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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sep/Oct 2005 : Green Case Study

Green Case Study

Reaching for New Heights

Developers and designers hope that the McKinney Office Building will be the first LEED Platinum-rated privately developed building in the country.

by David Hale, PE, LEED AP; Robin Hyman, EIT; Michaella Wright, PE, LEED AP; Curt Parde, RA, LEED AP

The McKinney Office Building, a green project in McKinney, Texas, near Dallas, is attempting to reach new heights in sustainable design. In fact, developers and designers hope it will become the first privately developed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-rated building in the country.

Only about 15 platinum-rated buildings exist in the world today. The half-dozen in this country are operated by public entities, such as the Audubon Society, that traditionally are focused on the environment. The thought of using alternative energy sources to power office space has remained, for the most part, just a thought.

Alternative energy sources account for less than 10 percent of the total energy consumed in the country, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Much of the reluctance is because of high startup costs. Still, proponents see promise in the numbers. Although the amount of energy produced by alternative sources is small compared with conventional electricity usage, facility executives and others are adopting the new power technologies at an increasing rate, reports an August 2005 article in Building Operating Management magazine. The magazine also reports that the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technology program, for example, sees the use of solar power growing at a rate of 20 percent annually, while industry watchers say that 25-percent annual growth is possible.

That growth is happening for good reason. Organizations that use alternative energy sources to power their facilities achieve greater energy independence, reduce monthly energy expenses and earn appreciation from their customers for placing importance on sustainable facility practices. Sustainable, high-performance buildings cost less to operate and maintain, are healthier for occupants, and are less damaging to the environment. Potential benefits, of course, include lower operating costs, higher productivity or reduced absenteeism because of healthier indoor air quality (IAQ), conserved natural resources and reduced waste. Possible intangible benefits are a commendable community perception and increased building value.

WestWorld Management, Inc., a developer based in Europe, is well-acquainted with the high costs of energy in Europe, and pursues long-range efficiencies for its properties. As owner of the McKinney property, it expects to gain more than the 52 LEED points required for this high-efficiency Platinum rating, through a combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, rainwater recovery and sustainable design elements. Working along with HDR, a leader in the green building industry, the design/developer team made creative use of an energy-efficient ground-source heat-pump system, a separate roof-mounted solar hot-water system, rainwater harvesting and two separate humidity controls per floor in the McKinney Building.

The McKinney Building is part of the LEED Core and Shell Pilot program, and has recently gained Platinum LEED pre-certification under this program. When the 61,000-square-foot, three-story facility is completed next March, it is projected to reduce energy use by 67 percent, and cut water usage 30 percent compared with a similar, conventional office building. Mechanical system costs are greater than a conventional system, but as energy costs continue to increase, the payback time will decrease.

Energy and Atmosphere Innovation
The McKinney Building diverges from standard sustainable projects in its concentrated focus on the USGBC’s Energy and Atmosphere category under LEED; it seeks to achieve all 10 points in this area. Because of the building’s location in the south, the first consideration toward energy savings is lowering the cooling load required of the chiller. The project will achieve this through increasing use of insulation; use of a “cool roof,” which is a white roof with a high reflectivity factor; high-efficiency glazing; and sunshade devices.

Contributing to mechanical efficiencies in heating and cooling systems is an energy-efficient water-to-water heat pump system, which is connected to geothermal wells. The water-to-water heat pump can be used for both chilling and heating water. Further refining the mechanical system, an under-floor air-distribution system supplies the air at the floor level, providing better IAQ and flexibility for tenants. The under-floor air system will provide each occupant with the ability to control the airflow and temperature into their space. The building also will employ a roof-mounted heat-recovery unit for the outside air (incoming 105-degree air is reduced to a temperature of 79 degrees with very minimal energy input).

Lighting design conserves energy in several ways. First, a smart-lighting system will be placed throughout tenant spaces to match lighting levels appropriately for tasks. Networked controls allow users to adjust lights according to their individual needs directly from their desktops. Second, daylight and occupancy sensors will activate general lighting on an as-needed basis. Further reducing power requirements, the building’s daylight-enhancing façade allows in natural light. In addition, windows include exterior shading devices that serve a dual purpose: a bottom overhang blocks sunlight from flooding the space, but also deflects onto the ceiling for increased natural light.

Additionally, the design team will develop a “green tenant guideline” to encourage tenants to incorporate sustainable design into their respective spaces.

A renewable energy source to reduce pollution associated with non-renewable energy production is important in any green facility. Originally, owners had requested a 100-percent-off-the-electrical-grid system, but this was deemed too costly. Instead, a 45-kilowatt photovoltaic panel system will generate 10 percent of the building’s annual energy consumption, with expansion capabilities for the photovoltaic system to generate up to 20 percent of the building’s energy usage. The remainder of the building’s power will come from a green energy provider.

The design also incorporates the capability to capture and clean site stormwater runoff to improve water quality and minimize the negative impacts of pollution related to stormwater management. In addition, steel cisterns in the corners of the building will harvest roof rainwater, which will be used for site irrigation, reducing potable water use. In fact, no city water will be used for irrigation, whereas typically in the south, more than 50 percent of municipal water used during the summer months is used for irrigation purposes.

Because efficiency is based on performance, a huge part of LEED certification is contingent on measurement and verification. Hence, McKinney planners have gone to great lengths to monitor every mechanical and electrical component in the building to disclose what works and what doesn’t. Each electrical branch circuit in the building can be monitored precisely, which informs tenants of exactly how much energy they consume, and will allow the building management to charge them accordingly.

Lean, Green Machine
While a fraction of buildings use alternative sources of energy and other renewable resources, many are on the brink of incorporating some, if not many, of those practices. WestWorld owns numerous buildings, and if this project proves successful, it may pave the way to many green projects. HDR has worked on green buildings of all types throughout the country, from hospitals and laboratories to government buildings and commercial office buildings.

Going green is not an altruistic strategy reserved for environmentalists, but is a smart practice of cost-conscious, profit-driven businesses. Taking green to the next level not only will reach new heights in sustainable design, but also will explore new possibilities in high performance, productivity and profitability.


David Hale is a mechanical engineer, and can be reached at
david.hale@ hdrinc.com. Robin Hyman is an electrical designer, and can be reached at robin.hyman@hdrinc.com. Michaella Wright can be reached at michaella. wright@hdrinc.com. Curt Parde can be reached at curt.parde@hdrinc.com. All are team members at HDR, an architecture, engineering and consulting firm based in Omaha, Neb.

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