Implementing Net Zero Energy Elements into the Construction Innovations Center


As the environmental status of our planet declines, it is becoming increasingly important for the construction industry to adapt. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is becoming an unspoken requirement for all new and tenantimprovement construction, and now, with the goal of Net Zero Energy (NZE) for all new commercial buildings by 2030, NZE is becoming the way of the future.

As of late, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) has made grand efforts to retrofit several of the older buildings on its campus in order to achieve LEED certification. One of the younger buildings on campus that performs very efficiently compared to other buildings on campus is the Construction Innovations Center (CIC), home of the Construction Management (CM) program.

Due to the structure being barely ten years old, it was looked over for the LEED retrofitting project. However, being one of the top CM programs in the nation, Cal Poly should display its innovation and prowess by utilizing strategies based on a past tenant improvement project by DPR Construction (DPR). Cal Poly can implement the strategies DPR used into the CIC in order to make the building become more sustainable and eventually NZE.


In 2008, Cal Poly completed construction on the CIC and then two years later completed construction on the Simpson Strong-Tie Lab (SST). As one of the top CM programs in the nation, Cal Poly should to be on the forefront of industry innovation. NZE is becoming the new leading construction practice for sustainability.

By definition, NZE is a building that produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements, thereby reducing the use of non-renewable energy in the building sector (U.S. Department of Energy, 2015). Due to the fact the CIC is almost ten years old, costly extreme tenant improvement (TI) measures are considerably unwarranted; however, there are several elements that can implemented into the building in order for it to become more sustainable, and perhaps even NZE.


The first certified NZE commercial building in San Francisco (SF), California, was DPR’s regional office building. DPR was both the owner and general contractor for the TI and wanted to pursue the project in order to highlight their knowledge and skill for constructing NZE buildings. One of the company’s core values is Ever Forward, and they show this innovation through a companywide goal to have every single one of their offices be NZE.

For the San Francisco office in particular, they faced some challenges due to the confinement of the existing structure. After interviewing one of the lead project managers, Mike Messick, as well as researching a case study of the building, I was able to evaluate the strategies DPR used in order to achieve NZE for their SF regional office.

  • Electrical
  • Mechanical
  • Plumbing


Each commercial building has its different limitations and boundaries, which are dependent on several factors including usage, location, climate, etc. Based on an energy data analysis of the CIC and SST collected via Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager, I was able to use Energy Star’s Target Finder to establish a goal Energy Use Intensity (EUI). Additionally, by comparing the CIC to the DPR San Francisco office, I found that almost all the strategies DPR used Cal Poly might be able to use as well to implement into the CIC. However, since the CIC is still a new building, the more time and cost intensive improvements that are commonly used in a TI, might not benefit the CIC in the short run.


There are several minor upgrades that Cal Poly can do to enhance the CIC and make it more energy efficient in the short run, but to become a NZE building, would require a full-blown tenant improvement. Considering how young the CIC is, it would not be cost effective to make such drastic upgrades to it yet during this point in the building’s life. The three main areas of focus for improving the CIC are electrical, mechanical, and plumbing. After assessing what materials can most likely be installed or upgraded into the CIC, I will be better equipped to create a rough estimate and perform a return on investment (ROI) for the materials I suggest being installed.



By using Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager, I was able to discover the amount of energy the CIC and SST consumes on a monthly average. There are two types of energy use types, the first being source energy use and the second being site energy use. Source Energy Use is the total amount of raw fuel that is required to operate your property, and Site Energy Use is the annual amount of all the energy your property consumes onsite, as reported on your utility bills (Energy Star, 2017). Based off the most recent reading in November 2016, I was able to find the following energy consumed, shown below in Table 1.


To use the PVWatts® Calculator, I entered in the Cal Poly address and from there the Calculator will adjust the settings of the proposed PV panels to fit with the location of the building. I tested which tilt angle would provide the optimal energy production and found that 31 degrees produced the most energy. Then, the Calculator allowed me to draw a proposed roof installation area on a satellite map of the address that I originally inputted. After doing so, it generated the following results shown below in Table 2.


After I had calculated the amount of energy the CIC could produce by installing PV panels on the A and B wings of the building, the next step I took was deciding what materials might be the best to be installed into the CIC to reduce its energy consumption. Once I had done so, I then performed a material quantity take off based on the amount of rooms in the CIC and then rough estimate of the materials I felt that had would have the most success being implemented into the CIC. Table 3, shown below, is what resulted from that.


After reviewing several different methodologies and elements that will contribute to the CIC producing its own renewable energy, the best solution in the near future are the minor upgrades listed above. For a longer look ahead, in order to reach complete NZE, a TI will be necessary. The CIC achieving complete NZE status at this time is technically impossible because the building is not ran solely using electricity. By implementing the suggested elements stated above, and by switching our mechanical system from gas-powered to electric-powered, then the CIC’s chances of becoming NZE are far greater.


There is still so much that could be analyzed and discovered by researching further into the CIC and NZE best practices. If another student were to further pursue my research, I would recommend that they partner up with either an electrical engineering and or mechanical engineering student. This way, they could work together as a team to run hypothetical tests to see how much energy there is to be saved, but potentially even install the materials into the CIC or another building on campus. Another topic I would recommend is looking into the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the CIC.

By using a Building Information Modeling (BIM) software like Tally, would provide whoever the tools to conduct a LCA on the CIC, as well as track its status and progress as more and more sustainable elements become integrated into the building. If this project is decided to be pursued by someone, regardless of who decides to pursue it, the Construction Management department could use it as a teaching opportunity and have students install the materials themselves. I realize that could be risky, but I think it still has the potential to work itself out nicely and save on installation costs. As stated before, I believe that the implementation of NZE elements into the CIC is completely possible, it will just require an investment in time and money.

Source: California Polytechnic State University
Authors: Marlo A. Castro

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