Green housing takes Ann Arbor

BY VERONICA MENALDI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 21, 2009

Students looking to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle now have more opportunities than ever to live green — literally.

A house on Packard Road is being renovated to be the first LEED-certified private student housing in Ann Arbor. University Housing is also implementing initiatives to make residence halls — including North Quad, which is slated to open in fall 2010 — more energy efficient.

Warren Samberg, owner of the Packard house, said there were several reasons why he decided to go for LEED certification.

“One is to be environmentally responsible, which is kind of a personal goal or philosophy,” he said. “The other is to be more financial. Implementing green technology is not only a sustainable choice, but will reduce operating expenses over time.”

Samberg, a LEED-accredited architect, said he’s installing a geothermal heating and cooling system in the house and is laying the foundation for 12 new rooms in the next few weeks.

He said the renovation is still in its early stages, but he hopes it will be done by April 1, 2010 in time for May leasing.

Samberg said he hopes that these changes will make the house an attractive rental option for environmentally conscious students.

“People are looking for that type of lifestyle where they can be as responsible as they can to help the environment,” he said. “One way of supporting that is through this type of housing.”

Though Samberg’s project is residential, University Prof. of Sustainable Enterprise Andy Hoffman said commercial projects are the more likely candidates for green construction.

“One of the problems with residential green construction is that people switch homes too quickly,” he said. “So big corporations like universities get all the benefits of green construction.”

Hoffman said it is a “basic fact” that there is an increasing trend in green construction, but he isn’t sure about the underlying reasons as to why.

“I think it’s driven probably more by economics than it is by actual concern for the environment.”

University Planner Susan Gott said there are a number of initiatives currently at the University to promote and encourage eco-friendliness on campus. Included are programs like the campus-wide conservation campaign Planet Blue and the increased variety of recycling options in residence halls.

Gott said all these programs are changing with time, but that the University is trying to make residence halls and all campus buildings more eco-friendly by better managing water use, reducing lighting during construction and increasing the amount of insulation in buildings.

“We’re an evolving institution,” she said. “We’re always responding to new demands and new opportunities.”

She said that the University uses LEED as a checklist for measuring sustainability performance on their projects.

Though it won’t be LEED-certified, Gott said North Quad is a good example of the University’s green efforts since it will have “optimum insulation.”

Andy Berki, manager of Environmental Sustainability for the Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health discussed in an e-mail a few substantial savings the University has experienced through eco-friendly projects.

In five Planet Blue pilot buildings, energy consumption has decreased by 6 percent, he wrote, resulting in an annualized saving of $340,000.

Based on the estimated annual energy consumption, Berki wrote that North Quad could net an approximate $300,000 in annual savings.

He also discussed the solar collector on the roof of the Central Power Plant, which results in around $4,000 savings annually.

And the trend isn’t just limited to campus here in Ann Arbor.

At the University of Colorado, the 39-year-old Environmental Center has guided sustainability efforts on campus. In addition to greening the Colorado campus, the center aims to educate students about conserving the environment.

In addition to educating students, the center works with other divisions on CU’s campus — like housing and dining — to promote sustainability.

Casey LeFever, Housing and Dining Promotions coordinator for the center, wrote in an e-mail that the center has been implementing many programs to increase sustainability in residence halls.

“Being green often means saving money,” he wrote in the e-mail. “For example, just last year, CU’s Dining Services eliminated disposable coffee cups in their dining halls. This meant hundreds of thousands of cups were diverted from the landfill, and less money was spent by the dining halls.”