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What’s in Your Net Zero Energy Design Toolkit?

16 May 2011 | Posted By Jeff Cole 2,460 views No Comment

Analytical software? Diagnostic tools? Have you started putting a toolkit together? Do you know where you’d begin?

A team of University of Oregon undergraduate architecture students, members of the UO student ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers) chapter, will soon be able to provide some advice. The students have been awarded an ASHRAE Undergraduate Senior Project Grant to develop a net zero energy design toolkit

The ASHRAE senior grant program provides annual grants (14 this year, with the UO proposal ranked as the best) to support demonstration undergraduate projects. The UO grant will help acquire a blower door, an infrared camera (to detect missing or defective insulation), and test and balance equipment. The student researchers will develop a protocol for the use of the equipment; and this summer, five undergraduates will undertake field trials to test infiltration and heat loss in commercial buildings and residences. The comprehensive protocol will also incorporate analytical approaches to assess plug load consumption and opportunities for on-site renewables.

Alison Kwok, University of Oregon Architecture professor and faculty advisor for the UO chapter, explained that the toolkit and protocol is being crafted to facilitate investigation, evaluation, and experiential understanding of the impact of construction on performance, in achieving net zero targets.  She explained: “The protocol will begin with pre-occupancy investigations, continue with post-occupancy facility audits, and end with professional workshops, where students will discuss their building performance analyses with engineers, architects, contractors and building owners, addressing topics such as occupant comfort, system effectiveness, and energy use.”

In some ways, this project continues the case-based research and training methodology embedded in the Agents of Change program, which was funded at UO for five years by the US Department of Education. Agents of Change also packaged toolkits with field assessment protocols that were used by faculty and graduate student teams. Program resources can still be accessed at http://aoc.uoregon.edu/.

The UO ASHRAE Chapter, with 20-25 students, is one of just a couple of chapters in the country made up entirely of architecture students (another is at the Savannah College of Art & Design). These architecture students are particularly interested in the importance of integrating environmental systems with building design and ASHRAE holds important theoretical and practical knowledge that can help architects to build better buildings.

Both the close integration of architecture and mechanical engineering disciplines and the project emphasis on performance testing and assessment are near and dear to our BetterBricks’ hearts. As the top grant award winner, two UO students will be invited to present the project as part of the Student Program at the 2012 ASHRAE Winter Conference in Chicago. We hope that their presentation effectively spreads these messages to a large group of future practitioners.

And speaking of future practitioners, Oregon remains unique in having three student ASHRAE chapters associated with a single professional chapter. Portland State and the University of Portland also have chapters. Earlier this year, the UO chapter hosted the other two for a tour of the White Stag building’s green features. Additional workshops, with participants from all three chapters, are a distinct possibility.

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