Five months after launching the Net Zero Energy Building Certification program, the International Living Future Institute has awarded its first two certifications. Two existing building retrofits—Painters Hall, a community building in Salem, Ore., and IdeasZ2 Design Facility, an office building in San Jose, Calif.—are the first projects to be certified under the program. The Net Zero Energy Building Certification was launched at Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in October 2011, and is tied to the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge. Certification in both programs is based on actual performance and buildings seeking certification must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to evaluation. To earn Net Zero Energy Building certification, buildings must address the following four imperatives:

1. Limits to Growth. Buildings may only be built on grayfields or brownfields—previously developed sites that are not classified as sensitive ecological habitats. In documenting this imperative, firms must provide a historic image taken no later than Dec. 31, 2007 that shows the site and its adjacent properties to a minimum distance of 100 feet before the building property line. Existing buildings operational prior to Dec. 31, 2007 are exempt.

2. Net Zero Energy. One-hundred percent of the building’s energy needs must be supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis. Renewable energy for the program is defined as passive solar, photovoltaics, wind turbines, solar thermal, direct geothermal, water-powered microturbines, or fuel cells powered by hydrogen generated from renewable powered electrolysis.  No combustion is allowed and green tags or green power purchases are not recognized as compliance paths. Teams must supply a completed energy usage table with monthly information gathered from tracking systems that record energy consumed and produced, as well as energy bills for a continuous 12-month period.

3. Rights to Nature. The building may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of fresh air, sunlight, and natural waterways to any member of society or adjacent developments. Teams must provide calculations or 3D diagrams demonstrating compliance with maximum shading allowances of adjacent properties.

4. Beauty + Spirit, Inspiration + Education. The building must contain design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit, and place appropriate to its function. Educational materials about the performance and operation of the building must be provided to the public to share successful solutions and to motive others to make change. As part of these goals, teams must conduct a survey of building occupants and users and hold at least one annual open-house day to educate the public about the building’s systems and achievements.

The first of the two projects to meet these four requirements, Painters Hall, is part of Pringle Creek Community, a 32-acre mixed-use development in Salem. The development as a whole was named Green Land Development of the Year in 2007 by the National Association of Home Buildings, and features 139 residential lots. Painters Hall converted an 80-year-old existing building into a community center with a 20.2 kilowatt rooftop solar array (which produces enough power to meet the building’s energy needs). The project is LEED Platinum-certified and also achieved three petals of the Living Building Challenge—the energy, equity, and beauty petals—which earned the project Living Building Challenge Petal certification, or partial recognition as a living building.

The Ideas Z2 facility transformed a concrete, windowless U.S. Bank building from the 1960s into a modern office building in San Jose. The 34,000-square-foot facility meets 100 percent of its net energy requirements via photovoltaics and has a net-metered rooftop PV array that provides enough electricity to meet the building’s needs. The "Z2" in the project’s name references the goal of being net-zero energy and net-zero carbon.

More information on the Living Building Challenge and New Zero Energy Building Certification programs can be found online at The International Living Building Insititute's website.