Dorms get even greener
Unity College, located not far from the Hill in Unity, Maine, has recently begun designing a one-of-a-kind solar powered residence hall that they project to be completed by Autumn 2011. G.O. Logic Homes of Belfast, Maine was awarded the contract for construction. They will work closely with both students and administrators at Unity at every stage of the building process.
“We are looking to do the greenest and most forward leaning projects possible,” Associate Director of Communications at Unity Mark Tardiff said. “This particular endeavor is a direct result of a focus on Unity’s cornerstone values of sustainability and green living.”
In June, Unity was awarded a $389,000 grant from the Kendeda Fund to construct a “cottage style” residence based on the principals of passive house design, a stringent energy standard for buildings originally developed by PassivHaus Institute of Germany.
A passive house certified building uses 90% less energy than a U.S. Department of Energy code compliant building by creating a super efficient, air tight and heavily insulated shell that traps in heat.
“Buildings of this kind do not require gadgetry or complex systems. Passive house is a very basic and fundamental approach to construction,” Allan Gibson, principal owner of G.O. Logic Homes, said.
In the case of the projected residence hall at Unity, solar panels will be used to convert sunlight into heat, thus eliminating the need for multiple active energy systems. Added costs for the meticulous construction of the airtight shell will be made up for in the long run by the thousands of dollars that will be saved every year on heating.
The collaborative efforts of students and administrators with geo architect Matthew O’Malia, two-time winner of the New England American Institute of Architects Design Excellence Award, marks a paradigm shift in how colleges approach the construction and conception of structures on campus.
The project also calls for an educational component for active student participants who can get involved in both curricular and co-curricular activities in designing, constructing and monitoring the residence hall. Even after construction is finished, the residence hall will function as an interactive learning environment and a lab for classes on sustainability and passive house design.
“This project is tied not only to the values of the college, but also the curriculum,” Tardiff said.
The only obstacle facing the team of builders and architects is ensuring that the building will meet the standards of Passive House Institute US. There are 25 pages of spreadsheets that outline the requirements for passive house certification, each page focusing on one particular aspect of how energy moves throughout the building.
If the project is a success, Unity’s solar powered dorm will be the first of its kind in the U.S. and a model for future projects on college campuses across the country. “The building style is not radically difficult to construct and can be replicated easily. What we are trying to demonstrate is that it is possible to build super efficient structures today,” said Gibson.
On a broad scale, the building of energy efficient structures such as the dorm at Unity could drastically cut back on the state of Maine’s dependence on the worldwide energy market and imported fuel, while simultaneously reducing green house gas emissions.
It is projects such as this solar powered residence hall that have earned Unity a spot in the Princeton Review’s top 100 greenest colleges in America. They are on the cutting edge of putting the principals of sustainability and green living into to practice.