Mike Murphy

If you enjoy business acronyms the HVAC industry offers as many as you could ever want. However, one of the latest movements gaining momentum - Net Zero Energy Buildings - needs a little help. It doesn’t have an acronym, and everybody knows that to gain traction in this market, you must have one. Face it, NZEB just doesn’t work. The initials don’t spell anything that is memorable. May I suggest we play a version of word Scrabble™ and change NZEB to BENZ? Consider it my contribution to the industry. Of course, this means that Net Zero Energy Buildings will henceforth be known as Building Energy for Net Zero. Yes, I know there is an extra word that I threw in the middle, but you can get away with ignoring extra prepositions in acronyms. Lousy journalists ignore them all the time at the end of sentences.

Never mind that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), one of the most prolific users of the NZEB nomenclature, will get the pants sued off of them by the Mercedes Benz Co. I suggest that ASHRAE use the simple and often-quoted engineering defense: “If it was good enough for Janis Joplin, it’s good enough for us.”

At a recent Commercial Contracting Roundtable co-sponsored by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Hugh McMillan, P.E. from Syska Hennessy Group of Houston, Texas, spoke about ASHRAE Standard 90.1. The stringency of the energy-efficiency standard is being increased with regard to net zero energy usage in buildings. The ASHRAE board of directors has approved a reduction of 30 percent less than Standard 90.1-2004 by 2010, and a vision to achieve complete net zero by 2031, which will generally be encompassed as Standard 189P, a green building energy performance standard.

The vision of BENZ (formerly known as NZEB) is to collect as much energy from renewable sources as the building uses on an annual basis while maintaining an acceptable level of service and functionality. Buildings can exchange energy with the power grid as long as the net energy balance is zero on an annual basis. This is pretty heady stuff. Currently, the fastest growing renewable energy source being used in North America is wind power. There are others, such as solar power or biomass energy, but the end result is hoped to be the same - increase the amount of renewable energy used in buildings in order to reduce overall energy consumption.

There are those who say that the fellows at ASHRAE must have smashed their heads on the yellow brick road as they stumbled into Oz; that there is no such thing as a net zero building. Such may be true today. However, tomorrow is a horse of quite a different color.


On the road to sustainability there are many signposts. Varying degrees of adherence to net zero building design will be evident in ASHRAE activities from this point until the year 2031. The title of McMillan’s presentation was “Moving To Net Zero Energy Buildings By 2031.” Moving is the operative word. The concept of NZEBs looks at just the energy flows of the building, not the overall sustainability of the building. However, it is a critical step toward achieving the objectives of building sustainability as articulated in ASHRAE’s Sustainability Roadmap.

In addition to the ASHRAE efforts, other groups are bringing their forces to bear on the issue of net zero energy usage, i.e., the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA). Which all means that you are certainly going to be hearing a lot more about the green wave, and eventually, you, or your successors in this industry, will be building, servicing, and maintaining green buildings. Really. Whether we like it or not, whether we even believe it or not, green is going to be here to stay. Maybe not today, but soon enough.


Now, back to my initial, and more important premise: we need more acronyms. Just take a look at this page. There are plenty of abbreviations that could have been better communicated as scrabbled acronyms. Consider the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), which really should have been referred to as ACCOA because the organization conveniently left out a preposition. ACCOA will henceforth be known as CACAO. Not coincidentally, the cacao tree produces cocoa, the dried and partially fermented fatty seed from which chocolate is made.

Chocolate lovers will relate to the association much better in the future. ACCA membership should grow enormously under the new name.

Publication date:12/17/2007