Net Zero Case Study: Bullitt Center – Changing the Status Quo

Bullitt Center

The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington, is one of the most self-sufficient buildings on the planet.  It is net zero energy and, after the water reuse system is approved by city authorities, net zero water.  Net zero means that the building uses the same amount as it creates or generates – it is self-sufficient.  In a series of posts here on GBE, we will look at what makes this building tick.

Policy Changes

As we’ve seen in this series, the Bullitt Center project challenged many of the current building codes and concepts of how a building is built.  Cooperation among competitors, installation of unapproved systems, and pushing the envelope of what is considered the “way things are done” have characterized the project from the beginning.  The project has been successful in preparing the way for similar projects.

According to the media kit from the Bullitt Center Foundation: “The era of cheap abundant energy, plentiful fresh water, and localized impacts of human activities is over.  Humans now affect every corner of the planet.  Yet virtually no new buildings – even “green
buildings – are being built to function harmoniously in the conditions we know will prevail.  The Bullitt Center is designed to still make sense 250 years from now.  And it was built to ease barriers for projects yet to come.  The first Prius cost more than the 10,000th.  But before you can build the 10,000th of anything, you need to build the first.”

One of the biggest impacts of the Bullitt Center project is the development of the Living Building Pilot Program in the City of Seattle.  This program will make the process of building future Living Buildings a bit easier.  It allowed changes such as increasing the floor-to-floor height of building levels, allowing for more daylight to reach the inner sections of the building.  The City will use these types of changes to revise the current building codes, therefore increasing the energy efficiency of all new buildings.

The Center team decided to provide bike-only parking on the site and developed a transportation plan for its occupants to reduce the use of single-occupant vehicles.   This is the City’s first commercial building to take advantage of legislation focused on designated Urban Villages that are well served by public transportation.

Bullitt CenterThe project team designed and built a fully functioning water treatment plant in the building.  However, the system has yet to be approved by City and state officials.  The team is actively working with these authorities to get this system approved so the Bullitt Center can be net zero water as well.  It is not known when approval will be achieved.  Meanwhile the building is hooked up to municipal water and waste until the treatment system can be used.

There also was no precedent for using a greywater reuse and composting system in a commercial setting.  The project team worked with City, State, and county authorities to design a system and get it approved.  This sets the stage for other projects to follow in their footsteps.  It is good to see building teams and authorities working together to make a building more efficient.

The project team’s desire to design their project to be the most efficient building they could make, and their willingness to work with the local jurisdictions to make this happen, have led to the Bullitt Center.  It is a showcase for what can be done when teams are willing to work together, and for what can come from a vision.

Source and Photo: Bullitt Center, Taomeister through a Creative Commons License


About the Author

has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon. She is currently a Contract Administrator at Rich Duncan Construction.