facility net zero energy, they have found that maintenance is
typically simpler and a rarer occurrence than before.
“They tend to be more durable, simpler and easier to main-
“It’s based on the old adage ‘less is more.’ There are
tain,” explains Liljequist. “Often, the envelopes of the build-
ings are built better, so in the long haul you’re going to have
less maintenance and less potential for rot if it’s a wood frame
structure. Windows are often higher quality, so they’ll be
durable. A lot of living buildings are using ground source heat
pumps and heat recovery ventilators, and all that equipment
is inside the building instead of being on the roof where it
would be exposed to weather and is tougher to maintain.”
Steve Stenton, Director of Sustainability at RMW architec-
ture & interiors, likens the durability and reduced need for
maintenance in zero energy buildings to that of electric
vs. gas cars, where electric cars have fewer moving parts
and are therefore easier to maintain than a gas-fueled car.
Likewise, because mechanical systems in zero energy
buildings are typically smaller than that of a comparable
conventional building, this generally equates to simplified
fewer things to go wrong with it and therefore generally
fewer maintenance issues,” says Stenton. B
Justin Feit firstname.lastname@example.org is Associate Editor
THE ADAM JOSEPH LEWIS
CENTER had long been
championed as a zero energy
building, but a closer look at
the numbers suggested that
it was not as energy-efficient as
it seemed. Only after a decade
of underperformance did the
building achieve its aims.
Portland Community College’s Newberg Center is a different kind of cautionary tale, as poor planning in its quest for zero energy led to major costs.
The sandwich-design roof panels used in the building failed
to the extent that the college needed to replace the roof at a cost
estimated at over $3 million less than four years after the building
had opened for operation.
It was later revealed that officials had been notified in 2011
IMPROPER ENERGY PERFORMANCE METRICS:
ADAM JOSEPH LEWIS CENTER, OBERLIN COLLEGE
If the energy numbers for high performance buildings are incor- rectly calculated or misleading, certifications and claims that a building is zero energy are questionable.
The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies
However, a 2012 paper written by Oberlin professor John H.
Scofield refuted these claims of net zero energy, arguing that the
building had been basing these claims off of misleading energy
numbers – numbers that were “mathematically correct but scien-
“Sadly, the claim is not supported by the facts,” writes Scofield.
“The data clearly show that, in its first 12 calendar years of exis-
tence, there is not one year in which the AJLC has produced more
energy than it consumed – though it came close in 2007.”
The data the university used was flawed because it compared
the average annual building energy consumption from 2002-2010
to the average annual energy production from 2007-2010. The
problem with this line of comparison is that this ignores the
significant rise in energy con-
sumption that occurred from
2006-2010, thus making it
appear that the building suc-
cessfully achieved net zero
during each of these years
when it actually failed every
After Oberlin hired a new
building manager to solve the
energy problems at the AJLC,
these computational practices
have been corrected, and
the building is more successful in its energy goals now
(2012 was the first year that
the AJLC produced more
energy than it consumed).
Nonetheless, the AJLC serves
as a cautionary tale for zero
energy buildings that has cast
some doubt on energy perfor-
POOR PLANNING OF BUILDING MATERIALS:
NEWBERG CENTER, PORTLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE
about the strong possibility that the roof would not last. By 2015,
it had been confirmed that the roof had rotted from the very mois-
ture issues that had plagued earlier projects.
The failure of the Newberg Center is an important reminder
that while outfitting your building to become zero energy, make
sure you do not get tunnel vision with building materials and systems. What might theoretically provide the best energy consumption could also be a bad choice for your building’s environment.