Farewell, Micro Fridge; Hello, Energy Savings

From our Ideas+Buildings Blog

A slight chill hangs in the air, leaves crunch underfoot; autumn has returned and school is back in session at Bridgewater State University. Over five hundred students have a new place to both live and learn this year in the form of George A. Weygand Hall – the newest residence hall on campus.  The building incorporates many sustainable strategies, one of which may come as a surprise to new students: the classic micro fridge and its close friend the personal microwave, omnipresent in student residences the world over, are no longer found in students’ rooms.  In their place, shared refrigerators and microwaves are located in public areas on each floor of the building.  This is just one recommendation adopted from a Zero-Net-Energy Building (ZNEB) Pilot Study performed at the start of the project – a collaborative effort to create a sustainable, low-impact project with input from both school officials and student input. 

Over twenty sustainable strategies were developed as a result of the ZNEB study at BSU.

Over the past two years, Perkins+Will has been working with the University to create a dynamic environment where students can have a new kind of interaction on campus that pushes the boundaries of sustainability.  It’s one thing to design an energy-saving, green-loving, tempered-by-the-earth building – it’s another thing to operate it to its fullest potential. That was the message that we brought to Bridgewater. It’s like most things in life: you can buy the most intricate smart device, but you only get the benefits when you know how to use.

We structured the process around an understanding that there are elements that are controlled by design, and there are elements that are controlled by operations. To break down the process further, we tackled four key steps with the client: minimize building energy usage (passive strategies), maximize energy efficiency (active strategies), generate renewable energy, and reduce energy consumption based on building operation. This last one (“based on building operation”) is not often discussed in detail during the design process – but it makes all the difference!

We know from experience  that one of the uncontrollable energy costs of residence halls is plug loads, also known as energy hogs. To plan an operationally sustainable building, we worked closely with the University’s Facilities Department to take on the task of changing the policy of allowable items in the building. The bottom line is that we agreed removing micro-fridges and personal microwaves from the mix would reduce energy loads and save money, while having the added benefit of increased opportunity for interpersonal engagement and ideas exchange. 

No micro fridges to be found in this learning area of the hall

Our ZNEB Pilot Study on this project showed that with operational policy change – coupled with a geothermal well system and valance system, shower drain energy recovery, automatic window shut-off heating and cooling switches, and a tight building envelope – the building can reduce its energy consumption by 54% compared to industry baselines. We’ve done our part. Now it’s up to the newest residents of the building to hold the line!

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