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Green Building Performance
Jamais Cascio, 6 May 05

whrc.jpgWe love green buildings and sustainable architecture. Since the cost of going green when building a new structure is not significantly greater than not doing so -- and whatever added expenses occur are quickly recovered by lower operating costs -- we can't see why designers wouldn't build green. And since there's a strong correlation between cities with more green architecture and cities with more of the "creative class" driving their economies, we're likely to see even more regions encouraging (or even requiring) green building standards.

But as we all know, results don't always match design. How energy efficient and sustainable are these buildings, really?

The Woods Hole Research Center, one of the United States' premier institutions of environmental study, decided to find out for themselves. WHRC moved into its Bill McDonough-designed Ordway Campus building last year, and has spent the last year testing its performance. The Ordway building includes photovoltaics, solar thermal collectors, ultra-efficient windows and more, and was designed to reduce energy consumption by over 25% from the previous Woods Hole building while nearly doubling available space. In order to gauge whether the building meets its design, Woods Hole has set up 75 different sensors throughout the structure, measuring flows of electricity, heat, air and water, as well as the site's overall environmental condition.

The first year's results appear promising. From the Performance Overview:

For the past year the WHRC Ordway facility has performed closely to our originally modeled expectations. Total energy usage was 96,389 kWhrs with 30,589 being generated onsite by our photovoltaic system. The remaining 65,800 kWhrs was pulled from the electric grid. The upshot of this is that 32% of our facility’s total energy requirement was provided by the PV system.Even with a facility that is nearly twice the size of our old combined offices and labs, we are using less total energy and spending less money on energy while reducing emissions attributable to our operations to 36% of our previous total (17% of the national office average for a building of same size). With the installation of a wind turbine this will probably drop to zero, or even to negative emissions, meaning that we will effectively be reducing the emissions attributable to our neighborhood.

Real-time data from the sensors are available on the web. Building Energy Flow and HVAC System Results can be viewed with any browser; Performance Trends and Meteorological Trends are only available to Internet Explorer/Windows users.

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