The U helps roll out state building energy standards

The University’s Center for Sustainable Building Research helped develop this year’s 70 percent energy reduction standard for state-funded buildings.

The U helps roll out state building energy standards

Allison Kronberg

Professors and researchers within the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Building Research have been meeting within the center’s naturally lit rooms for the past six years, determining ways to help state buildings meet energy reduction standards.

The center has been a part of research for the Sustainable Buildings 2030 program, a statewide initiative to achieve net-zero energy use by 2030. The program mandates 70 percent energy-use reductions for any state-funded renovation or construction projects in the next five years — impacting projects like the new Vikings Stadium and new University centers.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill in 2008, designating the center to develop Sustainable Buildings 2030, based off Architecture 2030, a global nonprofit mission that sets incremental energy reduction goals to reach net-zero. With the legislation, Minnesota was the first in the nation to legally mandate those standards, starting with 60 percent reductions in 2010, and 10 percent reduction targets every five years.

“It’s representative of a serious commitment by the state of Minnesota to move quickly and aggressively, which I think distinguishes Minnesota versus what other states have done,” said Richard Graves, the director of the Center for Sustainable Building Research.

The 78 buildings statewide that are involved with Sustainable Buildings 2030 are projected to save 53,000 tons of carbon dioxide pollution and $7.04 million in energy operating costs annually.

Before the state introduced the standards, state-funded buildings only had to prove that their designs were 30 percent better than code or the baseline energy standard that was legal for the building.

“It was really nebulous what code was … and there was no monitoring mechanism to make sure they were meeting [the standards],” said Richard Strong, a senior research fellow at the center, who developed the state’s first sustainable building rating system in 1994.

Under Sustainable Buildings 2030, the buildings are required to submit heating and cooling data reports every decade, Strong said.

But even before the program’s standards were implemented, 15 buildings in the state were already meeting them, he said.

The University already had to meet the previous 60 percent reduction standards for about a dozen of its building projects.

To do so, it used strategies like installing motion sensors to adjust lighting and airflow when rooms or labs aren’t being used, or heating rooms from the floor up, rather than the ceiling down, which works against heat-rising properties.

The University is requesting the state Legislature appropriate funding for the construction of two new buildings this year — a new greenhouse and a building for veterinary research — that would need to meet 70 percent reductions if approved.

Funding for making the initial sustainable designs has been more of an issue, though, said Monique MacKenzie, University capital planning and project management’s planning, space and architecture director.

“There is always some stress when we need more money at the first point of construction,” MacKenzie said. “The additional first cost required to design and construct — that is going to be the challenge for anybody.”

Scott Wende, co-owner of St. Paul-based architecture firm Lunning Wende Associates, Inc., said his company has faced financial strain to meet the standards. And the larger the project, the pricier the design, he said.

The Center for Sustainable Building Research, along with utility companies and a software and engineering firm, has worked with the University and other firms, like Wende’s, to develop energy-saving strategies.

Those approaches have long-term savings that have made initial costs worthwhile for the University and the architecture firm, Wende and MacKenzie said.

Wende isn’t worried now, even with this year’s 10 percent increase in reductions, he said. But he’s uncertain about the financial impact of 90 percent reductions or more.

The state may need to take into account the cost associated with more complicated design solutions in the future, MacKenzie said.

Despite the challenges, both the University and Wende’s architecture firm plan to meet net-zero reductions by 2030.

“This is what we should be doing when we have public money involved in buildings, from my perspective,” Wende said. “I think it’s really important.”