zero energy building Bullitt Center

What if buildings didn’t consume 40% of all fossil fuels used in the U.S.?

A zero net energy building is a building in which the total energy consumed over time is equal to the amount of renewable energy created by the building.  The building is energy neutral.

I am in Seattle and my architect brother-in-law has taken me to the Bullitt Center.  It claims to be the ‘greenest commercial building in the world.’  Wikipedia reports that, “Typical code-compliant buildings consume 40% of the total fossil fuel energy in the US and European Union and are significant contributors of greenhouse gases.”  Architectural, engineering, local sourcing and construction advances in building energy efficient buildings have significant potential to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases.

Once I began to look, I found net zero buildings all over.  Most of them draw electricity from the grid at some times of the year, but they also generate energy and export it to the grid.

The prototype net zero energy building in each area is enormously expensive to build.  New roofs, composting toilets, floors and other innovative elements must be designed and locally sourced. In the case of the Bullitt Center, sub-contractors with ‘green’ skills needed to be established.

Celebrating these efforts is important because once the design is perfected and sub-contractors are established, subsequent manufacturing can drive the cost of each ‘green’ building way down.  It is probably not cost effective to build the first net-zero building, but that effort is the first step in reducing the energy consumption is many new buildings – at an affordable cost.  These buildings are less expensive to operate over time, since they are free of energy costs.  It shows what is possible.

Net zero energy Bullitt Center

The Bullitt Center  was built with locally sourced material to reduce the energy used in transportation.  The heat is radiant, solar panels capture energy (yes, even in Seattle), rainwater is harvested, toilets are composting, the heat pump draws thermal energy from 400 feet below the ground, and the heat transfer system reduces the energy lost through the ventilation system.

The Bullitt Center is also designed for energy efficient, comfortable use. Irresistible stairs get office workers up and moving with great views, appealing design and efficient placement.  Bike commuting is encouraged with convenient, dry parking and on-site showers.

Amer ican Zero energy buildings


The New Building Institute reports that there are 580 Zero Energy Commercial Buildings in the U.S. and Canada.  They are shown on the map above.

zero energy building graph US and Canada

Source: The Zero Energy Project

The Zero Energy Project reports 607 new and emerging Net Zero Energy Commercial Buildings in the U.S. and Canada – with a steady increase since 2012.


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