OU dorm renovations enhance campus sustainability

A showerhead, vents and a thermostat from renovated and un-renovated Ohio University dorms. Photo composite by CG Photo Editor Elizabeth Linares.

By Lindsay Citraro and Zach Lloyd, CG Lifestyles and People

As fall quarter comes to an end, students throughout Ohio University’s East, South and West Greens are beginning to call their new dorms home. However, those same students often are not considering the environmental shortcomings of those new homes.

Many of OU’s dorms are very old and require a lot of energy to maintain, heat and cool. Fortunately, that’s something the university has been working to improve through renovations. These campus renovations are leading toward opportunities for students to be more sustainable, but the university still has a long way to go — only six of the 42 dorms have undergone full renovations.

Brett Martz, an OU freshman communications major, knows the difference a renovated dorm can make in a student’s college experience. After living in O’Bleness House on South Green for the first few weeks of fall quarter, he moved to East Green’s renovated Read Hall.

O’Bleness, an un-renovated hall, did not provide many opportunities for sustainable living. Martz’s room was constantly overheated, his windows did not always open and there were cracks from poor insulation – something to be feared during Ohio’s cold winter months. It was never a comfortable temperature for living, Martz said.

The un-renovated dorms also have older bathrooms. The shower heads and faucets are leaky, causing water to be wasted even when the fixtures are not in use. This waste is a serious problem for the environment, as one leaky faucet can waste over 3,000 gallons of water each year.

OU Associate Director of Residential Housing Beverly Wyatt is interested in making sure the residence halls at Ohio University promote better sustainable living practices so fewer residents have experiences like Martz’s.

“Energy-efficient lighting, low-flow shower heads, toilets that use less water, and low VOC [volatile organic compound] paint products are examples of how we are making the residence halls more sustainable,” Wyatt said.

Additionally, OU is trying to save resources by refinishing wooden doors as opposed to buying new ones. The practice is in use at James and Fenzel Halls, and OU will refinish more doors in Weld House in the spring, Wyatt said.

“ We also use high quality materials, like tile instead of shingles, on our residence halls so that they last a long time,” she said. “Fifty to 100 years instead of the traditional 20 with shingles.” Tiles can be recycled as well, and renovators typically use 90 percent of a roof’s original tiles in the re-covering process.

Residential Housing is not the only OU department promoting sustainability.

The OU Office of Sustainability, headed by Director Sonia Marcus, advocates for more sustainable practices throughout OU. However, there is much room for improvement in residence halls, and the university is attempting to remedy this through renovations.

Residence hall renovation is currently overseen by the OU Office of Design and Construction, which hires various contracting, electric and mechanic companies to complete renovations. To increase sustainability, all renovation plans comply with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system.

LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and verifies that a building was designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in areas such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources and sensitivity to eco-impacts. Simply put, the certification shows that the building or renovation plans are keeping the environment in mind.

Richard Shultz, director of the OU Office of Design and Construction, understands the importance of sustainable dorms.

“We are very conscious of what materials we use during the renovation[s],” Shultz said.

Deciding which residence halls to renovate and in what order revolves around a 10-year plan that places the halls on a schedule based on their age, size, budget allowance and condition. The plan is currently focused on OU’s East Green, where several residence halls have already been renovated.

Just as no two residence halls are identical, the same can be said about their renovations. According to renovation project manager Mike West, a typical hall restoration can cost between $5 million and $10 million and takes about a year to complete.

One of the main focuses of each renovation project is heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. HVAC is perhaps the most inefficient and environmentally unfriendly aspect of un-renovated dorms, making it a sustainability priority.

Many of the un-renovated dorms use window-mounted cooling units. These inefficient machines are replaced with building-wide, water-cooled piping systems during renovations, which can keep buildings cool at a much lower energy expenditure.

Heating in the dorms is updated from a thin tube-radiation heating unit to a heated coil system controlled by individual in-room thermostats. This type of heating also reduces energy expenditure, because lower floors do not have to be overheated for upper floors to get minimal heat. Instead of opening their windows and letting heat flow out of overheated rooms, residents of renovated dorms’ lower floors can simply shut off the heat in their rooms.

In addition to updated HVAC systems, renovators are installing high efficiency thermal-paned windows in residence halls. These windows have two to three panes of glass separated by insulating gases, helping to stop heat loss in winter. Some halls are also getting insulated walls and attics.

Several small replacements are also made, such as the installation of low-flow plumbing fixtures and toilets. Put together, the fixtures drastically cut down on water usage and eliminate leaks.

The lighting of the dorms is updated from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent ones, which generate 30 percent more light and use half the energy.

Unfortunately, renovated dorms can have some serious drawbacks.

A renovated dorm can actually have a higher energy usage than it did before. Improved standards and requirements, which must be met after renovation, can sometimes require the hall to become more energy-intensive during construction.

“After looking at energy costs before and after renovation, it can look like the hall has a higher energy output. But believe me, the overall energy consumption is lessened,” West said. “We take solace in the fact that the mechanical systems of the buildings are much more efficient than they used to be.”

But even with more energy-efficient dorms, OU’s energy needs are growing.

One reason why energy consumption might be increasing is because of the technology brought by students every year. All the added televisions, computers and phone chargers greatly add to a hall’s energy consumption.

“What students are bringing to their dorms now is a huge difference compared to the past,” Shultz said.

Renovated dorm rooms are a hot commodity on campus, and for good reason. According to Martz, living in one makes you feel “cleaner, better and more comfortable,” in addition to allowing sustainable living.

But the renovation process is still being perfected. Hopefully, all OU dorm dwellers will soon enjoy a more comfortable and sustainable lifestyle.

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