Passive House Net-Zero LEED

LEED vs. Passive House vs. Net-Zero for Commercial Buildings

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It’s been a challenging year for commercial real estate. With traditional office workplaces changing and tenants struggling to pay their rent, owners and operators of commercial buildings will be facing an increasingly competitive market. As they seek to find stable tenants, these buildings will need to make their value proposition clear.

One of the elements high-end tenants are demanding more and more is green buildings. Whether it’s to meet their own Corporate Social Responsibility requirements or to ensure landlords are continuing to find innovative opportunities for cost savings through energy efficiency, an owner who can show their building meets green standards will be a prestigious and attractive option for tenants.

But designating your building as green isn’t as simple as buying new lightbulbs. Whether you’re looking at programs like Passive House, Net-Zero or LEED, compliance involves detailed planning for both new designs and retrofits. And while these programs may feel similar at a quick glance, there are some significant differences that may affect which one you choose to apply for.

What Is Passive House?

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The principles of Passive House design have been around for nearly 50 years and are administered in the United States by the Passive House Institute United States, or PHIUS. And while the name might imply that Passive House design is intended for residential construction, in fact, there are many benefits to be appreciated when it is incorporated into commercial construction as well.

The idea behind Passive House is to reduce the load on mechanical heating and cooling systems through the overall design of the building. The building envelope is carefully designed to prevent unnecessary heat loss through high-efficiency insulation, triple-glazed windows, heat recovery systems and materials that can provide shade, absorb and hold solar heat during cooler months, and reflect it in warmer climates.

When it comes to passive design and commercial roofing, architects may specify roof systems and coatings that reflect sunlight, thus reducing the load on air conditioning systems. Products like an acrylic-based Fluid Applied Reinforced Roofing (FARR) system are specifically designed to do this and are a great choice for energy-conscious building owners.

What Is Net-Zero?

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Net-Zero, as the name implies, is a design standard in which a building is intended to generate as much energy as it consumes. This energy balance is achieved through a number of design initiatives including: 

  • Generating power onsite using solar panels
  • Installing energy-efficient systems and fixtures to reduce demand
  • Selecting airtight and high R-value building materials to minimize energy loss

While many of the strategies to comply with the Net-Zero building standard are often similar to those selected for Passive House designs, the difference is ultimately in the evaluation. On-site power generation isn’t a requirement of Passive House, so for those facilities where a solar panel installation isn’t possible, it may be the preferred solution.

For those building owners and operators looking for Net-Zero commercial roofing options, once again, a FARR system offers a number of benefits. As with Passive House, Net-Zero buildings with FARR coatings will see a reduced energy demand as solar energy is reflected, rather than absorbed. 

FARR systems are also well-suited for Net-Zero commercial buildings because they are easy to install and maintain around solar panels. Large built-up roof systems can be difficult to remove or repair when working around solar panels, and contractors risk damaging the solar panels when they’re removed to allow for a new roof to be installed.

In contrast, a FARR roof can be applied around the existing solar panel installation, without damaging fittings. And if solar panels need to be removed or replaced, the coating can be updated far more easily and efficiently than a ballasted or multi-ply roof system could be.

What Is LEED?

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Of the three building standards, LEED may be the most familiar to many readers, especially if you’re living and working in urban areas. Office and institutional buildings all over the U.S. boast LEED accreditation.

LEED works on an evaluation system that awards points in several categories. Points could be awarded for features including:

  • Energy-efficient appliances and fixtures
  • Low-VOC paints and finishes
  • Natural lighting

While LEED is a green building standard, it does include some requirements for occupant comfort that may not be explicitly laid out in the other standards. It is also notable for having a separate standard for existing buildings that are retrofitted. This makes it desirable for many owners and operators where a new build is not an option.

Because of the option to apply for LEED for existing buildings, designers and owners often look for LEED commercial roofing solutions that don’t require a full tear-off and replace. A FARR roof coating is a great option as it is designed to be compatible with many existing roof systems, including metal, gravel, single-ply and BUR systems.

Which Standard Is Right for You?

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When looking to differentiate yourself in a competitive rental market, a green building standard is a great selling feature. But understanding where Passive House, Net-Zero and LEED overlap and where they differ will help you decide which standard is the right choice for you.

Owners and operators looking to have their building accredited should consider whether they are undertaking a new build or a retrofit of an existing one, if they have space for additional equipment like solar panels, and whether brand recognition of a particular standard will help them stand out.

With all options, a Fluid Applied Reinforced Roof system will help owners meet their energy efficiency goals. For more information, contact Western Colloid for a complimentary consultation.