7 Sustainability Ideas for Modular Classrooms in the Education Industry (guest post)

mobile classroomToday, a guest post on sustainable modular classrooms from Kathy Werder, a freelance architect by profession and a researcher by nature.   According to Kathy, most of her research papers focus on promoting integration that leads to sustainable and lean design and construction practices. Kathy is obsessed with the latest rage in the construction industry – modular building solutions. She is also an avid writer, and loves blogging about green buildings and portable construction units. Welcome, Kathy!

According to Wikipedia, a sustainable building refers to “ a structure and using process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from sitting, to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.”

So if we accept this definition to be true, in order to make an actual sustainable building we have to consider the entire process of building right from the blueprint stage all the way to demolition, and ensure that at every step of the way there is minimal or no negative impact on the environment, especially in terms of resource efficiency.

School buildings require a lot of energy to function. However, there are a great many things that can be easily done to make a sustainable school building. Of course, you would have to opt for modular buildings for schools since they are known to be constructed in a resource and energy efficient way. [Editor’s note: I’m not sure that sustainability would *require* the use of a modular building, but they do have known, quantifiable built-in sustainable features.]

Whether you get your building from a vendor or directly from a manufacturer, here are a few things you can do to your modular classroom buildings in order to make them more sustainable.

Recyclable Materials

The first and most obvious step is to make sure your modular school building is built out of recyclable materials as far as possible. This would include recycled steel, wood and glass as well as recyclable pipelines, window frames, etc.

Approximately 10-20% more lumber is used to construct mobile buildings than in convention construction (to add structural integrity); therefore, using recycled wood can pay dividends.

Recycled steel is robust, not combustible, and mold-resistant, and it is useful for framing.

Carpet tiles made of 100% recyclable materials can be used by most builders. For instance, Mobile Modular Management Corporation uses glueless, 100% recycled carpet tiles that do not release volatile organic compounds (VOC).

There are cost advantages to using recyclable materials and in many cases, there is an associated lowering of installation labor costs.

Indoor Air Quality

Before installing a central air system, first see if it is possible to maximize on natural ventilation by designing classrooms in the style of atriums or by installing large, strategically placed windows that allow for sufficient cross ventilation.

Should you choose to install a central air system anyway, bear in mind that HVAC systems are the main energy consumers in any type of building, especially in schools. New, energy efficient 2-stage HVAC systems should be used that require less energy to function and consume significantly less electricity. They also use refrigerants that do not harm the ozone layer.

In addition to this, some modular construction companies use radiant heat barrier and increase the R-value of all insulation to reduce HVAC load and maintenance costs.

Geo Exchange Systems

Geo exchange systems make use of the energy (or temperature) stored in the earth to perform a large number of functions. It can heat and cool an entire school building, it can provide refrigeration and it can also be used to heat water.  If there it is possible to install a geo exchange system, it is the next best solution to natural ventilation.

Daylighting

Most schools function during the day and so essentially there should be no need to use much artificial lighting. Modular or portable classrooms can be constructed specifically to maximize natural daylight. Large windows with energy efficient glass will ensure that there is plenty of daylight coming into the room while still being able to retain a comfortable temperature that is not affected by external conditions. Sun tunnels can be used to maximize natural lighting as well.

Solar Power

Solar power is the most incredible gift that we have in terms of an energy resource today. Furthermore, with the advanced technology that we have at our disposal today, there are numerous ways in which we can harness solar energy:

    • Solar powered water heating is perhaps the most common way in which solar energy is used.
    • Solar powered light bulbs are another great invention that should definitely be used
    • Solar plugs are also another incredible invention that a school should definitely take advantage of. Instead of using electricity to power laptops and computers, solar plugs can be used wherever possible.

Room Acoustics

Maximizing good room acoustics is another way to save electricity, especially in auditoriums. Since you have the luxury of having your school built to your exact specifications, it would be fairly easy to ensure that your auditorium has good acoustics, wherein you will very rarely require microphones.

Regular Maintenance

As with any other building, school buildings need regular maintenance, and this is especially true if they are modular. All the various energy efficient systems that have been put in place need to be checked and serviced regularly in order to ensure smooth functioning and optimal efficiency. Neglecting to maintain the systems regularly will render all your initial efforts futile and will in fact begin to prove counterproductive.

Thanks Kathy for your article.  Now it is your turn.  Have you designed for a green or LEED school facility?  Considered modular construction as part of your design?  Share your thoughts below.

Turning Manure into megawatts (Swine Farm Biogas Renewable Energy Project)

As I noted in my last post, Withers & Ravenel’s Swine Farm Biogas Renewable Energy Project, located in Bladensboro, North Carolina, is one of this year’s ACEC Excellence in Engineering Award winners.

I asked the folks at Withers & Ravenel to give share more about their project, how it was conceived, and how it was designed.

Why Swine Farms? What was the genesis of this Project?pig outline

North Carolina is “pork proud”, with approximately 9 million hogs on farms scattered throughout the eastern part of the State. These farms rely on open pit lagoons and land application for the treatment and disposal of animal waste.   However, open-air treatment lagoons have a poor reputation among some lawmakers, residents and environmentalists. They are accused of creating sickening odors, allowing methane to escape into the atmosphere, and contaminating groundwater and streams.

Because of environmental concerns, the State temporarily suspended permitting the construction and operation on any new swine farms utilizing lagoon treatment systems in 1997, and required new farms to meet “environmentally superior technology” (EST) standards.  Since the enactment of the suspension, there have been no new hog farms introduced in North Carolina.

Tax Credits, Legislation, and Funding

In 2007, the State passed Senate Bill 3, which pushes the use and development of renewable energy standards, the State took a big step toward encouraging innovative treatment technologies for swine waste by mandating utilities to purchase Renewable Energy Credits (REC) generated from swine waste. The Bill also provides a 35% State tax credit in addition to the Federal 30% tax credit.

Spurred by the availability of the NC Green Business Fund grants from the 2009 American Resource Recovery Act, Withers & Ravenel conceived the 600kW renewable energy project and assembled the project team, which included developer AgPower Partners LLC, Withers & Ravenel engineers, and Barnhill General Contractors.

The project was able to receive over $2 million dollars in grants and tax credits, including a $500,000 grant from the NC Department of Energy and $1.5 million grant from the US Treasury. The Owner, Billy Storms, was able to finance the balance of the project cost through a loan with the Cape Fear Farm Credit Association.

Storms Farm Digester Site

Storms Farm Digester Site

Engineering a Plan for the System

In North Carolina, swine farms flush the houses with water in a closed system with a lagoon providing storage and treatment of waste which is then applied to crops. With this process, the waste is diluted to around 1-2% solids.  However, in order to reduce the water content for more efficient temperature control of the anaerobic digestion, the waste needs to be between 5-10% solids.

With the implementation of scraper technology, swine waste volume was significantly reduced by eliminating the added liquid from the flushing system.  This made the Storms Farm much less reliant on the volume required in the existing lagoons, reduced the required size of the anaerobic digester, providing benefits to both the waste handling concerns and to energy production.  The scraper system also reduced the amount of ammonia gas in the barns, which is beneficial to animal and human worker health.

Most digester systems for swine manure in North Carolina have relied on ambient covered lagoons. However, at Storms Farm, with the scale of a 600 acre farm and swine houses separated by as much as a mile, it was not cost-effective to build and cover a new lagoon to treat the waste using anaerobic digestion.  The distance between the 23 barn complex made it problematic to pump waste because of build-up in the pipe known to cause maintenance and failure problems.

After review of viable technologies, Withers & Ravenel recommended DVO Anaerobic Digesters to supply the digester technology for Storms Farm. DVO has an extensive tract record using their patented mixed plug-flow digester technology on dairy farms, but there was no comparable swine waste facilities using mesophilic digestion in the US.   Europe has a substantial number of facilities that use swine manure mixed with other substrates, but there was no reliable source of data for the gas yield using solely swine waste substrate.

As a result, Withers & Ravenel took multiple manure samples from local farms and had them tested to help estimate the biogas yield. Even with this data, there was very little information to collaborate the projected biogas yield. After all alternatives were evaluated, the most cost-effective, efficient option was to construct a heated mesophilic digester system with cogeneration and to convert the barns to scraper manure removal systems.

Receiving Pit and Generator Building

Receiving Pit and Generator Building

Construction Issues

Geotechnical borings were done and revealed the need to raise the digester above grade due to a high ground water table. This required sloping the backfill around the tank as insulation to maintain the needed 95 degree temperature in the mesophilic process.  The report also revealed the need to pre-load the site to avoid potential settling of the digester and cogeneration building.  This additional grading and site work was necessary from the original conceptual site plan.

The Digester Operation

The scraper system scraps the waste to a gravity collection system and storage tanks behind each barn. Two vacuum trucks and drivers empty each of the 23 tanks daily to collect the manure collected from each of the barns, drive to the digester facility and empty the manure into the influent pump station.

Manure is pumped into the  1.1 million gallon in-ground concrete digester where the temperatures are maintained above 95 degrees (mesophilic) and the natural occurring anaerobic bacteria destroy the volatile solids, produce the bio-gas containing 65% methane, kill pathogens, and produce a high quality inorganic waste product virtually pathogen and odor free for storage and, eventually, land application as fertilizer. At Storms Farms, about 60,000 gallons of swine waste is processed each day. The biogas is “scrubbed” of corrosive components and combusted in an 845 HP gas driven engine/generator integrated system provided by Martin Machinery, from Latham, Missouri.

The digester produces wastewater that is free of pathogens and odors and removes 90% of the phosphorus and 75%  of ammonia nitrogen.  The electricity – enough to power over 300 homes – is sold to North Carolina Electric Membership Corp.’s grid network.

Through this design, Withers & Ravenel was able to develop Storms Farm into the largest swine biogas renewable facility in North Carolina, generating 600kW of power with an operating capacity of 95%.

Generator Room

Generator Room

The volume reduction due to the implementation of the scraper system and digestion process has allowed the treated effluent to be returned to one of the existing lagoons, reducing the dependence on the original six lagoons on the site.

Future projects to remove the inorganic solids remaining in the effluent by dewatering and to treat for additional phosphorous and ammonia nitrogen removal are in the planning stages in order to meet the additional requirements of an EST standard farm.

What was the Owner’s involvement?

Billy Storms, owner of Storms Farms was instrumental in getting the Project off the ground, through financing the project, through the willingness to change the method of manure management and by accepting the technological challenge of running what is, essentially, a small wastewater treatment and power plant. He was a true partner in the project and was directly responsible for the selection and installation of the manure scraper system in all of the barns, implementing the operations of the truck collection system, the digester and generator systems as part of the farm operations.

Storms Swine Waste Ribbon Cutting

Billy Storms cuts ribbon at Opening Ceremony; team members look on

What can we learn from this project?

This project demonstrates a method to economically build new swine farms without total dependence on the historical open air lagoon treatment system, and flushing system collection methods, a conversion that is necessary to meet the State EST standards. The system also develops renewable energy meeting the goals in Senate Bill 3 requiring swine waste to be utilized in a percent of the production of renewable energy.

However, because of the cost, risk, and complexity of the project, its applicability may be limited to a handful of existing farms in North Carolina.  Larger farms, preferably more than 50,000 animals, are required in order to have the scale to produce the amount of energy to have an economical rate of return on investment.

Thanks, Withers & Ravenel, for the detailed project description. Your turn: Thoughts? Comments? Questions for the team?  Shoot me an email or post in the comments below.

Photos (c) Withers & Ravenel; Pig outline courtesy Pixabay.

Wake County Justice Center- a LEED Silver Project done right!

Justice Center

The atrium

Yesterday evening, I had the privilege of attending the Triangle USGBC’s  “Talk & Walk” at the Wake County Justice Center.  The 576,996 square foot Justice Center was completed 6 months early and over 30 million under budget.  (The final cost, including soft costs, came in at ~$141,000,000).  Now that’s what I call a LEED project done right!

Interestingly, the County did not endeavor for a LEED Silver rating– the plan was to aim for a Certification.  However, as the process unfolded, the Team kept meeting the goals and points for a Silver certification without any appreciable additional costs.

The end result?  An “iconic but energy efficient building,” according to Tim Ashby, current Wake County Facilities Project Manager.  Tim was initially involved in the Project while working at O’Brien Atkins, which served as the architecture firm for the Project under the direction of Architect Andrew Zwiacher.

The Project was a Construction Manager at Risk project, involving a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Construction and Barnhill Contracting Company.   Did the contract type contribute to the success of the Project?  According to Project representatives, it likely was responsible for the 6 month early completion due to the high level of coordination.

Energy efficiency in the Building comes from the low flow plumbing (total water savings of 45%, 15% more than LEED requires), programmable and natural daylighting, and almost 98% construction waste diversion.

Jury Room

The large & relaxing Jury waiting room

Another interesting legal factoid: BIM (Building Information Modeling) was utilized.  Through BIM, a conflict was discovered in the space allocated for the air handling units versus the planned size of those units.  This discovery enabled a change to the AHU units (to make them wider and shorter) prior to manufacturer, saving untold delays in time and increases in cost.  We’ll talk more later about the pros (and cons) of BIM, but suffice it to say it worked very well on this Project.

If you haven’t been by to see the Justice Center yet, please do.  It’s a great design (17 elevators!), and a great change from the old Courthouse across the street.

Have you seen the Justice Center yet?  Thoughts on the design?  Share in the comments below.

Photos (c) Melissa Brumback. .Creative Commons License

 

 

Green Home Predictions That Are Best Poised to Come True in 2014 and Beyond (guest post)

net zero energy houseToday, a guest post on the green design issues that are becoming realities from Penny Olmos, who is associated with Holloway Houston, Inc. a leading industrial lifting equipment manufacturing company.  Welcome, Penny!

The scorching heat singed us and the winter wave chilled us — more than ever before. What are we heading to? Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tornadoes and extreme temperatures? Mother Nature is warning us in myriad ways. And the good news is that we are heeding her calls after long. Saving our natural resources and going green has found many takers. We have seen many eco-friendly homes and buildings designed and created in the last decade. Green homes are here to stay. We look at the popular green home design and construction trends in 2014 that are about to transform the landscape of green realty.

Rise of Net Zero Energy Homes

It seemed impossible until a couple of years ago but 2014 will witness a rise in net zero energy homes. These are homes with zero net energy consumption. The total amount of energy used by these buildings annually equals the amount of renewable energy created on the property. This is the greenest and the most energy efficient house you can possess. And you do not need to cut down on any of your comforts. There are heating, cooling, entertainment and utility appliances functioning in the house like they would in any other home.

The only difference is that it happens much more efficiently. Air source heat pumps are becoming the choice of heating and cooling in such green houses. Solar photovoltaic systems that are installed on the roof function to cover all energy use in the house including charging of electric cars. Zero energy homes are being sold in states with an abundance of sunlight and solar energy like Arizona, Texas and California.

Use of Micro-Windmills

Solar energy-powered homes have taken the realty market by storm, but the trend to watch out for this year will be micro-windmills. These are so small that ten of them can be accommodated on a grain of rice. But do not underestimate these tiny wonders. These micro-mills harness the air for electricity. They are very cost-effective. These nano windmills will soon power entire homes. Their developers claim these tiny wonders can be mounted on the walls of the home to harvest air motion and derive cheap and quick energy.

Smart Collection of Energy Usage Data

  nest

All those interested in having a green home need to first determine their energy consumption and where is it being used. The smart thermostat is going to be a key feature in a lot of energy-efficient green homes where owners want minimum wastage of energy.

These devices can transmit accurate live data about energy usage via your smartphone and help you monitor it as well. Thus the homeowner is equipped to configure all appliances in a way that uses minimum energy. Another reason smart thermostats will find their way into many eco-friendly homes in 2014 is the drastic drop in the price of their hardware.

Energy-Efficient Lighting and Heating

    skylight

Natural light is going to be one of the key realizations of green living in 2014. Architects, Interior designers and homeowners are putting a lot of thought into deciding the number of windows to make and their best placement, so as to allow maximum light into the house. The right windows can be an equally good source of the much-needed winter heat. Install windows with a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.55 to allow maximum heat to pass through your windows.

Another easy step towards a green home is switching from single pane windows to double or triple glazed windows. They will reduce the heat entering the building and consequently the energy consumed by the AC.

For homes where natural light availability is difficult, tubular skylights are an effective and energy-efficient source. Tubular skylights transmit sunlight into the house through roof openings. Tubular lighting also works for providing natural light to the basement and to the first floor of a two-story building. Most tubular daylight devices are equipped with optional dimmers that allow you to control the degree of light in the room. You can dim these energy-efficient lights as and when you like.

Production of energy exhaustive incandescent lights is set to drop in 2014. Developers, interior designers, and home owners are all turning to LED lighting. Investing in LED lights is not just about going green but also about saving the green in your pocket. Home design experts say that built-in LED ceiling lighting can illuminate the whole room. You can say goodbye to those energy consuming bulky ceiling lights and lamps.

Changes in water heating standards, made in the year 2014, will make them even more efficient. Jeff Wilson, HGTV host and author of The Greened House Effect, says that replacement of “incandescent light bulbs and reform in water heating measures alone will save billions of dollars and enormous amount of pollution.”

Radiant Barrier Roof Panels

If there are ways to reduce heating costs, those that cut cooling costs cannot be far behind. Radiant barrier roof panels are extremely energy-efficient. This type of solar board roof sheathing can reduce your air-conditioning requirements by half a ton. There are many radiant barrier roof panel installation systems in the market that eliminate the need for felt paper, making the building process even more environment-friendly.

These roof panels are an attractive option for both the builders and the homeowners. Builders save money on the HVAC equipment and homeowners save on energy costs.

Conclusion

There will be more green homes in USA than ever before as more people take an interest in healthy living and proper utilization and conservation of all available resources. Thinking of going green? Include energy efficient and water saving devices in your homes. Make use of solar and wind energy, bring down your bills, and prevent environmental pollution and degradation.

 Thanks Penny for your thoughts.  Another option, particularly for commercial ventures, is a green roof system such as those provided by XeroFlor America (headquartered in Durham) which uses pre-vegetated mats.  (disclosure:  XeroFlor America is a friend of the Firm.)

Your turn.  What green design do you like? Have you considered?  Share in the comment section or drop me an email.

Photo credits: Net Zero Energy House * Nest Image* Skylight

 

RDU Terminal 1: Going Green

Last week, I had the fortune to join the Triangle USGBC for its “Talk & Walk” about the RDU Terminal 1 renovation project and its sustainable features.  For those who haven’t had the chance, I recommend you check out the new terminal specifics the next time you find yourself jet-setting in or out of Raleigh on Southwest airlines.

Terminal 1 has been in operation since 1981, with the last upgrade in 1991.  The 2010 opening of the new Terminal 2 had, until now, cemented Terminal 1’s status as the airport’s ugly duckling- complete with the long, featureless metal addition abandoned to times past.

outside RDU Terminal 1

While the $68 million Terminal 1 renovation cannot compete with the Terminal 2 $580 million budget, it nevertheless is an entirely re-imagined space.  Better traffic flow (yes, you can now find where to go through security!), increased daylighting, a new canopy system, and commercial curb canopy (see photo) all complete the new architectural image.

Clark Nexsen principals Irvin Pearce and Doug Brinkley explained the renovation, which included energy saving escalators- the first escalator system in North Carolina that slows down during non-use.  Other sustainable features include LEED complaint flooring, 86% structural building re-use (slabs on grade, composite decks, and structural roof deck), and 28% reuse of exterior walls.

Other highlights of the construction include:

  • An insulated translucent exterior wall panel (Kalwall) to address both security concerns and reduce electrical lighting loads
  • A requirement that lease tenants comply with LEED requirements on the upfit of tenant space, as part of an Innovative Design LEED credit
  • Use of  a 2″ metal panel with reticulating foam seals as a rain screen to produce a well insulated building

Another nice touch– the art above the baggage claim area.  Entitled “Highwire Travelers”, artist Gordon Huether’s sculpture consists of 7 figures suspended above the terminal floor, some balancing luggage on long poles.  (see photos)pointing travelers

balancing luggageThe project is awaiting LEED certification from the US Green Building Council.

 

Have you seen the “new” Terminal 1?  What are your thoughts and impressions?

 

 

 

Photos by Melissa Brumback. 

Creative Commons License

 

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