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Going Green at UVM

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Jesse and Molly Baum have both lived in University Heights
Photo credit: Kayla Schwarz

Source: Kevin O'Connor, EAN/University of Vermont Sustainable Vermont Internship Program

A different sort of dorm

Completed in 2006, the University Heights Student and Residential Learning Complex at UVM is one of the first dorms in the country built integrating high commitment to environmental principles. University Heights is one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified dorms in the country—meaning that the third party deemed it a leader in efficiency and green design. The University Heights complexes received a Gold Level of certification established by the U.S. Green Council.

LEEDing the way

To earn the LEED certification, the Project Manager Todd Merchant and his architects took several energy efficiency and saving steps. They created designs that worked with the landscape for intelligent storm water management, took care to responsibly source their building materials, and implemented technology to make the building much more efficient than conventional standards.

From the ashes of the old

For building materials, the dorms included sustainably harvested wood and materials from recycled sources and local sources—even the interior of the dorms which preceded University Heights. The University Heights Complex replaced several buildings, which were demolished for reuse by ReCycle North (now known as ReSOURCE VT). With the careful deconstruction, more than 219 tons of material were recycled and recovered, so that 75% of the materials were reused. The University Heights buildings also contain energy efficient double-pane, low-E, argon filled fiberglass windows. These windows help control the amount of heat that is transferred with sunlight, and special paints and coatings were chosen for the interiors, which are lower toxicity than conventional materials.

Natural inspiration

These buildings also utilize a type of design known as biomimicry- mimicking natural systems, in this case for storm water management. For instance, the University Heights complexes contain vegetated swales, recharge beds, and green roofs. Along with filtering runoff, green roofs conserve energy. The green roofs provide insulation—cooling during the summer, preventing heat loss in the winter. Additionally, the green roofs provide a pleasant space for students (when it isn’t snowing, that is).

Communities for change

The $53 million project consists of two separate complexes, University Heights North and University Heights South, each housing around 400 students. The University Heights North building is home to the Honors College students and a majority of University Heights South students are in a residential learning community called the GreenHouse, an environmentally themed program. It is a community of professors and students that have a commitment to environmental responsibility and social justice.

Camilla Broccolo, a sophomore living in her second year in University Heights said, “I love living in the GreenHouse for many reasons, but mostly because by living in a LEED Certified building, you know that your impact on the environment… is a lot less than a regular dorm.”

Lasting efficiency

Thus far, University Heights buildings have technologies that save around 2 million gallons of water per year! Such water saving devices include low flow flush toilets, low flow showers, and faucet flow reducers. The University Heights South Complex also has a couple of composting toilets that don’t use any water. Integrating these devices results in about a 30% decrease in water usage.

With all of these energy efficiency strategies and devices, the University Heights Complexes save around 50% of total energy used when compared to conventionally made complexes of their size. In addition to the University Height Complexes, UVM has adopted a green building policy, which states that all new buildings must adhere to guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating systems.