Help Make Passive Building Mainstream Support PHIUS

RMI Innovation Center

Project Team


Rocky Mountain Institute  
Innovation Center
22830 Two Rivers Road
Basalt, CO


Portland, OR


High Performance Consultant

Architectural Applications


Kansas, MO


Francisco Reina

Commissioning Agent

Additional Consultants


(Airtightness testing)

By the numbers...

Location Basalt, CO
Climate Zone 7
Size 15,610
Levels 2
Construction Timber
Walls Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) - R50
Roof Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) - R67.

Exposed concrete slab on grade (lower level) with R20 continuous insulation

Cross-laminated timber (upper level).

Mechanicals: No mechanical heating or cooling

Two dedicated outdoor air ventilation units with demand control ventilation, oversized ducts, high efficiency filters.

0.25 inches external static pressure.

80% heat recovery effectiveness.

Tempeff RGSP 2700 and 600.

Heating strategy Hyperchair direct occupant heating, electric resistance backup
Cooling Strategy

Natural ventilation, night flush, ceiling, desk and

Hyperchair fans to extend thermal comfort range   


Alpen QuadPane C180, C272, C366 - with 2 HM 88 films, 90% krypton fill and low iron glass.

Glazing tuned per aspect.

Center of glazing U-value 0.075 to 0.078.

Frames: Schuco FW50+ SI for fixed windows (Uf = 0.381).

AWS 102 for motorized operable casement windows (Uf = 0.713).


The Innovation Center, located in Basalt, Colorado is a 15,610 sf office building and state-of-the-art convening center, completed in December 2015. To advance our mission and propel the industry, RMI developed the Innovation Center to demonstrate how deep green buildings are designed, contracted, constructed, and occupied.

The Innovation Center:

  • Is 15,610 sq. ft., accommodating 50 staff, plus 80 people in the convening space
  • Achieves net-zero energy, producing more energy on site annually than it consumes--one of only 200 buildings in the U.S. to achieve this distinction as of 2015
  • Is the most energy-efficient building in the coldest climate zone in North America, with a predicted energy use intensity (EUI) of 17.2 kBTU/sf
  • Redefines how occupants experience and control their individual comfort
  • Has aggressive passive design measures which enabled the elimination of mechanical cooling and reduced mechanical heating to a small, distributed system equivalent to one average size home
  • The largest PHIUS+ Certified office in the US and one of the first ever to receive PHIUS+2015 Certification and PHIUS+ Source Zero certification.
  • Uses 74% less energy than the average office building in this climate, as determined by Energy Star
  • Meets the architecture-2030 goal of a 70% energy reduction, even before the solar-electric system is accounted for
  • Is powered by an 83 kW solar-electric system that will produce around 117,000 kWh annually and is expected to exceed the power demands of the building (estimated at 77,000 kWh) plus six electric vehicles. A 40 kW battery storage system reduces the building’s peak energy demand, which helps us stay below a peak demand of 50 kW, which keeps us in the small-commercial rate class

Design Challenges

  1. Meeting the goal of net zero in one of the coldest climates in the US for the office building space type
  2. Finding windows to meet all of our objectives: operable, can be automated to allow for night flush / natural ventilation, meet stringent energy performance specs for our cold climate (U and airtightness)
  3. Ensuring controls are designed correctly to ensure 'active' and passive strategies work as intended (eg. motorized exterior shading, automated operable windows, night flush, backup electric resistance heating)

Design Solutions - Site

Our site provided good solar access.

Design Solutions - Envelope

Opaque envelope is SIPs, high window to wall ratio on south for passive heating, daylight, and views. We used automated exterior blinds to control solar gain on the south. Automated operable windows are used for natural ventilation (for fresh air and free cooling) and night flush.

Design Solutions - MEP Systems

Electric resistance heating, mainly in floor. Also Hyperchairs with direct occupant heating.

No mechanical cooling. Natural ventilation, night flush, ceiling fans, desk and Hyperchair fans to extend thermal comfort range.

Lessons Learned:

  1. NZE is cost effective and easy to achieve in new construction
  2. Commissioning and monitoring is absolutely critical
  3. Tenant engagement and education is required to meet net zero energy goals
  4. Integrated project delivery is useful to help manage cost, contracts, and risk
  5. Involve a commissioning agent or controls expert from the start of the design process to check specifications, provide input, tackle system interoperability issues, and overcome scope gaps.


Great Ideas

  1. Formalize goals in contract - eg. we set passive house air tightness target as a requirement in the contract
  2. Carry out blower door testing during construction to identify any minor leaks before they become difficult to fix
  3. 'Oversize' insulation instead of HVAC: our super insulation allowed us to ride through a period of time where the heating system was running only at 1/3 capacity
  4. Install sub metering with enough granularity to find problems and ensure building is operating as designed

Benefits to Owner

RMI is the owner of this building and wanted to achieve Net Zero energy from the start of the project as it aligns with our mission. We applied passive design principles, and found that the building met the passive house standard as a result.

The Innovation building is similar in size to 90% of U.S. commercial offices. Over half of all commercial buildings are owner occupied and office space is the largest use type.

The Innovation Center is intended to serve as a ‘living lab’ with which we’ll share how the building was contracted, designed, constructed, commissioned, and operated; and what RMI learned in the process so that it can be replicated. Therefore, RMI’s experience will serve as a practical model to inform thousands of buildings that would otherwise contribute significantly to the climate crisis.

Photographs by Tim Griffith

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