By Miles Dake, PE, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Designing and constructing a school to achieve Net Zero Energy is a challenging goal. With consideration to the number of technologies and low cost energy-savings strategies that are available, it takes a huge upfront effort from all parties involved. Arriving at this goal requires careful upfront planning and dedication to collaborate and coordinate starting with the design team, ownership group and contractor. Based on our experience in designing Net Zero schools, the three main attributes that must be present in the design team for a Net Zero building to be achieved are as follows: establish an initial plan and follow through, iteratively brainstorm and analyze the best energy-saving strategies and finally engage technical experts who are capable of designing the system to function as intended. Wold and M.E. GROUP have a significant history of combining our two separate design entities together and working on continuous improvement to possess all of these traits. Because of our extensive collaboration on past projects, reaching a goal through teamwork and support are the foundation of our relationship.

Designing and constructing a school to achieve Net Zero energy is a challenging goal.

The first step in achieving Net Zero is for the design team to establish a path that is applicable to this specific building location and unique building program. This path must target all areas of a building for potential energy-savings, starting with least expensive highest gain strategies, such as shaping and orienting the building in an energy conscious manner. Many of the greatest energy-saving strategies that have the least upfront cost occur at the beginning of the design during the concept phase. For example, shaping a building one way may have a 5% energy savings than shaping the building in a different way. The upfront cost to go with the energy-savings option at this point in the design is fairly minimal. It may be seen as time-efficient to simply assume that a strategy that has worked on past projects should work on the next. However, our experience in previous pursuits of Net Zero goals have revealed that one strategy may not have the same effect when the building is placed in a different location, orientation or building form. In other words, each building is unique, and the effects of different energy-efficiency concepts are difficult to predict. Therefore, it is important to have a forum where design ideas can be presented and discussed. M.E. GROUP and Wold’s long history and familiarity with each other’s strengths and capabilities allow for time at the beginning of the project to be spent discussing energy-saving strategies, rather than familiarizing the team with each other’s capabilities. This allows for more ideas to be presented, and ultimately better results in the end.


This figure shows the measurable differences between energy use intensity and the capacity for renewables.

The second characteristic needed for a team to create a Net Zero building is the ability to quickly, efficiently and accurately test ideas and analyze energy efficiency concepts. These capabilities allow for ideas that are generated during brainstorming to be tested for validity. This occurs through energy, thermal comfort, daylighting and other types of analyses. Whether it’s understanding the reduction of a chiller size by evaluating multiple window types, or estimating the energy usage of the building by applying different mechanical systems, M.E. GROUP has a robust analysis team that is proficient at testing design ideas. Without proficiency in modeling, and the ability to compare one idea to another, the design team would ultimately be guessing. M.E. GROUP provides the entire design and construction team with the ability to extensively test and implement energy-saving strategies on buildings. This process must be iterative, though. A back and forth between the analysis team and the design team is imperative to implementing a design that can achieve Net Zero. Wold and M.E. GROUP have great experience collaborating and testing ideas with M.E. GROUP’s design and analysis team.



This figure shows the Preferred Model of Lighting, Loads, Daylighting, and Energy.

Finally, the entire design team must be technical experts and experienced at implementing Net Zero architectural and MEP systems. The systems required to meet Net Zero goals are far more complicated than systems that conform to typical building standards. Net Zero projects require greater care given to thermal envelope details and construction, more complex mechanical and electrical systems, thorough selection and prudent placement of glazing, integrated controls, and the list goes on. If the entire team lacks expertise in all of these areas, the design will not be able to reach its goal. The joint team of M.E. GROUP and Wold have extensive knowledge and experience working together on K-12 education projects that aspire to achieve aggressive energy goals.

The task of constructing a Net Zero school is a nearly impossible one without the right team. M.E. GROUP and Wold have a proven track record of successfully implementing energy-saving strategies for school districts across the state. Together our team had the characteristics necessary to design the Adams 12 Net Zero school. These traits are: establishing a strategy and diligently adhering to the plan, collaborating and testing energy-efficiency concepts, and following through with a design that is technically comprehensive.

Miles DakeMiles Dake, PE, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is the leader of M.E. GROUP’s Energy + Ecology Practice, as well as a Mechanical Engineer. As an integrated, 5- year member of our design team, Miles brings technical and innovative modeling solutions to enhance opportunities for project success. His multi-talented background gives him a depth of understanding that holistically improves project outcomes.

M.E. GROUP is a consulting engineering firm committed to Improving Life through a Better Built Environment. Practices include MEP Design, Energy + Ecology, Technology + Acoustics and Building Science