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Working in energy efficiency: What's it like? Q&A with Evan Anderson

Evan Anderson is a project manager, architectural consultant and certified passive house consultant for Zola Windows, a custom, high-end, high-efficiency window company out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. His company is well known for its work in the passive house design* community, creating innovative, energy-efficient window models to meet rigorous standards of performance.

*Passive houses and other buildings attain a rigorous, six-part standard of energy efficiency. See for more information.

But Evan's career didn't start in renewable energy. He originally trained in custom fine furniture design and restoration. In 2011, he decided to change his career path, eventually leading him to Ecotech Institute and its Residential Energy Management program. We talked to Evan about his passion for making buildings and homes more energy efficient, what he's doing now, and why it matters.

Why did you decide to study energy efficiency?

I had an interest in renewable energy, but it certainly turned into a passion after I came to Ecotech Institute. When I enrolled, I was particularly interested in solar energy; I spent my first term as a solar energy technology student.

At some point, it dawned on me that you can have all of the wind and solar power you want, but in the end, if a dwelling isn't using that energy as efficiently as possible, it's kind of pointless. I decided to focus on making energy efficiency better in built environments.

What do you do in your current job?

Zola Windows engineers, designs and builds high performance European windows. Most of our projects are tailored toward high-end custom homes. I mostly work on projects on the east coast, especially New York City, with landmark preservation buildings that are going through deep energy retrofits.

Most of those projects involve working on old brownstone buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Our Historic Simulated Double Hung window is currently the only high-performance window that is landmark preservation-approved to be used on these buildings due to our tireless efforts in meeting the historic profiles and details, while maintaining ultra high levels of efficiency and performance. That's something we're particularly proud of.

Explain passive house design.

Passive house design is based on a German building standard. It has specific requirements to be met in terms of annual energy usage, including your heating and cooling load, as well as the air tightness of your building. It's more building physics-related. Where Zola plays a key part in this is the windows. Windows are part of constructing that airtight shell.

With standards like LEED, there are certain ratings you can achieve, whereas with passive house design, you either meet the standard or you don't, and it's a very difficult standard to reach.

What other building standards do you have experience in?

We are currently working on our first Living Building Challenge (LBC) project. It's an interesting standard - LBC focuses more on the materials that you use. The LBC Committee created a list of chemicals that are not allowed to be used in any of your products.

With this standard, we have to go through each part of a window: the glass, the wood, the gaskets, the clips, the paint, the stains, the aluminum and we have to make sure that all of our supplies comply with this standard.

You now serve on Ecotech Institute's Advisory Board. Why did you decide to get involved?

Ecotech Institute did a lot of good for me, especially when I was in that position in my life where I was looking for something new. It was just a fantastic place to be. I wanted to serve on the Advisory Board because it's a program I'm appreciative to have been a part of, and would certainly like to have input on where it goes.