UCSB Students LEED by Example

by:Kaitlin Carney, Noah Eckhous, and Timothy Jacobs

A group of students from the University of California, Santa Barbara are wrapping up a year-long course in green building in which they worked through the process of LEED certifying a campus building. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification recognizes Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and offers a holistic approach to green building. The building’s initial design and construction in 2006 earned it a LEED Silver Certification, but now the team has high hopes for Gold, or even Platinum.

In addition to aiming for the highest award offered by LEED, the course itself sets many standards. Offering students an opportunity to gain hands-on, practical experience with the building certification process, the course is the first of its kind. With both undergraduate and graduate students, the multidisciplinary team represents many majors including Environmental Science, Geography, Physics, and Engineering. In addition, it is led by two UCSB alumni and LEED Accredited Professionals, Cassidy Green and Brandon Kaysen.

The project’s focus, the Student Resource Building (or SRB), was built in 2006 to provide students with connections to resources that include clubs, tutoring, and study spaces. Its initial certification fell under LEED’s New Construction standards. Now, it will be certified according to standards for an Existing Building which includes operation and maintenance.

Back in September, the students began their journey with a crash course in green building. With diverse backgrounds and varying levels of experience in the green building field, the students were exposed to the entire LEED process and familiarized themselves with the many requirements a certification entails. With input and feedback from the building users, the students split into teams and got to work on their portion of the project. This included performing energy audits, updating cleaning and maintenance policies, replacing aerators on sink faucets, and surveying the building users. One of the changes implemented by the group included adjusting an interior lighting schedule that is estimated to save about $3,200 annually. More involved modifications included an LED lighting retrofit for much of the building. Interaction with the staff and building users was key throughout the project. A survey distributed to SRB staff discovered that there was a significant issue with comfort due to excess sunlight on one side of the building. The team was able to remedy the issue by working with Associated Students to install tinting on the South facing windows, thereby increasing thermal efficiency and occupant comfort.

This course comes at a time when the University of California system has implemented a range of impressive sustainability policies, including requiring all newly-constructed buildings to achieve LEED Silver certification. As a result of its many campus-wide sustainability initiatives, UC Santa Barbara was recently ranked as the greenest public university in the nation. But with the integration of the students into the process, this course has taken it a step further. And the learning won’t end with the building’s certification in June. Now that the documentation has been sent into the USGBC, the students await the certification results with excited anticipation and have turned the focus to their own accreditation. They are now well-prepared to pass the LEED Green Associate exam and many plan to do so in the coming months.

The lessons we learned in our time working on LEED certification are not limited to the scope of our project. Without much effort, the typical tenant can implement a variety of energy conservation measures in their home. These range from simply turning off lights to replacing turf with drought-tolerant alternatives. We have provided a short list of suggestions that our readers can apply to their own living situations.

Water Reduction Tips:

  • Make sure all fixtures are fitted with low-flow aerators
  • Retrofit high-capacity toilets with an internal reservoir to reduce volume per flush
  • Replace sprinklers with drip irrigation
  • Replace nonnative plants with adaptive/native alternatives

Energy Reduction Tips:

  • Replace light bulbs with LED substitutes
  • Add dimmable controls to LED lighting (increases lifespan and saves money)
  • Eliminate unnecessary lighting, consider putting lights on a timer
  • Put outdoor lighting on a schedule or occupancy sensors
  • Install adjustable awnings
  • Apply window glazing to increase thermal efficiency and occupant comfort

General Environmental Tips:

  • Separate compostable waste from trash and compost it
  • If remodeling, look for green labels, like FSC-certified wood

If you want to learn more about LEED and their rating systems go to their website. They have rating systems for nearly every type of building including offices, homes, and new construction projects.

Posted in California Student Sustainability Coalition Magazine, CSSC News and tagged , , .