One Year Later, Green Building Proves Itself

On a recent fall day, Mississippi State landscape architecture professor Pete Melby sat in his university office with windows open to a mild 66-degree outdoor temperature. In addition to enjoying a pleasant day, he was quietly continuing a personal quest to promote what his two-year-old academic building is designed to do: save energy. That’s because the new landscape architecture facility that opened in December 2002 was planned from the ground up — literally — with a very focused eye toward conservation.

Melby and biological engineer Tom Cathcart are co-directors of MSU’s Center for Sustainable Design. They are part of a faculty team that helped guide the building’s shape, location, interior layout, building materials, and construction details. And there is one clear indication that their hard work is paying off. “This building is using 40-70 percent less energy than the regional average for office buildings,” Melby said. The building includes a 15 kW solar PV array. The 82 feet long and 18 feet by 8 inches wide PV array is built as a canopy structure between the Landscape Architecture Facility and the Ammerman-Hearnsburger Building and will provide cover for the walkway between the buildings. SunWize technologies designed and installed the array, which is made up of 104 Sanyo HIT modules, each with a maximum system operating voltage of 600V DC. A 15 kW AC Xantrex PV15208 inverter with a Square D 208/208 transformer converts the DC PV array input power into utility-compatible 208 VAC, 60 Hz, 3-phase power. Electricity generated by the modules goes into the Starkville Electric System. The building also takes advantage of a geothermal ground-source heating and cooling system — a major contributor to the building’s energy efficiency. Among other energy-savings features: Wide overhangs to block summer sun and allow winter sun for heating; Tall, clerestory and dormer windows to allow natural lighting; and highly reflective roofing material. In addition to working closely with state Bureau of Buildings officials, the project leaders received assistance from state Sen. Hob Bryan, former chairman of the Finance Committee. In 2000, the Amory legislator helped get passed a US$3.6 million bond issue for construction of the building just off Stone Boulevard near Thompson Hall. “This building is proof that new structures can be built without requiring significant energy for heating and cooling,” Cathcart said, adding that state law now requires that new buildings incorporate energy efficient designs. To further improve energy efficiency, those using the building also must make judicious thermostat decisions. During temperate seasonal transitions in fall and spring, occupants are encouraged to open full-length windows and forgo mechanical heating and cooling. In winter, temperatures are maintained at a constant 70 degrees; summer, 70-74 degrees. “With a shelter like this that has a lot of thermal mass, temperatures should be within a 5-to-8-degree range naturally,” Cathcart explained. Last year, the energy costs for the nearly 21,000-square-foot, single-story glass and brick structure were approximately $16,200. Using Southeastern energy use-rate averages, a conservative energy requirement for the same-sized building likely would be around $27,600. By comparison, Melby and Cathcart estimate that use rates for larger adjacent buildings would result in energy costs of nearly $47,000. “There are compelling reasons to take more control of energy consumption in this nation,” Cathcart emphasized. “Traditional energy resources will be depleted within 100 years, particularly petroleum and natural gas. That is why we must be forward looking.” Cathcart said energy independence also supports a national security goal by making the nation less vulnerable to supply disruptions. “The more progressive our energy policy, the more we insulate against that possibility,” Cathcart said. Both said they feel energy savings in the MSU landscape architecture facility can continue to be enhanced. They cited several examples, including the addition of outside plantings to block summer sun, wind breaks to deflect cold winter winds and ceiling fans to maximize indoor comfort. To assist others interested in energy efficiency buildings, the two professors have produced a reference book titled “Regenerative Design Techniques” (John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, N.J.).
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