Builders are already saying that net zero isn’t enough, and they are now aiming for net-plus projects that generate a power surplus, turning the building into an energy producer. All Florida Management (AFM) is planning for net plus with a 5,000-square-foot office building at 1990 Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida. The building will generate seven times more power than it consumes. “We are on the cusp of a great and exciting internal movement; everyone is becoming more aware of how alternative energies apply to everyday life,” says Tom Hall, a managing partner at AFM. Hall walks gb&d through the intricacies of this groundbreaking building.
“Our slogan is very simple: solar is the engine, the building is the vehicle, and the people are the drivers,” Hall says. “One doesn’t work without the other.” Such an idea is made possible by the energy-minded tenants of 1990 Central Avenue, which include the Sierra Club’s Florida chapter, whose reputation for being an advocate of environmental issues makes it a perfect occupant for the building and its green philosophy. Also in the building are the offices of the creative design and marketing companies, Big Sea Design and Development and Roundhouse Creative Studio. “These are two very young dynamic companies that could not wait to be represented in this environment,” Hall says. “With their personal beliefs on responsibility and being self-sustaining as individuals, they felt it would only enhance their business.”
“Everything about the interior build-out is designed around a low environmental impact,” Hall says. The physical office atmosphere, from the concrete floors, concrete countertops, recycled carpet, cork flooring, no-VOC paint, and much more is embraced by the building tenants. Lighting the interior of the office environments was also a big factor; Tom and his team decided to use high-efficiency fluorescents for the majority of the space and install LED can lights in the conference rooms that can be dimmed.
The entire project started with construction of the carport, which is more than a mere parking area. It is a working solar structure, a shaded parking facility, and an electric-vehicle charging station that is available for public use. The 42-kilowatt photovoltaic array provides a shaded common area with a pleasing flow to the building that creates a natural entrance for the tenants. The roof-mount system was integrated to the bar joist and roof decking over the main building to complete the 85-kilowatt solar array. This power is harvested through six inverters that are located in a separate electric room and then fed back into the grid.
The AFM team partnered with Bosch to lead the way in integrating the working components of the building. The new AP Aquarius two-stage, R-410A geothermal heat pumps, Tronic 3000 point-of-use tankless water heaters, and Bosch c-M60 S photovoltaic solar panels all work together to create a building so efficient it produces seven times more power than it consumes when fully occupied. The leadership of both AFM and Bosch share the common belief that renewable energies are the future and that finding ways to harness that power more efficiently is the key to energy independence.
All of the landscape surrounding the structure is native to the St. Petersburg region and mirrors the conservation mission of the Sierra Club. “We also stayed with local companies to create the outside environment; everything is a native plant,” Hall says. “Working with the Florida Native Nursery organization, we landscaped to enhance the building’s commitment to the environment.” All the mulch that was used is made from recycled and composted material, and each plant in the landscape was designed to be somewhat self-sustaining and not require heavy watering, chemical fertilization, or treatment for pest management.
Just as important as responsible energy generation is creating a building envelope that will maximize that energy. “You have to be responsible with the power you harvest, and one of the key elements in that is the building envelope,” Hall says. The building uses advanced insulation, four-inch EnergyGuard PolyIso with a Techshield radiant barrier on the roof, Dow blue board Styrofoam extruded polystyrene rigid insulation along the perimeter interior walls, and double-insulated windows treated with glare-reducing thermal barrier tint that minimizes solar heat gain. These features add long-term R-value and maximize the building’s renewable energy production.