September 20, 2019

It seemed like a given: renovating a 1980s office space to achieve Net-Zero Energy (NZE) use would require additional insulation. But the team designing and building DPR Construction’s new Washington, D.C. regional office had three prior DPR NZE offices' worth of data to lean on as they worked.

The first estimate of the insulation cost was $130,000. However, deeper examination and a subsequent comparison of energy models with and without insulation demonstrated only a $460 per year savings with insulation.

"The payback was never!" according to DPR’s Chris Gorthy, who helped lead the project. The 20,000-sq.-ft. office is not only tracking for NZE certification, but also achieved LEED® Platinum and WELL™ Gold certifications.

The data meant that, instead of a costly upgrade for a negligible return, DPR made a better investment by buying another solar panel for that cost and more than offset the minimal insulation loss.

Such is the power of data. When it comes to high-performance buildings, DPR is working on more fronts than ever to collect data that can mean returns for customers. For the D.C. office, data was key for decisions, from the best ways to incorporate daylighting to the selection of the mechanical system.

Located in Reston, VA, DPR’s D.C. office is one of many “Living Laboratories” created to push the boundaries of what’s possible. DPR is using data from these projects to inform future projects, both for the company and customers. With billions of square feet of office park space of a similar age, the right data could mean more affordable ways to extend the lifespan of the buildings while also operating at leading edge energy and water efficiency.

Reston interior view
Located in Reston, VA, DPR’s D.C. office is one of many "Living Laboratories" created to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Photo courtesy of Hochlander Davis photography

"The construction industry has so many metrics, but the overall quality of available data is low," said Kaushal Diwan, who leads innovation for DPR. "We want to change that so we can deliver more value to customers, new possibilities for existing buildings and, ultimately, more predictable outcomes across the project lifecycle."

This is especially true with high-performing buildings and the trend toward healthy workspaces, including those seeking WELL certification.

Building WELL

"During procurement for the new Charlotte office of architect Little [Diversified] in uptown Charlotte, NC, we had to comb through a ton of products," said DPR’s Ryan Poole. "There was an emphasis on locally-sourced wood, as well as materials that met WELL requirements. Now, we have a tool that can expedite that process, combining data from across geographies to streamline procurement."

While there are tools for data on the front end of a project, real-time building performance data can inform decisions for customers.

"Actual data on building operations in a variety of climates could be incredibly valuable," said DPR’s Greg Amon. "There is a big opportunity with live tracking abilities to see where there are spikes in energy usage and how we can mitigate them. That information will be actionable for many of our customers in similar facilities."

That should have near-term benefits for building performance, but the opportunities a few years out are even more exciting. For example, as buildings aim to apply artificial intelligence (AI), those sorts of metrics can help build smarter AI systems.

"There is great potential for data to lead to new ways buildings are operated and maintained," Diwan said. "But building an AI platform that can fulfill ‘intelligent’ decisions takes having good data. The systems we’re starting to implement in our Living Labs provide a basis for that next step."

Building a Data Set

Ultimately, data will change the way buildings are designed, built and used.

"Think about a university classroom building," Diwan said. "If it’s only occupied and used eight hours a day, but lit 16 hours and climate-controlled 24 hours, that’s a lot of inefficient use. Using campus-wide building usage data could show when and how different buildings are used. All of that together could change how we design and build for those places."

PV panels atop DPR's office in Reston, Virginia
DPR's D.C. office features a rooftop photovoltaic array. Photo courtesy of ©Judy Davis / Hoachlander Davis Photography

https://www.dpr.com/assets/cas...For DPR, those changes start with its Living Labs. Lessons from the D.C. regional office—which built on knowledge from offices in San Francisco, San Diego and Phoenix—have already informed decisions at new spaces for DPR in Austin and Sacramento.

"It’s not good enough to wait for the market to build the data set for us," Poole said. "If we want to truly deliver high-performance buildings at market rates, we need to be the pioneers. The tools we’re putting in place will get us there."

A Living Lab is buildable, usable, sustainable and operable. With its new D.C. office, how did DPR realize each?

Buildable: The team chose to forgo an expensive insulation upgrade—which according to living lab data wouldn’t have penciled out—and instead invested in an extra solar panel.

Usable: Employees were surveyed to ensure that features and spaces were configured to meet the needs of the team working in and using the space.

Sustainable: The building showcases dozens of sustainable and cradle-to-cradle materials to demonstrate quality and test their durability over time—like the four different concrete floor finishes used throughout the space.

Operable: Real-time analysis and monitoring systems, as well as dashboards, help users see water usage and energy usage/generation.

To learn more about the sustainable building strategies and office features that helped DPR earn WELL Gold, LEED Platinum, and NZE certifications, click here.