Net Zero Ready

What is Net Zero Ready?

Net Zero Ready, or what is sometimes referred to as “Approaching Net Zero”, provides building owners with an achievable first step towards a Net Zero building. Buildings that are Net Zero Ready, are built to a high energy efficiency standard. The “ready” part of Net Zero Ready refers to the ability of a net-zero ready building to become net zero when renewables are integrated. Renewables are often an expensive upgrade, and one that can be done relatively easily at a later date compared to upgrades which are integral to the building, e.g., insulation in the walls. This approach can yield immediate benefits in both increased occupant comfort and lower operational costs, without the significant increased capital cost of adding renewable energy generation.

How does planning for Net Zero Ready affect my construction project?

Net-zero ready starts at the design stage. An energy consultant (energy modeler), working in conjunction with the design team at this stage can provide guidance on the design features that will be required to achieve Net Zero Ready.  It is also recommended to include a cost estimator on the design team, to track the cost implications for the efficiency features included in the project.  By combining these two skills a project can develop a big picture view of the capital and long-term operational costs for a new building project.

The concept of integrated design is critically important in achieving a Net Zero Ready building.  Leaving consideration of energy efficiency to the later stages of design usually results in higher costs to achieve similar savings and can have cascading effects across all the design elements of a project.  Additionally, if a project plans to eventually achieve full Net Zero through on-site renewable generation, this could have an impact on design of the building. i.e. Roof mounted or ground mounted solar could have an impact on the structural or landscape design of a project.

How critical is commissioning to the success of achieving Net Zero Ready?

Commissioning is critical for all projects to ensure building systems are operating as their design intended, Net Zero Ready buildings are no different. Integrated systems commissioning can provide an owner with a level of assurance that their project is operating at optimum conditions.

What is the incremental cost vs. a typical facility being built to meet building code?

Incremental costs are highly dependent on the requirements of the project. Typical Net Zero Ready projects will invest heavily in reducing the need to heat and cool the space.  This usually results in more money spent on improving the building envelope and ventilation systems, which decreases the required capacity of heating and cooling equipment, reducing equipment costs.

Some typical hallmarks of net zero ready buildings are:

    • Attention to site orientation and vertical: horizontal envelope area ratio
    • Insulation values more than 50% greater than code requirements,
    • Reduction of thermal bridging through improved envelope design and material selection
    • Window to wall ratio less than 40%,
    • High performance windows: triple glazed, composite framing, inert gas fill,
    • Demand Control Ventilation (CO2 Control) and Dedicated Outside Air Systems (DOAS),
    • Exhaust air energy recovery –> 75% + effective recovery,
    • High efficiency heat pump technology for heating and cooling,
    • Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) on pumps and fans
    • Daylighting, LED lighting and occupancy controls.

When undertaking a highly energy efficient project it is important to consider both the capital cost to construct as well as the operating costs over the expected lifetime of the building.  By combining the services of an energy modeler and a cost consultant, a project developer is armed with the information required to make the best decisions for their project.

A 2015 study by Efficiency Vermont[1] found that the typical break even point for a Net Zero Ready project was in the range of 10-12 years.

Are all commercial buildings able to achieve this?

With the right strategy, any building can achieve net-zero ready; each building will have its own limiting (and enabling) factors that influence the building design. For example, variables like the intended use of the building and site conditions (e.g. lot size and orientation) will influence the strategies employed to reach net-zero ready.

Like all energy-efficient buildings, net zero or net zero ready projects should consider energy-saving design choices in the following order of importance:

  1. Energy conservation (envelope, heat recovery)
  2. Energy Efficiency (LED lighting)
  3. Renewable generation (Solar PV)

Check out our New Construction Efficiency Pyramid below to see how you can maximize your energy savings.


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Meet the experts at F.C O’Neill, Scriven & Assoc’s Limited Consulting Engineers

Thank you to F.C O’Neill, Scriven & Assoc’s Limited Consulting Engineers (ONSA) for taking the time to contribute to our Expert Advice Series with their expert advice on Net Zero Ready.

First incorporated in 1954, ONSA has steadily grown in size and areas of specialization. They are proud to be the longest standing M&E consulting firm in Nova Scotia with over 5,000 commissions successfully completed to date. The complexity and diversity encountered in the multitude of diverse projects has developed the experience and skill sets essential for quality service and successful projects.

ONSA has also been categorized as a “Green Building Specialist”, as defined by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) under the new membership structure. A history of work with energy related projects has given the company knowledge and reputation for optimizing energy efficiency, and more recently, the Firm has been selected for a number of commissions where sustainable and integrated design have been a prerequisite.