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SEF breaks ground on Lehigh Valley's first Net Zero building

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Artists rendering of the planned Net Zero headquarters of the Sustainable Energy Fund. (Contributed)
Artists rendering of the planned Net Zero headquarters of the Sustainable Energy Fund. (Contributed)
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The Sustainable Energy Fund broke ground today on its new $5.4 million headquarters, which board chairman Robert Thomson said shows the organization is “walkin' the walk.”

That is because the new HQ is believed to be the Lehigh Valley’s first net-zero building and the second commercially viable net zero office building in the country. It is at 4250 Independence Drive in Schnecksville.

“We wanted to show that net-zero construction is fiscally viable,” Thomson said.

Net zero is the term for a building that produces as much energy as it consumes. John Costlow, SEF’s president, said the organization goal is actually to be net positive, meaning the building will produce more energy through solar and thermal panels on its roof than it consumes. The excess energy would go back into the power grid.

Costlow said the average daily energy produced by the building should be around 130 percent of what it uses. On a good, sunny day, it could go as high as 200 percent.

The SEF will be using about 3,000 square feet of the 15,000-square-foot building for office space for its 9 employees. Another 2,000 square feet will be used classroom space for classes for people interested in installing alternative energy and energy efficiency.

The remaining 10,000 square feet will be leased out to other businesses.

The structure is being built on a former apple orchard, which has soil with high arsenic levels, so some remediation work is needed before construction can begin. They hope to being actual construction in late April or early May.

The apple orchard will be replaced by 100 new trees and 400 shrubs, as well as a rain garden to help with drainage.

The building itself contains many energy-saving features.

They include individual temperature controls in each room.

“So we’ll have none of this people needing space heaters at their desks,” Costlow quipped.

As another benefit, he said another benefit, the building won’t need heating or cooling in areas that don’t need i.

And there are protections against misuse: All thermostats are automatically monitored by the building.

“So if someone has their office set to 78 degrees in the middle of winter, we’ll know,” he said.

Also, unlike most modern office buildings, the windows open.

Costlow said this will allow employees to let in fresh air in nice days. Opening a window also will automatically shut off the air conditioning in that room, saving on power.

And on nice days, there is an area for staff to work outside so they won’t need the building’s lights, heating or air conditioning at all.

Ashley McGraw Architects of Syracuse, N.Y. and TN Ward Co. of Ardmore to provide design and construction services

The SEF was formed 20 years ago as part of Pennsylvania’s energy deregulation. It handles energy efficiency and alternative energy programs and education in the PPL Electric Utilities territory.

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Stacy Wescoe

Stacy Wescoe

Reporter Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter at @morestacy and on Facebook. Circle Stacy Wescoe on .

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