Best practices for designing government buildings sustainably

Learn how to specify sustainable, energy-efficient systems for government and military buildings

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 30, 2020


  • Chris Ankeny, PE, LC, LEED AP BD+C, Associate/Senior Electrical Engineer, Clark Nexsen, Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Mark Chrisman, PhD, PE, Health Care Practice Director/Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Kansas City, Mo.
  • Randall Ehret, PE, Technical Director | Electrical, ESD, Chicago
  • Todd Garing, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Mueller Associates Inc., Linthicum, Md.
  • Rob Jordan, PE, FPE, LEED AP, Mechanical Department Manager, Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City,
  • Julene May, PE, PMP, Chief, F-35 Beddown Program Management Office, Stanley Consultants Inc., Eielson AFB, Alaska
  • Jon Sajdak, PE, Associate Fire Protection Engineer, Page, Austin, Tex.
  • Troy Windom, Automation Manager, Dewberry, Raleigh, N.C.

What level of performance are you being asked to achieve, such as WELL Building Standards, U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, net zero energy, Passive House or other guidelines? Describe a project and its goals, identifying the geographic location of the building.

Julene May: During the course of the beddown, five years now, the Air Force has switched from the U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification to the Green Building Initiative Guiding Principles Compliance.

Chris Ankeny: We are seeing more of an emphasis on building performance than on specific certifications. Using energy modeling early and often throughout the design process has helped us deliver projects that reduce EUI, are optimized for their site and benefit the client and users with a better experience, regardless of a specific level of performance we may be asked to achieve.

For the first new housing project in 50 years at West Point, the owner’s ambitious energy goals resulted in high efficiency mechanical, electrical, fire protection and structural systems that meet West Point Net Zero goals. Our project team delivered an energy use intensity or EUI, of 39% more than requested, as well as consumption savings that are 50% better than the baseline established by ASHRAE. The building employs radiant floor heating and cooling — a first at West Point and very useful for the New York climate. Other building systems include automated and integrated controls, digital lighting management, 100% solar domestic hot water, dedicated outdoor air systems, heat recovery systems, solar thermal and aggressive building infiltration measures.

Rob Jordan: All federal projects follow The Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings and implement a range of third-party programs including LEED, Green Globes and Guiding Principles (GP). Agency-specific policies direct use of approved green building rating systems. For example, Army projects use LEED while Air Force shifted to GP certification to validate compliance.

LEED, Guiding Principles and Zero Energy Buildings (ZEB) continue to be the market drivers for benchmarking building performance. We are seeing an increased interest from clients for WELL (leading standard for advancing health and well-being in buildings) and LEED Zero (carbon, energy, water and/or waste) certification to verify achievement of sustainability goals.

Our portfolio includes over 100 LEED certified projects, mainly achieving Silver, Gold and Platinum. Many of our federal projects are currently seeking GP certification.

Burns & McDonnell designed the F-22 Squadron Operations and AMU Hangar located at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. To support the Hawaii Air National Guard, this facility provides training and operations for the F-22 aircraft assigned to the 199th Fighter Squadron, including a six-bay maintenance hangar, maintenance shops and two-story administrative and operations space. This 78,365-square-foot facility achieved the first LEED Platinum certification (2014) for the Air National Guard. Significant energy conservation measures include over 50% of hot water demand from solar, nearly 75% energy cost savings, natural daylight and coastal breezes from open lanais and an underfloor air distribution system for optimum ventilation, reduced energy use and enhanced flexibility. Photovoltaic systems (roof-mounted and parking lot shade structure) were designed to offset 60% of annual electrical consumption. A future ground-mounted PV array was planned to achieve zero net energy consumption.

What types of sustainable features or concerns might you encounter for these buildings that you wouldn’t on other projects?

Rob Jordan: Burns & McDonnell focuses on integrated design strategies to lower Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and optimize performance. Additional measures include water efficiency, low impact rainwater management and creating indoor environments to improve occupant well-being and provide healthier buildings. Given the current pandemic situation, many clients are requesting touchless fixtures and hardware, higher ventilation rates, increased filtration, UV technology and other building measures to accommodate physical distancing when needed.

What types of renewable or alternative energy systems have you recently specified to provide power? This may include photovoltaics, wind turbines, etc. Describe the challenges and solutions.

Rob Jordan: Our teams see the highest demand for photovoltaic systems as costs continue to drop. Life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) for on-site renewable energy is part of Guiding Principles compliance. We routinely evaluate solar hot water heating through LCCA for federal projects. Clients reporting carbon reductions or making reduction commitments are looking for fossil fuel alternatives in building systems, fleet management and other operations. Natural daylighting with automated controls continues to be a requested option to reduce energy use and enhance indoor environmental quality.

Chris Ankeny: For a military project in the Southwest, we created a comprehensive series of sun studies and energy models to understand the solar impact on the building. This analysis led to an on-site photovoltaic panel grid that generates nearly 20% of the location’s energy requirements each year.

Our design of a parking deck for a state government client capitalizes on the site orientation, solar exposure and height of the parking deck with the use of rooftop photovoltaic cells. Located above the top parking level, the array supplies collected solar energy directly into the power grid and enough energy is collected to power 3,000 homes per year.

What are some of the challenges or issues when designing for water use in such facilities?

Chris Ankeny: The costs associated with water reclamation for reuse can be a challenge. Out of the box thinking led our project team to use a 20,000 gallon cistern to collect rainwater from the top level of the parking deck for a state government client. The budget that would have been required to deal with stormwater runoff and treatment was instead allocated toward this innovative alternative where water stored in the cistern is used by grounds maintenance crews to irrigate surrounding state government area grounds.

How has the demand for energy recovery technology influenced the design for these kinds of projects?

Rob Jordan: Federal projects are mandated to reduce energy use by 30% as compared to the ASHRAE 90.1 Appendix G baseline building. Stakeholders are interested in energy recovery technology to achieve these goals. As a consultant and designer, Burns & McDonnell understands the key differences between each project and unique conditions in which energy recovery may expend more energy than saved. Control strategies such as energy recovery modulation and bypass are considered to reduce parasitic energy use. An effective designer must properly evaluate energy recovery’s potential to save energy and determine optimal effectiveness in a comprehensive method spanning the entire life cycle of the system and building.

Chris Ankeny: Air-to-air energy recovery is being used with dedicated outdoor air systems for exhaust air energy recovery to precondition incoming outdoor air.

Tell us about a recent project you’ve worked on that’s innovative, large-scale or otherwise noteworthy:

Chris Ankeny: Following the trend of consolidation of different functions and centralizing resources for efficiency, Clark Nexsen recently completed the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Headquarters in New Cumberland, Pa. This design-bid-build project with for the USACE – Baltimore District was more than 10 years in the making. The new headquarters consolidates dozens of disparate DLA functions in a single, comprehensive building. The 265,000 square foot, multistory command building is organized into three wings providing more than 950 full time staff with a state-of-the-art environment, replacing buildings that were 40, 50 and even 100 years old. The LEED Silver facility is designed to showcase innovation and efficiency as well as energy conservation and sustainability for the DLA.

Systems your team engineered: Systems Clark Nexsen worked on include mechanical HVAC, plumbing systems, fire protection systems, electrical power system distribution, lighting system, lighting control systems and telecommunication infrastructure.
Key players: Walsh Construction Company

Interesting challenges or solutions: Designed to LEED Silver certification, the facility features energy-efficient lighting and equipment with motion and occupancy sensors, natural light, rainwater harvesting, recycled and local materials, green roofs, photovoltaic roof panels, maximized solar orientation and increased levels of insulation.

Other significant details: Our client wanted to surpass Executive Order 13693 issued in 2015, drawing guidance from the DLA Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Policy. We had several integrated design charrettes to identify how we could achieve the highest energy performance that ultimately led to using a water source heat pump system for mechanical, LED lighting for electrical, a high performance envelope and photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate electricity for the building.

If one is available, please link to or attach a case study or portfolio description of the project:

What is the typical project delivery method your firm uses when designing these facilities? Describe a recent project. (Project delivery method examples: design-bid-build, integrated project delivery (IPD), design-build, design-award-build, etc.)

Chris Ankeny: We have experience with all these delivery methods but find the majority of our civic work employs design-bid-build or construction at risk, while most of our federal and DOD projects use design-build project delivery.