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Countdown to Zero Net Energy: 435 Indio Way

Posted By April Becerra CAE, Friday, May 29, 2015

435 Indio Way in Sunnyvale provides a case study in high performance, just in time for Title 24

by Steve Stenton, AIA, LEED, AP ; Traci Vogel, RMW architecture & interiors

California’s recent revisions to Title 24 require all new residential buildings to be Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by 2020, and all new commercial buildings to follow suit by 2030. The new codes also apply to building renovations which meet certain thresholds. These looming deadlines impose urgency on owners, developers, and architects who seek to understand the design approach and business case for the ZNE building type.

When Huettig & Schromm Properties decided to renovate 435 Indio Way, Sunnyvale, a vacant 31,759-square-foot single-story tilt-up, they and their developer, Sharp Development Company, saw the project as a test case for ZNE.


Could the team demonstrate that this kind of design could be affordable, even profitable, for spec office renovations? Or would the often-heard fear that sustainable design unreasonably escalates costs be borne out?

Sharp Development Company’s president, Kevin Bates, has developed more than 2.2 million square feet in Silicon Valley, and studied sustainable construction at UC Berkeley and Davis. The economic model and lease structure he developed for 435 Indio breaks new ground in developing a business case for Zero Net Energy retrofits.

Bates’ business case for ZNE building development focuses on three main beliefs:

  1. You can drive down operation and maintenance costs through careful equipment selection and design.
  2. Tenants will want to take advantage of the building’s natural daylight by maintaining open plan offices, reducing demolition and interior remodeling costs.
  3. Tenants will be willing to pay a premium for a well-designed high-performance space.

1. Driving Down Operation and Maintenance Costs:

In the mild Northern California climate, it is possible to drive down operation and maintenance costs by minimizing mechanical equipment in favor of passive systems. A building the size of 435 Indio Way would typically need 90-100 tons of equipment for air exchange, heating, and ventilation. 435 Indio requires 22 tons of equipment. “If you have 20% of the standard amount of mechanical equipment, your maintenance costs are 20% of what they normally would be on a quarterly basis,” Bates says.

2. Open Plan Offices:

Forty-three custom skylights bring diffused natural light into 435 Indio Way, which means the building is 100% naturally lit for most of the day. The building also incorporates the first commercial use of operable dynamic windows, allowing office seating to be installed right up to the window line without overheating or glare. Large ceiling fans encourage a comfortable flow of fresh air. These design elements work best with an open office plan which locates enclosed amenities at the core. In turn, the open office layout translates into less initial cost sunk into interior built walls, fewer hard walls being demoed as tenants change, and less electrical and mechanical reworking.

3. Premium Lease:

Although he expected to find that tenants might be willing to pay more to lease a sustainable building, Bates didn’t include this expectation in his initial business case. In fact, he has found that the “soft benefits” of a ZNE building are significant. Brokers and potential tenants were drawn to the project because it was different. With 100% natural daylight and 100% natural ventilation, ZNE buildings have a healthy, lively “feel” to them, because they aren’t sealed off from the environment like a traditional office space. Bates found that this especially appealed to tech tenants, who spend so much time indoors. The building leased in three months, compared to a market average of 18 months, and there was a backlog of possible tenants ready to sign should the lease fall through.


ZNE design requires an owner, developer, and design team committed to a non-traditional integrated approach. Knowing that the mechanical performance of the building was paramount to his business case, Bates hired the mechanical/electrical/plumbing design engineer, the Integral Group, before he hired the architect, RMW architecture & interiors. The project presented some novel challenges which the design group worked together to solve. For example, the large open interior space, with its concrete floor, presented acoustical issues, but most acoustical ceiling treatments are not sustainable, and the ones that are didn’t meet the budget. RMW architecture & interiors designed a custom fabric ceiling treatment and worked with the contractor, Hillhouse Construction, on an economical method of production and installation. The solution took some time and brain power to work out, but can be used as a template for future projects.

In fact, Huettig & Schromm and Sharp Development are hard at work on their second ZNE renovation, a two-story building next door to 435 Indio Way: clear evidence that the business case has borne out.



Facts about 435 Indio Way, Sunnyvale

– 435 Indio produces onsite energy through integrated rooftop photovoltaics.

– During the day, the space is illuminated by natural light filtered through 43 skylights.

– When needed, electrical lighting is controlled with occupancy and photosensors.

– Interior temperatures are regulated through passive ventilation, super-insulated concrete walls and roof, and electro-chromic windows that transition from clear to semi-opaque in response to sun intensity.

– Large fans keep the interior air slowly moving.

– At night, an automated system flushes hot air out windows and skylights.

– Energy use data is displayed on a screen in the lobby.

– Left-over wood beams were repurposed for the entry lobby flooring.

– Slate decorative elements on the exterior were carefully removed and reused as seat wall tops in the back patio.

– Concrete sawn out during trench digging for plumbing was reused as pilasters for the building’s monument sign.

– 91% of construction debris was recycled.

Tags:  net zero energy  sustainability  ZNE building development 

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