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Houston-area research center is first 'net zero' office building in Texas

“A net zero building is a building that produces more power inside than it consumes,” said Dr. Gamarra.

THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Tucked in by nature along Gosling Road in the Woodlands, you’ll find a modern-looking gray and orange building with the letters HARC on the front.

HARC stands for Houston Advanced Research Center. It's a non-profit that provides analysis on energy, air & water issues.

Since construction, the employees have worked tirelessly to get the center to conserve energy. In 2019, HARC became the first “net zero” certified commercial office building in Texas.

Dr. Carlos Gamarra, the Senior Research Scientist at HARC, is commonly referred to as the office’s "energy police."

“A net zero building is a building that produces more power inside than it consumes,” said Dr. Gamarra. “In other words, you are selling more power to the grid than you are buying from the grid.”

A dashboard in the lobby keeps up with usage and so does Dr. Gamarra.

He’s plugged into everything including the center’s two coffee pots.

"Each of them using as much power as three computers on standby, like for 14 hours a day,” he said. “As we were looking into the energy efficiency, we identified that as one of the energy wastes."

That’s why you’ll find only one coffee pot brewing on any given day. 

Dr. Gamarra retired the other. It now lives in a dark closet.

He told us that the lights in the 18,600-square-foot building are on motion sensors, the plugs are on timers and all employees work to keep usage down.

Dr. Gavin Dillingham is one of them.

Conservation started early for Dr. Dillingham. He was the kid who created a recycling program in the 7th grade. These days, he heads HARC’s energy team.

"It wasn't as hard as people think it is,” said Dr. Dillingham. “I think a lot of people get nervous when you talk about efficiency and technologies." 

Dillingham offered up some suggestions for anyone at home wanting to save energy. He stresses the need to make sure your home is well insulated and add caulking, weather stripping and outlet cover plates.

“There are little gaskets you can put over your outlet and still use your outlet but it keeps that cold air from moving in and out,” explained Dillingham.

Speaking of air, ground source heat pumps are used to heat and cool the building. It’s a closed loop water system that cycles heat from ambient air in the building to wells outside and vice versa.

The wells are 350 feet below the center’s parking lot.

The biggest energy saver is what sits on the center’s roof. Solar panels. 

"We have over 250 panels producing around 350 watts each," he said.

The panels produce so much, HARC gives back to the power grid. 

It wasn’t easy getting to net zero but this environmental non-profit was determined to make a lighter carbon footprint.

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