Finding a Balance in Building Systems

Never noticed by an occupant until they aren’t functioning properly, building systems are the unsung heart and soul of a facility. Among other things, they light our way, keep us at a comfortable temperature, make the air breathable, and supply us with clean water. The right building system choice can save a college or university a significant amount of time and money. The wrong system can suck up funds, energy, and man-hours. Here, we take a look at some of the current trends in building systems.

Foam Duct Insulation
Ductwork isn’t very romantic. Aside from scheduling the occasional cleaning, most people probably don’t think about it at all. But, it is a necessary part of every building. Unfortunately, along with moving air into different parts of a building, ductwork transmits something else as well: noise.

Metal ductwork vibrates as air travels through it. In addition, the ducting provides a conduit for noises caused by mechanical systems, such as chillers and fans, to travel throughout the building. Occupant noises are transmitted too. Soon, the building is filled with a cacophony of sounds that distract and irritate building occupants, increasing general stress levels and aggravating stress-related conditions, such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers, and migraine headaches. Productivity and learning are impacted as well.

Elastomeric foam duct insulation has the ability to resolve these common low-frequency noise problems, as well as providing thermal efficiency and condensation control. These foam products mechanically respond to sound instead of simply reflecting it like other types of rigid foam material. A significant amount of the incidental sound energy is converted into foam movement and eventually heat by the elastomeric foam insulation. In addition, applying the foam insulation to the exterior of the duct provides a degree of vibration isolation, while applying it to both the interior and exterior of the duct provides vibration dampening, further reducing noise levels. Exterior-applied elastomeric foam also provides a separation layer between the duct and any building elements that are in direct contact with it; also minimizing vibration.

There are other benefits to elastomeric foam insulation, as well. As fiber-free environments become more popular in healthcare and educational facilities, elastomeric foams provide a viable, affordable option to fibrous materials. Because the insulation is fiber-free and moisture resistant, it is likely to survive a serious mold incident and never need replacement, making it an ideal choice for areas where moisture is a particular concern. The likelihood of degradation due to tears or punctures is extremely low, allowing it to last the entire lifetime of the duct system.

Greener Energy Systems
As long at the lights come on when they flip the light switch and the temperature is comfortable, building occupants are happy with a facility’s energy system. However, choosing the right system for a campus can lead to significant cost savings and sometimes even profit. “When we do an analysis for a campus,” says Adam Steinman, senior vice president at Portland, ME-based Woodard & Curran, “we look at conservation, efficiency, on-site generation, and funding opportunities. We try to analyze what the energy system means to the campus from multiple sides. The right system for a campus can even be used as a learning tool in the curriculum.”

“This is an exciting time for these types of projects because the rules are changing and funding is being made available from new sources,” says Miles Walker, senior consultant at Woodard & Curran. “Before, these types of projects may have been cost-prohibitive, but now financing options are abundant. Campuses have access to state and federal funds for converting to greener energy options. Utility rebates are also available.” Facility managers must keep current on these changes because, at this time, energy rebates are going unclaimed and state and federal funds are languishing unused.

Another option for cost-prohibitive projects is third-party financing. In this scenario, a third party, usually a utility or a technology provider, provides some or all of the money, operations, or equipment for an energy project. The third party takes on some of the risk of the project and the university is not required to outlay the capital for the equipment or hiring staff up front. Capitalizing on these savings allows colleges and universities to complete initiatives that might not have been affordable otherwise.

“Many utilities are actively trying to induce colleges and universities to engage in these partnerships,” says Walker. “Campuses are big energy users and committed customers, so this is a win-win partnership for both sides.”

A campus-wide approach to energy is the best strategy. “When we do an energy audit for a campus, often the utility pays half, and the customer pays the other half,” says Steinman. “We come up with several options for the university to save money. For instance, a new boiler may save money and be greener, and that may mean there are state incentives to help defray the cost.”

Another benefit of going green and using less energy is the possible profits. In some areas, if a campus increases its energy generating capacity, the local utility may purchase the energy being created. In the future, renewable energy credits may also be sold on the open market for a profit. In areas that experience brownouts or energy shortages, the ability to produce energy on campus means facilities can keep using energy even when the utility cannot provide it.

Water Resource Conservation
At the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, new construction and major renovation projects administered by the Office of University Architects target 40 percent water use reduction through implementation of rainwater and condensate water harvesting and reuse, ultra low-flow plumbing fixtures, efficient laboratory equipment, and water-wise landscapes. UGA’s Website reports that notably, in 2008, a 75,000-gal. cistern was installed at the Tate Student Center Expansion, the largest water-harvesting system to date on the UGA campus.

At UGA, the Office of University Architects has for years established water quality improvement as a priority in campus development projects. The overall impervious area on campus has been reduced through the removal of more than 1.5M square feet of asphalt, while adding academic building space and more than 46 acres of campus green space in the last 15 years. All new construction projects incorporate strategies to improve water quality such as green roofs, bio-retention areas or rain gardens, and other innovative stormwater best management practices. As with efficient energy systems, these systems also are designed to be eco-revelatory with environmental education value.

On the other side of the country, in 2000, Stanford University — located on the San Francisco Bay Peninsula — received a General Use Permit (GUP) from Santa Clara County for development of additional 2,035,000 net sq. ft. of academic and academic support facilities (a 20 percent expansion). The approval of the 2000 GUP and the EIR resulted in specific requirements, one of which was the completion of a Water Conservation, Reuse, and Recycling Master Plan (Master Plan). The Plan’s key requirement is for Stanford not to exceed its domestic water allocation from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). SFPUC typically supplies 100 percent of the domestic water for Stanford University, with a daily average allocation of 3.033 million gallons per day (mgd).

According to the case study available on the Alliance for Water Efficiency Website, Stanford staff worked with Maddaus Water Management (MWM) to develop a 10-year Master Plan. Using MWM’s Water Conservation Cost-Effectiveness evaluation software (DSS model), Maddaus reviewed existing water consumption in key campus water use groups, evaluated and recommended 14 water conservation measures that could be implemented, and estimated water savings for each measure.

The 14 domestic water conservation measures included replacing toilets and showerheads in student housing and academic and athletic facilities, water audits of residential areas, requiring the use of low-water-use plantings, and improving irrigation efficiency and moving some irrigated landscape off the SFPUC domestic supply and on to a well and lake supply.

The Master Plan and water conservation measures were submitted to Santa Clara County in December 2001. Implementation of the recommended water conservation measures began in earnest in 2001.

UGA, Stanford, and many other institutions across the country realize that implementing water conservation measures offers two-fold benefits; water is saved throughout campus facilities, and students receive practical education and experience on the merits of water conservation. While the savings potential is huge, implementation is sometimes impeded by budgetary restrictions. When selecting water-efficient equipment and processes, it is important to consider durability and tamper resistance wherever students have access to the fixtures, equipment, and appliances.

Finding the Balance
Whether it is heat, cooling, air quality, energy efficiency, or water systems, the goal is to find the balance between providing a consistent, dependable, and comfortable physical campus environment while keeping an eye towards reducing mechanical construction costs, energy costs, and maintenance costs. Coupled with achieving an institution’s sustainability goals, of course. It can be done, with guidance from the experts and examples of what is already in place and working for other institutions.

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