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CONSTRUCTION CORNER: The Power of Zero, a valuable new resource

Korky Koroluk
CONSTRUCTION CORNER: The Power of Zero, a valuable new resource

Hard on the heels of the euphoria that environmentalists felt at the outcome of the Paris climate conference in December came the realization that limiting global warming to 2 C above pre-industrial levels would be tougher than many thought.

To achieve that, we have learned, probably means that we must not only stop pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we probably have to take some out. And if we want to limit warming to 1.5  C, as many people want, we’ll have to take a lot more carbon out of the atmosphere.

So it gave me pleasure to find in the mail one day recently a book I had ordered when it was released last month by Ecotone Publishing, which is an arm of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

The book is The Power of Zero: Learning from the World’s Leading Net Zero Energy Buildings, and if you’ve been looking for a solid introduction to the concept of net zero energy (NZE), then this book’s for you. Buildings, after all, account for something like 40 per cent of North American energy use.

The thesis of the book, of the whole idea of a living future, is laid out in one statement: "One hundred per cent of a building project’s energy needs must be supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis."

When we first started hearing about the net-zero concept, people pooh-poohed the idea as impossible. Sadly, I was among the naysayers. But since then a lot of research has been done as hurdles were cleared one by one. Now there’s even an NZE project in Edmonton, which I wrote about two years ago. Net zero? In an Edmonton winter? Yup.

Now we have The Power of Zero, which is a splendid primer on net zero for other design professionals, builders or anyone else who may want to start taking a closer look at the subject.

The book makes a technical subject really approachable. It is well written and organized. An initial section fleshes out the concept of NZE.

Then, in the real guts of the book, there’s a long section of case studies of residential, commercial and institutional NZE projects. Most are in the United States, but there are forays into other countries.

Case studies have become a popular way of presenting subject matter in a concise way that’s attractive to busy people.

Those in this book run anywhere from six to a dozen pages, sometimes more, and each one is a goldmine of information.

One, for example, deals with the Phoenix, Ariz., headquarters for DPR Construction, a technical builder specializing in complex projects. Formed in 1990 with offices in Redwood City and Sacramento, Calif., the company now has 20 offices dotted across the U.S.

The case study for their Phoenix building begins by listing the entire project team. The building’s specs are listed: number of floors, footprint, site size, a list of renewables used, actual annual energy use, electricity generated and net energy use, construction cost, stuff like that. There is also a list of costs (hard and soft) and sources of financing. There is a discussion of design elements, as well as one about evaporative cooling — important in a Phoenix summer. We also learn about the building’s hot-water supply, daylighting and lighting, plug loads and the sources and configuration of renewable energy sources.

There is also information on the construction process and constructability issues that arose as the building went up.

There’s a total of 19 case studies in the book, all of them loaded with information.

If you want to know more you can buy the book online from the International Living Future Institute at Click on Bookstore, then Books. That opens a list where you’ll find The Power of Zero. You’ll pay US$39.95.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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