Posts Tagged ‘LEED platinum’

MUM’s Innovative Sustainable Living Center @MaharishiU Featured in Solar Tribune

November 13, 2014

Small College Makes Solar a Big Priority

Nestled among the cornfields of Southeastern Iowa, Maharishi University of Management is not your typical small college. More than 40 years after its founding, this unique campus has become a showcase of sustainability and solar technology.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, best known as man who taught meditation to The Beatles, bought the defunct Parsons College campus in Fairfield, Iowa in 1971 and set up an accredited university to teach his philosophy of world peace and enlightenment through meditation. Along with computer science, accounting and BA, MA and PhD programs, the curriculum stresses healthy lifestyles and a healthy environment.

Biology Professor David Fisher launched the nation’s first four-year BA program in Sustainable Living at MUM in 2003. The Sustainable Living Department offers courses in solar, wind and other alternative energy systems, water management, permaculture, alternative building techniques, and performance design for the built environment, and their building serves as a hands-on showcase for the technologies they teach. On an annual basis, the building is not only a “net zero” building, but actually produces as much as 40% more energy than it consumes. The excess energy offsets electricity used elsewhere on campus.

South wall of MUM Sustainable Living Center

Opened in 2012, the Schwartz-Guich Sustainable Living Center at MUM is a showpiece of green building technology. The 6,900 square foot building features sustainable infrastructure including daylighting, a greenhouse and edible landscaping, gardens, rain catchment, earth block and “whole tree” construction and both solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (PV), as well as a wind turbine. The architectural style, known as “Vedic” architecture, marries eastern and western styles and reflects the philosophy of the university, while exceeding LEED platinum standards.

Daniel Chiras PhD is currently a visiting professor at the Sustainable Living Center. Dan serves as the Director of the Evergreen Institute and is author of over 30 books on solar and sustainability topics, including The Natural House, The Solar House, The Homeowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy and many more. Chiras said of the MUM building: “The Sustainable Living Center is one of the greenest—if not the greenest—classroom buildings on a college campus in the world! It’s an extraordinary model of ecological sustainability and an inspiration to those seeking to build a sustainable human future. The building is a pleasure to teach in and a great learning tool for students.”

Solar Features At The SLC:

The Sustainable Living Center sports 12.5 kW of PV panels to provide electricity. The PV panels are grid-tied by two 2.5 kW and one 5 kW SMA Sunny Boy inverters. An Outback 3.6 kW battery based inverter also stores energy in an off-grid battery bank. The solar PV at the Center puts out an average of 16,250 kWh per year.

A drain-back solar water heating system with 750 square feet of evacuated tube solar thermal collectors capture solar energy that is then stored in a 5,000 gallon tank, where it is then pumped through the in-floor heating system. The collectors provide about 30% of the heating for the building. Additional heat comes from a ground source heat pump, which uses electricity from the solar and wind systems to provide 75,000 BTUs per hour.

In addition to the solar arrays, The Sustainable Living Center features a Bergey XL 10 wind turbine on a 100 foot latticed tower. The estimated annual output is 17,000 kWh, with power production peaking in the winter and spring. This compliments the solar PV, which produces most of its power during the summer months, when wind speeds are typically much lower.

The SLC has an annual energy use of about 30,000 kWh, including lighting, heating and cooling, fresh air circulation office equipment and classrooms, which is already amazingly low for a building of its size.

Not only at the Sustainable Living Center, but across the entire MUM campus, sustainability initiatives are in full effect. In fact, the school achieved a perfect score for sustainable food sourcing and is the first college in the United States to offer an organic, 100% vegetarian menu. The college encourages bicycling and energy efficiency and is currently in the planning stages of a large-scale solar array to offset more of their electrical use with solar energy.

Read more about the MUM Sustainable Living Center at:

Article reprinted with permission from the author. Solar Tribune is a solar news, education, and advocacy website. Article is published under: .

See more news about MUM’s SLC in this Des Moines Register article: Fairfield defines community action. There was a lot of news coverage on the official opening of MUM’s SLC, April 20, 2012. Here are two TV News reports, with links to other reports: KTVO News: Groundbreaking Sustainable Living Center a source of pride in Fairfield and WHO News: BEYOND GREEN: Building Produces Extra Energy. Also see The Fairfield Ledger: M.U.M.’s newest building sets new green standards.

BUILDINGS Magazine: A Zero Utility Bill Building

October 8, 2011

September 2011

You can read this article below, but there are two other ways to better see what it looks like online, in a digital version of the magazine: click here to browse the enhanced, rich media version from cover to cover: article is on pages 24-26, includes pop-out video, or click here to just see the article.

A Zero Utility Bill Building

One zero utility bill university is boldly pursuing off-grid for electricity, water, and sewer

By Jennie Morton

You wouldn’t expect to find a building of the future nestled in the hills of Iowa, but the Sustainable Living Center (SLC) is all about breaking the mold.

Commissioned by the Maharishi University of Management, the facility is a forward-looking project that draws from an “East Meets West” approach to sustainability. It is the first to integrate four separate building challenges: LEED Platinum, the Living Building Challenge, Building Biology, and Maharishi Vedic Architecture.

The result of combining ancient philosophies with the latest green technologies? A 6,900-square-foot building that’s off-grid for electricity, water, and sewer.

An Ambitious Plan
Since its inception, the Sustainable Living Center has evolved from an environmentally conscious project to one that minimizes its impact right down to the paint on the walls. Unlike other new buildings on campus, the design requirements were voiced by the faculty, students, and community members. While their first visions of the center were less far-reaching, the future occupants insisted on a building that teaches.

“Why off-grid? It’s never been done for a campus building as far as we know, and we wanted to demonstrate that it can be done,” explains David Fisher, director of the SLC and a university professor. “This is where the industry needs to go next, but they won’t do it unless they see it first. This will help to expand their vision of what is possible.”

One also doesn’t think of the Midwest as a hotbed for sustainable architecture, but it’s for this very reason that Maharishi University wasn’t thwarted. “Contrary to popular opinion, the Midwest is ideal for an off-grid building. It’s hard to imagine a place with more extremes with temperature, weather, and humidity. But if you can do it here, then you can do it anywhere,” Fisher says.

Overcoming Challenges
An intricately planned building of this magnitude requires an element of patience to temper unexpected complications. The first challenge was funding. Because the university was focused on another large project at the time, the SLC needed to secure funds from the onset. Once some excitement had been generated, the recession hit and stalled progress. Consequently, the center is being built in stages.

This economic reality may mean the building will go online without all the features required to be fully off-grid. However, the university remains optimistic. “Even short of the full goal, the building will compare favorably with, and even go further, than most green buildings,” says Fisher.

Conflicting opinions on green strategies were also a factor that had to be addressed to find consensus in the design. “People often have very sharp differences for the best way to go green,” Fisher says.

For instance, how does one determine whether in-floor radiant heating or a forced air system is the most suitable option when both reduce energy consumption? Fisher says many conversations like these were necessary to achieve the most optimal version of the building.

While the four challenges provided many options for sustainability, some produced a conflict of interest. For example, LEED honors recycled content, while Vedic Architecture supports the use of virgin materials only. The Living Building Challenge requires the protection or restoration of natural habits on the site, but only LEED specifies light pollution reduction.

“However, one reason for doing all four certifications is to try to be as inclusive as possible of different people’s ideas of what should be in a green building,” Fisher explains.

Another stumbling block came in the form of climate change, which impacted the center’s renewable energy output. “We discovered that the number of cloudy, wintery days with low temperatures and wind has increased more in the past 5 years than it has the last 20 years,” says Fisher. “We also found out that rainfall has gone up by 4 to 5 inches a year. We had to do some redesigning when we learned this.”

Creativity Yields Results
If you’ve assumed this progressive building is using cutting-edge or proprietary systems to get to its goal, you’d be mistaken. The university prides itself on using “state-of-the-shelf” technologies to prove that its goal can be achieved in the here and now with well-proven equipment and supplies, says Fisher.

This led to some out-of-the-box strategies to find solutions to common problems:

• “One strategy was instead of trying to make a building have a comfortable temperature at any humidity, we lowered the humidity. We know high humidity, whether cold or warm, makes people uncomfortable,” explains Fisher. “So we keep the humidity controlled with desiccant cooling, which actually provides a wider temperature range as a buffer.”

• Students drove innovation by insisting the amount of concrete in the building be reduced, so an alternative to cinder blocks had to be found. A nearby construction project excavated a ridge and the students saw the displaced soil as a resource. They ran a compressed earth block machine to compact the dirt into blocks. These became the thermal mass to help insulate the building and were also used for interior walls in classrooms and hallways.

• To negate any VOCs, even the paint on the walls has a biological origin. Earth plasters are mixed with sand and cow manure, paints have a powder milk base, and most pigments are derived from clays, minerals, or spices. “People today have a heightened awareness of what kinds of building materials are toxic or produce off-gassing,” says David Todt, vice president of expansion. “It’s important to demonstrate the kinds of techniques that will result in a more healthy building for people to work in.”

• To achieve zero-water status, extensive rainwater harvesting will be used and filtered with UV light for drinking water and toilets. All black and grey water will be processed in a septic tank and then by a peat moss system for irrigation needs.

Justifying the Cost
Though construction is still underway and anticipated to be completed within the next year, the final costs per square foot are projected to be $450. Fischer is quick to point out that while sizeable, the costs aren’t much higher than a typical LEED project.

Some have criticized the project as being twice as expensive as LEED, but those numbers are based on a certified project only, he says. Average costs for LEED Platinum projects are typically around $350 a square foot. The extra $100 for the SLC is balanced by the additional three certifications and the elimination of grid ties.

Given the high costs, Todt recognizes that the university’s commitment to sustainability won’t be easy for everyone to duplicate. “We know it’s not commercially feasible for everyone to do an off-grid building like we have,” Todt admits. “But this is a demonstration project – it makes a statement that this is the way we need to go in the future. If that means someone is doing a normal building and decides to go the extra mile with efficiency in one system, that’s what we want to help motivate.”

Fisher also stresses the benefits of grid independence. Calling the SLC a zero utility bill building, he hopes the building’s example will prompt others to think about a future that makes an off-grid facility a savvy move.

“We encourage others to keep in mind the effects of peak oil, climate change, and energy descent as you design your green building,” recommends Fisher. “You can have it all, and you can have it now. It’s just a matter of deciding if it’s worth it to you.”

Jennie Morton ( is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

Developer Celebrates How ‘Green’ Is Its Building

September 3, 2009

Picture 26
Developer Celebrates How ‘Green’ Is Its Building
Rockville Structure Gets Environmental Kudos
Picture 27
By Rick Rojas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Two Thousand Tower Oaks Boulevard off Interstate 270 in Rockville looks like most modern suburban office complexes. It’s a sleek and shiny metal and glass structure that seems to have plopped down like an alien spacecraft on a freshly mowed plot.

What’s special about this building, its developers say, is the technology inside, which earned it the superlative from the state government of being the “greenest” office building in Maryland.

Walking into the building, made of an assortment of recycled items including old bluejeans and wheat products, visitors might think they are entering an office with dirt floors, joked Marnie Abramson of the building’s developer, Tower Companies, which is based there.

The building’s insulation is made of recycled denim. A composite of wheat products makes up the doors. The floor is old carpet that has been shaved down.

But, Abramson said, the structure has the amenities of the average office building and then some.

The building has a fitness center, a three-level underground parking garage and flat-screen televisions embedded in its elevator walls. Every work space has an outside view. The air-conditioning system circulates fresh, filtered air in the building every 51 minutes.

Abramson said the building challenges preconceived notions about environmentally friendly structures, such as that having a green building involves sacrificing certain conveniences or that environmental friendliness is counterintuitive to business success.

Tower Companies received $1.6 million in a state tax credit for the building, Abramson said, and dangling carrots like that in front of the business community is a simple and effective way to encourage them to take part.

Because of the tax credit, the idea of green practices as the norm “permeates into the marketplace,” she said. “In the long term, we can build our way into a sustainable future.”

The tax credit, which was created in 2001, allows developers to recoup 6 to 8 percent of construction costs if a building qualifies for platinum status in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system.

Reaching platinum status includes using 100 percent wind energy, limiting water and electricity consumption, reducing air and light pollution and making sure 90 percent of occupants have outside views.

Tower Oaks was the first building in Maryland to qualify and was named the greenest office building in Maryland by state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) last month.

Joe Shapiro, a spokesman for the comptroller, said the building is a “shining example for the rest of the state . . . because it has an economic value and an environmental value.”

Shapiro said LEED platinum buildings save on utility costs and increase productivity. State officials hope the tax credit encourages prospective businesses to reach for platinum status, he said.

Abramson said prospective tenants have told her, ” ‘I don’t know if I can afford the premium for a green building.’ ” Her response: “I don’t think you can afford not to.” Constructing something like Tower Oaks isn’t just environmental citizenship; it’s smart business, she said.

Going green increased overall construction costs by slightly more than 1 percent, she said. But employee productivity has increased, and fewer employees called in sick this past winter than in any other year, Abramson said, crediting the fresh air and natural light.

Debbie Webb, director of property management for Tower Companies, has taken notice of the difference in her own work space. She has been at Tower Companies since it moved in February and worked for other property management companies for 18 years.

“You start off in the basement or in some place where no one wants to rent,” she said of the standard property management work area. And, she said, with the lights flipped off and the midday sun flowing in, “it’s just such a healthy environment.”

Abramson said the company is looking toward the next step: finding a way to generate its electricity on site.

“We’re superheroes,” she said. “It’s our job to save the planet through real estate.”

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