While working on the Gilday residence, Riebe and Ellinger studied hard costs: They considered the cost of tooling versus part production and analyzed the optimal size tile for maximizing economy of labor, materials, shipping and installation. They decided to design one primary panel to bring down the price point.

Windsor Fiberglass made 142 main panels that are 6 feet long, 2½ feet wide and 4 inches deep. The company also designed corner molds and fenestration panels. “Our focus was on developing a more holistic cladding system where we could incorporate the corners and window surrounds as part of that design,” says Ellinger.

The tiles were screwed onto a plywood substrate covered with DuPont™ Tyvek® house wrap. The installation, completed in 2012, took only three days.

Riebe and Ellinger have since worked on a third project, an industrial building in Charlotte, N.C. With each undertaking, they hope to fine tune the process. “The material costs are in line with typical architectural products,” says Ellinger. “The difference is if we can economize the cost of the molding and aggregate that across several panels, it can become a product that can compete with existing solutions for relatively high-end buildings.”

Letting in the Light
The Project: Georgia Tech’s Net-Zero Lab
The Players: HDR Inc. (architecture firm), Gilbane Building Co. (general contractor), Kalwall Corporation (composites manufacturer), Kistler-McDougall Corporation (aluminum composites fabricator)

The adage “practice what you preach” is exemplified in a new building on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Last year, the Atlanta university unveiled its 45,000-square-foot Carbon-Neutral Energy Solutions Laboratory (C-NES) housing several energy research efforts. While professors and students develop technologies inside the facility to reduce the earth’s carbon footprint, the laboratory itself is designed as a net-zero building – one that produces as much on-site energy as it consumes.


Translucent daylighting panels from Kalwall® played a pivotal role in Georgia Tech’s net-zero lab.

That’s no easy task: Labs can use up to 10 times more energy than most office buildings, according to HDR. The architecture firm and Gilbane Building Co. focused on three main areas for energy savings: power, the building envelope and lighting. A photovoltaic array, which covers the roof and wraps around the laboratory, produces power. That array acts as an envelope for three sides of the facility. The north-facing side is clad in glass and translucent panels, supplied by Kalwall®. The building takes advantage of daylighting, ambient lighting and task lighting.

“One of the most important features when you are producing a net-zero building is reducing your carbon footprint and energy load,” says Amy Keller, principal with Kalwall Corporation, Manchester, N.H. “Daylighting is a very important part of this equation.” Kalwall provided 144 translucent daylighting panels, totaling 5,390 square feet, to cover the 30-foot north facing façade. This creates a daylight atrium that spreads light into the building. “The prismatic effect of the translucent product pushes light deep within the space,” says Keller.

Another benefit of the translucent panels is their U-factor value, which is the measure of heat loss in a building element. A lower value indicates better thermal insulation. The panels on the net-zero lab have a .14 U-factor value. By comparison, most window U-factor values range from .25 to 1.25, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program.