Projects Aim for Zero-Net-Energy Sustainability

Sustainable, zero-net, Mountain View, AP+I Design, Bay Area, Delta, Fremont, San Jose, Hillhouse Construction, Portola Valley, Sharp Development, Sunnyvale

By Neil Gonzales

Two projects in the southern part of the Bay Area could serve as the new baseline for environmentally sustainable buildings.

In Mountain View, AP+I Design employees might feel a little tipsy as they relax in the lounge of their new digs on Easy Street.

That’s because they’ll be sitting on a bench curving its way around a rotund wall constructed out of wine-barrel staves. Specifically, the side of the staves that made the barrel interior was used, so the wall retains the deep, dark red stain left by volumes of wine.

This creative repurposing of material is just one element of the recently completed, ultra-energy-saving renovation of a 30-year-old structure at 117 Easy St. The new headquarters for AP+I—an architectural, planning and interior design firm based in Mountain View—is the city’s first zero-net-energy (ZNE) commercial building, generating as much power through renewable resources as it consumes.

Across the bay, another ZNE project also celebrated its completion—Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer Delta’s new headquarters in Fremont. The 180,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art complex is that city’s first ZNE building.

“This new building will take Delta’s green practice further,” company Founder Bruce Cheng said during a grand-opening celebration in October. He noted that the building is designed to meet both LEED Platinum and ZNE standards, featuring photovoltaic solar panels, a 140,000-gallon rain-harvesting irrigation system, electric-vehicle recharging stations and many other high-efficiency innovations.

In Mountain View, 117 Easy is yet another ZNE venture for San Jose-based builder Hillhouse Construction and Portola Valley-based developer Sharp Development Co.—a partnership that over the past two years has produced similar high-level sustainable remakes at 435 Indio Way and 415 Mathilda Ave., which are next to each other in Sunnyvale and both leased out to technology tenants.

The Mountain View site is owned by AP+I, which also designed the rehabilitation of the 14,300-square foot, single-story building. Like the two Sunnyvale projects, the Mountain View building features rooftop solar panels, skylights to help maximize daylight harvesting and an advanced management system controlling various mechanical functions from the operable windows to fans.

“It’s going to be spectacular,” Sharp President Kevin Bates said during a recent tour of the building.

After a few months’ work, reconstruction has wrapped up. The quick turnaround is largely due to the building’s parts being “prefabricated off site and then put together like an Erector set on site,” Bates said. The building interiors are fully designed and manufactured off site by Calgary, Alberta -based DIRTT Environmental Solutions. The Canadian firm wanted to use the AP+I project as a de facto Northern California showroom, and it provided the complete interiors at a discount.

But like the other ZNE projects, the Mountain View renovation presented its own set of challenges. For instance, Bates said, organizing the solar panels and angled skylight units across a small roof was no breeze. Setting up the skylights so that they don’t interfere with cables, fans and other components inside the building was a bit tricky, too.

Among the building’s many other sustainable features are concrete construction debris reclaimed to create part of the reception area and dynamic glass by Milpitas-based View Inc. that transitions from clear to opaque depending on the sun’s angle to reduce glare and help maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

“Because our dynamic glass so dramatically reduces solar-heat gain and glare, it has a significant impact on energy savings,” said Brandon Tinianov, senior director of business development for View, which also worked on the ZNE projects in Sunnyvale. “In a typical installation, it cuts down HVAC costs by 20-25 percent. But the real beauty is in the ability to efficiently harvest natural daylight, increasing wellness and productivity for the occupants inside a building and showcasing the natural beauty surrounding the building.”

AP+I’s new home also includes writeable surfaces, a video-conference room, LED light fixtures at every desk, colorful wall graphics, a garden with flowers and vegetables, and even a roll-up glass garage door that opens to an outdoor work area and patio for barbecues.

More than 50 employees have moved into the building. The move comes after more than 20 years during which AP+I outgrew its offices at 200 Blossom Lane and had to relocate to a temporary home in Mountain View.

In the search for a permanent site, AP+I Founder and Principal Carol Sandman said, “We were really wanting to do a zero-net building and stay in Mountain View.”

AP+I bought the Easy Street property for $5.3 million, but Sandman declined to divulge the rejuvenation costs.

In an AP+I blog, she said the project gives the company hands-on ZNE experience that will help clients that decide to pursue such an endeavor.

“Doing the project for ourselves instead of a client gives us a bit of a learning curve,” she said in the blog. “We’re creating a sustainable workplace where all of the features in the building help control the energy we use but also bring in daylight, fresh air and open space to make everyone feel and work better.”

Another key goal of the Easy Street and Sunnyvale projects is to show that redesigning old commercial or industrial buildings, many of which litter Silicon Valley, into ZNE structures can be feasible and cost-effective in the long run.

The savings in operating expenses eventually offset the additional costs of doing a ZNE renovation versus the standard approach, Bates said.

Bates and his partners are ready to begin on their fourth ZNE effort back in Sunnyvale at 380 N. Pastoria Ave.—a 45,000-square-foot, single-story building near the Indio and Mathilda sites.

The ZNE projects in Silicon Valley and Fremont are timely and forward-thinking as Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law legislation requiring the state to generate half of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable power by 2030 while doubling energy efficiency in homes, offices and factories.

Pursuing ZNE buildings is “the right thing to do,” Bates said.

“Every one of us needs to overcome climate crisis and work for the greater and smarter life,” Cheng said. “We must keep the environment in our hearts.”