The Path to Net-Zero Energy

How DPR's living labs are pioneering net-zero energy building certification

In the ever-evolving sustainable design and construction arena, many owners and project teams are setting their sights on a goal that seemed improbable just a short time ago: creating commercial buildings that produce as much or more energy as they consume each year, known as net zero energy (NZE) buildings—and doing so at or near market rates.

Illustrative net-zero energy features in a building
Net-Zero Energy features, clockwise from top left: 1. Rooftop photovoltaics 2. Solatubes 3. Expansive windows 4. Rooftop solar thermal water heating system 5. Solar chimney 6. LED lighting 7. AER-DEC sink and ultra low flush plumbing fixtures 8. Living walls with live plants 9. Building performance monitoring 10. Big Ass fans 11. Vampire shutoff switch 12. Operable windows and roll-up doors for fresh air and natural light.
The Net-Zero Challenge


DPR Construction has embraced the NZE challenge in far more than just theory. Regional office projects in San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Austin and elsewhere demonstrate how the company’s core value of being “ever forward” is fulfilled through environmentally responsible spaces that benefit not only DPR’s own employees but also the communities in which they work.

By the Numbers


DPR has worked on more than 300 LEED projects.

$6+ Billion

Over the last five years, DPR’s revenue from green projects adds up to more than $6 billion.

6 Living Labs

Six of DPR's own offices are NZE, with other achieving high standards in LEED, WELL, Fitwell and LBC Petal Certification.

DPR has contracted or been involved in the construction of more than ten International Living Future Institute (ILFI) NZE certified or pending-certification projects, including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation corporate headquarters, the California Lottery Santa Fe Springs District Office, as well as six award-winning net-zero regional offices in Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Austin and Washington, D.C. In fact, all three of the above California offices are Net Zero Positive, meaning they generate more electric energy that they use.

These DPR offices are prime examples of how the company is helping to make NZE the new norm in sustainable design and construction. More than just offices, these buildings function as “Living Labs" for wellness and sustainability where we implement and test technologies and ideas that carry over into client projects. These living labs allow us the flexibility to think outside the box, discover new strategies and create intelligent, high-performing buildings for our clients.

DPR Construction has embraced the net-zero energy challenge
Map of DPR's Net-Zero office projects in the United States detailed below.
About DPR's

Net-Zero Living Labs

San Diego Reveal label
DPR San Diego

Completed in 2010, the building served as the launch pad for DPR’s net-zero initiatives and laid the groundwork for future high-performance, sustainable projects in San Diego and beyond. While it has garnered plenty of recognition for its appealing sustainable design and status as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Platinum from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC®) and the first NZE office of its size in San Diego, the biggest payoff for DPR has been the improved quality of life and high satisfaction rating of the employees who work there. DPR purchased the 34,000-sq.-ft., 25-year-old industrial building office in 2008 and set to work transforming what was an ordinary suburban tilt-up office building into an extraordinary space that illustrates commitment to sustainability as well as employee health and welfare.

Phoenix Reveal label
DPR Phoenix

The 16,533-sq.-ft. LEED Platinum structure is Arizona’s first NZE building, as certified by USGBC and ILFI Living Building Challenge, respectively. More than that, DPR’s Phoenix office was the largest commercial building in the world with NZE certification in 2013; it was only the second office in the nation to receive this certification at the time. While demonstrating the viability of attaining NZE operations within a desert environment—a lofty goal in itself—the project also illustrates how a highly collaborative, experienced team can effectively transform an aging, underutilized structure located in an area of urban blight into a model for sustainable development and urban renewal.

San Francisco Reveal label
DPR San Francisco

DPR’s San Francisco office was the first commercial office in San Francisco to achieve NZE certification. As both the owner and contractor for the renovation project, DPR was able to push the limits on its sustainability goals for the 24,010-sq.-ft. building and create a true living lab of sustainable business practices. As a one-of-a-kind building that is uniquely San Francisco, the office is inspired by like-minded clients that share a commitment to the environment, community and employees. The office serves as an event space where organizations can host events and learn about the most intelligent energy efficient technologies available.

Sacramento Reveal label
DPR Sacramento

DPR Construction pushed the envelope of sustainable design in the construction of its new Sacramento office, transforming two existing buildings originally built in the 1940s. DPR’s renovation incorporated mass timber using cross laminated timber (CLT) panels, making it Sacramento’s first CLT structure and the first shear wall application of CLT in the State of California. The space offsets its energy use via on-site photovoltaic solar energy generation by banning the use of any combustibles. The building’s design and use of features like a thermal labyrinth lower the overall energy footprint to help make NZE feasible and affordable. DPR’s office is positioned to be one of the most environmentally sustainable buildings in the city and a model for what can be affordably accomplished with existing buildings throughout the region.

Austin office pending reveal label
DPR Austin

One of DPR’s newer office spaces, the Austin office opened in the city’s popular East Side in 2019. Prioritizing a healthy and sustainable workspace for employees and the surrounding community, the space is pursuing certification from WELL Building Standard™, LEED and NZE. DPR used locally sourced construction materials, installed energy efficient equipment that complies with ENERGY STAR® and committed to a long-term commitment to the space. Skylights bring daylight to interior and limited use of volatile organic compounds in interior paints, coatings and flooring retain high indoor environmental quality. To capture the spirit of DPR’s presence in the city, the office features a gallery wall of DPR’s self-performed trades and installations by local artists.

Washington DC pending Reveal label
DPR Washington, D.C.

Completed in 2016, DPR’s Washington, D.C., office occupies a 20,000-sq.-ft. renovated space that had stood vacant for more than seven years. The renovation incorporated strategies that improve natural daylight, air flow, ventilation, energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality, and is topped off with a 141kW PV rooftop solar system that is designed to collect more energy than the building uses. This decision emphasizes DPR’s commitment to environmental responsibility, showcasing how the original Class-C office space with an average skin system can become a net-zero, Class-A office in the Mid-Atlantic climate. The office earned LEED Platinum and WELL Gold Certification for its efforts to create a healthy, efficient and sustainable workspace.


Net-Zero Offices

Office DPR
San Diego
San Francisco
Washington, D.C.
(in kbtu/sf/yr)
14 26 23 28 -- 29
Daylighting Rooftop Solar tube fixtures (Solatubes)
Rooftop daylight harvesting light wells
Daylight extension strategy—glass walls and reflective surfaces
Smart glass—Transitioning tint technology (RavenWindows and View Dynamic Glass)
Glazing with high visible light transmittance
Lighting High efficiency and LED fixtures
Integrated Lighting and Zoning Design
Indoor Air Quality Expanded Occupancy Thermal Comfort Zone
Enhanced air circulation—High Volume, Low velocity ceiling fans (Big Ass Fans)
Passive ventilation—Large Volume/High Ceilings—Stack Ventilation
Evaporative Cooling—Shower Towers
Natural Ventilation–Operable Windows and Rooftop Monitors–Solar Chimney
Exterior Window Shading/Treatments—Green Screens
Indoor Landscaping—In Ground Beds/Living Wall
Passive Ventilation—Operable Skylight
Heating/cooling radiant sails
Dew point-dependent controls
Simultaneous energy recovery from hot and cold water loops
Dedicated outdoor air system
Controls and Building Management Passive Infra-Red Occupancy Controls
Time Controls and Shut-offs
Integrated Building Management System
Non-Occupied Energy Circuit Shut-off—Phantom Load Management Switch
Energy Consumption Awareness/Reduction Energy End-Use Measurement Submeters
Building Energy Use Dashboard Display (Lucid Designs)
Occupant Plug Load Management & Measurement System—EnMetric
Low-energy and Energy Star equipment
Onsite Renewable Energy Generation Rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Array
Rooftop Solar Water Heating Array
Shaded Parking Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Array
ZNE PV array for both DPR space and tenant space
The Net-Zero Challenge

The NZE Process and Requirements

Through the ILFI Living Building Challenge program, DPR's Phoenix, San Francisco and San Diego offices have achieved NZE certification. The Sacramento office, which is currently pursuing a net-positive certification, DPR’s Washington, D.C., office, which opened in July 2016, and its Austin office, which opened in 2019, are expected to achieve certification soon.

NZE certification requirements simply require that the project use only energy generated onsite from renewable energy sources, with no combustibles. To achieve NZE, project teams need to follow three key strategies:

  • Reduce operational energy use through design optimization, reduction of thermal demands, and the selection of highly efficient building systems and equipment.
  • Decarbonize all energy systems in the building through the elimination of combustion for all uses, such as heating, cooling, food preparation and process demands.
  • Offset all energy use associated with the project through the production of renewable energy, only after investments have been made in energy demand reduction.
Net-Zero Strategies

Sustainability Strategies

Each DPR NZE office uses different techniques to achieve its status because technology, systems and equipment/products are constantly evolving; some of the technology and products available today were not available even a few years ago.

DPR recommends the following green strategies when thinking about net-zero projects:

  1. Set goals: Owners and occupants should set project goals, make them requirements and share them early on with all project stakeholders. These requirements should align with the company's needs and culture, the design and construction process, and the operation of the completed project.
  2. Monitor energy: Building occupants can track their electricity, water and natural gas usage savings in real-time through monitoring software. Fourteen DPR offices use BuildingOS® to track sustainability goals.
  3. Use outside air to cool the building: Natural ventilation systems use outside air to keep buildings cool, reduce energy and lower costs.
  4. Reduce use of artificial light: Expansive windows and natural light through strategically-placed products like Solatube® systems reduce the need for electric lighting and associated costs.
  5. Generate energy with photovoltaics: Photovoltaics generate power from the sun to offset fossil fuel-based energy usage. Generating even one kilowatt-hour (kWh) saves 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each month. Balancing lower energy-use intensity through daylighting, lower plug loads and more with on-site renewable generation creates a cost-effective option for most spaces.
  6. Disconnect phantom-plug loads: Install a vampire shut-off switch or occupancy-based building automation to disconnect phantom-plug loads every night, which will save money and energy. Educate building occupants about how little things they can do to save energy can translate to big savings.

DPR’s LEED Silver Sacramento office was the first privately owned LEED-certified building in California’s Central Valley.


DPR’s San Diego office was the first commercial building to achieve both LEED Platinum and NZE in San Diego.


DPR's LEED Platinum Phoenix office became the largest building in the world to achieve NZE certification from ILFI's Living Building Challenge.


DPR’s San Francisco office became the first certified NZE commercial building in San Francisco.


DPR opened its net-zero-energy-designed Washington, D.C. office in Reston, Virginia.


DPR's Washington, D.C., office achieved LEED v4 Platinum and WELL Gold Certification.


DPR opens the doors to its new Austin office on the city’s East Side. The office is pursuing LEED certification, NZE certification and is on track to be the first WELL Certified building in Austin.


DPR employees in Sacramento move into their new office, which incorporates mass timber using cross-laminated timber (CLT), the first shear wall application of CLT in California.


Fast Company named DPR’s Sacramento office as an Innovation by Design award finalist.


DPR announces its Raleigh-Durham office will move to a new space in 2022 that will target a variety of sustainability certifications including NZE.

Sustainable Project Milestones

Notable Achievements

  • Arizona State University Polytechnic Academic Complex won Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) first ever Best of the Best awards in the Green category in 2008.
  • In 2010, the Michael J. Homer Science and Student Life Center project for Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton was the first ever to achieve LEED Platinum under LEED for Schools.
  • Also in 2010, Butte College became the first and only U.S. college that is grid positive. DPR installed the solar arrays that supply 100% of the college’s electricity needs and built the LEED Gold Instructional Arts Building.
  • Selected as ENR’s 2011 Editors’ Choice & Green Project of the Year, the Facebook Prineville Data Center Complex has the world’s best energy efficiency rating.
  • The ground-up LEED Platinum David and Lucile Packard Foundation Headquarters was designed for NZE consumption. It won the 2012 Best of the Best Project award from Engineering News-Record in the Green category.
  • DPR earns a contract in 2014 to build eight offices with a California state agency, all with solar panels and sustainable features. The final building was completed in 2020.
  • In 2019 Digital Realty 1201 Comstock Web Hosting Facility was the first data center in California and one of the first in the nation to achieve LEED-CI Platinum.
  • In 2019 Little Diversified’s Charlotte office becomes the first dual LEED and WELL Certified project in the Carolinas.

As a company that places environmental responsibility as a core strategy to building, DPR sees an opportunity to transform buildings through reuse, renovation, sustainability and wellness. Explore a deeper dive into DPR’s Living Labs…

Interior of DPR San Diego office
Interior of DPR San Diego office
A Closer Look

DPR San Diego

San Diego Reveal label

Modeling DPR's Net-Zero Energy Journey

DPR's San Diego regional office building, which achieved NZE certification in May 2016, is a prime example of how a NZE building pays dividends over time when measuring both an owner’s return on investment and the building occupants' satisfaction.

Along with design team Callison Architecture, the project team had four primary criteria:

  • Bring the outside in, and take advantage of the climate and location by opening up the building to the outside.
  • Create a NZE office that serves as a model for other commercial building projects.
  • Maximize the building’s existing features and only use strategies that yield a 10-year return on investment to serve as a market case for sustainability.
  • Represent the company’s core values and belief in respect for the individual (in this case, DPR employees).

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ENERGY STAR rating system, the building performs over 97 percent better than similarly modeled buildings in the area in both use and climate zone. The building’s Energy Use Intensity or EUI (the unit of measurement that describes a building’s energy use) is a low 14, two-thirds lower than California's Building Energy Efficiency Standards. The mixed-mode HVAC system operates 79 percent fewer hours compared to a mechanically ventilated building. Water consumption was reduced by nearly half compared to baseline standards. The project is also an example of how suburban office park space can take on a new life as highly-sustainable workspace.

Achieving Net-Positive Results

Since its occupancy in 2010, the San Diego office has ended each year “net-positive” as the roof-mounted 64 kW-AC photovoltaic system has generated more than 12,000 kilowatt-hours more than the office consumed annually.

The building is also on track to return all of its premiums related to sustainable construction well ahead of DPR’s 10-year goal.

By the Numbers


The San Diego office performs over 97 percent better than similarly modeled buildings in the area, in both use and climate zone, according to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR rating system.


The mixed-mode HVAC system operates 79 percent fewer hours compared to a mechanically ventilated building.


A building dashboard features data from 12 electrical sub-meters, the PV system, natural gas meter and indoor water meter.

So how did it achieve those results?

  • Capitalizing on Climate – DPR’s primary strategy was to capitalize on San Diego’s famous temperate climate to help deliver most of the building’s cooling and ventilation requirements. The design incorporated a system of motorized operable windows and roof monitors to benefit from prevailing breezes and help achieve stack ventilation. The operable windows and monitors create the effect of a solar chimney within the structure, providing passive ventilation to the space.
  • Solatubes – To reduce dependence on artificial light, DPR enlisted a comprehensive daylighting strategy that incorporates 40 Solatubes, south-facing roof monitors, and energy-efficient lighting fixtures and controls. Water savings are derived from high-efficiency fixtures, low-flow rate metered faucets, and climate-controlled irrigation. The building also consumes less natural gas because of on-site thermal water heating.
  • Open Design – The building’s wide-open design and numerous amenities foster interaction and teamwork to break down barriers to collaboration. There are 11 conference rooms that include the Big Kahuna with La Cantina segmented sliding doors that open to an outdoor patio; the audio-visual loaded training center, capable of hosting a sit-down event for 90 attendees; the circular Delta room; Pipeline, the 16-person video conference room; and Cave Rock, a space devoted to BIM technology.
  • Employee Engagement in Building Performance Management – Employees stay informed and help facilitate the office’s energy and water consumption with easy viewing of a building dashboard featuring data from 12 electrical sub-meters, photovoltaic system, natural gas meter and the indoor water meter.

Award-Winning Design

The open office space features 14-ft.-high exposed ceilings accented by artistically designed material pieces that resemble the sails of boats and diffuse light, while the ocean theme is further reinforced with four custom surfboards in the lobby representing DPR’s core values. A 14-foot wine bar in the heart of the office space is designed to bring guests and employees together.

DPR’s San Diego regional office space has received several awards, including an ENR California 2010 “Best of the Best Green Project” award as well as the San Diego Architectural Foundation “Orchid for Sustainable Design” award that same year. The most valuable reward for DPR and its San Diego employees, however, has been creating a highly successful NZE model that advances the company’s mission to be a leader both as a green builder and as a corporate citizen.

Building exterior of DPR Phoenix
Building exterior of DPR Phoenix
A Closer Look

DPR Phoenix

Phoenix Reveal label

Selecting the Right Site to Meet Lofty Sustainable Goals

DPR had maintained a presence in Phoenix’s Camelback corridor since 1998. When it came time to renew its lease, the decision was made to find a new location that would bring the office into greater alignment with DPR’s goals and sustainable mission. Leveraging its experience, the company decided to pursue a NZE goal for a new Phoenix regional office.

Selecting the site was the first major challenge. The overriding objective was to find an underutilized, existing building in a highly accessible redeveloping area of Phoenix, close to public transportation, that DPR could transform through cost-saving, sustainable strategies to reduce its carbon footprint and benefit the community’s redevelopment efforts. In addition to showcasing the latest in sustainable and energy reduction features, the intention of the project was to demonstrate the value and impact that the revitalization of a single building can have on an urban environment.

The team soon identified a property that may have seemed an unlikely prospect at first glance: an older retail building, seemingly at the end of its lifecycle. Beneath the surface, however, the building’s potential was apparent. Most significant was its location in the heart of Phoenix’s Discovery Triangle redevelopment district, minutes from the airport and near a light rail stop that services the downtown core, West Phoenix and nearby cities.

The building’s overall structure was sound and contributed to DPR’s goal to maintain as much of the original structure as possible. Ultimately 93.7 percent of the original shell and structure remained in place.

The Importance of a Highly Collaborative Team

DPR brought together the entire design and construction team, including architect SmithGroup, sustainability consultant DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability, mechanical contractor Bel-Aire Mechanical, Inc., DPR project team members, and various consultants and subcontractors, very early on to help identify and select potential sites and then provide input throughout design and construction.

“This project is an excellent example of how to develop within existing infrastructure.”
—International Living Future Institute Auditor Report, Living Building Challenge 2.1

Assembling the right team and fostering a highly collaborative environment were key to the project’s success. Each team member was hand-selected for the design-build project based on his or her talents and demonstrated expertise delivering high-performance sustainable buildings. Innovation was encouraged and pushing the limits of conventional approaches expected. The integrated team cultivated a strong sense of trust and was united in working toward a common goal.

The extremely fast-track timeline—10 months from start of design to completion in October of 2011—meant that ideas had to be presented, discussed and decided on immediately. The high-functioning team involved in this transformative project development process ensured that the building’s physical transformation was of the highest quality, and that the end product incorporated the most innovative, sustainable features possible.

During the construction process, sustainability was always at the forefront as well, with 78 percent of the materials removed from the site ultimately recycled. A goal was to use sustainability strategies that yielded a 10-year return on investment.

Modern Design Fits a Progressive Company

The project’s design reflects the “workplace of the future,” with DPR’s hallmark open office environment instead of traditional private offices.

The building’s modern and innovative aesthetic also takes a “do more with less” approach with sustainability in both building form and function. For example, a green screen with biomass wrapping the facade creates a secure and inviting outdoor courtyard environment for employees while also providing shade for the building.

While the building’s south and west elevations were largely left intact, large expanses of glass were added on the east and north facades to bring in natural light. Horizontal shading devices were used to minimize direct solar gain.

Inside the building, major design features include video conferencing rooms, a learning lab, a fitness room with shower facilities, a modern open kitchen and café area, and roll-up doors that lead to shaded patio areas.

Some of the other unique elements include:

  • A “Zen” Room with plush furniture.
  • An Innovation Room with sliding glass walls, whiteboard and bold colored reconfigurable furniture designed to inspire creativity.
  • A prominently located 18-ft. wine bar, used as an impromptu gathering space for meetings, celebrations and conversation with clients and staff; and
  • Inspired geomorphic shapes found in nearby desert canyons reflected in the building design. A wrapped sculptural enclosure—the “Delta Room“—in the conference space expresses DPR’s self-perform drywall expertise, which were utilized on this project, while the colors reflect the desert environment outside. Strategically placed vertical green elements throughout the interior resemble a “landscape of saguaros” while functioning as message boards and power/data towers that break up the open space.

Overall, the project employed a variety of strategies to reduce energy while also creating a healthy environment for employees. Each space receives daylight and 75 percent have access to exterior views.

Some of the green materials incorporated include:

  • 97 percent of wood from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) sources
  • 32.76 percent of materials were of recycled content
  • Low or no-VOC content for all finishes
  • Reuse of DPR’s existing built-in workstations, requiring only 14 additional stations to be built.

Major Sustainable Components to Achieve Net-Zero

At the heart of the project are the many sustainable elements that help the building both conserve energy and produce power needed to offset that demand. Every design consideration impacts the building’s overall performance, and every building component was carefully selected.

By the Numbers


A 78.96-kilowatt PV-covered parking canopy system generated 140,00 kWh of estimated total annual building electrical usage.


The office took ten months to build, from start of design to completion.


82 high performance daylighting Solatubes reduced artificial lighting usage by 90 percent.

There were a number of primary sustainable features in this building that were integral to achieving NZE. They include:

  • Solatubes – The installation of 82 high-performance daylighting Solatubes, strategically positioned throughout the building, reduced artificial lighting usage by 90 percent.
  • LED Lighting – Since the building’s interior is lit by Solatubes during the day, a lifecycle cost analysis showed that interior LED lighting was not cost-effective for a 10-year return. LED lighting was deemed an ideal solution, however, for exterior site lighting that is programmed at night. By selecting LED fixtures for site lighting, the team was able to reduce the size of the building’s photovoltaic system.
  • Shower Towers – Four evaporative cooling-towers work in conjunction with the solar chimney to passively cool the building. The towers sense and respond to climatic changes, including wind speed and temperature.
  • Solar Chimney – An 87-ft.-long zinc-clad, roof-mounted solar chimney, said to be the largest of its kind in Arizona, supports the building’s passive cooling system.
  • Operable Windows and Roll-up Doors – The project incorporated 87 operable windows along the building’s east and north facades, providing access to fresh air and natural daylight. Controlled by outside climatic conditions, they open gradually to adjust to ventilation needs for the space.
  • Big Ass Fans® – Twelve eight-foot-diameter Isis® Big Ass Fans promote air circulation and are integral to the building’s cooling system. Air movement allows interior temperature set-points to be increased while still feeling comfortable for occupants.
  • Vampire Shut-Off Switch – This feature targets a reduction in energy consumption attributed to phantom loads – the energy consumed by a device even when it is turned off. This switch is designed to disconnect 90 percent of plug-loads at the end of each workday. The last person exiting the building is responsible for activating this switch. Nationally, phantom loads are estimated to account for nearly 6 percent of the nation’s energy consumption.
  • Photovoltaics – A key feature in NZE buildings, photovoltaic systems are intended to make up the difference in energy needed to operate a building after all other measures to reduce the building’s energy consumption are exhausted. In the Phoenix office, a 78.96-kilowatt photovoltaic-covered parking canopy system was designed to generate the 135,000 kWh of estimated total annual building electrical usage. During its first year in operation, it exceeded that goal and generated more than 140,000 kWh of electricity.
  • BuildingOS – In the long run, the success of a NZE building puts some responsibility on the building occupants to monitor and, if needed, modify their behavior to maximize building performance. The BuildingOS system incorporated in this project shows in real-time how the building is performing in terms of energy production versus usage. It provides a visible reminder to employees of the connection between their behavior and building performance, creating a "Prius effect," in which employees become more motivated to meet goals.
A Closer Look

DPR San Francisco

San Francisco Reveal label

Same Challenges, Different Climate

After outgrowing its office space in 2014, DPR’s San Francisco regional office moved into an existing two-story 24,000 sq.-ft. structure at 945 Front Street, a block away from the Embarcadero.

The office includes space for 50 DPR employees, 20+ subtenant employees, conference rooms, a central atrium, break area, kitchen and fitness center. With a large training room and open-concept lobby for holding events, the DPR office is a social space that has been a part of multiple sustainability evenings, conferences, tours and collaborations.

Guided by lessons learned from the company’s NZE facilities in San Diego and Phoenix, DPR created its San Francisco office with the following goals:

  • Build San Francisco’s first commercial NZE project in the city’s cool and foggy climate.
  • Create a high-performance, NZE space on a traditional budget for a Class A+ office space, specifically for under $200/sq. ft.
  • Create a living lab of sustainable systems and practices that could be monitored, adjusted and replicated.
  • Maximize efficiency and total cost of ownership, by allowing for performance monitoring throughout the lifecycle of the building.

Unique Challenges in the City by the Bay

The San Francisco team was tasked with retrofitting a 1940s-era building to NZE on a budget, within a tight schedule, and in the urban environment of San Francisco. With no space between buildings, the site’s taller neighbors cast shadows over the PV system, which also had to be “right-sized” for San Francisco and its uncertain foggy weather. This was a stark contrast from the consistently warm locations of San Diego and Phoenix.

The project team first set out to achieve NZE performance by reducing building loads to a target EUI, which could reasonably be offset by PV on the roof. This firm goal was set and agreed upon by all stakeholders early on and enabled the team to find innovative strategies to overcome challenges while upholding the overall project goals.

Being surrounded by other buildings on three sides prevented passive design strategies such as natural ventilation and full daylighting from being options. Competing needs between roof space for photovoltaic panels and skylights, and the need to upgrade the structure to hold the additional weight of insulation and PV panels, were all challenges for achieving NZE design at non-premium construction costs.

On the Road to Net-Zero

The integrated design build/assist process for delivery can be considered the project’s most innovative component. An integrated design allows for simple, coordinated design solutions that are crucial to interfacing with technology-focused building solutions. This concept was part of the design process for DPR from project inception through commissioning. Stakeholders were involved in weekly meetings, enabling the use of rapid, collaborative analysis to determine the most cost-effective way to meet the energy target. This complete team allowed the project to move quickly, as demanded by tenant improvement work, and to be cost effective while still meeting the strict NZE goal and incorporating additional costs such as significant structural upgrades.

As net-zero buildings must be monitored and operated continuously for a minimum of a year to be certified, it was important to incorporate systems that can provide clear feedback and easy monitoring for operators and designers. A building that is hard to control and has complex systems can have an amazing design, yet also result in the building costing more to operate and troubleshoot, potentially offsetting the benefit in energy costs saved. For this reason, the design strategy was to use simple, efficient, off-the-shelf systems such as ceiling fans, tubular daylighting, a whole building “kill switch,” and an increased thermal operative temperature range.

In eight months, DPR, design firm FME Architecture + Design, Oakland-based consulting firm Integral Group and 58 other essential partners, researched, designed, permitted and built a highly-efficient, modern workplace with several innovative sustainability features including:

  • 343 SunPower® 345-watt PV panels to produce a 118kW renewable energy system and power the office
  • Complete structural renovation and roof replacement to support the PV system
  • Rooftop solar thermal water heating system
  • 19 Solatube750 DS Daylighting Systems
  • Eight VELUX® solar-powered, automated operable skylights over the atrium
  • Two large atrium skylights that were retrofitted with View® Dynamic Glazing to control heat gain and diffuse natural light
  • Nine 8-foot Essence and four Haiku® Big Ass Fans that efficiently promote air flow within the office
  • Three living walls installed by Habitat Horticulture in addition to a living wine bar – live plants growing beneath the glass bar top
  • Reclaimed redwood from the deconstructed Moffett Field Hangar One in Mountain View, Calif. and reclaimed Douglas fir from piles salvaged from the San Francisco Transbay Transit Center Project
  • AER-DEC® sink and ultra-low flow and flush plumbing fixtures by Sloan® Valve Company
  • Honeywell Command Wall Touch technology incorporated BMS System
  • First deployed Arc® dashboard assisting with tracking building performance

Results: From Electric Bills to Credits

Beyond the cost of design and construction of a building, the long-term effects on total cost of ownership (TCO) are perhaps the most significant outcomes of creating a NZE building. Only 10 percent of the cost of a building (over its lifetime) is paid upfront from design and construction, but the building’s operating cost (repairs, maintenance, etc.) makes up the other 90 percent.

By the Numbers


DPR received a “bill” from PG&E with a credit of almost $11,000 as a result of the energy it put back into the grid within a year.


Net-zero ROI is 30 percent within ten years.


The San Francisco office features three living walls, in addition to a living wine bar.

System Performs Better Than Modeled, Resulting in 20% Net-Positive Energ

  • In its first year of occupancy, the San Francisco office used 13 percent less energy than predicted; design estimates forecast energy consumption at approximately 151,000 kWh, but the building used only 131,000 kWh because of its highly efficient PV panels.
  • The project ended its first year with a EUI less than half of a comparable baseline building (20.4 kBtu/ft2·yr [231.7 MJ/m2·yr] vs. 49 kBtu/ft2·yr [556 MJ/m2·yr]). That lower EUI made it so that rooftop PV makes the building net-positive energy.

Net-Zero ROI is 30% within 10 Years

  • Based on DPR's green project work, the cost premium for building an energy-efficient project ranges from one to 12 percent, depending on the building type. However, the return on investment for energy efficiency ranges from 5 percent to 12 percent within 10 years.
  • Although the cost premium for constructing a NZE building ranges from 5 percent to 19 percent, the return on investment for NZE is about 30 percent.

A Bill Becomes a Credit

  • DPR received a “bill” from local utility provider PG&E with a credit of almost $11,000 as a result of the energy that it put back into the grid within a year.

Reduce Carbon Emissions by One-Third Average

  • DPR radically reduced its projected total carbon emissions over a 20-year period. The goal for design was an EUI of 24 and the actual was 20.4. The average EUI in California is around 60, so the San Francisco office is using only one-third of the average.

Creating a Cost-Effective, Replicable Model

  • DPR’s priority was designing a building that is not only sustainable, but also cost-effective and replicable. This project showcased that energy efficient and renewable systems have reached a nearly cost neutral tipping point.
  • PV prices have dropped to an average cost of about $3.00/watt (installed) in the Bay Area in 2021, down from $9-10/watt in 2008. The mechanical cost was $20.70/sq. ft, which is lower than the national average of $23/sq. ft. for office buildings. Overall, the building cost $160/sq. ft. and the PV and structural roof upgrades to support the PV cost $40/sq. ft., slightly higher than other projects in the area, but the estimated energy savings per sq. ft. are predicted to bring down the cost to lower than average in the area. Costs were further offset by taking advantage of incentives and rebates, such as the California Savings by Design program

Lessons Learned

This project shows that comfortable, net-positive buildings can be built even while using active systems for heating and cooling needs. The project taught the team that net-zero performance can be achieved without going over budget and that design, construction, and operation issues are ultimately caused or solved in the non-technical sphere. Every 20 to 30 years the building and its systems need a renovation and refresh. Every refresh is an opportunity (and a code obligation) to replace systems and install current technologies

  • Design Assist and Collaboration – When designing in a vacuum, engineers are unaware of real-time cost implications. Rapid pricing feedback coupled with energy analysis of decisions assists in high performance building design without added cost.
  • Evaluate Your Structure First – One of the largest costs associated with pursuing NZE on the San Francisco office was the need to upgrade the roof. The structure needs to be looked at early in design.
  • Cost of Solar – With the price of solar dropping every year, it is not necessarily cost effective to “over-design” for energy efficiency.
  • Energy Metering – Prices continue to drop for metering. However, it is hard to justify detailed metering when the energy bill is negative. “Insurance” PV can offset energy issues and be less expensive than traditional measurement and verification (M&V) fees. Limit metering to just major loads (panels) and major equipment—skip the printers and kitchen equipment, and make sure data is easy to access and monitor.
  • Cutting Shelf Technology – LEDs, variable refrigerant flow (VRF), dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) and other simple off-the-shelf systems reduce the complexity of the building, reducing maintenance.
  • Building Management System (BMS) – On smaller projects, design teams should consider specifying that equipment with onboard controllers should not be fully controlled by the main BMS to reduce system complexity and cost.
Timber stairwell
Timber stairwell
A Closer Look

DPR Sacramento

Sacramento Reveal label

A Transformative Workspace

Outgrowing its office space in 2019, DPR’s Sacramento regional office relocated to adapt and expand a 1940’s shuttered property in the city’s re-emerging midtown to a net-positive energy centerpiece, embodying DPR’s commitment towards sustainability and community. Project goals included creating a resilient work environment that fosters collaboration and innovation, connects to the surrounding community and advances the revitalization of Sacramento. The project showcases strategies that are fiscally responsible, innovative, simple, replicable and contribute to a low-carbon future. The design connects people and place, drawing on Sacramento’s epithet, “The City of Trees.” DPR’s dictum “the most sustainable building is the one that already exists” is made evident in this living lab that brings conservation, innovative mechanical systems, renewable energy and adaptive reuse together—creating a low-carbon design, a healthy workplace and a positive impact on the community.

The team created the following charter from the beginning to measure the project’s success:

  • Take care of people and place by providing a welcoming atmosphere for DPR and its customers, partners and surrounding communities built within an environmentally and socially conscious means.
  • Create a transformative workplace that will challenge staff to think differently about work and provide flexibility for future growth.
  • Execute design and construction in a fiscally responsible manner that will analyze life cycle costs and be on par with comparable market rate developments.
  • Pursue solutions that are innovative and simple to showcase what can be possible with commercially available products while maintaining DPR’s passion to stand out from the crowd.

To Net Zero Energy, and Beyond!

California has some of the most stringent energy mandates in the country, including mandating that all new commercial buildings achieve NZE by the year 2030. Advancing ahead of this timeline, the project achieved net-positive energy using a combination of climate-responsive passive design, innovative active systems and on-site renewables. Mindful to reduce carbon footprint, the building is all-electric, eliminating the need for carbon intensive fossil fuels. Since occupying the building, the project team shares data and tests different strategies with the state’s major utility provider to inform the future 2030 building code what is possible and achievable for others to emulate.

The building utilizes mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems to reduce energy use versus baseline California code by 45 percent and performs 98 percent better than similarly modeled buildings in both usage and climate zone, according to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR rating system. To achieve this, the building features the following solutions:

  • HVAC – The existing basement was converted into a thermal labyrinth that draws outdoor air through a concrete maze. Through heat exchange with the ground, outdoor air is pre-cooled and pre-heated in the summer and winter seasons, respectively. Supply air is further pre-conditioned through an energy recovery ventilator via heat wheel before final conditioning through a high-efficiency VRF system, which is further enhanced by modulation of refrigerant temperature. High capacity, low-volume fans are installed throughout the space to raise the HVAC setpoint, reducing the number of hours artificial heating/cooling is needed.
  • Lighting & Controls – All lighting fixtures installed utilities high-efficiency LED bulbs. An advanced lighting control system was installed to automatically turn off lights in unoccupied areas, dim lights where ample daylight is available and even automatically switch off unoccupied electrical outlets. This combination yielded a very lower lighting power density of 0.35w/sq. ft.
  • Light Quality – While preserving the majority of the existing building envelope, existing windows were expanded and 42 new Solatubes were installed to provide ample daylighting, reducing the need for artificial light. Additionally, glazing was selected with a high amount of visible light transmittance (VLT) to maximize occupants’ connection to the outdoors. For artificial lighting, fixtures with a minimum CRI of 90 were selected so that a near natural white light is provided.
  • Onsite Renewables – 424 photovoltaic panels for an annual production of 265,178 kWh/year provide enough power for both DPR and its tenant. In the sunny Central Valley, this is projected to yield 107 percent of onsite energy needs annually. A 9.8 kWh battery backup system is included for added resiliency during system outages and to serve as a community hub in the event of natural disaster.
  • Water efficiency – Irrigation and process water can represent over half of an office building’s water usage and this project eliminated those demands by favoring systems and approaches that do not require water with a VRF HVAC system and drought tolerant plantings. Indoor water use is reduced with high-efficiency and WaterSense® certified fixtures.
  • Materials – Product selection considered multiple environmental attributes, favoring reuse of existing materials when possible, using non-toxic material with Declare or Cradle to Cradle Certified™ certifications, using low-embodied energy, natural material in their true form, and selecting highly durable products suitable for this unique project. All in all, 55 unique products with LEED-approved HPD’s were installed.
  • Occupant Health and Well-Being – High filtration MERV-13 filters improve indoor environmental quality and are supported by multiple indoor environmental quality sensors and regular occupant satisfactions surveys. Onsite fitness room promotes a healthy lifestyle, a large central staircase subconsciously encourages occupants to be more active, ample secure bike racks reduce the need for onsite parking and a code required mother’s room was economically expanded to a wellness room. Employees use the wellness room for nursing, mid-afternoon power naps, meditation, migraine relief and private physical therapy exercise.
  • Flexibility & Resilience – DPR chose to move to an agile, free-address work environment to reduce total building sq. ft. needed while creating a large open collaboration area that is designed to be partitioned off to rent/donate to the community for use during non-business hours.

Award Winning Design

By the Numbers


Contains the first CLT shear wall built in California, a state known for high seismic building code standards.


There are 311 electrical sub-meters, one at every electrical breaker, to analyze energy usage into detailed categories to celebrate efficiencies to repeat and identify opportunities to improve building operations.


The site location has a bike score of 99. A biker’s paradise that reduces transportation-related environmental impacts and encourages compact, connected communities that support a productive and rich lifestyle without need of a car.

With NZE becoming a requirement for all commercial buildings in California by 2030, DPR and SmithGroup created a space that encompassed holistic sustainability and wellness for DPR’s Sacramento office, earning LEED Platinum and pursuing WELL Gold certification. NZE certification is expected soon. Due to the impressive recognition given by international organizations like USGBC and the International WELL Building Institute, and its modern, cutting-edge design, the DPR Sacramento office was recognized by the industry in 2020, including:

Open kitchen space with long wood bar and a wall of windows for natural light.
Open kitchen space with long wood bar and a wall of windows for natural light.
A Closer Look

DPR Austin

Reflecting the Local Community

Each DPR office goes above and beyond to reflect its local culture, and the DPR Austin office is no exception. Located on the city’s rapidly growing East Side, the office features an aesthetic that reflects the area’s thriving entertainments district and diverse community. Now in a central location, the office provides easy access to local transportation and puts employees near many DPR clients, partners and projects.

Designed by IA Interior Architects and built by DPR employees, the office reflects both DPR’s operational approach and culture. Featuring elements and materials familiar to jobsites, prominent skylights, a living green wall, an open floor plan, technology-enabled conference rooms, an innovation lab, a gallery wall that depicts DPR’s self-performed trades, installations by local artists and several areas dedicated specifically to employee enjoyment, the space seamlessly balances work, play and the spirit of Austin.

Recognition for a Healthy and Sustainable Workplace

Enjoyment is a centerpiece in the new space, and a crucial aspect of daily enjoyment for a progressive community like Austin is the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. It’s no secret that a major factor in supplementing or sabotaging that goal is a healthy workplace, designed and built to support the health of its occupants.

Designed by IA Interior Architects, DPR’s Austin office was constructed with the intention of pursuing LEED, WELL and NZE certification. Not only does this effort have a positive impact on the neighborhoods they reside in, but systems and sustainable measures tested in this living lab allow for replication and inspiration on other projects. It also allows the chance to implement more efficient technologies that may emerge in the future.

In addition to better accommodating DPR’s growing local team, the new office places extra emphasis on human-centered design and biophilic principles. In fact, DPR’s office is on track to be the first WELL Certified project in Austin, anticipates NZE certification from ILFI within the year and, though the existing building is tracking for LEED Gold, the office space is aiming higher, pursuing LEED Platinum, the highest level of LEED certification possible.

The office is designed to give employees and guests a space that will generally enhance, not compromise, their health and wellness. Some of the office features include:

  • A living wall, one of the most noticeable elements of DPR’s Austin office, which encourages a connection to the natural world. Elements of biophilic design such as this help increase productivity, creativity and wellbeing.
  • An open office floor plan with no private offices, which underlines DPR’s flat organizational structure and “team of teams” culture.
  • Multiple skylights and abundant natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows that create a continuous connection to the outdoors and unfiltered daylight.
  • Architecture that reinforces DPR’s belief that “who we build is as important as what we build.” For example, this concept is expressed through the location of the Training Room, which sits on a raised platform at the very heart of the space.
  • Strategically placed operable walls transform the training room, kitchen and bar areas, gaming corridor, and outdoor terrace into a large all-hands venue and/or event space.
DPR's Reston office
DPR's Reston office
A Closer Look

DPR Washington, D.C.

Accessibility in the Suburbs

Accessibility was the main driver in moving the Washington, D.C., regional office from Falls Church to Reston, Virginia. A study on employee locations and commutes, along with the nearby metro line and proximity to the airport made Reston an easy choice. With so much vacant office space in Northern Virginia, the team didn’t see a need to build from the ground up. DPR chose to renovate a 20,000-sq.-ft. space, which had been vacant for more than seven years but was close to public transportation, the town center and nearby recreational trails. This decision illustrates how the existing Class-C office space with an average skin system can become a net-zero, Class-A office in the Mid-Atlantic climate.

The team, including design partner SmithGroup, set the following goals for its project to be considered a success:

  1. Create an office of the future that invigorates employees and encourages creative work practices.
  2. Incorporate sustainable strategies that contribute to the health and wellbeing of the environment and people.
  3. Make data-driven decisions based on cost-analysis, payback studies and team member expertise.
  4. Build a living laboratory to showcase technologies, products and systems, along with a robust educational program

Environmental Responsibility

Earning LEED Platinum and WELL Gold certification, the Washington, D.C. regional office was designed to be NZE and incorporates a variety of sustainable elements, including:

  • HVAC – The office first had to reduce current energy loads as much as possible, using fan-powered terminal units, allowing simultaneous heating and cooling of different areas in the office.
  • Radiant Sails – In select rooms, DPR used radiant sails, a system which transforms the centuries-old technology of radiant heating and cooling, into a modern architectural design element that is also an extremely energy efficient way to provide thermal comfort to its occupants.
  • Daylight – The entire 20,000-sq.-ft. area is illuminated by more than 24 Solatubes that allow a tremendous amount of natural daylight in, while using very little energy for lighting throughout the day.
  • Lighting Controls – The LED lighting system, combined with a robust control, automation and sensor system provides a consistent level of lighting throughout the day, while maximizing energy savings. Power outlets also use a phantom load-reducing system that eliminates all loads from devices not in use after 8 p.m.
  • Photovoltaic System – A rooftop 147 KW solar array is designed to include 10 percent more energy than will be required to achieve a net-zero certification. The Sun Power® Helix™, which is more efficient that standard photovoltaic system, is one of the first of its kind on the East Coast.
  • Water Efficiency – A highly efficient rooftop solar hot water system provides hot water for all domestic uses, while DPR partnered with Sloan to install water efficient fixtures in the restrooms and shower facilities.
  • Materials – All finished materials in the space (carpet, wallcoverings, tiles, etc.) are Cradle to Cradle Certified. The most notable architectural element throughout the space is the reclaimed wood taken from barns in Connecticut and the eastern shore of Maryland and installed by DPR's self-perform carpenters.
  • Connection to the Outdoors – Adjacent to the kitchen, roll up garage doors provide access to the outdoors for employees to take a break and get some fresh air, or let the fresh air in. The office uses a LED stoplight programmed to let employees know if the outside weather conditions are acceptable to keep the door open.

Creating a Living Laboratory

By the Numbers


24 Solatubes provide natural daylighting throughout the space.


432 PV panels were installed on the office roof.


The office achieved 80 LEED points, reaching Platinum certification.

As a living laboratory, it was important to the team to be able to educate others, while also continuing to monitor its progress against its environmental goals.

  • BuildingOS Dashboard – A BuildingOS dashboard provides real-time information related to energy and water consumption, as well as energy produced by the PV array, so the team can visually see what is working and what needs tweaking in pursuit of NZE certification.
  • Showcasing Products – New products throughout the space are used to educate clients and design teams on what is possible in an office of this scale. For example, the team installed four different finished concrete options, which allow owners and architects to see what different finished products look like and how they hold up to normal office wear and tear. Other technologies, such as the radiant sails, were placed in key, visible spaces so visitors can compare to more traditional systems.
  • Mechanical Room – As a technical builder, providing a glass window into the mechanical room allows DPR to educate visitors and its own staff about the functionality of office’s complex MEP systems.

The Path to Net-Zero Continues

As we evolve as a society, so does our built environment. Building NZE offices is now realistically attainable from design, construction, budget and total cost of ownership perspectives. DPR’s six living labs not only showcase the latest sustainable concepts in a variety of regions and climates, but also offer the unique opportunity for DPR to study and experiment with what makes the buildings most efficient over time. As building technologies and innovations continue to evolve, we have the opportunity to look toward net-positive buildings and regenerative construction.

Leading the way in sustainability and pioneering the net-zero movement, DPR hopes to continue sharing updates and lessons from our projects to show both industry peers and customers that net-zero, construction is a viable option to save money over time, as well as make a positive impact in this world we all live in.

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