As a proposal coordinator at a deep green engineering firm, I have picked up a lot of technical knowledge over the years – why a tight building envelope is important to sustainability, what an air source heat pump is, and even what the commissioning process really entails – but I’m always excited for the opportunity to further deepen my understanding of green design.

I joined Integral Group because I believe in a sustainable future, and it has been proven to me, time and time again – by my coworkers, by our collective work – that a major step towards this goal is building the most efficient buildings we can. I was excited for the opportunity to attend GreenerBuilder to get a deeper understanding on current sustainable building trends.

GreenerBuilder took place at the Zero Net Energy Center in San Leandro, CA, a beautiful building that has ample daylight, natural ventilation, and a real-time energy dashboard, reporting metrics on energy used vs. energy produced via a large PV array. I sat in on some important learning sessions, and here are my top four take-aways:

1. Codes are changing – and that’s good

CodeCycle Founder, Kim Goodrich, and Wes Sullens, Director of Codes Technical Development at USGBC, discussed their excitement for the upcoming changes to Title 24, the California Building Standards Code.

Integral Group is working in partnership with PG&E to rewrite Part 6 of Title 24 – the California Energy Code – for the 2019 cycle. Our Building Performance team provides analysis on the specific issues and proposes improvements to the code. Several full-time engineers are committed to lead this effort and continue to be involved in this process until the new code adoption in 2019-2020.

Fellow GreenerBuilder attendee and Integral Group sustainability consultant, Jimmy O’Hare, noted “California’s building codes are leading the way nationally and internationally. Energy-efficient, water-efficient, and indoor environmental health shouldn’t be specialty-features in buildings. These building features should be the status quo, fundamental to all construction.”

In her presentation, Goodrich supported that statement adding, “Title 24 is integral to the future of sustainability… These codes are the tools cities can use to get there.”

2. Schools are the perfect test bed for Zero Net Energy retrofits

Integral Group is working with the San Francisco Unified School District to perform energy modeling and make recommendations on energy savings measures to get their existing building stock on a pathway to Zero Net Energy – this I knew.

In his session “A Curriculum in ZNE School Retrofits,” Nik Kaestner, the Director of Sustainability for SFUSD, explained what I didn’t know – why schools are perfect for these types of retrofits. Schools are owner-occupied, have a replicable design, and typically have low-energy usage. They are also a learning environment and are important to the community, meaning the community will be more likely to back renovations as a means to keep the building resilient and simultaneously use its sustainability goals as a learning tool.

3. Resiliency adds value to buildings

The session “Is My Building Resilient” looked at sustainability – and resiliency – from the point of view of real estate investors. The speakers, Lauren Taymor, consultant at DNV GL and Dennis Latta senior project manager at Cushman & Wakefield, discussed how the changing climate and associated extreme weather events are revealing how non-resilient so much of our existing building stock really is. Vulnerabilities can disrupt business, displace residents and translate into loss of productivity and higher insurance premiums. By building resilient the first time around, developers can guarantee their investment will stand strong for longer, ensuring less incidents of such financial disruptions. In this way, resiliency – the next sustainability buzzword – is being touted as something that can add value to your buildings.

This made me think of Integral Group’s 435 Indio project, a Zero Net Energy retrofit project. Making the project ZNE added value to the building that the developer wasn’t expecting. The building leased in only 3 months where other similar buildings may take up to 18 months to lease. Indio was such a success that the developer-contractor team has since worked with Integral Group on three more ZNE retrofits.

4. Onsite water reuse is more common than we think

Jay Paul Company decided to make a gray water system a reality in its new 70-story luxury tower, 181 Fremont. Kyle Pickett, Managing Principal of Urban Fabrick, spoke with Kelly DeWees, Senior Construction Manager for Jay Paul on a panel called “Dirty Water: Solving Onsite Water Reuse.” Urban Fabrick acted as the LEED Consultant on the project, and their involvement is how DeWees got inspired to explore the option of a full gray water system.

Gray water systems were initially presented to DeWees as a way to get points towards a LEED Platinum certification, but it ended up taking her on a journey. It was comforting to hear that she had the same questions many have – is there a smell? Is the water really clean?

DeWees traveled with Urban Fabrick to tour several projects in Australia, where gray water systems are the norm. Eventually, Jay Paul Company decided to install the Aquacell G20 Treatment System, which will capture, treat and reuse water collected from showers, laundry, and bathroom sinks. This system, located in the garage, will save as much as 1.3 million gallons of potable water annually.

Lavanya Muttayan, Integral Group plumbing designer, attended the session and said she was very inspired and hopeful by the progress in water reuse systems. Lavanya has designed multiple greywater systems, but has yet to see one of her designs fully constructed. Pickett and DeWees hope that the implementation of this system in 181 Fremont will be the start of a trend in the Bay Area, and the world.

Mahesh Ramanujam, President & CEO, US Green Building Council Photo courtesy USGBC Northern California
Mahesh Ramanujam, President & CEO, US Green Building Council
Photo courtesy USGBC Northern California

GreenerBuilder was a fun, engaging event, and I was excited to dive deeper into how our work is shaping the built environment. I feel inspired and more certain that designing resilient, green buildings is essential to the sustainable future our world needs.

Favorite Conference Quotes

Molly: “Everyone deserves to live and work in healthy, green buildings.” – Kim Goodrich, Director, CodeCycle

Jimmy: “Partnership is the new leadership.” – Mahesh Ramanujam, President & CEO, US Green Building Council

Lavanya: “We start green with ourselves.” – Mahesh Ramanujam, President & CEO, US Green Building Council