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HVAC Professionals Donate Expertise for Conservatory's Net-zero Energy Building

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens' new Center for Sustainable Landscapes vies for Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum and Sustainable Sites Initiative recognitions.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes exterior. Photo by Alexander Denmarsh Photography.
Pittsburgh, PA-based Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens opens its new Center for Sustainable Landscapes building this summer. More than 10 HVAC-industry manufacturers and firms played a charitable role in partially donating equipment and time that contributed to the facility's net-zero energy-achievement goal.

As the centerpiece of a $23.5-million expansion project at the 119-year-old non-profit conservatory, the 24,350-sq-ft Center will be the largest building in operation pursuing Living Building status in the U.S. The building will be reviewed for Living Building status after one year of recorded data. It will meet or exceed the world's three highest certifications for sustainable structures and landscapes:
  • Living Building Challenge status;
  • LEED Platinum certification; and
  • Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Aided with the HVAC manufacturers’ innovations, two Pittsburgh firms, The Design Alliance Architects and MEP consulting engineering company CJL Engineering, spearheaded the facility's net-zero energy strategy. The design team incorporated energy recovery, geothermal, natural ventilation, solar photovoltaic, vertical-axis wind turbine and other technologies, all resulting in minimal input from municipal water and power utilities. Excess onsite electric and water production will be used to supplement neighboring buildings on the 13-acre site.

The heart of the building's HVAC operation is the Tricoil energy-recovery system by Sensible Equipment, installed by mechanical contractor SSM Industries. Air-curtain manufacturer Berner International Corp. coordinated green OEM HVAC equipment and suppliers for the Tricoil portion of the project. Assembling the equipment within the region supports the Living Building Challenge PR8 Materials Radius requirement.

Rooftop Tricoil unit. Photo by Berner International Corp.
The 12,000-cfm Tricoil supplies both enthalpy-wheel dehumidification and mechanical dehumidification via a patented recuperative loop that pre-cools and reheats outside air requirements. The system, which is supplemented by the building's natural ventilation and under-floor ductwork air-displacement strategy, also provides air-conditioning and heating with help from energy recovery. Its water-source heat pump is supplied by a 14-well vertical geothermal field installed by Western Pennsylvania Geothermal Heating & Cooling. A building automation system by Automatic Logic monitors and controls all building environmental conditions.

"The design uses sustainable equipment and concepts readily available today, but what's unique is the unprecedented combination of all this equipment into a net-zero energy application," said Alan Traugott, Principal of CJL Engineering.

"In preliminary design meetings, we [HVAC manufacturers] thought net-zero energy might be insurmountable especially in terms of air-conditioning, but once everybody started conceiving of the sustainable possibilities within their own custom manufacturing capabilities, it was an exciting and viable challenge," said Kenneth L. Eiermann, Principal of Sensible Equipment, and the inventor and patent holder of the Tricoil.

The other green HVAC equipment donated to the project was electrical components by Chess Electric Co.; rooftop curb by Conn-Fab; filters and filter-glide pack by Filtech Inc.; exterior panels, doors and view ports by ITM4; compressors by Liqua-Chill; coils by Luvata/Heatcraft; and fans by Pennbarry Inc.

Energy-efficient, sustainable products were sought for the HVAC system. For example, the 2-in.-thick doors and panels of the Tricoil unit have a solar-reflective paint and maintain a positive-pressure, near-zero air leakage due to tight-fitting gaskets and door latches, which came from the ITM4's Apex product line. Like the project's other construction materials, the HVAC enclosure's insulation, gaskets and other materials use no CFCs, VOCs and other environmental contaminants, which complies with Living Building Challenge requirements, according to David Walker, President, ITM4.

The Center seeks to be a net-zero energy and sustainability role model for future buildings.

"The HVAC manufacturers played an important role in our overall net-zero energy goal," said Richard V. Piacentini, Phipps' Executive Director. "As a result, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes is an incredible structure that is one of the greenest buildings on Earth, thanks in no small part to the state-of-the-art technologies we employed onsite."

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