Living Lab

Walking the Walk

Our renovated LEED Platinum office space in the Klos Building has served as a continual green building 'laboratory.' This experiment began with the initial designs, gained momentum during construction, and continues with full force today. It has given us the opportunity to test out cutting edge, as well as very simple, low tech products and systems to make our building more resource efficient and enjoyable to occupy. Once tested in our office, we know a lot more about how to specify these innovative products and systems in the projects we design.

Some examples include:
  • Installation of a (at the time experimental) 100% fly ash concrete/recycled glass radiant floor
  • Years spent tweaking and fine tuning photocells to optimize daylight
  • Installation of dual flush toilet retrofits (composting toilets are next) 
  • Currently ZERO gallons of city water supply used - three years and counting (see water tab below)
Educating occupants is an equally important responsibility in order to take full advantage of our unique systems. Our employees understand when to open and close windows, when to use task lighting, and when to turn on ceiling fans. This hands-on, less-automated approach connects us with our natural surroundings by forcing us to adapt our building systems to what is happening outside.  The solutions we've implement in our Living Lab can apply in your workspace, helping to create more a enjoyable interior environment while also providing a much needed break from the grind of daily work flow.

Other aspects of our drive towards sustainable progress include promoting alternative transportation, waste management, and encouraging a hands-on approach to comfort control.

All Plumbing Systems in the Building Use Rainwater

Stormwater runoff is collected from the 3,000 square foot roof into a roof drain that is slowed (to settle out sediment), piped into (3) 1,200 gallon cisterns, filtered, and finally used for faucets, toilets, and showers. Fixtures were selected to use water efficiently. The rainwater collection system is stored in a 6’-0” crawl space below the office space and has been sized to handle the our entire office's yearly water needs. We moved into the new space in May of 2008, and haven't used a drop of city water since. We monitor the cisterns weekly; at our lowest point in early March of 2012, we measured 400 gallons total. (See the diagram below for a visual on how the system works.)

Consistent with the 'living lab' mentality, this innovative system has not been without its trials and tribulations. The original installation was a make-shift, owner install job, and a lack of plumbing experience was demonstrated in the faulty overflow pipe connections, leading to flooding situations. Even after fixing these connections, the original design included an overflow pipe that was a third of the size of the intake pipe. This meant that during huge storms, water pressure would build up in the tanks until water would burst out of the tank lids, flooding the basement yet again.  Learning from these mistakes, the intake was choked down to match the overflow and the crawlspace has remained dry since. Learning from this experience, we have gone on to incorporate rainwater collection systems in many other projects, including the Swift Building Lofts, the Boys & Girls Club of Carbon County, Tracy Lofts, and NOLS Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus.

It's All About Options

The goal is to seek out alternatives to driving automobiles as much as possible.  Motorized transportation contributes to almost 30% of the energy use throughout the U.S. Most of that is from our use of cars, or as Ed likes to call them, “fossil-fuel shells." Cars are very energy inefficient. "While the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors waste about 20% of their energy, the transportation sector wastes a full 75%, making it just 25% energy-efficient. Part of this waste is due to the fact that cars are an inherently inefficient way to move people around, since much of the energy must go into moving the massive car and not simply the person" ( High Plains Architects has worked hard to provide better options for employees, encouraging the company-wide use of alternate transportation modes:

  • Bicycling:  Bike racks, showers, and changing facilities are all provided at the office. Currently, there are three year-round bike commuters in the office - rain, snow, and definitely when it's shining.
  • Walking: The ever increasing residential loft apartment market in downtown Billings allows for the option of living within blocks of the office. There are currently two employees that live downtown and walk to work.
  • Location, Location, Location: With the office near the heart of downtown, and within a few blocks of the downtown bus inter- and intra-city transfer centers, it's easy for employees to take the bus to work. This location also allows all office employees to easily walk or bike to meetings and restaurants for lunch, further decreasing time in the car.
  • Fuel-efficiency & carpooling: The office also supports employees that use these methods by providing incentive parking spots.  Multiple employees carpool in a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle daily.
All of this adds up to over 75% of full time employees walking, biking, or carpooling in fuel-efficient vehicles for their daily commute.

One Bag a Week

When it comes to waste management, we are continually adapting and improving our methods. We have nearly eliminated traditional office waste by using the following strategies:
  • Recycling all possible glass, plastics, cardboard, and paper
  • Reusing office supplies such as cloth towels, dishes, coffee cups, and scratch paper
  • Composting all organic scraps
  • Purchasing and using products that can be reused, recycled, or composted. 
    • We can certainly improve in this area. While each employee can make a difference in the products brought into the office, the office as a whole can continue to purchase and incorporate more products that don't end in a landfill, as the overall demand for alternative products increases.
These strategies allow us to only use a single regular trash bag of landfill-bound waste every week. Not bad for ten employees, but can we get it to zero waste? Soon enough.

Simple Science

Cooling Mode A: Natural Ventilation

The difference in air temperature between inside at the ceiling and outside creates a stack effect, quickly exhausting hot air when both the skylights and windows are opened. Air is drawn across occupants, cooling them further through evapo-transpiration. This mode works whenever the outside air temperature is 79 F or below.
Natural ventilation cools the building on most spring, early summer, and fall days. On hot summer days, natural ventilation is effective until about 11 a.m.

Cooling Mode B: Isolation & Air Movement

When the outdoor air temperature matches the indoor air temperature, the windows and skylights are closed, isolating the interior. Internal heat gain is kept to a minimum with energy efficient computers & equipment, as well as with daylighting, which minimizes artificial lighting. Ceiling fans are turned on to draw air across occupants, cooling them through evapo-transpiration. This mode works for 2 to 4 hours, after which internal heat gains from occupants exceed the capacity of the thermal mass to moderate indoor temperatures.
This mode is effective in late morning to mid-afternoon from roughly mid-June through mid-September. In June and September, the building typically reverts back to natural ventilation (Cooling Mode A), while in July and August it often is elevated to Evaporative Cooling (Cooling Mode C).

Cooling Mode C: Evaporative Cooling

A simple rooftop air handling unit cools outdoor air by pulling it through media soaked with water, which lowers the air temperature while raising its humidity. The cooled air is introduced into the north end of the building and pulled out of the south end by exhaust fans. Ceiling fans remain on from Cooling Mode B to ensure that the cooled air is drawn past occupants. Evaporative cooling is very effective and energy efficient in Montana's dry climate: it uses only 20 -25% as much electricity as conventional refrigerant-based air conditioning.
Evaporative cooling is only required on hot summer days (over 90 deg. F), coming on sometime between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and running until the end of the workday.

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