Sheet metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association


Sunset Air's “living laboratory” shines a light on green opportunities

Mar 21, 2014

Sunset Air's “living laboratory” shines a light on green opportunities

Cebula Hall houses an engineering school on the campus of Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash. Photo credit: Lara Swimmer. Photo Credit: Lara Swimmer
Remember all of that talk about how contractors should grab the green opportunity? SMACNA contractor Sunset Air Inc. of Lacey, Wash., took it seriously.

As a direct result, Sunset was the lead contractor on what turned out to be the highest-rated LEED-certified building in the Western Hemisphere—the Fr.  Richard Cebula O.S.B. Hall, which houses the Hal and Inge Marcus School of Engineering—on the Lacey campus of Saint Martin’s University, Lacy, Wash.

“We were in charge of everything,” explained Ryan Cuoio P.E., of Sunset’s energy service division. “We were the lead for all of the green aspects of the building.”

Green need not cost more
See the school’s news release on the green elements of the building and its LEED Platinum rating, the premier level of certification. LEED, a program of the U.S. Green Building Council, stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.”

Key information from that release highlights the construction cost of the green building was considerably lower than that of a non-sustainable building. “The construction cost of the building was $225 per square foot, dispelling the notion that LEED Platinum buildings cost 15 percent or more than similar, non-sustainable buildings.
Cebula Hall is said to have earned the highest LEED-certified rating of any building in the Western Hemisphere. Photo credit: Dane Meyer

“On college campuses, construction costs for non-LEED-oriented laboratory buildings typically start around $275 to $400 per square foot, and go up—sometimes significantly.”

HVAC firm as “LEED Administrator”
Sunset issued its own news release on the Cebula Hall achievement, identifying itself as the LEED Administrator for the project. The release explained:

“Cebula Hall is living proof the implementation of green building techniques can be economical,” says Joseph Bettridge P.E., vice president and director of engineering with Sunset Air.

Mr. Bettridge, who was project executive during construction of the project, adds “It doesn’t take a lot of ‘green’ to be green—just smarter choices and the commitment to optimize the design for the maximum benefit at the lowest cost.”

An obvious question suggests itself: How did a SMACNA-member contractor become the lead contractor on the highest-rated LEED building?

A plan to become the green experts that worked
Mr. Cuoio, who has been with the company for 10 years, noted that Sunset decided to jump on the green bandwagon around 2006. “We decided that we would become the technical experts,” he remembered. “The decision by the executives here is that we would put ourselves one up on the next guy.”

(Note: Use “Comparison Panel” graphic from Dashboard website) Facility management, students and the public can “tune in” to Cebula Hall’s energy performance via this dashboard.
Sunset Air had the lead in all green aspects of the new building at Saint Martin’s University.
Key to the Cebula Hall design and installation is simplicity. “We used very simple Direct Digital Control (DDC) control,” Mr. Cuoio said. “There was a lot of work on the front end, of course, on the design. In the end, they got every LEED energy point we could get—19 in all.”

Featured elements in the building include: solar, geothermal, radiant heating and cooling, and more. What’s not in the installation: economizers. “We ran the numbers, and there was not enough value for the building in using economizers,” Mr. Cuoio explained. “According to our calculations, the economizers would pay for themselves, but it would take a long, long time.”

Mr. Cuoio said that adding economizers to the Cebula Hall installation would have cost as much as $40,000. With estimated savings of $1,000/year, the return on investment would take too long to pay for itself.

Lessons learned
Much of Sunset Air’s energy and green work experience is gathered by participating in the energy service companies (ESCOs) platform. A lot of this type of work involves improving the energy performance of existing buildings.

This, Mr. Cuoio said, has taught the Sunset people many lessons. “We’ve seen what happens in existing buildings, how they can fall short of the initial design intent,” he said.

“If you went to 30 or 40 existing buildings, in 90 percent of them the economizers are broken. In fact, we’ve looked into this—and they are no longer working as few as three or four years into building operation.”

More than a school building
In addition to housing the engineering school, Cebula Hall is a laboratory in and of itself. One untypical item included is a dashboard that provides instant information on building energy performance.

“Really, what they have now is a living laboratory,” Mr. Cuoio explained. “We made it so the student can see everything that’s going on.”