Cooperative News

Green building ‘werx’

Cedar Park's coworking space saves energy and money by thinking green

In this modern climate, we’re more aware than ever of the intersection between green (money) and green (energy) — and smart businesses are embracing practices that save both. Our quarterly “Go Green, Save Green” series shines a spotlight on our service area’s pioneers in innovative commercial energy use.

This quarter features T-Werx, a Cedar Park coworking space utilizing green construction and design.

Green construction: the T-Werx coworking space

Building exterior with overhang.
Overhangs help shade windows from direct sunlight during the summer but allow natural warming during the winter when the sun is lower in the sky.

In the fall of 2015, Jeff Kikel and Brian Fisher met up in Cedar Park’s Redhorn Coffee and hatched an idea. The businessmen, who became friends through Cedar Park’s Chamber of Commerce, had watched their city evolve at a startling pace: Its population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2015, bringing with it a rich influx of commercial and economic growth.

“We realized that Cedar Park had a real need for this kind of space,” T-Werx Chief Operations Officer and co-founder Brian Fisher said of T-Werx Coworking, which he and Kikel, T-Werx co-founder and CEO, opened in August 2016.

Coworking spaces, which are shared working environments, have become an increasingly popular workplace model in recent years. Today’s professionals are mobile, with a tendency to work remotely or be self-employed, and coworking spaces are appealing for their flexibility and opportunities for networking and collaboration. T-Werx hosts professionals as diverse as web designers, architects, financial planners and even Cedar Park Mayor Matt Powell’s company, Powell Strategic Communications.

Long before opening the space, Fisher and Kikel knew two of the keys to their success would be green construction and smart, innovative use of energy.

“Green makes sense,” Fisher said. “There’s the environmental sense, and there’s also the business sense. This is a 5,500-square-foot space, and since opening in August, we’re averaging about $250-$350 per month in utilities. That’s way under budget. The savings are tremendous.”

Those low bills are the result of smart, energy-conservative decision-making in every aspect of the building’s operations and design.

Building construction and orientation

The structure is built on a north-south axis, with an overhang shading the windows on the south side. This protects the interior from the southern summer sun, which is hotter and higher in the sky, but allows for natural warming from the lower winter sun.

“Energy efficiency and ‘green’ construction aren’t the mysterious concepts they were even five or six years ago,” noted MTI Properties executive Carmine Marinari, whose company operates the office park housing T-Werx. “Beyond giving businesses a stable place to operate, being environmentally sound is just the right thing to do. And by lowering the maintenance and operations [costs] where I can, everybody wins.”

Interior layout

Fisher and Kikel worked with architect and president of MODE Design Company Ryan Hansanuwat to design the interior space for maximum energy efficiency, ultimately opting to put the highest occupancy offices (which need the most regular heating and cooling) on the north and shaded south sides, and making the west end of the building — in the summer, the western sun can be brutal — a flexible workspace.

“Because those workstations are infrequently occupied, we don’t need to regulate the temperature there 24/7,” Hansanuwat said. “So we’re reducing the amount of cooling that we’re going to need just by orienting the space properly.”

Efficient windows and use of natural light

“One of the big decisions we made was to make big windows and put windows in the doors so that we’re using as much natural light in here as possible, reducing the demand on the electric lights,” Hansanuwat said. Plus, Marinari’s group installed energy efficient windows with a high solar control rating to help reduce heat infiltration, as it does at all of its new properties.

Long-term light selection

In addition to the abundant natural light, T-Werx utilizes LED light fixtures, which Fisher credits greatly for the space’s low energy bills.

“It’s amazing, the savings,” said Gary Morrissey, COO of Austin-based Demand Lighting. “One thing about LEDs a lot of people don’t understand is an LED will only be about two degrees warmer than room temperature, whereas a traditional fluorescent light runs about 180 degrees. So, you’re spending about 20 percent of your air conditioning just to cool your lights off.” The harder the air conditioning unit works, the faster it wears out.

According to the Department of Energy, LED lights use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, lasting about 70,000 hours — nearly 11 years of continuous use.

“Opting for LEDs over traditional fluorescent bulbs costs about 18 percent more up front,” Morrissey said, “with the return on investment (ROI) running about 18-20 months. But once you put in the air conditioning savings, the maintenance savings, then that ROI number starts dropping down even more.”

Strategic heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) programming

T-Werx saves on its HVAC costs with insulated ceilings and interior walls. The building also features new electric HVAC units, which are on a programmable thermostat system with heat sensors throughout the building. A strategic heating and cooling plan, coupled with manually closeable vents in each room, reduce HVAC expenses.

“We don’t fire all of the HVAC units up at the same time,” Fisher said. “Let’s say it’s a cold day. Getting that heating element up to temperature is where the most power is used up on the HVAC unit. It’s like your car engine: Until you’re driving for a little bit, the engine’s not at full temperature and the system’s pushing cool air, which is heavier than the hot air anyway. So we heat up the middle rooms first, then kick on the north and south side about 10 minutes later. By not firing up all five units at once, we’re saving energy on a minute scale that adds up considerably over the course of a month, six months, a year.”

Going green, saving green: sense that makes (more than) cents

“While energy efficiency can cost a little more on the front end, it offers multiple benefits during the operational life of the building,” Marinari said. “The buildings are more efficient, and the savings can be passed along to my tenants.”

“It’s an investment up front,” Fisher agreed. “But the lights alone have already paid for themselves. From a business perspective, I can’t see why you would go any other way.”

Cedar Park Mayor Matt Powell, a T-Werx tenant, is pleased with this philosophy from a business and community standpoint.

“Cedar Park enjoys a great mix of businesses, and knowing that they can do business responsibly is a big plus,” he said. “It is more than a ‘feel-good’ factor. We continue to attract companies with a strong sense of corporate responsibility, and having efficient options available helps us better pitch our community for economic development purposes.”