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Exclusive Q&A: 3 Things To Know About Energy-Efficient Design

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Energy prices might be temporarily down, but that doesn't mean energy-efficient buildings aren't important. We asked RNL associate principal Cindy Harvey, who joined the Denver-based company this month to lead its commercial practice, what's cutting-edge now in energy-efficient design for commercial properties.

Exclusive Q&A: 3 Things To Know About Energy-Efficient Design

Bisnow: What's something new in energy efficiency?

Cindy: WELL Building Standard is becoming as important as energy certification programs, since it marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical research.

For instance, we know that prolonged and ill-timed exposure to blue light can cause a whole host of problems, least of which is disruption of sleep/wake cycle, and LED lighting, which has a component of blue light, is prevalent in energy-efficient design. To address the issue, our designers and sustainability experts are exploring LED lighting systems with variable outputs that mimic circadian patterns. The result is sustainable, but also gives occupants a better overall sense of well-being.

Exclusive Q&A: 3 Things To Know About Energy-Efficient Design

Bisnow: Will there be more net-zero energy developments in Denver in the near future?

Cindy: Yes. While the International Living Future Institute only has 21 certified buildings, some amazing precedents are being set and more are on the way. RNL has a few in development right now. The more built examples we have, the more perceptions of how accessible net-zero energy really is will change.

To start, the basic principles include siting the building well, paying attention to the building envelope performance, and considering efficient heating and cooling systems. Ultimately, the best way to get to NZE is simply to use less energy, while the next step is to offset the remaining energy use with sustainable measures like solar or geothermal. Pictured: the net-zero NREL in Golden, which RNL designed.

Exclusive Q&A: 3 Things To Know About Energy-Efficient Design

Bisnow: Are (most, some, a few) tenants on board with green design, even if rents are a little higher?

Cindy: Few tenants seem to be searching out green design specifically and even fewer want to pay a premium. What's more appealing to the market is the correlation of an improved working environment creating a happier, less-stressed, more productive workforce.

Typically an employer will budget only 1% of their annual costs toward energy use, while up to 90% will be on its people. It’s clear where the value is, and it's in an employer’s best interest to deliver an environment that supports the health and well-being of its staff.