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Sustainable building has been on the rise as people have an increased desire to live an eco-friendlier lifestyle. Building managers and directors are capitalizing on this green living trend by constructing and renovating spaces to become Zero Energy Buildings (ZEB)—a building that is able to produce enough renewable energy to meet its annual energy consumption requirement. Attaining ZEB status can be achieved through an energy saving design and various energy conservation programs and products. ZEB’s can be any structure varying from new apartment complexes to renovated courthouses. 

In 2012, there were 60 verified ZEBs that were operating at net zero for a year; as of 2018, there are 482—proving the rapid need to go sustainable to keep up with the changing times. There are multiple ways to add sustainable solutions to new or existing buildings for them to be considered a zero energy building. Below are a few examples. 

Sustainable Exteriors

According to the Centre for Sustainable Energy, an average home loses 10% of its heat through poorly sealed windows and doors. Traditionally, buildings are heated using fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, which can cause damage to the environment. To limit the use of heat used to warm a building and prevent it from leaking through cracks, install multiple layer windows to keep buildings warmer and quieter while also reducing heating bills. 

Another sustainable feature is installing paper insulation in place of typical fiberglass. The Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association says that paper insulation is composed of 85% recycled materials such as newspapers, cardboard, office paper and other waste paper products. The energy saving component of paper insulation begins in the manufacturing stages—it requires less energy to manufacture compared to fiberglass and foam insulation, while reusing materials that would otherwise be in landfills.

A more fun and interactive feature is a green roof. This vegetative layer reduces energy by absorbing heat instead of attracting it, similar to the way traditional and black tar roofs do. Additionally, plants on a green roof will remove air particulates, produce oxygen and provide natural shade.

Sustainable Interiors

Energy saving features shouldn’t stop at the exterior, as there are practices that can be implemented throughout the inside of a building to help achieve a ZEB. Fitness rooms can be a crucial feature in energy saving—traditional fitness equipment is kept on and running even while not in use. 

Building managers and developers can now install sustainable gym equipment as an added amenity to a fitness facility. This is energy producing equipment that can be plugged into a standard outlet and generate watts through exercise that are converted to AC power and sent back into the power grid. The energy produced can help power lights, laptops, televisions and other utilities plugged into the same grid.

Another feature to reduce costs and energy in the long term are low flow functions in bathrooms and kitchens. The EPA states that some toilets waste as much as six gallons of water per flush, 1.6 gallons with the low flow feature, allowing a family of four to save up to 22,000 gallons of water per year by using this feature, according to Ygrene. Low flow isn’t just for toilets, as it can be applied to other appliances such as shower heads and faucets using aerators. A low-flow faucet doesn’t mean you’ll have a poor water stream or reduced temperature; instead, users will save money and conserve energy used to heat water.

A building’s energy usage is the largest contributor to overall carbon footprint—at 40%, according to “The Power of Zero: Learning from the World’s Leading Net Zero Energy Buildings.” If a majority of buildings became ZEBs, the carbon footprint would significantly decrease. When constructing a ZEB or renovating an old building, keep in mind features that are energy saving, producing or both.


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