The Growing Part Laboratory Users Play in Achieving Net Zero and Net Positive Building Performance

Joshua Gassman, Lord Aeck Sargent

In the world of high performance buildings, owners, designers and contractors have come a long way. Laboratory buildings in particular, due to their significant energy density, are starting to show meaningful reductions in baseline energy use. Many factors have helped aid this decline including but certainly not limited to stricter codes, greater awareness of the benefits of reduced energy use (monetary and otherwise) as well as the proliferation of green building rating systems (and of course Labs21 and its contributions). Most of these efforts to date have focused, rightfully so, on reducing the energy use of the base infrastructure for research: the laboratory building. Collectively as an industry, we have made great strides in increasing energy performance.

However, when the building itself does everything "right" and starts to attain higher levels of performance, a new challenge arises: plug load reduction. Analysis of energy loads shows that in some environments plug loads can represent 35% of the total building energy usage, and this number can get even higher, in the 50% range, for projects seeking net-zero performance. This trend makes reaching the highest levels of performance in a building nearly impossible without strategies to address plug loads. While significant effort has been put into getting plug load estimates correct so that building systems can be properly sized, the next step is to find strategies to reduce these loads. Finding and implementing these strategies requires an integrated process with building owners and facilities teams, as the design team is typically not involved in the building when the full implementation of plug load reduction strategies are implemented.

This presentation will look at two laboratory projects, both seeking Living Building Challenge Certification, and both in climates that are challenging (warm and humid). Both projects are in design, and we will focus on the programming stage strategies (and in some cases compromises) needed to achieve the projects' ambitious energy performance goals. We will review the results of these programming processes as they relate to strategies to get the building "right" via thermal comfort of occupants, needed conditions for flexible research, and recirculated and single pass air. We will then look at the resulting strategies to reduce plug loads, including occupant education, bench top metering, occupancy sensors for plugs and micro-generation of power for device charging.

We propose that this presentation is the first in a multi-part series that tracks the progress of the projects, including design implementation during CD's and post-occupancy metering and tracking to demonstrate the success.

Learning Objectives

  • Participants will be able to understand how user behavior can impact building energy performance.
  • Participants will learn about measurement tools for accessing building energy performance during design and after occupancy.
  • Participants will gain an understanding of the energy use and water use in laboratories and understand the strategies available to Owners and Design teams to help make buildings more efficient.
  • Participants will learn how the early design and programming process can impact overall energy use and be able to select strategies for reducing it.


For more than 15 years Joshua has lead large, multi-faceted design teams focused on sustainable design. During his career he has managed a broad spectrum of projects, ranging from large research labs for major universities to interpretive and education centers. He has worked extensively on projects involving challenging sustainable criteria, including net positive water and net positive energy projects. He holds degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and Arizona State University.


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