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Specialized Skills & Services


Long a proponent of sustainable design, van Zelm fully supports the ever growing commitment environmental stewardship.  Beyond the superficial approach to energy-conscious system applications, we incorporate a design process of integration, communication, support and trust into our work product.  Staff members frequently are asked to speak to industry groups on the subject of sustainable design methodologies and outcomes.  Our LEED accredited professionals maintain an active program of research and development in innovative sustainable technologies for the benefit of our staff, our projects, and our clients.  We understand that we are residents on a planet with a fixed quantity of natural resources.  We advocate for development of sustainable energy sources and integrated supply/demand systems to support our modern lifestyle.

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Energy Efficiency

Our Firm has a longstanding reputation for providing the highest level of energy efficiency in our designs.  With a client base that will own and bear the operating cost of facilities over their full life, van Zelm implements a philosophy of designing systems to provide the lowest life-cycle cost. Execution of this philosophy has provided for a wealth of experience in the implementation of energy conserving technologies for both new and existing buildings.  Our firm is uniquely qualified to evaluate the practical application of energy conserving technology on both the supply and demand sides of the campus energy equation. In addition to our Energy Services Group, we have a dedicated Power and Utility Group that specializes in central & distributed campus energy systems.  van Zelm’s energy services team is committed to helping our clients adjust and adapt to evolving environmental circumstances to create a more economically viable and sustainable future.  The focus of van Zelm’s Energy Services Team is to help our clients optimize the efficiency of their energy utilization while reducing their environmental footprint ~ without affecting operations.  Whether we are evaluating existing facilities to provide energy conservation strategies, or planning sustainably designed new facilities, we work to create cost-effective and sustainable solutions for our customers.

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When extreme weather, climate, and other hazardous events occur, the most obvious and costly impacts are to the built environment. Protecting the structures, infrastructure systems, and natural spaces within our cities, towns, and communities is a key focus of resilience efforts across the public and private sectors.

Americans’ everyday lives are shaped by and dependent upon our built environment. From the buildings where we live, work, and shop to open spaces and urban tree canopies that provides shade and ecosystem benefits to the equipment and connections of underlying systems that keep the lights on, water flowing, and internet humming, we are all dependent on complex systems that most people rarely consider.

In the face of climate change and other stresses, van Zelm designs resilience into our building systems, to ensure that they are resilient, and are resistant to hazards that can cause disruptions.  This requires ongoing research and education for our staff, as well as project-specific collaboration among a broad range of stakeholders, including clients, business owners, utility providers, municipalities and local government agencies.

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Net Zero

Net Zero energy is one of the key solutions to carbon neutrality and the elimination of fossil fuel use. Energy use in buildings is the largest single contributor to our carbon footprint approximately 40 percent, depending on the estimate.

A zero-energy building, also known as a zero-net energy building, net-zero energy building or net zero building, is a building with zero net energy consumption.  That means the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.

Reducing energy demand and providing renewable energy to meet remaining demand are two primary strategies employed in responding to Net-Zero goals.  van Zelm has designed a number of net-zero buildings, including the new 52,000 gsf headquarters for the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  This building uses state-of-the-art conservation technologies and employs an innovative direct ground source cooling system combined with heat pumps to satisfy building heating and cooling needs.

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Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is currently the most rigorous benchmark of sustainability in the built environment.  It is the gold standard against which all others are measured.

Living Building Challenge comprises seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.  These are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence.  The targets are rigorous and set at the highest conceivable level.  Every project must meet each of the 20 strict requirements to achieve the certification.

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is widely considered the most stringent green building standard in the world.  Run by the International Living Future Institute, LBC encourages net-zero or net-positive impact on virtually everything the built environment touches.  Its requirements are categorized under seven “petals”, including Place, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty.  To achieve LBC certification, everything is a prerequisite.  This differs from LEED, within which project teams can choose among credits.

van Zelm is currently designing a number of projects according to Living Building standards, including the new 550,000 gsf Science Complex, which is expected to achieve new performance goals in energy efficiency and the quality of its work environments.  Living Buildings are regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.  Living Buildings are self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site . . .

Living Buildings are designed and built to create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

Strategic Workplace

The Strategic Workplace – also known as Advanced Workplace Strategy integrates key elements of physical space design, information technology, and infrastructure to increase operational efficiency.

Organizations, work practices, and the workforce itself have all changed dramatically in the past several decades due to technological advances, demographic shifts, and continual demands for innovation in both the product and service sectors.
Implementing an effective Strategic Workplace program can offer:

  • Efficiency and flexibility in the use of office, often resulting in a 20-50 percent improvement in asset performance.
  • Access to integrated and mobile technologies for ability to collaborate as needed – either virtually or face to face.
  • Flexible options for employees to be productive from a variety of work settings, including corporate sites, customer locations, at home, etc.
  • Significant cost savings associated with the real estate portfolio, through the identification of space-reduction opportunities and evolving workspace standards

Client solutions often cover a range of options that include various combinations of conventional offices, shared/hybrid work space, hoteling, free address, satellite offices, and telecommuting/ virtual office practices to enhance employee work/life balance and achieve a more cost-efficient use of space.

Adaptation of existing building HVAC infrastructure to higher efficiency chilled beam systems can meet the demand from higher population counts while reducing the energy footprint of the facility.

Thoughtful workspace utilization can often lead to some surprising additional benefits such as a reduction in carbon footprint, increased employee satisfaction, and higher productivity.

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Historic & Adaptive Reuse

Since 1930, our firm has specialized in designs for historic buildings that define their communities and provide a visual connection between the past and present.  van Zelm’s technical expertise ensures that building systems complement the aesthetics of these unique historic structures.

  • Retain Historic Character of a Property
  • Mitigate the Physical Impact of Integrating Building Systems
  • Facilitate Economics of Preservation
  • Sustain Property Values
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