“So often, we focus on big flagship projects or one-offs. Meanwhile, we can have a huge impact on health, well-being and energy efficiency, when we seek opportunities that may not look as sexy right from the get-go,” said Kera Lagios, associate principal and lead lighting designer at the Integral Group’s Oakland office. Lagios is describing Integral’s “model” design that exploits the latest in smart lighting and net zero engineering. So far, this venture has transformed four dated commercial properties in Silicon Valley: formerly dark tilt-ups have become light-filled, healthy work environments for growing tech companies.

Kevin Bates of SHARP Development has built his reputation on repurposing commercial buildings with a focus on net zero energy along with health and wellness. In cooperation with Ken Huesby of Hillhouse Construction, Bates assembled a team of innovators from Integral Group – a “deep green” sustainability and engineering firm – and the Westly Group – an energy- and sustainability-focused venture capital firm.

The team’s investment in engineering and technology created a replicable model for profitable net zero rehabs. With an emphasis on natural lighting and ventilation, the SHARP-Hillhouse-Integral team has modernized and leased four net zero buildings in Silicon Valley. These are concrete tilt-ups with relatively small punched windows, a mode of construction that proliferated in the seventies and eighties.

“These one- or two-story buildings don’t always present themselves as a place that could be extremely well daylit. You don’t necessarily look at them and think, Wow! It’s an amazing place to work. But with a good design and engineering, you can make it into one,” said Lagios. “Also, the strategy was very collaborative: from the contractor to the developer to the engineer to the manufacturers and technicians. It wasn’t just one stakeholder driving things…. It flies a little under the radar. It’s not a huge square footage, but when you replicate it you can have a big impact – not just on energy use for these cities, but also making much better interior environments for the people who work there.”

Before, after and leased images of 435 Indio show the transformation to a light-filled, healthy work environment.
Pushing the envelope

Bates began with 435 Indio Way in Sunnyvale, CA, working with RMW architecture & interiors. Principals David Kaneda and John Andary, along with Shannon Allison, associate principal and lead MEP designer, led the team from Integral. They worked closely with the manufacturers on electrochromic glazing, cloud-based smart lighting, wireless lighting controls, solar panels (PV), and automated natural ventilation. “The engineering was as replicable as possible,” said Allison. Some of these technologies were vetted at 435 Indio and are backed by the Westley Group. “We needed to nail it on the first one so that we could just refine thereafter, or else the financing wasn’t going to fly.”

Solar panels were used on the project at 435 Indio Way.

All lighting fixtures are equipped with Enlighted sensors and wireless controls using the IEEE 802.15.4 protocol (a relative of Zigbee). Wall stations are also wireless. Allison explained that the multiple buildings, essentially, are monitored as a campus. “We’ve got every single thing in this building metered [via the Lucid BuidingOS],” she said, citing daylight harvesting and occupancy sensing specifically. “The Lucid system picks up the data from the different buildings and then feeds the information to a single dashboard for the owner, and then individual dashboards for the building occupants.”

That’s in addition to the Leviton building management system designed for small commercial installations. (Though the BMS is not fully utilized on Indio, because the system was beta-tested there.) “The commissioning process on Indio was intense, because they were also trying to refine the control system. But on the [second project] it was a lot easier; and then it just got easier after that.”

The project at 415 North Mathilda with Studio G architects.
Net zero rollout

The second project, 415 North Mathilda with Studio G architects, was more challenging: a two-story racquetball court with very few windows. According to Lagios, the key was to balance the roof real estate: skylights competing with PV. (In most net zero projects, the amount of PV sets the limit for overall electrical consumption – impacting HVAC sizing, ventilation, thermal insulation, glazing, fans, etc.)

“Looking at the sizing and spacing of skylights, we had to make sure that they were well distributed, and they were providing even daylighting,” she said. “PV is a crucial component, but these buildings can really take advantage of skylights, because they’re only one and two stories.”

Propagating the natural lighting was important in these spaces, which were initially quite dark with industrial-style ceilings. Ceiling clouds were deemed too expensive, but Integral found a solution “tailor made.” White, sound-dampening fabric, cut and sewn on-site, fits in among the wooden beams. The white finish – “custom fabricated” – conducts natural and direct-indirect electric light throughout, and softens the visual impact of the skylights.

The project at 117 East Street provided lessons on balancing permimeter windows with electrochronic glazing with daylighting.

Next came 117 Easy Street in Mountain View, CA, with AP+I Design. This project provided lessons on balancing perimeter windows with electrochromic glazing (View glass) with daylighting. Allison describes tech companies as yin and yang, photophilic and photophobic: “Where the software people have perimeter offices, they requested that the View glass be turned to the darkest setting and have the lights off. They’re working in their ‘programmer world’. The higher-energy salespeople have got the View glass programmed to a more typical schedule, for maximum daylighting and minimum heat gain. It’s more open and light in these areas.”

The View glass gives that flexibility. However, when the glass is dark it has an “intense” color shift, explained Lagios. “We always like to pair electrochromic glazing with natural daylighting from an untinted source, like diffusing skylights.” Alternatively, portions of the glazing could be tinted. “Some of those technologies are very much in their infancy. Some of these are experiments, but replicable viable experiments.”

Allison worked with View to combine their standard daylight sensor, which cues the degree of tint, with a dry bulb temperature sensor to minimize heat gain. The intent is to have the View glass darken only during peak cooling times. “Even then it doesn’t turn down to the darkest setting on any of the buildings, unless somebody overrides the program,” she said. Lagios added that View glass is not used here for glare control. “There aren’t major issues with glare here. You don’t have huge expanses of glazing.”

Role reversal

“These are my favorite projects ever, and one of the best parts was we got to work with the contractor to select the architect. Finally, the roles are reversed!” Allison said. “All of the architects we worked with were great, because this is definitely outside-the-box design. We wanted to spice things up and keep innovating. Each architect brought a fresh take on our process.” 117 Easy Street is the home of AP+I, so they acted as the architect and owner’s rep. “We were able to make more informed decisions on that project than we were on the others.”

The project at 380 North Pastoria focused on biophilla and occupant health and well-being.

The fourth and final project is 380 North Pastoria, back in Sunnyvale, designed by WRNS Studio architects. WRNS focused on biophilia and occupant health and well-being. Programming centered on using morning and afternoon daylighting for morning and afternoon activities, as well as circadian electric lighting. Building-integrated PV (BIPV) – transmissive glass solar panels – forms the portico shelter. Because the shelter is watertight it increased the leasable space, as well as the electricity production.

This final project in the series included power over Ethernet (PoE by NuLEDs) and tunable white lighting on a circadian schedule, still using the Enlighted system to gather sensor data and actuate commands. “These spaces are often very well daylit, and color tunable lighting compliments that,” said Lagios. The lighting is programmed to a circadian schedule, which – when fixtures are on – generally matches the surrounding daylighting; tuning to a warmish 3000K after dark.

380 North Pastoria is the only LEED project in the series, targeting LEED Platinum. A net zero building attains efficiencies far beyond LEED, so certification is usually “not a problem,” according to Lagios. She describes Indio, the initial project, as net positive, “just due to the nature of the company that moved in. They’re performing very efficiently. Matilda is net zero, because the tenant houses a working lab. So they have an energy use on par with what we had modeled.”

Throughout the four projects, the bulk of the efficiencies come from downsizing HVAC capacity, made possible by the synergies of passive lighting and cooling. “If you lead with the passive strategies, you can get to net zero and increased occupant health so much easier. It’s a no‑brainer. It’s the better bang for the buck, too,” said Allison. “I find it difficult now to approach projects any other way.”

Lagios brings that same faith in daylighting, “especially with all the fresh concern about health and well-being. There’s evidence that it’s not just color temperature, but it’s also the quantity of light that’s hitting our eyes that helps to regulate our circadian rhythm. Add to that great color rendering, dynamism, etc. Daylight is the passive lighting strategy, but it’s also the best.”

Example of Integral's Net Zero rollout that started with daylight.
Lois I. Hutchinson

About Lois I. Hutchinson

Lois I. Hutchinson is a freelance writer specializing in lighting and energy issues. She is also the content marketing mastermind behind Inverse Square LLC, a Los Angeles–based consultancy. Contact her via lightinginsider@exponation.net with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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