Sammies nominee creates eco-friendly building

A building that runs on almost no energy. It\'s not magic, it\'s called a net zero building -- and the Energy Department can now boast of creating the world\'s ...

Today, Federal News Radio brings you the Best of the DorobekInsider. This interview originally aired on June 25, 2010.

A building that runs on almost no energy.

It’s not magic, it’s called a net zero building — and the Energy Department can now boast of creating the world’s largest.

Jeff Baker is director in the Office of Laboratory Operations at the Energy Department. He led the design and construction of the Research Support Facility using standard materials, but put them together in a slightly different way.

And his work has earned him a Sammies nomination.

[The Service to America Medals (Sammies), of course, are the annual awards that pay tribute to federal employees and are given out by the Partnership for Public Service.]

He explains that the building costs a bit more to make, but in the long run, it’s very cost effective.

“We’re saving 50 percent of the energy that is returned to us over the life of the building. That’s 50 percent that we can invest, or reinvest, into research and development. So, it turns out to be very cost effective. It’s not easy to do, but, at the same time, by doing the project that we have done, we have demonstrated that it is possible.”

The Department of Energy’s Research Support Facility.

He adds they are not only proud of their building, but are excited about the foundation they’ve built (no pun intended) and hope that others will be able to discover even more cost effective ways of constructing buildings.

“We don’t really make money, but we avoid paying utility bills. Again, every dime that we save from a utility bill, we can plow right back into research and development.”

The building is about 60 feet wide with a three story wing and a four story wing. The wings are connected by a corridor, and is completely lighted by the sun.

“The Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria, which is the standard that the U.S. Green Buildings Consulate put together, is the standard that we build to and, frankly, have exceeded. . . . This is a LEED Platinum Building, or the highest level, if you will. . . . In the building, we’ve used concrete from recycled runways. . . . We’ve also used a natural gas pipeline that we’ve refurbished and refinished for the uprights of the building. What we like to say is that we’re building the new energy future on the backbone of the old energy past.”

But how does one know that the building is actually leaving no carbon footprint? Baker says the building is acting as a living laboratory. There are meters connected to every energy system that take readings.

“What we’ll do is, over the course of the year, as people move in and the building starts to operate and normalize — we’ll take the information that’s generated from the building and compare it to design factors. If we identify things that work really well, we’ll tell people about it. If we identify things that don’t work well, or not to design, we’ll tell people about that, too. Our goal is to provide the credible scientific and engineering data necessary [so] that others can replicate what we’ve done and improve upon it.”

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