UCSF Sustainability Stories

By: Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact - Oct 2019

UCSF’s First Gas-Free, Low-Carbon Building

I love my gas stove. But according to a recent article on NPR, giving up gas is the next climate push. In July, Berkeley passed a ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings, setting in motion a new wave of building decarbonization, which according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “…isn’t just about preventing climate change. It’s also about saving people money and improving indoor air quality.” UCSF has joined this trend, opening The Tidelands at 590 and 600 Minnesota Street, UCSF’s first all-electric, gas-free low-carbon buildings. Because of the sophisticated ventilation system and energy-efficient design, and well-insulated building envelope, energy bills are expected to be low.

Tenants chose The Tidelands for its easy access to the Mission Bay campus. They might not even realize that when they take a shower or make their cup of coffee in the morning, they are using all electric appliances in a high-efficiency building that gets low-carbon electricity through Clean Power SF, which is 89 percent carbon free. For about $0.01/kWh per month more, tenants can easily upgrade to SuperGreen service and receive Green-E certified 100 percent carbon-free power.

The building was designed to eliminate the need for natural gas, which would generate carbon emissions. Avoiding the need for on-site combustion resulted in an 81 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to the baseline project. The project exceeded UCOP EUI (Energy Use Intensity) requirements due to using electric heat pumps vs. gas boilers for heating domestic hot water (26.8 kbtu/sf/yr vs. 35 kbtu/sf/yr).

Growing Trend in California

California has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2045, and about a quarter of the state’s emissions come from energy used by buildings. University of California, a national leader in sustainability, has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025. Buildings generate 44 percent of San Francisco’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so making new buildings all-electric is an important part of UCSF’s strategy to become carbon neutral. 

“If we continue to use natural gas in our new buildings, we will never get to our carbon neutrality goal,” explained Gail Lee, UCSF Sustainability Director.  

Green Features

The Tideland includes 595 units, providing housing for up to 804 tenants. The project, which is targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification, incorporates a range of green building elements that reduce energy and water use and enhance indoor air quality. “The Tidelands is an exciting and noteworthy demonstration of a high performance building – the design decisions and systems selected result in a building that is not only low carbon and smart for the environment, but also healthy and enjoyable for residents,” explained Devon Bertram, Sustainability Strategist, stok and LEED consultant on the project.

Energy and Water Reduction Measures

To keep fresh air circulating into the apartments, each unit is equipped with an Energy Recovery Ventilation system, an energy recovery process that improves air quality and reduces energy use. An energy recovery ventilator continuously circulates clean, fresh air—each intake valve is equipped with a particle filter that minimizes external pollutants—without losing any heat energy in the exhaust. 

By combining this technology with operable windows, super-insulated walls, and a self-shading facade, The Tidelands eliminates the need for mechanical air conditioning and drastically reduces its carbon footprint. This passive cooling strategy, along with the complex’s high efficiency-electric heat pumps, has eliminated the need for any on-site carbon combustion and resulted in energy usage that is 42 percent below typical residential buildings.

Hot water is provided using electric heat pumps. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), water heaters are one of the most inefficient appliances in your home, accounting for an average of 18 percent of electricity costs. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly; therefore, they can be two to three times more energy efficient than conventional electric resistance water heaters.  Heat pump water heaters can use up to 63 percent less energy according to the DOE.

Daylight is maximized, reducing the need for lighting during the day. The building incorporated water-efficient fixtures that reduce water use by 43 percent. 

Healthier Interior

Even The Tidelands’ finishes and furnishings were chosen with wellness and sustainability in mind. The complex’s interior materials have minimal embodied environmental impacts, and in many cases The Tidelands’ durable concrete structures serve as the final finish for ceilings, floors, and sections of walls. Additionally, The Tidelands’ interiors targeted compliance with the Living Building Challenge Red List, incorporating materials that are free of chemicals harmful to humans, animals, and/or the environment. Along this line, all paint, ceiling, and flooring products are verified as having low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.

Learn More
Give up your Gas Stove to Save the Planet? Banning Gas is the Next Climate Push 
Supes To Consider Banning Natural Gas From City Buildings
SF’s Big Buildings to Take Big Step in Reducing City’s Emissions

Story by Green Impact
Photo Credit: Campus Life Services