Monuments to Efficiency 'High-Performance Buildings' Designed to Be Better

Article excerpt

Driving across Jacksonville, what engineers call "high-performance buildings" are not easy to spot.

Typically they have brick exteriors, often they have overhanging eaves, sometimes but not always sloping metal roofs. Mostly their merits are hidden away.

They are buildings designed to have lower maintenance and energy costs. Some were built using a process of design coordination and testing called "commissioning," which makes sure all the components of the building work together effectively.

"You end up with a building that has a lower first cost, lower operating costs, a better quality building, so you get better occupant productivity, and everybody wins -- and it uses less resources, so it's a benefit to the community as well," said Bruce Doueck, JEA's director of economic development and an advocate of the techniques that lead to a high-performance building.

Effective design, incidentally, cannot be taken for granted.

Wayne Dunn, principal of Sunbelt Engineering Inc., a mechanical engineering firm that manages building commissionings, recalls projects where the internal suction created by air handlers was so strong it trapped people in rooms because they could not open the doors.

Doueck likes to point to the State of Florida's award-winning Regional Service Center on North Davis Street as a sort of poster child for what he is talking about.

The center contains a 65,000-square-foot building, designed by KBJ Architects Inc. and a 100,000-square-foot building designed by Saxelbye Architects Inc. plus smaller buildings. Sunbelt Engineering Inc. managed the commissioning process.

A third major building, a two-story structure, designed by Rolland DelValle & Bradley Inc., will open in 2001 and be occupied by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

By using high-performance techniques, the state figures it can avoid nearly $500,000 in energy costs in the first 10 years of one of its standard 100,000-square-foot office buildings like the one it has built at the Regional Center.

One of the most important components in the center in reducing energy costs is double-glazed glass, called "low E-glass" by engineers, which has a special coating on the inside and reduces temperature buildup inside the building.

Low E-glass is highly resistant to heat.

One sales stunt is to hold a high-intensity lamp against a pane of E-glass and a pane of regular glass, called "thermal glass," for 10 or 15 minutes, said John Bottaro, senior vice president and senior architect at Reynolds Smith & Hills Inc., an engineering and architectural firm.

"You can't even put your hand on the thermal [glass], it's so hot," Bottaro said.

But next to it, the low E-glass is barely warm, Bottaro said.

The Center also makes use of energy management software to control energy use in all its buildings as well as the stand-alone central energy plant; plus gadgets like sound-activated light dimmers and light and high-efficiency fluorescent lighting

The Regional Center has three layers of defenses against possible electric power surges and power spikes from lightning, and backup generators, just in case.

The center's buildings have metal roofs and brick veneer over precast concrete blocks, which do not need much maintenance or replacement. …