Passive Solar Design Overview

This page offers an excellent primer on Passive Solar Design. The concepts can easily be incorporated into most new and existing buildings, residential, commercial, industrial and mixed uses. Check it out!   socrates-sun-tempered-house

Passive Solar Design Link


Epicus Group

EPICUS GROUP is a professional services firm that focuses on highly complex facilities.  Our team provides “Integrated Project Delivery” by leveraging an internal staff of Project Managers, Architectural Designers, Engineers and Construction Managers.

Epicus Group is dedicated to the success of our customers by being the leader in providing real estate and facilities services to the bio-tech, high-tech and other industries that require technical solutions to complicated problems.

The Epicus Advantage

With a core team with over 100 years of combined experience, Epicus Group has the skills, knowledge & experience to expertly deliver services for the entire facility life-cycle. Our services utilize the latest technological offerings, including CAFM, Integrated Project Deliver & Critical Systems Assessment tools.​

EPICUS GROUP – Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion”

My Picks for the Top Facilities Sustainable Trends for 2014, Part 1 of 3


In my September post, I critiqued a couple of Top Building & FM Sustainability Trends for 2013. I took a few swipes and some off the more outrageous items such as Cloud Management and Solar Power.  Now it’s my turn to list my top sustainable FM picks and risk getting swiped at.. Here it is, my Top 10 list:

My Top Sustainable FM Trends for 2014

  1. Energy Efficiency
  2. Indoor Environmental Quality
  3. Water Conservation
  4. Workplace Management
  5. Waste Management
  6. Transportation
  7. Materials and Resources
  8. Sustainable Services
  9. Site Impact & Landscaping
  10. Sustainable Roofing

Continue reading below and I’ll explain why each of these made my list. Note, this is the first of a three part post, where I discuss the top 3 trends, bold above, in this post.

Benefits of Sustainability

First, I’d like to clarify the benefits of sustainability. FM sustainable practices and benefits can be broken down into the three categories that make up the Triple Bottom Line:

  • Financial F
  • Environmental E
  • Social S

Every corporate facility manager should understand the Financial benefits of a project or activity change and be able to explain both orally and in writing why it should be approved to decision makers and stakeholders. Capital projects are typically evaluated by organizational financial leaders, such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the return that they bring to the organization. For example, if replacing an boiler will result in saving money for natural gas, the CFO will want to know how long it will take to recover the money invested and when the savings begin. Most financial decision makers will approve facility improvements if the return on investment (ROI) is within two to three years, but this timeframe can vary from just a few months to 5 years or more. Also, depending on the critical nature of the facility and the priority of competing capital investments, it may be easier to get a sustainable project approved in a facility that supports R&D than in one that just houses office functions or one that has been deemed to be a short-term need.

As one might guess, the Environmental benefits of a project can be measured and assessed by how it will improve the planet’s environment or cause less harm. A different set of stakeholders are usually concerned about the projects and activities that the organization undertakes to improve the environment, such as customers, employees and government entities.

The Social benefits of a project or activity are generally those that will directly benefit the employees of the organization, its neighbors and the community at large.

A simple example, and one that every FM should implement, is to replace Z-Fold paper towels in restrooms, break-rooms and kitchens. Whether you choose to implement a hands-free paper roll or hand dryers, this is a pretty easy project change to justify on a financial basis. I was able to do this for a company that would only approve investments if the ROI were one year or less. The environmental benefit is obvious as any alternative to Z-Fold towels will result in less paper and waste, hence better for the environment. And yes, you can sell this one on the social benefit as it will improve the look and safety of restrooms as Z-Fold towel dispensers are notorious for dumping many more towels than needed, usually on the floor, counter and sink.

For my Top-10 list, I use the F-E-S initials to indicate where the major benefit may be and how it might be best “sold”. The lower-case f-e-s initials indicate that it is a secondary benefit. Thus, my first item, Energy Efficiency, has Fe following it, which means that pursuing Energy Efficiency projects and behavioral changes (i.e. turn down the thermostat or set points in the winter) will result in strong Financial benefits to the organization while having a secondary benefit of being good for the environment by using fewer fossil fuels, for example. The absence of a triple bottom line benefit (F E or S) for a sustainable initiative doesn’t mean that the benefit doesn’t exist, only that I believe that it would be harder to sell it via the missing benefit and its benefit is much smaller than the others,.

Here are the top 3 of my Top 10 Sustainability Trends for 2013 and why they make my list.

1.     Energy Efficiency – Fe

Every FM should have a goal to use less energy, eliminate waste (use responsibly) & increase renewable sources, if possible. I have been involved with Energy Efficiency projects before anyone thought about whether they were sustainable. With a proven history of easily meeting or exceeding the financial returns needed for these investments, most financial leaders should approve any energy efficiency project accompanied with a sound financial analysis. In addition as long as the HVAC, lighting and other FM energy industries continue to innovate, Energy Efficiency will remain a top FM trend for years to come.

Ideally, it is at the design phase for new construction that Energy Efficiency goals should be established and approved and communicated to the design team and other stakeholders. Looking beyond, pumps and light fixtures, the design team should consider these three key elements that will have a lasting impact on the building’s energy efficiency:

  • Building Envelope Siting – Please refer to my article, “Building Siting & the Building Envelope – The Developers’ Curse” from August 2013 for more information on this topic.
  • Flexibility –  Because the most sustainable project is the one you never have to do. If flexibility is built into the facility, it can eliminate or reduce the resources and waste of future projects.
  • Commissioning – Having been on both sides of the fence (project planning & design vs. operations) I can tell you that adequate commissioning is still challenging and frequently lacking. Poor or non-existent building commissioning is like buying new software without training, support or an operating manual. You hope that your FM has enough experience to optimize the new building systems, but he or she usually falls short with proper commissioning.

For existing facilities, there are a tremendous number of opportunities to improve the Energy Efficiency of your building even if the design falls short. The best place to start is by bench-marking your facility against other buildings by using the Energy Star Buildings and Plants site to determine how much work will be needed to bring your building up to sustainable standards.

Title 24 has had a huge impact in California over the past 35 years, leading to new innovation in HVAC systems, design and components as well as lighting upgrades and control systems. All these have decent paybacks and should be investigated.

Get started by finding a reputable HVAC and electrical lighting engineering contractor to partner with to help you identify specific areas of your facility that can be improved. For a nominal fee they should be able to provide you with a variety of possible improvements from No-Cost / Low-Cost fast solutions to capital improvements that may take months or years to implement.

Recently over a Thai lunch, I had a chance to talk to my friend Bob Dills, a partner at Western Allied Mechanical,  one or our area’s leading sustainable HVAC design firms, about innovative, sustainable HVAC. According to Bob, more customers are interested in radiant slab and active chilled beam designs in buildings, which greatly reduces the electrical consumption compared to pumps and compressors in traditional forced air systems. Another innovative sustainable HVAC design that his company recently implemented was a refrigerant-free cooling system that utilized only water evaporation and no compressors to provide adequate comfort to a science and technology building at a private high school, resulting in significantly less electricity consumption to operate the cooling system. As the cost of energy continues to increase, I foresee more and more innovative ways to cool commercial buildings, from recovery systems to using fewer pumps to move air and water around.

On the behavioral side, look into your electrical system maintenance and plug loads. More frequent maintenance and better load management can help reduce your electrical usage through efficiency.  With a regular communication and working program with your facility occupants you will likely find numerous opportunities to shut off or reduce equipment that are on unnecessarily.

Since the cost of energy, both via fossil fuels and renewable sources will continue to go up, seeking ways to reduce an organization’s energy costs via energy improvement investments should continue to remain a top sustainable trend for the foreseeable future.

2.     Indoor  Environmental Quality (IEQ) – Sef

With companies like Google seeking ways to keep their staff on-campus and usually indoors for as long as possible, it becomes critical to ensure that the indoor air and overall indoor environment be as healthy and hazard-free as possible. It has become routine in most U.S. corporations to insist that a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) be submitted for approval prior to the arrival of any new product, chemical or material. While one can certainly make a financial (less absenteeism due to illness) and environmental argument for initiatives to improve IEQ, the main argument is to promote the health and well-being of building occupants, Social.

There are four key ways that an FM can improve and maintain a clean, healthy indoor environment. These are:

  • Air filtration – Optimal maintenance of HVAC systems and filters can bring the indoor air quality at higher levels than even the outside air.
  • Chemicals, such as cleaning products, in the workplace should be investigated thoroughly to ensure that harmful chemicals that can cause worker illness are not used in the work environment
  • Plants – numerous studies have shown that plants in the workplace help clean the air which results in lower worker absenteeism and higher worker productivity.
  • Hazardous materials / off-gassing – there are many other ways that hazardous chemicals find their ways to your facilities, from long-term items such as furniture, which may need time to off-gas off-site to temporary items, such as using gas leaf-blowers near air intake vents.
As we discover that more and more people develop health problems from hazardous materials from man-made chemicals, Indoor Environmental Quality will continue to increase in importance for many years to come.

3.     Water Conservation – Ef

Californians are used to conserving water since the drought in the 1970s. With another dry season behind us and our current rainy season off to a late start, we need to continue to find ways to conserve water. What is different is that other parts of the country, including the usually we East Coast are also now experiencing dryer than usual weather.Therefore, I see water conservation continuing to increase as water becomes scarcer and more costly (along with the costs to pump water from distant locations).

The graph below shows that while California has seen its population more than double from 15 million in 1960 to over 37 million in 2010, water consumption has increased less than 50% and largely unchanged in the past 10 years. With no new affordable sources of water, Californians must continue to conserve water to meet future growth.

There are three areas that we can look to conserve water: Inside buildings, building grounds & landscaping, and water sources.

Interior uses

There are many areas that we can seek to find opportunities to conserve water inside buildings. Here are the most common:

  1. Low-flow fixtures – faucets, toilets, showers, etc.
  2. Water-less fixtures, mostly urinals
  3. Hands free fixtures that automatically shut off to avoid waste
  4. Process applications – HVAC and process cooling water systems

Exterior uses

  1. Gray-water – reusing waste water to irrigate landscaping. San Jose and I’m sure many other California cities now have entire gray-water infrastructure of pipes of non-potable water around R&D and areas of new development.
  2. Xeroscaping – using native plants that require less water for landscaping. If you have a lawn and don’t use it for recreation then I strongly recommend that you remove it and plant beautiful native plants instead.

Water sources

Where does the water for your facility come from? Chances are, it has to be piped from another location, which means that costly pumps are used to move your water to your location. In urban northern California, most of our water comes from the Sierra Nevada mountains, is stored in huge reservoirs, pumped to local reservoirs, then injected into the aquifer where it is finally pumped back to the surface for final use. Such a system is neither cheap or efficient, and hardly sustainable. In other parts of the U.S. where water is more plentiful, aquifers are dropping and water continues to travel from greater distances. No matter where you live, we must always remember that water is a limited resource on earth and will always need to find ways to conserve it, re-use it and find ways to eliminate wasting it.


Building Siting & the Building Envelope – The Developers’ Curse

Five years ago the Silicon Valley chapter of IFMA created a special suppliant to the Business Journal called “An Inside Look at the Facilities Management Profession”. I recently found a copy of it in my office and an article titled, “Adding Value through Sustainable Practices” got my attention.

In the article I noted “that our building is not performing well – we are 71,000 SF on three floors, and the building was constructed in 2003”, only five years old at the time. I went on, “this was a spec building. It looks great on the outside but when it comes to energy costs there is a lot lacking – for example, the north and south parts of the building are designed the same.” So were the east and west: a square glass cube, with no regards for solar siting. I concluded by proclaiming that, “I am going to encourage people to think more about the design of future buildings – solar design is going to be quite important.” And five years later we continue to construct buildings in Silicon Valley the same old way without regards to the Building Siting or the make-up of the Building EnvelopeThe Developers’ Curse to the Facilities Manager.

Attention to Building Siting and the Building Envelope have been of interest to me for a long time, but like many people, I became complacent in the 1980s and 1990s with the return of cheap and abundant oil. I studied Passive Solar Design in college and only became interested again five years ago after managing the horrible spec building that I described above. Since then, I have joined Passive House (, completed a LEED-credited “Green Building” class earned my BPI certification as an Energy Auditor ( and my SFP (Sustainable Facility Professional) last year. Thinking about the building siting and its envelope comes naturally to me now and I’m surprised that it doesn’t for more facility managers.

Why is the Building Envelope Important?

Beyond its core function to keep the outside environment (rain, critters, etc.) from entering the facility in a way that would be detrimental to the facility, the Building Envelope is also the main means to minimize extreme hot and cold outside temperatures from effecting the interior temperatures of the facility.

The top three components to designing a facility with a good Building Envelope are:

  • Siting – how is the facility oriented on the site? Ideally, buildings should be oriented east-west with the long facades facing north and south. Western-facing windows should be minimal and northern ones designed to capture indirect natural light. One should also factor in the site’s slope, climate, prevalent seasonal wind directions and natural vegetation as well as adjacent land use and structures.
  • Solar Radiation Mitigation – generally, direct solar exposure to facilities in our climate should be minimized to avoid heat-gain even in the winter. South facing windows are good, but in our climate we need to worry more about too much direct solar radiation rather than collecting it for additional building heat-gain as one would in a colder climate. Reflective roofs or green roofs with vegetation a are great ways to minimize exposure of solar radiation from the roof.
  • Materials
    • Companies like Serious Energy have developed products that help make up for the minimally required building materials (such as single-pane windows) that developers will approve without regards to thermal barriers
    • Awnings are a great, simple way to block unwanted solar radiation for south-facing windows and doors. So are porches, but we don’t seem to be designing very many commercial buildings these days with them despite a legacy of porches in early California architecture, ideally suited for our climate
    • Window Films – a minimally costly way to decrease the U-Value of windows
    • Insulation – more is generally better, but check the material content of the insulation material to avoid hazardous and high imbedded energy materials
    • While not a material, all the triple-paned windows and insulation won’t do you much good if you have a leaky building. A single air gap in the Building Envelope can make the rest of the Building Envelope materials underperform and create an expensive and uncomfortable workplace.

With all these ways to make the workplace more comfortable and save energy costs why do decisions about the Building Envelope continue to be made so carelessly? It usually comes down to up-front costs and the FM willing to accept whatever an inferior product that the developer knows they can likely get away with. When you look beyond the First Costs or Rent, you will likely save a significant amount of money if Building Siting and the Building Envelope are seriously considered during the building’s design.

First Costs vs. OPEX

Many decisions about the Building Envelope are made on First Cost basis only without regard to what it will cost to operate the facility or life-cycle costing. This is especially true with facilities built by developers on-spec, where the Building Envelope decision makers, the developers, will never occupy the facility; they never pay for many of the operating expenses (OPEX), such as heating and cooling costs. When the facility is un-leased, the developer / owner simply shuts off the utilities; when it is leased and occupied, the tenant / occupant pays the utilities, either directly to the utility companies or via the landlord as a pass-thru expense. Either way, the developer wins and the occupants (including the facility manager) are cursed.

Rent vs. OPEX

Too often real estate brokers and their clients only focus on the rental rate when evaluating facilities rather than considering all the costs of occupancy. Utility costs, especially electricity, which generally makes up over 50% of a facility’s utility cost and can approach the monthly rental amount in a poorly designed and constructed facility. A well-sited facility with a well-performing building envelope can result in additional benefits beyond greatly reducing utility and operating costs, including:

  • Environmental Benefits
    • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 45% of U.S. electricity is generated from coal with another 23% from burning natural gas, both contributing increases of CO2 and other global warming gases. With over one-third of a typical facility’s electricity used for HVAC, considering the facility’s site and building envelope in the design can greatly reduce carbon emissions generated directly or indirectly by commercial facilities.
    • Social Benefits to your organization
      • Every experienced facility manager knows that the top work request is: Too Hot / Too Cold. Considering the Building Site during design and improving the Building Envelope can greatly increase the comfort for building occupants, which can only help improve your organization’s performance.

So now that you know the importance of Building Siting and the Building Envelope, here are some things that you can do next.

  1. Spread the word.
    1. Talk to your brokers and designers if you are searching for new space or developing a new building. Ask them what is being done to improve the energy efficiency via Building Siting and the Building Envelope if you are working or seeking new space. For existing buildings that you are considering leasing, ask your broker to provide you with data that shows how energy efficient the building is or what the landlord can do to improve its performance. Some items, from landscaping changes to awnings to new windows are a minimal investment by a landlord compared to the future rent of a prospective tenant
    2. Talk to your manager and business unit leaders about the advantages – savings, occupant comfort & environmental – of investing in Building Site and Envelope improvements if a landlord won’t pay for them.
    3. Talk to your employees and building occupants. If you are considering improving a space that you currently occupy, then find out how satisfied they are with the cost and comfort of the space. Your EH&S and Human Resource departments should be able to assist.
    4. Benchmark your facility. Even if you obtained a good Energy Star rating a few years ago, update it. If you haven’t done this yet, get started as this may be a requirement for all commercial buildings soon and why wouldn’t you want to know?
    5. If you have recent energy usage benchmarking data, but haven’t done much lately to improve your building’s performance, then pursue a professional energy audit. There are many good companies in our area that can do this for you (several are chapter members).
    6. Contact me if you want to learn more or share your experience with making Building Site changes or Building Envelope improvements. I’d love to hear from you.