Back to Blog

Project Profile: Jackson Federal Building

When it first debuted in 1974, the flagship Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle stood as a renowned example of modern architecture and was even the recipient of a coveted ‘Honor Award’ from the American Institute of Architects. Nearly 40 years later, however, the 37-story, 865,000 square-foot skyscraper — the largest federal office building in the U.S. General Services Administration’s Northwest/Arctic Region – contained a variety of outdated electrical systems and was in need of a comprehensive upgrade to improve system quality, reduce energy consumption and cost, and enhance comfort levels for its 2,300 occupants.

Happily, at the hands of an energy-efficient makeover by North Coast Electric from 2010-2012 that involved a variety of lighting controls from Lutron Electronics, the building is now a state-of-the-art model of high performance and once again a productive and inviting work space for employees of the over 35 federal agencies – including Veterans Affairs, the Federal Trade Commission, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Education – currently housed there.

Lighting the Way
With an eye on reducing energy use and operating costs, lighting — estimated to account for as much as 40 percent of the building’s energy use — was identified as a significant contributor to the facility’s excessive energy consumption.  The lighting system was also identified as a source of employee discomfort, with the building’s excessively bright fluorescent technology causing some workers to place cardboard over whole sections of lights and uncontrolled natural light creating such glare and heat that it actually made window seating undesirable.

Simply put, “the previous lighting and control system was inefficient and had reached the end of its useful, operational life,” shared Chris Helmer, capitol project manager at the U.S. General Services Administration, owner of the Jackson Federal Building.  “As part of the modernization and procurement process, GSA and its contractors evaluated various lighting control systems and selected Lutron because it met the salient characteristics of the specification related to operability and energy savings.”

Based on a previous relationship for the purchase of electrical supplies, the federal building tapped the Seattle branch of North Coast Electric, a century-old distributor with 30 locations throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and Arizona, to help identify the optimal lighting upgrade products and design a plan for their installation.  Working with North Coast lighting specialist Sarah Dolan, “Lutron was awarded this project based on their H-Series ballast, price, performance, support, and experience,” shared North Coast Account Manager Eric Genoway, who noted that “the year-long project involved more than 10,000 Lutron EcoSystem® H-Series and EC5-series digitally addressable dimming ballasts, 400 occupancy/daylight sensors, 20 Quantum Total Light Management processors, and 100 energy saving nodes to maximize controllability and energy savings opportunities, all in combination with fixture retrofit kits containing lamps and sockets.”

Tasked with retrofitting several dozen floors without disrupting employee operations, “coordination was key to the success of the project,” Genoway confirmed.  According to Genoway, NCE provided on-site coordination with Lutron on a weekly basis during the design phase as well as warehousing for all of the project components, which allowed the project installer, Bellevue, WA-based electrical and data systems contractor Prime Electric, to release components to their shop as needed to begin prefabrication for the project.  “After we received and inventoried all items, Prime Electric would release a floor at a time to their prefab shop and assemble and package per job-floor-area; then NCE would pick-up and deliver to the job site so that Prime’s electricians could install,” Genoway said.

The project wasn’t free of its unique challenges, however.  For one, “access to each individual office space had to be planned weeks in advance, so all material had to be on-site and ready to install when required,” Genoway said.  In addition, over half of the wiring for the new system’s digital ballasts and occupancy/daylight sensors needed to be carefully guided through asbestos-containing material without contaminating employee spaces, a process which was successfully managed through the incorporation of two types of Lutron digital dimming ballasts that allowed the use of existing conduit for ballast communication wiring.

Praise-Worthy Results
Completed at nights and over weekends so as not to impact office operations, the project also involved the installation of new windows and HVAC equipment and has delivered impressive results.  “The entire renovation of the Jackson Federal Building is saving taxpayers nearly $400,000 annually in operating costs, demonstrating GSA’s ongoing commitment to superior environmental performance and to maintaining federal buildings that reduce operating expenses and save taxpayer dollars,” he said.  “Comparing Fiscal Year 2013 to Fiscal Year 2010, the property is showing a 30% savings in annual electric use and a 40% reduction in energy use intensity from the start of the construction to the end of Fiscal Year 2013.”

According to Helmer, “replacement of the lighting control system and relamping of fixtures was one of the most efficient-energy conservation measures implemented during the project and the Jackson Federal Building has become a smart building, with intelligence integrated down to each light fixture.  We now have the ability to control, manage, and monitor our energy savings from a single control room, improving our ability to efficiently and effectively detect and respond to changes in energy use,” he said.  “Tenants as well as operations and maintenance staff are satisfied with the maintainability of the installed systems and the tenants appreciate its flexibility.”

Now a model of green building design and well-positioned for a sustainable future, the entire Jackson Federal Building project met requirements for LEED Silver certification as well as an elevation in its ENERGY STAR rating and, most importantly, employee comfort has improved. “Employees with window seats can finally appreciate the advantages of natural daylight without glare or headache,” Helmer said, “and feedback provided from regular tenant surveys during the project was overwhelmingly positive.”

Written By: Susan Bloom, contributing writer to tED Magazine. Bloom has more than 20 years of experience in the lighting and electrical products industry. For more of her work and contact information, check out her website.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of tED Magazine. To view the digital version click here.