Validating High-Performance Building Design and Operations at the Southface Eco Office

Author: Juliette Apicella

When the Eco Office tour guide stated, “The building’s energy use averages less than $25 per day,” the architects touring the space were surprised. Though they’d come expecting to hear about the building’s high performance, the low cost of energy was still quite impressive to the group visiting in conjunction with the American Institute of Architects national convention. The Eco Office’s evidence-based case for high-performance design and operations has been building over the past five years as operating data has been collected and analyzed.

At the conclusion of the tour, Karen Butler, Senior Project Manager with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ENERGY STAR Commercial Building Design, presented Southface with its 2015 ENERGY STAR certification. The 1-100 ENERGY STAR score assesses a building’s energy performance compared to similar buildings nationwide. Buildings with a score of 75 or higher are top performers. Butler noted that good design, operating the building efficiently and occupant involvement are the key ingredients to achieving superior energy performance. Southface and Lord Aeck Sargent did an outstanding job of proving this point. The EPA is helping make it easy to design buildings that will use fewer resources and protect the environment by making sure they’re designed and operated to earn the ENERGY STAR certification. In 2006, the Eco Office achieved EPA’s Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR recognition, with a design score of 100. Last month, the ENERGY STAR performance score was 98 as a result of reducing energy and carbon emissions by 63 percent.

The Eco Office is a three-story structure with a green roof and serves as office space for Southface staff as well as a training center and high-performance building demonstration facility. At 8,401 square feet, the Eco Office represents small commercial buildings (50,000 square feet or less) which make up 94 percent of all commercial buildings in the United States with high potential to save energy, water and operational costs. The building was completed in 2009 by a consortium of construction firms, and demonstrates how integrated design and off-the-shelf technologies can reduce operating costs for their owners. “The Southface Eco Office proves that with a committed owner/operator, buildings can meet and exceed their high-performance design targets.” remarked Jim Nicolow, Principal, Lord Aeck Sargent.

To operate the building efficiently, Southface monitors the performance of the Eco Office on a 24/7 basis and benchmarks energy water consumption using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager®, a free benchmarking tool that compares the performance of similar buildings nationwide. Portfolio Manager is used in programs such as the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, a voluntary commercial efficiency program to reduce energy and water consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020, led by the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Partners.

Dennis Creech accepts the EnergySTAR plaque from Karen Butler of the EPA.

Dennis Creech accepts the ENERGY STAR plaque from Karen Butler of the EPA.

Southface recently implemented an occupant behavior based-engagement plan to meet the 20 percent water reduction goal of the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge. Dennis Creech, Southface Executive Director said, “We are not done yet. We have projects to further increase the efficiency of this building and our goal is to get to net-zero.”

The Southface Eco Office has earned the ENERGY STAR, as well as Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, meets the 2030 Challenge, a global initiative of the architecture and building community to become carbon neutral by 2030 and EarthCraft Light Commercial (ECLC), a regional green building certification program offering third-party recognition for environmentally responsible design and construction practices for small-scale, or “light” commercial buildings in the Southeast.

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