The beauty of considering net-zero-energy ‘s potential to shift building industry norms is that it is not based on implementing “state of the art” technology, but is simply based on what has been described as “state of the shelf” technology and strategies by the New Building Institute’s CEO, Ralph DiNola (

Net-zero projects are on the rise. The momentum is building, particularly in K-12 schools across the country. Why? Owners are seeing the potential operational and maintenance economic savings, and also the documented side benefits. People, as they are living, working, collaborating, creating, and studying in these high performing buildings are experiencing increased health, well-being and productivity benefits.  A building that performs at net-zero on an annual basis, with one hundred percent of the project’s energy needs being supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis, is by nature resilient, and the perfect springboard for integrating regenerative strategies which further shifts the building industry status quo.

The Department of Energy (DOE), in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is encouraging the K-12 sector to achieve net-zero on their construction projects.  Interestingly, their message to school districts is that K-12 schools can achieve a net zero project within the construction budget of a conventional school.  The DOE’s website reports that the “K-12 sector alone spends $6 billion annually in the U.S. on energy bills, more than textbooks and computers combined, and second only to teacher salaries. Reducing energy usage by 20% across the education sector would result in energy cost savings of more than $3.3 billion that K-12 schools, colleges, and universities can better spend on educating students.”  (

Educators are recognizing the powerful opportunities created for teaching and learning in a net-zero school by enabling the integration of learning, design, sustainability and environmental stewardship. Students learn to collaborate and lead in achieving measurable zero energy goals. There is an anticipated ripple effect in the broader community including students, teachers, staff and parents.

The synergistic benefits that K-12 schools are experiencing can easily be applied to other building types. Case studies and technical details are found in ASHRAE’s Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 School Buildings, published in January 2018.

MHTN Architects is pleased to be currently participating in the peer review of the AEDG for Small to Medium Office Buildings Achieving Zero Energy.  We have been looking forward to getting this sneak peek, and excited to share strategies of implementation with our clients.

By Sarah Winkler, AIA, SE, LEED AP
Project Architect, Associate: Predesign & Programming Leader, NZE Environments Leader

After nearly a half century of Americans moving out of the cities into the suburbs beginning in the 1950’s, recent data from Strong Towns [1] suggests that Americans’ housing preferences may be beginning to shift. “56% of millennials and 46% of baby boomers prefer to live in more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods” often known as walkable urban places. Read more

Many healthcare institutions across the country have a “master plan” or perhaps have a document that shows physical locations of buildings on their campus with paths for growth which, often times, focuses on utility infrastructure and asking the question, “how much building can be developed on this site?”

Deceptively, it is easier to rally around the functional need rather than define a common vision.

Strategic Planning in a large organization can be very challenging.  Why do many healthcare institutions struggle to utilize a strategic plan to create lasting change? The most common reason is that those called to act on the plan do not feel a sense of ownership, authorship, or engagement in a common vision. The simple remedy is to involve all key stakeholders – meaningfully –  during the planning process.  A sound proposition can be composed and adopted when there is a common understanding of vision for the future.

To begin the strategic planning process, you have to ask the hard questions.  Assess your organization by looking for opportunities to improve what is not working. Determine why.  Who are your competitors and what are you doing to rise above?  Prioritization of the organization’s challenges and opportunities will begin to distill what is important to the organization.  Then, together, commit to change.

The important question to ask your key stakeholders is, “are you ready for change?”.  The beauty of a strategic plan is that it is 100% customized to your organization.  It can amplify the unique qualities that make your organization great and provide a common vision for the future!

Before your organization can prepare for change, it is well worth evaluating where the institution ranks in terms of planning maturity.  How does your institution currently employ strategic planning?  The SCUP Planning Institute lays out four distinct stages of planning maturity.  This can help you better understand where your organization is today and areas to improve.

  1.  Chaotic.  This is where planning team may or may not exist.  The planning is “Ad-hoc” with people who are not aware that planning is happening.  There may be some level of distrust among stakeholders.
  2. Reactive.  This is a strategy of “Firefighting”, running from issue to issue trying to keep things moving with a sense of progression.  At this maturity level people are in silos and have limited engagement as a team.
  3. Proactive.  Coordinated efforts of stake holders with a “teaming” attitude.  Trust seeds are planted among strategic planning team and with leadership.  Operationally runs smooth with transparent communication.
  4. Optimized.  Integrated planning team.  High level of trust among team members.  This level of maturity has the highest propensity for innovation to the planning process and will yield the highest rewards for the future.

It is our experience that a large majority of organizations operate within the “Reactive” stage of maturity.  As leaders in healthcare planning, we take pride in assisting organizations in planning for a better future.  Thoughtful strategic planning will have lasting positive impacts on your organization, making vision real.

By Curtis Leetham, AIA
MHTN Director of Healthcare Environments

You may have heard: Energy consumption in buildings accounts for nearly 40 percent of the total U.S. energy use. Heating and cooling loads represent the largest building-sector energy end-use. This fact alone is a big motivator to me to design building envelopes to place less burden on systems that expend energy.

The exterior enclosure of our buildings involves many components, and mandates that we find smart ways to streamline their efficacy.  Appropriate air and moisture barriers, along with the proper amount and location of continuous insulation in external walls, ceilings, floors and roofs, are the base. We continue to see a huge impact made with proper window-to-wall ratios, and highly efficient glazing with appropriate solar heat gain coefficient and light transmittance. How we design the primary thermal barrier between the exterior and the interior of our structures not only affects the heating and cooling loads required but can also play a key role in producing natural light and ventilation as well as set the level of comfort to the building occupants.

By considering regenerative features in the envelope, mechanical and electrical performance can be greatly enhanced. However, these efforts are ineffective if we have an open or short-circuited building skin. Air sealing alone can reduce the need for heating in a building by 20 to 30 percent. Attention to detailing a continuous air barrier must become the focus of detail of all transitions between materials and planes. Clear communication on how to treat transitions below grade, floor to wall transitions, sealing at window openings, soffits, roofs and parapets can be a difficult task, but worth our focus.

We are currently developing a series of 3-dimensional details that can be used to clearly illustrate continuity of the air barrier at the key transitions throughout the building. By providing a tightly sealed envelope, our mechanical and electrical teams can be assured that their systems can run at full efficiency. This also makes it easier for the contractor to understand the intent and goals.

It seems that with every project we find more and more ways to make our buildings not only energy efficient, but also regenerative.  It is second nature for our design teams to seek the right combination of extremely efficient HVAC systems, geothermal systems or LED lighting systems to reduce consumption.  Now, technology is integrating regenerative features like photovoltaics in shingles, paint and window glass.

Could solar panels on a roof soon be a thing of the past?  Not sure. What’s exciting is that every day we are testing and examining new integrated innovations designed to reach the market affordably, and save money/energy in day-to-day operations, with less.

By Greg Beecher, AIA
MHTN Associate, Leader in Building Envelope Implementation


Since the first installation over 50 years ago, Synthetic turf has had major impacts on the sports field industry.  With over an estimated 12,000 synthetic field installed in the United States these impacts are manifest is many ways.  The synthetic turf industries continually strive to reduce the impacts that their fields have on the athletes and the public by reducing injuries and potential harm to the environment.

The reduction impact injuries is one of the main goals of the industry.  The main impact injuries are to the feet and legs and to the head.  To reduce these injuries the industry has introduced infill materials, increased the pile height of the carpet, modified the materials and density of the fibers and the infill, and evolved the grass blade design.

The original Astro Turf installed in 1966 was essentially an indoor/ outdoor carpet with a foam pad installed over concrete.  The technology advanced from there by increasing the pile length and introducing sand infill mixed with crumb rubber.  To date shock absorbing pads have been introduced in concert with different types of infill materials such as pellets made out of recycled shoes, Acrylic Polymer coated sand particles or organic infill using the likes of shredded coconuts or processed nut shells. The latest technology looks to be coming out of a by byproduct of research in the automotive industry.  This impact absorbing pad manufactured from resilient thermoplastic urethane material that looks like bubble wrap that will reduce in height by 90% when impacted and then returns to its natural form. All of these innovations have been made in an effort to reduce the impact injuries to the athlete and insure their safety.

The impact of the heat absorbed and then released by synthetic fields is felt primarily by the athletes themselves.  This is one of the biggest concerns of synthetic fields. While the temperature measured 3 feet above the turf can register at about the same as the air temperature, the temperature at the surface of the field can register much higher.  The industry has utilized different methods to reduce the effect felt by the athlete of the heat being transferred from the turf up through the athlete’s feet and legs.

Irrigation of the fields is one of the methods called upon to reduce the heat effect.  This is done through the installation of fixed or mobile water “cannons” that are used to wet down the field when the temperatures are extreme.  The design of the shape and composition of the grass blades is being used lower the temperature by up to 15 degrees. In some locations Cooling systems are being installed under the field to lower the temperature.  Some of the latest information says that the proper way to keep the players safe is to provide misters to keep the athletes cool and safe from overheating.

The introduction of synthetic turf has also had an impact on sustainability.  The installation of a synthetic field will reduce/ eliminate the use of irrigation water and reduce the use of fertilizers that have to potential to infiltrate and harm water sheds.  The use of misters to cool athletes in lieu of irrigation systems to cool the entire field can again reduce the water usage and help conserve water.  The use of shock absorbing pads underneath the carpet can reduce the amount of infill material that needs to be replaced when it is time to replace and recycle the fields.

Synthetic fields have and average lifespan of about 8 years.  The disposal of the materials used in the field has an impact on the environment.  Different Methods across the country are being used around the country to reduce the amount of materials ending up in landfills.  These methods range from reusing the materials in golf course sand traps to removing, cleaning and reusing infield materials in future fields and repurposing and recycling the other field components for use in other products.

One of the main efforts that can be used to mitigate and reduce the impact of the fields to both the athlete and the public is to maintain the fields properly.  Proper maintenance helps provide the needed protections for the players by supplying smooth playing surfaces and correct shock absorption and extending the playing careers of the athletes.  It also extends the lifespan of the fields, reducing the amount of recycling needed and saving the owner money.

By Vincent Olcott ASLA
MHTN Associate, Leader in Sustainable Site Strategies