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"The Net-Zero-Energy Renovation"

With a background in green building and community development, James Santana has been a part of the Pringle Creek development team since the property was purchased in 2005, helping plan and design Oregon’s first LEED Platinum home, the Pringle Creek cottage; and Painters Hall, Oregon’s first LEED Platinum net-zero-energy commercial building.

"The Net-Zero-Energy Renovation"

Photography,visko Hatfield ©2010,

James Santana
Solar Today
>>click here for original article

Under a rooftop covered in solar panels, Pringle Creek neighbors sit on the deck of Painters Hall community center, sipping iced tea, bird watching and looking out over acres of open space. It’s a modern vision of a sustainable future — integration of the built and natural environments, innovative design and technology — as well as a reminder of simpler times, when community and resource conservation were ways of life.

That blend of new and old is found everywhere at Pringle Creek Community, a new 32-acre neighborhood on former state property in Salem, Ore. It’s especially evident in Painters Hall, a 1930s-built industrial building that has been transformed into an ultra-efficient, net-zero-energy, LEED Platinum community center.

The center demonstrates the potential for existing building stock to be renovated in a way that outperforms conventional new construction, saves money, preserves history and inspires beauty and creativity.

Challenges — and Opportunities — Abound

Structurally, Painters Hall had a lot going for it: It was strong and, without interior support columns, had a large uninterrupted floor plan. The trusses were well-built, and the building’s existing orientation, roof pitch and solar exposure made it an excellent candidate for solar energy. With a tilt and orientation factor of 98 percent and only a touch of shade from nearby 200-year-old oak trees, annual solar access was calculated at 93 percent. The building’s 1,900-square-foot (177-square-meter) south-facing roof had the potential to produce three times the energy Painters Hall needed to be net-zero, even in Oregon’s cloudy Willamette Valley.

The project had its challenges, though. In terms of energy efficiency, the building was a worst-case scenario. Its foundation and walls were made of solid concrete without insulation, and the building’s single-pane steel casement windows, many of which would not fully close, had no thermal breaks.

Fortunately, the development team at Pringle Creek has some experience overcoming challenges to achieving sustainability. Designed around nature, people and innovation, Pringle Creek’s highly efficient LEED-certified homes share 12 acres of open space, woods, trails, orchards and gardens, creating a neighborhood that is beautiful and healthy to live in. Numerous initiatives and innovations — from green roofs and district ground-source geothermal to the largest porous green street system in North America — have earned the neighborhood several awards, including recognition as the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Land Development of the Year and a spot on Natural Home Magazine’s list of America’s Top 10 Green-Built Neighborhoods.
Beginning in 2009 and led by architect and master planner James Meyer, principal at Opsis Architecture ( in Portland, Ore., the team’s first step in renovating Painters Hall was to identify which elements could be saved. The building’s interior was gutted. Materials that could be reused, such as the garage door, dimensional lumber and pieces of concrete, were set aside. Metal casement windows were cut out, and rusted plumbing, old electrical components and asphalt roofing shingles were removed. Ultimately, 90 percent of the demolition waste was diverted from landfills.

After the gutting, the building’s shell was all that remained: trusses, roof sheathing, concrete walls and foundation. Drawing from a stockpile of metal, wood and concrete saved from other buildings deconstructed on site, local green builder Phil Klaus of Spectra Construction began to give new uses to old materials. The front porch decking was built of salvaged old growth timbers. The trellis, door pulls, bike racks and conference table came from old steam pipe and stanchions. The café bar, table tops and furniture were made from hazard trees milled on site. Acoustical ceiling slats and trellis shading were made from tongue and groove fir pulled from the building next door.

Upgrades, Conservation Boost Efficiency

To achieve net-zero-energy, the team focused on deep-energy conservation strategies, recognizing that a kilowatt-hour (kWh) saved is far less expensive than one produced on site. Opsis Architecture’s design called for insulating the entire building envelope, maximizing natural light, installing the most efficient light fixtures and establishing real-time energy monitoring equipment. Spectra Construction furred-out interior walls, added blown-in cellulose insulation, insulated overhead and under floors and sealed air leaks. Spectra installed locally manufactured Jeld-Wen ( double-pane operable windows with the same grid-pattern as the originals, but with a U-value 400 percent more efficient.

Operable windows and passive cooling vents save energy by creating opportunities for cross ventilation, natural cooling and fresh airflows. Light-colored floors and walls and white-washed ceiling slats reflect the abundant natural light streaming in through the windows, almost eliminating the need for daytime lighting, even on overcast days.

Fluorescent light fixtures illuminate the building’s 3,400 square feet (316 square meters) at 1.51 kilowatts (kW) per square foot, a 53.6 percent reduction in baseline loads for a typical building. Motion sensors turn lights off when occupants are not present, and when dimmers are used to reduce lights to half power, overall building consumption drops by 1 kW — saving $1 or more per day.

Energy monitoring equipment tracks real-time use, creating energy awareness and increasing the likelihood of behavioral change toward conservation. Painters Hall uses TED, The Energy Detective (, a simple-to-install, yet sophisticated, tracking system. For $300 in hardware, TED measures total building consumption, photovoltaic system (PV) production and individual circuit loads. The device and its software also communicate with Google Powermeter, a free web-based program. Owners can access Google Powermeter’s dashboard via the internet at any time, sharing data with others and receiving weekly summaries by e-mail that compare usage trends.

Along with a ground-source heat pump by WaterFurnace ( for high-efficiency heating and cooling, the overall combination of energy conservation strategies yielded impressive early results: The average monthly building consumption for Painters Hall is 600 kilowatt-hours per month.

Solar Powers Community Center — And Then Some

Kyle Kobel of Tanner Creek Energy (tanner, a leading commercial solar installer in Oregon, evaluated the site. With the hall’s energy-efficient upgrades, the building needed just an 8-kW PV system to be net-zero. In Oregon, grid-tied PV owners can only deduct kilowatt-hour-for-kilowatt-hour of energy consumption and are not paid or reimbursed for annual excess generation. Systems are therefore sized to meet the projected annual energy consumption of the buildings to which they are tied. For Painters Hall, that meant the solar potential of its roof would be completely underutilized.

Through aggregate metering, however, multiple loads can be combined on separate meters, as long as those meters have the same schedule, feeder line and owner and are located on contiguous properties. This way, Painters Hall could install a maximum rooftop system and use the excess energy generated to pump well water through the neighborhood’s innovative ground-source geothermal loop. Installed at the same time as the neighborhood’s public utilities and tapped into an existing high-capacity well, the shared loop provides ground-temperature water to individual residential and commercial heat pumps for their HVAC needs. The system serves as an ultra-efficient source of heating and cooling for 77 homes and eight commercial lots, including Painters Hall. And because the system is shared, the cost per household is reduced to one-sixth of a comparable stand-alone system.

When it came to selecting PV panel manufacturers, the team looked for quality, reliability and efficiency, and if possible, local manufacturing. Sanyo Solar (, one of the world’s leading solar panel producers, had recently opened a new solar ingot facility just 6 miles away, bringing 200 new jobs to Salem. The HIT Power Series panel guarantees 100 percent of nameplate power, has a 20-year power output and boasts efficiency of 23 percent. Using an ultra-thin layer of amorphous silicon on top of a pure monocrystalline silicone wafer, the panel is able to capture more power in low-light situations, such as early morning, late evening or on overcast western Oregon days. For inverters, the team chose the PV Powered ( PVP4800 for its 96 percent California Energy Commission-weighted efficiency rating, 10-year warranty and manufacturing plant located in Bend, Ore., just 130 miles away.

Tanner Creek Energy installed 96 Sanyo HIT-210N panels, consisting of four arrays (three strings of eight modules) on a Unirac ( railing system mounted 6 inches above a new standing seam metal roof. The expected annual production for this 20.2-kW system is projected to be over 23,000 kWh. With early results in the first eight months of service (October 2009 through June 2010), the system had produced 16,153 kWh and was on track to meet or exceed its annual output projection during the remaining four peak-producing months of summer.

This system would not have been possible without substantial financial incentives. The initial out-of-pocket cost was $157,450 — about $7.80 per watt. With the Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit, federal tax credit, Energy Trust of Oregon rebate, state and federal depreciation and estimated energy savings, the system is projected to pay for itself within three and a half years. Overall savings are projected to be around $68,000 by 2030.

The project’s value goes beyond its bottom-line benefits, though. Built in the Great Depression decade following the stock market crash of 1929, Painters Hall symbolized a belief in better times ahead. Renovating it now, during a similar period of economic recovery and uncertainty, Painters Hall recalls that same new hope for the future. In restoring a building from our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, we re-awaken their values: resource conservation, looking out for your neighbor and leaving things a little bit better for the next person.

Today’s Painters Hall is a restoration of those values. The building is, once again, a signal of health and prosperity, and also of a new direction — toward a smart future rooted in innovation, respect for nature and love of community. In this way, Painters Hall, and the entire neighborhood at Pringle Creek, is ready for the next 80 years of new challenges and opportunities.

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