Report Back: Building Carbon Zero California - Palo Alto

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Passive House California's 3rd annual conference was hands-down the best yet. With an impressive roster of speakers and vendors, complemented by a diverse array of attendees--from old Passive House consultant diehards like me to other professionals newly enamored by the approach to local government representatives working to weave Passive House into policies--everyone left inspired and committed to "step up their game", as it's our shared responsibility to improve the built environment and leave the world a better place. Let's set bold goals and get moving!

Just a few of the many great highlights I experienced include:

  • Reconnecting with others passionate about high-performance buildings, including Rob Nicely from Carmel Building & Design, who has embraced passive principles and not looked back since we first met and discussed the approach at West Coast Green 2010; Terry Nordbye, who's developing an ingenious low-emissions air sealing system that is going to make people ask "why didn't I think of that"!; and the tireless Bronwyn Barry, whose boundless enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to Passive House is an inspiration to the world... while the conference was certainly a team effort with many players, it's safe to say that without Bronwyn it would not have happened
  • Hearing Ann Edminster's inspirational yet pragmatic closing plenary, which focused on the critical importance of building the right team and embrarking on an integrated design process
  • Enjoying a packed house at my own speaking slot, which I shared with former colleague Lizzie Adams. Learn more on our topic following:

Case Study: 412 Olive Avenue Office, One Year Later

Clarum Homes has been respected as a leader and innovator in California’s green building industry since their founding over 20 years ago. They were a natural early adopter of the Passive House building energy standard and embarked on their first project in 2009, so it was no surprise they chose to build their new company headquarters to the standard. The gorgeous space, completed in 2014, was the result of a transformed sheet metal workshop merged into a major addition and is California’s first commercial Passive House project. Beyond Efficiency was brought on as Passive House and green consultant for the building, which is also pursuing Living Building Challenge Net Zero Energy Building Certification. Now that we have a complete year of monitoring data and the numbers have proved the achievement of zero net site energy, we'll be able to submit for official certification soon!Clarum Homes 412 Olive office interior

In this presentation we discussed key technical challenges encountered during design and construction, including:

  • Elimination of external window shading during a late value engineering exercise, which has lead to overheating issues in the conference room and the need to provide more cooling in that space
  • Reduction of PV system size due to the Palo Alto Utilities rebate structure, which had concerned us in terms of the hitting the zero energy goal--fortunately, though, the building is on track even with the reduced system
  • Commissioning issues with the high-end LED lighting and atypical mechanical systems, which have since been addressed but did cause some heartburn. 

Armed with a year of monitoring data, we reported on actual performance with the detailed circuit-by-circuit power monitoring and HVAC control system that records air and radiant temperatures, humidity and flow rates. For more details please browse through the presentation slides below, and feel free to contact us for additional information.

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