Oregon Sustainability Center

building partnerships : advancing best practices : creating green jobs

OSC Research : 90 Days Later and Beyond


The Window: part PV panel, part light shelf, part sun shade, the Window concept for the OSC is one example of a design that, with further research, could yield a successful integrated economic development strategy for the regional building industry.

For the Living Building Challenge, defining the problem is half of the solution. But three PSU students might tell you that defining the problem isn’t always easy.

These students helped the OSC research group with several items on their 90-day agenda, which aimed to answer the questions most pertinent to the feasibility study.

So what makes defining the problem so hard? For one, the students catalogued every ingredient on a list of 250 materials to see if they contained any items on the Living Building Challenge’s Red List. They weren’t finding alternatives to these materials, they were finding what they contained – an arduous task of poring over specifications, Material Safety Data Sheets, and a host of other sources.

They found that 25% of the 250 materials that the research group suspected actually contained one or more of the Red List chemicals. That’s about 63 materials for which the team will need to find an alternative.

But it doesn’t stop there.

As stipulated by the Living Building Challenge, the materials need to come from within the materials service radius. Once again, the students dove into the data, looking for companies within 250, 500 or 1000 miles that carry products needed to build the OSC.

And the number of usable materials crept even lower.

But knowing constraints often opens up the biggest opportunities. The research group constantly kept an eye out for opportunities to grow local business. Often enough, local businesses are making materials in the region, but use, say, urea formaldehyde in the process. So why not ask them to cut out the nasty chemicals and create a new market?

Or, businesses are making the perfect product, but they are based overseas. Why not suggest they open a manufacturing branch in Portland? Or even better, why not find a local entrepreneur to create an entirely new business to meet the need?

These are all questions posed by the OSC research group and illustrated by the students’ research. There is an ever-growing list of opportunities for growth and expansion that spans industries from solar to wood products to curtain-wall. Below are some examples of the opportunities identified:

  • Living Machines as a potable water strategy
  • Building Integrated Photovoltaics
  • Integrated PV, Light Shelf and Shading Devices
  • Integrated Box Beams that are structural and contain radiant heating and cooling, displacement ventilation, integrated data and electrical and fire sprinklers
  • Red List compliant replacements for products (e.g. PVC piping, electrical wiring sheathing, roofing, flooring)
  • Expanding the FSC supply chain for all the wood products used in buildings
  • Construction Carbon Footprint Calculator
  • A “Fractal Dashboard” that reports resource use at the building scale down to the individual scale
  • Occupant Behavior Modifier for Energy modeling software


The Box Beam: Dubbed the “seven-fer” for its ability to perform seven critical functions within a single design, the Box Beam concept – which emerged early in OSC brainstorming – is a pre-fabricated concrete form that could provide: Structure; Passive heating with the slab; Radiant heating and cooling; distribution for ventilation; Finished ceiling; Chase for data and cabling; Chase for fire sprinklers. It could also spur innovation in the regional economy by teaming existing pre-cast concrete manufacturers with radiant piping suppliers/manufacturers, data suppliers, cabling suppliers, and local expert green engineers (structural, mechanical and plumbing) to develop a new, replicable green building product.

Other more immediate tasks on the 90-day agenda included finding the projected increase in efficiency of PVs over the next two years (experts project about a 1-2% increase), finding weather station data to help inform mechanical and passive system design (thank you to David Sailor and the Broadway Building weather station), nearby parking garage energy use (no longer relevant with net-zero energy achieved on site, but much higher than expected) and analyzing the building’s optimization for daylighting (local expert G.Z. Brown recommends a “thin building” approach).

The research group has much to dig into over the summer. They’ve also developed a list of items for Oregon’s universities to tackle, including:

  • Low or no energy replacement for cement
  • Green roof product research
  • Measurement of green roof stormwater retention and quality
  • Measurement of green roof energy conservation
  • Laboratory measurement of green roof systems
  • Behavioral change to conserve energy
  • Human health metrics related to green building
  • EcoDistricts
  • Legal / condominium / governance issues that are unique to Living Buildings
  • Right sizing of water / energy / storm water strategies
  • Energy conservation strategies efficacy testing and metrics
  • Weather station data
  • Expanding the FSC supply chain for all wood products used
  • Construction carbon footprint calculator
  • Large scale renewable energy efficacy and metrics
  • Measurement and verification metrics
  • Occupant behavior modifier for energy modeling software (e.g. eQUEST)

If you have interest in contributing to any of the above research topics, join us at the Open House this coming Thursday, June 25th, from 5-7:30 pm at PSU’s Shattuck Hall Annex, where we will be discussing the project’s next steps in greater detail.

(Thank you to Liz Hopkins of the Portland+Oregon Sustainability Institute for submitting this post.)


Filed under: Project History, Research

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