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Two UA dorms awarded ENERGY STAR certification

Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Two UA residence halls became the first in the Pac-12 to earn the EPA’s “ENERGY STAR certification for superior energy efficiency” this month after a nearly two-year effort to brighten the UA’s future in sustainability.

The dorms, Arizona-Sonora Residence Hall and La Aldea graduate housing complex, perform in the top 25 percent of similar buildings nationwide, according to Jill Ramirez, coordinator of sustainability education. They also meet the energy performance levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“There’s a lot of publicity in some of our fellow schools around their commitment to sustainability,” Ramirez said. “We don’t get quite as much publicity, but we’re doing just as much, if not more. It (the certification) goes to show that our buildings, not just the people inside the buildings, are more sustainable than a lot of campuses across the country.”

ENERGY STAR is a label the EPA created in 1992 in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy efficiency, according to the EPA website. The label can be found on more than 60 different kinds of products, including refrigerators, computers and televisions. It also recognizes businesses and buildings for sustainable energy management.

Ramirez said she began pursing the distinction in August 2010 and started by gathering energy consumption data from 25 residence halls, including about a year’s worth of utility bills. This information was used to calculate each building’s score on the EPA’s energy performance scale.

If a building scored higher than 75 it was eligible to receive the ENERGY STAR rating. La Aldea received a score of 91 out 100 and Arizona-Sonora received a 76, Ramirez said.

Originally, seven residence halls qualified for the certificate, but in order to receive the official rating an architect or engineer had to audit the halls to verify their efficiency. Three dorms, Maricopa Residence Hall, Arizona-Sonora and La Aldea were audited. The buildings were tested in three areas: air quality, thermal comfort and illumination, Ramirez said.

The architect was Nader Chalfoun, a professor of architecture and director of the House Energy Doctor program. Chalfoun, along with his students, audited the three dorms as part of a class project, using each building as a “laboratory for investigation,” he said.

The students interviewed each of the building managers, who provided information regarding how often each dorm operated and during what seasons, according to Chalfoun. Then, the class examined the interior and exterior of the buildings.

Outside, the students looked at characteristics like shade, lighting and landscaping that can affect a building’s energy consumption. Interior observations included how spaces were occupied, how temperatures were controlled and how much the residents used natural daylight versus artificial illumination.

“Some curtains stay in place for years and nobody touches them, depending on the building and the students,” Chalfoun said.

Finally, Chalfoun’s students examined each dorm’s mechanical system, or what Chalfoun called “the heart of the building.” This is the part of the building that produces energy, either independently or through one of the UA’s three power plants.

At the end of the audit process, Chalfoun’s class compiled its data into detailed reports that included ways the buildings’ energy performance could be improved, Chalfoun said. The results of the reports were then submitted to the EPA to determine whether the dorms would receive ENERGY STAR certification.

In total, the audit process cost $25,000, according to Ramirez. The benefits, however, outweighed the price — the audits not only helped the two dorms earn their superior ratings, but they helped Residence Life understand what it can do to make its buildings even more energy efficient, Ramirez said.

The certificates will be used to help market the dorms to future residents, according to Amanda Brobbel, coordinator of graduate and international housing. The ENERGY STAR rating not only speaks to a building’s efficiency, she said, but it also says a lot about the quality of life for both present and future residents.

“I think the foundation of sustainable living is about better communities,” Brobbel said. “The idea is if you’re living sustainably, you’re living with an eye to not only the current people who occupy this planet, but the future people who will occupy the planet.”

The fact that two of UA’s dorms have earned ENERGY STAR certification proves the university is dedicated to creating a sustainable campus, according to Natalie Lucas, a junior studying environmental science and philosophy, politics, economics and law and the co-director of Students for Sustainability.

“We are ready to take on that challenge and we are ready to pursue it even more,” she said in reference to making the UA a greener university. “Sustainability is definitely starting to be one of the things the UA can be proud of.”

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