanding of the level of modeling required to comply for utility incentive.

Partnering with an energy consultant is one way to ensure projects receive a whole building approach to zero net energy. Working with an energy consultant can benefit architects of all sizes by bringing in a professional experienced in working with a wide range of evaluation tools. This access to the right tools and energy insight can help ensure the right balance of low cost and optimal energy performance. In fact, this partnership can ensure that even small projects achieve energy savings that will ultimately pay for this upfront investment.

Sales-Focused Tools

Of course, the upfront investment necessary to secure appropriate energy modeling may be quickly value engineered out of a project if the client is not fully onboard with zero net energy solutions. With the right sales-focused tools, architects can more effectively convey to owners how energy-efficient system, equipment, or design selections can provide a strong operational return on their investment that makes the higher upfront cost more than worthwhile.

Building performance simulation tools can be one such example of these “sales” type tools. These simulations can be used early on in the conceptual design process to demonstrate the value of specific selections in terms of both energy and cost savings. With demonstrable evidence of how zero net energy solutions can save on long-term costs, owners are more likely to opt to invest in pricier building materials, systems or consulting fees.

Pre-approved design and equipment selection strategies

Once architects begin to move toward zero net energy design solutions more consistently, they may find that many of the elements they apply toward energy reduction or replacement are easily repeatable in future design iterations. In time, architecture firms can develop a process that allows them to mix and match solutions that work for specific climates and building types to ensure the most efficient and cost-effective strategy for reaching zero net energy goals.

As a case in point, Lincus has identified a range of nearly 100 least-cost energy feature packages that can meet high-performance goals while complying with California’s 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards. This energy team assembled a wide range of building energy features into a feature pool. Features were combined to generate candidate whole building feature packages, which were in turn evaluated using energy modeling to select the best compliant package. These optimal feature packages were then compiled in 96 easy-to-adopt one-page Fact Sheets, each tailored to a distinct combination of building type, climate zone, and fuel type. Architects on this zero net energy journey can save time and money in the long run by developing these more modular zero net energy solutions.

Utility Resources

Perhaps the most underutilized resource when it comes to zero net energy design solutions is your local utility. Many utilities are working to support energy goals that include broader adoption of zero net energy construction. These organizations may provide workshops, educational series, and other resources to guide architects on their path. Some utilities also support research endeavors to identify new technologies and building materials that can support zero net energy design goals. By reaching out to the utilities operating in your area, designers may find that they can build a partnership with an expert already vested in your zero net energy success.

If you’re ready to build your toolbox and move closer to net zero energy construction, then why not turn to the consultant that utilities trust to develop and manage their energy projects? Lincus provides energy and sustainability consulting services to clients of all sizes. If you’re ready to transform the way you approach energy efficiency, contact Lincus today.

Download Our Guide: How to Move New Construction to Zero Net Energy Consumption