Wow! Check out West Village

Although I indicated that I would discuss the characteristics of my Icon buildings this entry, I am going to switch gears and talk about an existing project that I just had the great fortune to tour last week. West Village, in Davis California, is the largest NZE Multifamily project in the Nation. It has over 600 units and provides housing to over 2,000 students and faculty members. The Campus also contains retail and commercial space (including two labs). West Village was constructed by Carmel Partners, and has many construction features to make the project more energy efficient. It isn’t just about solar panels (although West Village does produce 8.4 megawatts on an annual basis); the project uses features in the building design to create efficient cooling, high efficiency appliances and on demand hot water systems. West Village was constructed in 2011; if you think about Solar Technology 5 years ago, versus today, the Net Zero achievement of West Village is nothing less than impressive.

If you want more details about West Village, check out their website:

Presenting our Two Sites for the Conversion to Net Zero

I am pleased to introduce my two buildings for our “Conversion to Net Zero” experience: Icon at Park and Icon at Doyle in Emeryville California.  I chose these two sites for a few key reasons:

  • These sites represent two different construction types:
    • Icon at Doyle is 3-story construction with 27 townhome-style dwellings and an underground garage. Entrances to the homes are from a garden type courtyard or interior hallway.
    • Icon at Park is 4- and 5-story with 54 units in a more traditional condo or apartment like format (shared walls, ceilings and floors), enclosed interior hallways and a mixture of underground garage and exterior parking.
  • Both sites are located in Emeryville, California
    • I wanted to simplify my process and work with the same utility company and city.
    • I believe that there will still be variations in processes between within the construction types, while being able to visit them concurrently.
    • I am lucky enough to have a team at these sites who are excited about this process.

The California Energy Commission (“CEC”) has a goal of all new construction of three stories or left, including multifamily, be Net Zero as of 2020.  The CEC is working on writing this into the 2019 code, which is being developed right now.  Although the CEC has indicated that the first thing they have to do is decide on what “Net Zero” is defined as in this code (remember how I said there were a lot of definitions out there), I believe that Icon at Doyle will be a great test site to understand what developers should consider in terms of changes in our construction practices if/when this code goes into effect.

The CEC has also confirmed a goal that by 2030, all new construction 4 stories and above be Net Zero.  This will be a more challenging process, as this construction type has greater energy load requirements for elevators, dwelling and HVAC … but the space available for on-site energy generations (i.e. “roof space”) does not increase with those demands. Icon at Park will be a great experience to understand what needs to occur in construction to meet this goal AND determine if Net Zero is even possible for this size construction.

In my next post, I will go in deeper on construction for Icon at Doyle (I have photos…it will be super fun).

Let’s explore Net Zero together

Hi.  I’m Mary Nitschke.  Let’s explore Net Zero together.

I am honored and excited to explore converting two apartment buildings into Net Zero Energy Buildings.  I feel incredibly lucky to get to do this.  Most people don’t get the opportunity to take a building off the grid, let alone two.  And I am fortunate enough that I get to share the adventure at it happens.  Ten years ago, had I started a blog to share this, I think only my mom would have read it.  Now, you are here.  Thank you.  I think it is important before we start to define what Net Zero will mean for these buildings, and what I am using as my definition of Net Zero.

Why are we defining Net Zero for this adventure?

Because if search on Net Zero on the inter-web, you will see loads of variations of what it means to be Net Zero.  Basically in a rolling 12 month period, the buildings I convert to Net Zero will make as much energy as they need in renewables, including average in-apartment consumption.

How do I think we are going to do this?

The first step will be to tighten down my buildings.  What I mean by this, is that first we need to look at how these buildings are using energy to see if where there are inefficiencies.  There will be inefficiencies; those are pretty normal.  If you think that your buildings have no places that they are wasting energy, then you are in denial.  So let’s make these buildings, which I will share with you next week, efficient.  We are going to look at the Apartment units to see if we have any fixtures, lights, etc. that need to be swapped out for more efficient ones.  We will take look at the energy consumption for a few of the occupied units to create baseline consumption for the units.  Finally, once the buildings common areas, ventilation, hot water, and units are efficient, THEN we put onsite generation systems in place.  (If you just throw solar on top, you might as well put lipstick on a pig)

Who will be my partners?

I am grateful that my on-site team for these buildings doesn’t actually think that I am crazy and they are supportive of this project.  Their participation is critical.  And I am lucky to be working with the Association of Energy Affordability, who will be critical too this process to.

So, what next?

Next week, I will introduce the two buildings and share a little about their current construction.