Building a Sustainable Future: Anastasia Makarska’s Journey in Net Zero Energy Buildings

    Anastasia Makarska

    Discover the visionary force behind the creation of remarkable multifamily residences, office complexes, vibrant retail destinations, and captivating entertainment centers. Anastasia Makarska is a highly acclaimed figure in the world of commercial real estate development, renowned for her unwavering commitment to sustainability and her extensive expertise derived from a unique background in physics and engineering. In this article, we delve into her remarkable journey and explore her pioneering work in net zero energy buildings. 

    What is Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB)?

    A net zero energy building (NZEB) is a construction approach that focuses on creating an energy-efficient building connected to the power grid, while also generating renewable energy to offset its energy consumption. This results in a building with virtually no net energy consumption, as the amount of renewable energy produced on-site or nearby matches or exceeds the building’s annual energy needs.

    Developers and building owners are increasingly interested in constructing zero energy buildings to fulfill corporate objectives and comply with regulatory requirements. The building and design community is actively embracing this challenge and often leading the way with innovative and forward-thinking projects that showcase remarkable ingenuity and engineering.

    Zero energy buildings are designed to maximize the utilization of passive solar heat gain and shading, in conjunction with thermal mass, to regulate temperature fluctuations throughout the day. These buildings incorporate a broad range of energy-efficient strategies, varying from relatively simple to highly intricate. Examples include the integration of high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, appliances, windows, and doors, as well as enhanced insulation, natural ventilation, air sealing, and advanced renewable energy solutions like solar photovoltaics and geothermal energy systems.

    Although net zero energy building is commonly associated with commercial structures, it is applicable to any type of building, including residential homes. The concept can be adapted and scaled to accommodate structures of any size, whether it’s a large multi-purpose facility or a compact tiny home. Furthermore, the concept extends to encompass entire net zero campuses and communities, demonstrating its scalability and potential impact on a broader scale.

    Net zero energy buildings provide several advantages. In North America, buildings account for nearly 40% of fossil fuel energy consumption and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. By increasing the number of net zero energy buildings, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and effectively lower carbon emissions. Although the initial costs may be higher and the process more demanding, net zero energy construction offers a range of benefits, which include:

    1. Protection for building owners against future energy price hikes.
    2. Enhanced occupant comfort, health, well-being, and productivity.
    3. Reduction in energy consumption and associated costs.
    4. Improved reliability of energy supply.
    5. Increased resale value due to high demand for net zero buildings surpassing supply.
    6. Contribution towards achieving zero energy targets.
    7. Minimized environmental impact.

    Net zero energy buildings present a compelling solution that not only addresses the environmental challenges but also provides numerous advantages for building owners and occupants alike.

    What about building codes for NZEB?

    Codes and standards play a crucial role in guiding the construction of net zero energy buildings. Currently, building codes are in place to assist designers, architects, builders, and contractors in creating more energy-efficient and sustainable structures compared to previous years. In the United States, professionals in the building industry can refer to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which has been adopted in approximately 44 states and territories. Across North America, ASHRAE 90.1 provides significant guidance, and the IgCC (International Green Construction Code) serves as another valuable resource. In Canada, there are the NECC (National Energy Code of Canada) and the NECB (National Energy Code for Buildings).

    The increasing awareness of energy consumption, carbon emissions, and their impact on the environment and human well-being has intensified the need for more rigorous and progressive energy and building codes. However, the development of these codes faces various challenges. As industry professionals and officials work on designing new codes specifically tailored for net zero energy buildings, especially with governments aiming for more stringent energy targets by 2030, there is still no consensus on how to structure the code to facilitate the transition to net zero energy, what it should encompass, or how to ensure that buildings actually achieve net zero energy status during construction, operation, management, and occupancy.

    To ensure that buildings not only adhere to net zero energy building (NZEB) standards in design but also perform accordingly, it is essential to establish post-construction reporting, analysis, and a framework for oversight and enforcement. This would involve measuring actual energy usage and quantifying the end result, as current codes and standards often rely on energy proxies without a requirement for actual quantification. Additionally, there are gaps in the inclusion of certain types of energy usage in energy calculations, leaving some areas unaddressed. To achieve the goal of net zero energy buildings, these methodologies need to evolve. Modeling capabilities should be enhanced, and real-world outcomes must be measured.

    Mindsets and perceptions present significant challenges to the implementation of NZEBs and should not be overlooked. One hurdle involves shifting our thinking regarding costs, investments, and returns. Building owners and homebuyers need to better comprehend the upfront costs compared to the long-term savings on a monthly, annual, and lifetime basis. Convincing people to embrace a long-term strategy can be challenging. Additionally, technology and solutions must be effectively promoted and understood by influential decision-makers in the industry and among building owners. Creating awareness and understanding is crucial for driving the adoption of NZEB practices.

    Government entities at all levels across North America have recognized the urgency of taking climate action and implementing sustainable measures. In fact, numerous cities in North America, as well as cities worldwide, with millions of inhabitants collectively, have declared climate emergencies. This acknowledgment is crucial as the first step toward addressing a problem. There is a widespread understanding that significant action is necessary to mitigate the detrimental impacts of climate change and carbon pollution. As a result, governments are launching various measures, programs, and initiatives to combat climate change and contribute to their overall strategies for reducing emissions.

    The built environment is a primary focus of these efforts. However, the question remains: how can we accelerate the adoption of Net Zero Energy Buildings and foster broader acceptance of zero energy building technology?

    Currently, there is a combination of subsidies and financial incentives available in cities and regions throughout North America aimed at increasing the number of net zero energy buildings or buildings with near-zero energy consumption.

    The international community has clearly prioritized climate change as an opportunity to transition toward a low-carbon global economy. The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), commits countries to expedite and intensify actions and investments required for a sustainable, low-carbon future. Its aim is to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

    As an initial step towards fulfilling these commitments, Canada has developed the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which is based on four primary pillars:

    •  Pricing carbon pollution.
    •  Implementing complementary measures to further reduce emissions across various     sectors of the economy.
    • Taking measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change and enhance resilience.
    •   Accelerating innovation, supporting clean technology, and fostering job creation.

    In the United States, several cities and states have implemented measures, set energy and carbon reduction targets, and in some cases, enacted legislation to facilitate the transition towards a low-carbon future. Examples include California, which has allocated $3.2 billion in subsidies and incentives to promote the adoption of net zero energy construction, and New York, which recently introduced the Climate Mobilization Act, imposing stricter energy requirements for new buildings and retrofit projects.

    The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has also launched a significant initiative to support the development of Zero Energy Buildings (ZEB) and mobilize large global organizations to make ZEB a reality.

    There is a clear mandate for change, and it is not a question of whether NZEB construction will become more prevalent in the built environment, but rather how and how quickly it will happen. While building codes have yet to fully catch up, many professionals in the building community are already embracing solutions that can make a substantial difference.

    The building envelope plays a vital role in the pursuit of net zero energy buildings (NZEB). Achieving optimal building energy efficiency involves considering various factors such as lighting, walls and roof, glazing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, renewables, soft costs, and the building usage and behaviors of occupants.

    While all these variables work together towards the goal of NZEB, a key component is an airtight and highly-insulated building envelope. Without a well-sealed envelope, the effectiveness of other efficiency measures can be compromised as conditioned air escapes from the building. Insulation, in particular, offers substantial energy-saving potential. For instance, stone wool insulation can help buildings achieve heating energy savings of up to 70%, reducing reliance on fossil fuels. For example, only last year alone a company procures its stone wool building insulation from potentially saved 200 million tons of carbon emissions throughout its lifespan, equivalent to over 43,000 wind turbines running for a year.

    We can use more of the stone wool insulation products designed for residential and commercial applications, supporting ambitious energy goals, including NZEB. Their insulation can be utilized in various applications, including continuous exterior insulation, rainscreens, roofs, walls (both exterior and interior), basements, ceilings, attics, slabs, and more.

    To achieve high-performance buildings, builders should use building science teams that provide comprehensive services, including full building energy modeling and thermal analysis. These services assist architects, designers, contractors, building owners, and energy consultants in maximizing efficiencies. Typically, a well-coordinated team approach, like we have at our company, is necessary to achieve NZEB.

    As energy efficiency targets in North American building codes continue to rise and legislation emphasizes the reduction of CO2 emissions, designers face mounting pressure to explore new realms of creativity and innovation.

    To support architects, designers, and specifiers in maximizing the energy-saving potential of their building designs, Zen-Build Building Science was created. This initiative aims to provide a comprehensive range of tools and services that go beyond insulation, enabling professionals to unlock greater energy efficiency benefits for their projects.

    Net Zero Energy Buildings – Working towards a better future

    Given the increasing importance of energy conservation and carbon reduction, it is in everyone’s best interest to promote and potentially mandate net zero energy buildings as a requirement in building codes. However, this solution comes with complexities and controversies of its own, presenting inherent challenges. Until the industry determines the best approach, strategies like stretch codes and voluntary programs can help steer the industry towards net zero energy buildings and enhance acceptance of proposed changes.

    The building envelope will continue to play a critical role in maximizing efficiency, and insulation will remain one of the most cost-effective solutions. The building envelope’s ability to resist heat flow and enhance overall performance contributes significantly to a building’s energy savings.

    Net zero energy buildings can contribute to the development of more sustainable and livable cities. While regulations will undoubtedly play an increasing role, the choices we make for our buildings today will have a lasting impact on our planet and our finances for decades to come. Consider that globally, 50% of existing buildings will still be in use by 2050. The urgency lies in the fact that time is running out to mitigate the consequences of maintaining the status quo. It’s crucial to ask ourselves what we can do today to make a difference for tomorrow. Net zero energy building is one solution to achieve energy and carbon reduction targets, and choosing sustainable and efficient stone wool insulation is another viable step towards a more1 sustainable future.

    Leadership in Net Zero Energy Building – Associations and Beyond

    Acknowledging climate change as a scientific reality, it becomes imperative for us to shift our thinking and practices to protect both people and the planet. Numerous organizations are at the forefront of promoting Net Zero Energy construction to establish it as a standard practice.

    The Zero Energy Project – As a nonprofit educational organization, the Zero Energy Project aims to assist home buyers, builders, designers, and real estate professionals in taking significant steps towards drastically reducing carbon emissions and energy costs through the construction of zero net energy and near-zero energy homes. Their vision entails a future where positive energy homes, generating more energy than they consume, power not only residences but also electric vehicles. This vision allows everyone to live well, mitigating expenses and concerns about energy price fluctuations while substantially reducing carbon emissions.

    International Living Futures Institute – The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building an ecologically conscious and restorative world for all. Emphasizing social and environmental justice, ILFI strives to combat climate change by advocating for urban environments free of fossil fuels. The institute oversees the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous green building standard globally. It offers three types of certifications: Living Building Certification, Petal Certification, and Net Zero Energy Building Certification. Additionally, ILFI manages other programs like the Living Product Challenge, the Living Community Challenge, and labels such as Reveal, Declare, and Just, all contributing to a green framework for living in the 21st century.

    World Green Building Council – The World Green Building Council and the participating Green Building Councils in the Advancing Net Zero project are committed to driving market transformation towards 100% net zero carbon buildings by 2050. They have established a comprehensive framework with key target dates, a definition for net zero carbon buildings, action pathways implemented by the Green Building Councils, and guiding principles that ensure global market alignment while enabling specific applications.

    The Net-Zero Energy Coalition – Serving as a catalyst for change, the Net-Zero Energy Coalition accelerates the industry’s transition to zero energy buildings, leading to reduced carbon emissions throughout North America. Members, partners, and sponsors gain exposure within the industry, connections to global net-zero energy leaders, and access to resources and funding for collective efforts. The coalition’s mission is to create comfortable, healthier, cost-effective, and sustainable living environments that endure for generations to come.

    By aligning with these associations and organizations, we can pave the way for a future where Net Zero Energy building becomes a widespread reality, supporting sustainability efforts and creating a positive impact on our planet.

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