A Deep Retrofit with a Message

gsu2The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is sending a message via an ambitious net-zero (NZ) renovation of its Washington, D.C., headquarters.

With 61,000 members in 138 countries, the AGU is the world’s largest society of earth and space scientists.  The headquarters building is a five-story, 60,000-square foot structure on Florida Avenue NW near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.

The 20 year-old building is iconic and richly featured. There is a weather station on the roof, the front façade has architectural features representing the ocean and different layers of the earth’s surface and the sidewalk offers a representation of the solar system (Pluto has not been removed).

Clearly, a deep retrofit to such a building is symbolically meaningful., since the work that goes on within is deeply tied to one of the main goals of such a project: Improving the environment and preserving natural resources.

An iconic building is as prone to the same problems and challenges as any other structure. In 2014, the roof began to leak and the heating system was reaching its end of life. Steps needed to be taken. “Like your house, you have to replace things after period of time,” AGU’s Executive Director and CEO Chris McEntee told Energy Manager Today.

An outside review took into account the organization’s mission and stringent District of Columbia building codes. The decision was made to create a net-zero building. The goals are to save money, save energy — and show others how this can be done. “We want to serve as a model,” McEntee said.

The year-long retrofit will begin in March 2017. Achieving net-zero status on an annual basis is an especially tall order in DC, with its wickedly hot and humid summers. There are three areas of focus: reducing energy use, reclamation and generating electricity.’

McEntee says that the $41.7 million project will pay for itself over time through cost savings and green energy credits. The approach that the GSU is taking will set the organization up for even more stringent codes that will take effect in

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Click on graphic to expand. Photos, graphic courtesy of the The American Geophysical Union.

DC in the 2030 timeframe.

McEntee said that the engineering firm, Interface Engineering, presented 48 possible steps and strategies for the retrofit. Twenty-three were chosen – including steps as simple but generally overlooked as using bricks from demolished building sections to make terrazzo floor tiles.

About a dozen techniques and approaches will be used to reduce energy use. These include triple pane glazing on the windows, occupancy sensors and controls and radiant cooling. There will be seven or eight strategies aimed at reclamation, including exhaust air heat recovery, recovery of flushed water, a hydroponic green wall and – in a step that McEntee says has not been done yet in the United States – use of sewer water for heat transfer. Electricity will be generated by rooftop solar panels.

None of the steps the AGU is taking are so exotic that they can’t be harnessed by others. Indeed, a goal of the project is to convey the message that environmentally sound processes – even if not net-zero – are within the reach of all. “We always were cognizant in putting together our strategy [to use approaches] others could easily replicate,” she said. “It always was part of the statement to find something others could learn from and apply to their own built environments as they moved to net-zero.”

McEntee added that the job of the building’s energy manager will change. For instance, the new energy management system will provide real time feedback on how the building is performing. The energy manager’s job will be to react to that impact and “tune” the building. She said that the energy manager will be trained to optimize the new tools and technologies.

Organizations such as The American Geophysical Union play a special role in pushing the efficiency and renewable message to others. AGU understand this and, starting in March, will seek to lead by example.

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