Monday, March 22, 2010

Erick Hartzell, Project Manager for Haselden Construction, on Construction of Net Zero Energy Building at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Recently Lucy Daberkow, Assistant Program Director, interviewed Erick Hartzell of Haselden Construction about the firm's involvement with a "net zero building", the Research Support Facility, Haselden is building for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, about 25 miles from the University of Denver campus. The interview follows:

1. When was the project started? When will it be completed?

We were awarded the project in July of 2008 and started with design. Construction started in February 2009 and will complete in June of 2010.

2. How did you become involved in the project? What are your responsibilities?

I became involved in October 2008 and am responsible for design coordination, budgets, material procurement, billings, schedule, scope changes, and ensuring we exceed the customer’s expectations on this project. I’m assisting in public relations.

3. What makes this construction different from other projects you’ve been involved in?

This could be a very long list. The contract delivery is a design-build approach, where we are contracted to design and build to a performance specification. It takes intense collaboration and more work upfront, but worth the effort for all parties. The traditional delivery method is design-bid-build where the design team draws the plans, the contractor bids what is on the plans, and anything not included in the plans or specifications is a change. In design-build, the owner states what they want the building to do (in this case, office a certain number of people, meet certain energy usage requirements, meet maintenance requirements, and many other requirements that filled a 3” binder). The design-build team then provides a proposal of how they will solve the problem (meet the owner’s project requirements) for a guaranteed firm fixed price. Haselden and our architect, RNL, competed against 2 other groups and our proposed solution was selected by the client as the best value.

This is a cutting edge project, and as such, every detail is scrutinized far beyond anything I’ve experienced in the past. The accepted system for rating green buildings is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The highest level of building certification is Platinum. The Research Support Facility (RSF) will use around ½ the energy of a traditional LEED Platinum building. Therefore, details that are generally “good” applications in general industry will not work because of thermal bridging or other energy hindering performance issues.

The building uses thermal mass and radiant heating and cooling as the principal means of controlling the internal environment. This is not a new approach, but not common in today’s commercial environment. The paradox is that in designing and building a cutting edge office space, we are getting back to basics in many respects.

4. Anything else you think we should know about this project…

There is a misconception that this building is built with unlimited Federal funding but this is certainly not the case. One of the design-build problems to solve is how to create this building at a commercially viable price point with materials that are readily available. This is critical to the Department of Energy and to NREL. The project team is generating a “lessons learned” manual which will be shared throughout the industry to improve the efficiency of commercial buildings.

This will be a “Net Zero Energy Building” with photovoltaic panels generating enough energy to offset the energy the building uses. This will be the largest Net Zero Energy Building in the world when it opens this summer.

--Lucy Daberkow

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