First "Net Zero" Visitor Center Makes NPS Greener

The Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center at the King Gillette Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California is the first in the National Park Service to attain “net zero site energy” status—which means it produces and exports at least as much renewable energy as the total energy it imports and uses in a year. NPS Photo.

Since its inception in 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) has been charged with protecting our country’s national parks for generations to come. Since the push to “go green” has become an increasing part of public consciousness in recent years, so too has the NPS expanded its efforts in that arena. From locally produced food served in park restaurants to cutting edge energy conservation, the NPS has many sustainable practices in place.

Now, the NPS has gained its first “net zero” visitor center, the Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center at the King Gillette Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California. Check out these other National Park Service green buildings—

http://www.nps.gov/sustainability/documents/sustainable/LEED-Buildings-Tid-Bits.pdf

The visitor center has been awarded a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification (the highest) for its design. LEED provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. In addition to this building, the NPS has several other LEED certified buildings.

The King Gillette visitor center is “net zero site energy,” meaning it produces and exports at least as much renewable energy as the total energy it imports and uses in a year. The building boasts a mix of both new technology and older insights into green building: photovoltaic panels, LED lighting, geothermal heating and cooling, as well as a use of natural light and green building materials. The visitor center’s energy production and consumption can be monitored online.

The Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center is in alignment with the Park Service’s green parks plan, which encourages units of the park system to reduce carbon emissions and use sustainable management. Kate Kuykendall, a NPS spokesperson, said, “It’s really about walking the walk since our entire agency is about protecting national resources.”

Located in northwest Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the largest urban national park in the United States. The area has a long history of human occupation and contains many significant historic and prehistoric sites and a Native American history. The national recreation area actually is made up of many parks and locations, from the beaches of Malibu to the peaks of the mountain range and is only a hop, skip, and jump from Los Angeles, making it the perfect location for a family vacation or a quick outing on a business trip.

Comments

And people wonder why we have a $6 billion infrastructure deficit in th National Parks.

Somehow, when I saw "anonymouse" on the comment list, I knew I'd find a negative comment.

Anony, will you explain exactly why this project is so bad? Or do you just get your kicks by badmouthing anything that comes along? If you have good reasons for your opinions, let's hear them.

The money it takes to make this "net zero" is substantially higher than conventional methods and has a payback measured in decades if not life times. For the same dollars improvements could have been made to multiple facilities.

So we'll "save" energy no matter how much it costs?

Initial construction costs of LEED certified buildings are generally about the same as construction of conventional buildings.

http://hpac.com/columns/engineering-green/true-cost-leed-buildings-0111/

http://bloomington.in.gov/green-building-costs

http://www.ee-solutions.com/solutions/Solutions/Cost%20of%20LEED.aspx

There are more sources out there. It's still a relatively new idea, but the NPS is a leader in researching and developing its use. That is as it should be.

That is absolute baloney. I'm in the real estate business. I work with builders on a regular basis. I know what the actual costs are. If it were truely on par in cost, why wouldn't every project use those standards? They don't because it isn't - unless youare using some one elses money.

Okay, let's see some numbers. Some specifics.

I'm gonna call balony in return. Check out the Executive Summary, page 3 for a synopsis. The rest of the paper is also very interesting.

http://www.davislangdon.com/upload/images/publications/USA/The%20Cost%20of%20Green%20Revisited.pdf

There are many more similar pieces of information available on line. All one has to do is look.

Thanks for posting the links, Lee. They clearly support your point (not to mention the ecological benefits).

Lee, you can cite all the "pieces" you want. I work in reality. Answer the question. If "net zero" is the same cost to implement, why doesn't every project implement net zero. The answer is the people that are spending their own money are doing the research and they realize that the cost is prohibitive.

So let's see some solid numbers from your "reality." Prove me wrong. Answer my question and show us some of that "reality."

Or is it just another example of short-sighted profit grabbing over what will actually be the best long-term solutions? Or could it be a new idea that is still foreign to some people who have trouble moving ahead in the world and find it more comfortable to stick with tradition? A number of architects and builders in this area are advertising net-zero or "reduced impact" design and construction of both commercial and residential properties. They acknowledge (as I do) that such construction may involve some added expense, but that the price is worth it. Numbers in the studies I cited above say that the extra cost ranges from none to normally about +10% with some going as high as an extra 30% if they include some fancies.

I agree that we need to spend public money wisely – but there are two sides to that approach in building new facilities. We should avoid wasteful "extras" which have no benefit, but we should also be willing to use new approaches if they offer improved efficiency. We could call this the "fluff vs. function" test for a project.

Anon illustrates the challenges faced in trying any new technologies or building techniques.

He rejects this project as "absolute baloney" and offers his credentials: "I'm in the real estate business. I work with builders on a regular basis. I know what the actual costs are... If "net zero" is the same cost to implement, why doesn't every project implement net zero?"

There are a number of reasons why more projects don't try new approaches, and Anon's comments illustrate several of them.

1. Many builders are already comfortable with known suppliers, sub-contractors and technologies. It's always easier—and safer from a business standpoint—the stick with what has worked in the past. In today's troublesome times, why risk your business reputation on something new?

2. Most customers of architects and builders have little or no technical knowledge about design and construction, and therefore rely on those professionals for advice. Unless the customer is committed to trying something new and pushes for that approach, the building professional will usually stick with the tried and true.

3. The benefits of using design and technology to reduce energy use and costs ("green building" techniques) are sometimes rejected out-of-hand simply for philosophical and emotional reasons. The global warming controversy has so polarized our society that some people will automatically reject anything they perceive is connected with "those wacky environmentalists."

Change is hard and risky; the familiar is easy and seems safe...but not always the best in the long term. When it comes to spending scarce public money, I hope we'll be willing to try something new if the available information indicates it's worth a try.

Jim is exactly right. Thank you for a well expressed and well thought out comment.

Here is a study by a couple of professors of architecture at Colorado State regarding comparative costs of building some LEED and non-LEED bank buildings.

http://www.costar.com/uploadedFiles/JOSRE/JournalPdfs/13.254_273.pdf

Especially interesting are comments beginning on the first page page that support the idea that "perceptions" held by architects and construction companies may block consideration of LEED construction. Then, toward the end (page 269 if you look at page numbers or page 16 of the PDF) you'll find a "conclusion" that costs of LEED and non-LEED buildings were almost equal and that additional costs are often the result of lack of experience with LEED by people involved in building them. Their final conclusion was that LEED construction added only 2% to 3% to the cost of the building.

I have a very strong hunch that Jim's comment (3) regarding reasons for rejection of LEED technology by Anon and others like him is absolutely correct. Anon seems to have amply demonstrated that in this and past postings here. Sometimes, it's much easier and more comfortable to simply oppose something than it is to try to learn more about it. Pushing an old paradigm aside is frightening to most of us. But it's the people willing to try who are the ones who will make advances that will benefit all of us.

There are 3/4 of a million new building starts each year (on recent average) and only a hand full are net-zero. You are telling me that 3/4 of a million owners, builders, architects, electrical and plumbing contractors ....... are all wrong and Lee and Jim know better? Jim I think you have the eco bias wrong. I thing those that do implement net zero do so for "feel good" reasons despite the economics and those that don't do it are reluctant because they know the economics don't work. I think AGW is a bunch of whoee but if I were building a new home and someone demonstrated to me acceptable techniques that would reduce my energy costs to zero, I would be all over them.

I don't disagree the NPS should try "new" things if they are indeed economic. But I don't believe it should be the test bed for costly eco-extremist pet projects at the expense of other facilities that need to be repaired/upgraded.

For Lee - Leeds and Net Zero are two different things. Leeds is a certification that a project meets certain energy savings levels - levels that are well short of net zero. And, the Leeds certification process itself can cost thousands of extra dollars not counting the additional construction costs.

Numbers?

Yes, LEEDS and Net Zero are different. But they are still steps in the right direction.

Again, I invite you to prove me wrong. So far, there is a lot of emotion in your postings, but not much that substantiates your claims.

If I'm wrong, I'll admit it. Besides being exceptionally handsome, a fine athlete and great outdoorsman, and smarter than average, I'm very humble.


but not much that substantiates your claims.


You think 3/4 of a million new homes a year not implementing net-zero is not substantiation? The market is telling you, it doesn't make economic sense.

How is this for you Lee

http://homes.yahoo.com/news/demand-spikes-zero-energy-cost-homes-221002695.html

Last year there were all of 37 net zero homes built. This year there might be 1,000 out of 800,000 new homes. On a house that sold for $250,000 (construction cost probably $225,000 or less) they admitted to a $30,000-$40,000 premium to be net zero. And that is new construction. The cost of retrofit (ala this article) is dramatically more.

I may be the only person here who has actually visited this visitor's center. Yes, it's very nice. It should be for $9.5 million dollars of stimulus money. It's a large open space with nice but not spectacular displays. It has a tiny theater for videos and a suprisingly large gift shop selling the usual over-priced knick knacks. But $9.5 million dollars. Even in Calabasas, where this center is located, that buys a very, very nice mansion with a lot more amenities than this 6,000 square foot visitor's center.

The only solar I saw were panels over the parking lot. It's nice to shade the car and to provide power.

I really question why a visitor's center was necessary at all. There had been another visitor's center in Thousand Oaks. Malibu Creek State Park, which is just across the road has a small house they use as a visitor's center, although it's only open on weekends. (This is an 'inter-agency visitor's center, I should point out).

The visitor's center is on the property of the King Gillette Ranch which is the shooting location of the TV show "The Biggest Loser". No jokes about the taxpayers being the biggest losers, but hopefully the fees from the production company for this show pay for some of the costs of this expensive center.


The benefits of using design and technology to reduce energy use and costs ("green building" techniques) are sometimes rejected out-of-hand simply for philosophical and emotional reasons. The global warming controversy has so polarized our society that some people will automatically reject anything they perceive is connected with "those wacky environmentalists."



I don't believe it should be the test bed for costly eco-extremist pet projects at the expense of other facilities that need to be repaired/upgraded.

Priceless.

"eco-extremist"?

Are we rapidly approaching the point where Godwin's Law applies?

Rick - only because you involked it.

If you pursue uneconomic, unproductive activities that have no real environmental benefit purely for the sake of calling yourself eco-friendly then yes, I believe you are an "eco-extremist".

I'm chuckling right now. Anon @9:59 did you actually read the article you presented here?

Unless my reading comprehension has up and left the building, it looks as if this article is actually supporting net-zero and reduced impact residential building. You point out that only 37 net-zero homes were built, but did you read the rest of the paragraph: "As of February 2012, 37 homes have been rated net-zero-energy or better on the industry-standard Home Energy Rating System e-scale of the U.S.-standard auditor. This number could grow 1,000 percent or more in 2012 if projects continue as planned." (Let's see, 1000 percent of 37 is something like 3700 isn't it? And that is net-zero. Less expensive reduced impact homes are likely to make up a much larger part of the new housing market.)

Reading a little farther into the article we find: "

Shea Homes, a large builder in the West, announced last month that it plans to make net-zero energy or near-net-zero energy homes the standard model for new homes in all 10 of its retirement communities in Nevada, Florida, Washington, California and Arizona.

If interest in the communities mirrors last year's level, that could mean 500 to 600 solar-paneled, high-efficiency homes, 80 percent of which will be net-zero energy, said a Shea Homes spokesperson. (To achieve net-zero-energy, solar-power-enhanced homes have to be on lots that allow a certain amount of sun exposure.)"

Then, the article tells of a home buyer named Don Asay, who says: "Shea Homes has long featured extremely energy-efficient designs, though the upgrade to solar panels could be costly -- around $30,000, said Asay. He and his wife were considering the upgrade, but when the announcement was made that the new net-zero homes, with solar, were only
$7,000 more than the previous base model, they jumped: "Sign us up."

Finally, the article ends with: "The paradigm of construction is changing," said Phil Fairey, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center, an important partner in the recent growth of the net-zero energy home movement. "Now, greater efficiency doesn't cost you more," he said.

And the cost of solar energy, he added, has dropped 50 percent over the last two to three years -- from about $8 per watt to $4 per watt.

"It's not a huge trend yet," said green homebuilding consultant Carl Seville, "but it's growing slow and steady." Right now, there are pockets of demand like Austin, Texas and the West Coast, he said, but the movement is slowly spreading.

It's not so much that homes are generating so much more energy with photovoltaics, said Seville, but rather that builders are becoming more savvy about home design and energy efficiency.

A well-designed, well-built home without energy generation can get pretty close to net-zero energy efficiency, he said, and energy generation takes it over the top."

Do you want to try again? Can you show us any information from a reputable architect, builder or anyone who says that the future of energy efficient buildings is bleak?

Any time new technology comes along, someone must be brave and bold enough to take the lead and prove the way. Once it was people like Lewis and Clark. Now it may be the NPS -- and I'm proud to back them in those efforts. Even if it does mean we invest some extra dollars to help make it workable. I'm about to leave for a trip to my dentist. I'm old enough to remember when visits to the tooth doctor were pure torture. I don't know who the people were who led the way to the state of dental practice today -- but I'm certainly thankful that someone did it. And I'm sure it wasn't without opposition from time to time.


Let's see, 1000 percent of 37 is something like 3700 isn't it?


No its not - its 370 or less than .05 of one percent of the market.


Do you want to try again? Can you show us any information from a reputable architect, builder or anyone who says that the future of energy efficient buildings is bleak?


No because I never made that claim. It adds substantial cost NOW as the article indicates. Perhaps, in the future, when it doesn't - when it makes economic sense it will then make sense for the NPS (and anyone else) to use those techniques. This Visitor Center wasn't built in the future, it was built at current rates at a premium that means other improvments can't be done.

Neither the article nor any of the comments address why this 6,000 square foot building cost $9.5 million dollars! Homes of that size which also price in the cost of the lot can be built for one tenth of that, easily, even including the solar panels.

Of course the greatest energy savings is not building anything at all, particularly when no visitor's center was really needed.

Anon 2:25 -

I can't speak to the "need" for this facility as this is not an area I visit. But the $9.5 mil price tag (source?) does indeed seem quite excessive if all it covered was the building. That's $1600 a square foot or nearly 10x (1000 percent) higher than typical building costs. Sure seems like alot of facilities could have been repaired/built for $9.5 million.

Here is what I found out in going Leed in attempting to build a small building (2400 sq ft) for a governmental agency. It was going to cost us additional 10,000 to get 2x4 studs certified as "non old growth" lumber. it was going to cost about another 10K to go throught the LEED certification overhead that benefitted no one but the LEED council. It was going to be a 40 year+ payback for solar assuming no maintenance or replacement costs. To use "non vapor" emitting carpet, insulation, paint, etc was a considerable amout extra to acquire and would not compare to the installation of foam insulation, for example, for efficiency. Having to bring in concrete materials certified to have come within a certain mileage of the building was more,in fact, not available. There were so many of these add ons to meet Leed, we dropped it and built a standard high efficiency building for considerably less and saved our taxpayers a bundle of money. Our highest electricicy cost so far has been $160 and that is in Texas heat. The cost of feeling "warm and fuzzy" did not justify the additional costs.

The law of diminishing marginal returns applies to everything, including energy efficiency. At some point, the increased cost never pays off. For example, I've been looking into a solar roof, and I just can't justify the cost (with tax rebates and self install). Instead I bought a bunch of LED lights, a good washer and my electrical bill never goes over $60 a month.

Believe it or not, $9.5 million is relatively cheap as NPS visitor centers go. There were so many design changes in the 'fast track' construction contract that the new VC at Paradise, Mount Rainier ended up far behind schedule and cost well over $20 million, almost ten times the initial estimate. And that for a building half the size of the old one that's open to the public only about half the days of the year! Much of the NPS PR campaign emphasized it's greenness, but even if it saves half a million dollars per year, that's still forty years to break even by my calculus. Thousands of winter trips by heavy construction trucks during the phony six-month 'flood' closure of 2006-07 added so much collateral road damage that now additional tens of millions are being spent on repairs.

I see this green propaganda by the top-heavy NPS management as a smokescreen to justifiy their existence and their development agenda. This VC may be greener, but a truly 'green' agency, or society, would recognize that endless growth is not sustainable and decentralization is the key to efficency. I'll believe the National Park Service is greener when a small NPS unit can get a tractor shed built in-house for $25,000 without the Denver Service Center horning in and running the cost up to a quarter-million dollars. I'll believe top NPS management is green when it begins to dismantle itself to save tax dollars rather than threatening the public with park closures if its budget is cut.