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.

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

 

Is your design professional construction contract too friendly? (law note)

not friendlyMy husband often travels the back roads between Chapel Hill and Fuquay Varina to visit friends.  En route (a circuitous route that goes past Sharon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, among other places), he passes by the “Friendly Grocery”.  For those who haven’t had the pleasure, here is a photo of the side of the building in all its glory.

In case you cannot read the list of forbidden activities, I’m re-printed them here (complete with spelling error):

not friendly sign

I’m not sure which is the “friendly” part of that sign.  In fact, the sign seems to be the antithesis of friendly.

What does this have to do with your construction contracts?  Sometimes, in an effort to please the client and/or secure the project, architects and engineers have the habit of being too friendly in their contract language.  That is, you make promises or proposals that may promise too much of a good thing for the client.  This can cause big problems.  Bigger than being towed away from a rural grocery store in the middle of nowhere.  You could be putting your insurance coverage at risk.

Have you ever promised to use “best efforts” in your design or plans?  Promised to design to a specific LEED standard?  Guaranteed 100% satisfaction?  You might be putting your errors & omission coverage at issue.  By warrantying or guaranteeing something, you are assuming a level of liability well beyond the standard of care required by law.  By law, you only need to conform to the standard of care, and your insurance will only provide coverage up to that standard of care.  In other words, if you make guarantees or promise “best efforts,” you are contracting to something that will *not* be insured.  If something goes wrong, you will be without the benefit of your professional liability coverage.

Instead, make sure that your contracts, and proposals, are not too friendly to the client.  Sure, agree to work in accordance with the standard of care of professional architects/engineers.   But don’t make guarantees, or promise “best” efforts.  In fact, you might want to educate your client on why you cannot make such guarantees, and why anyone who does (i.e., your competition) is putting their insurance coverage at risk.  Owners want and need you to stay within the bounds of your coverage.  You need to, also.  Maybe the owner of the Friendly Grocery was on to something there.

Your turn.  Have you ever used language that jeopardized your insurance protection?  Uncertain if you have?  Drop me a line and we can talk.

Photo (c) Melissa Brumback  Creative Commons License

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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