Pop quiz: Which state had the highest amount of LEED-certified building space per capita in 2010?
No, it wasn’t California. And don’t say New York, Oregon or Vermont, because the answer is Nevada.
Bonus question: Which Nevada city has the most LEED-certified square footage?
That’s right, by one measure, Las Vegas was the greenest city in the greenest state in the country. In the interest of full disclosure, we note that the U.S. Green Building Council’s 2010 top 10 list actually puts the District of Columbia in first place, but D.C. isn’t a state so, yeah, we won. And we should probably note too that the USGBC’s 2011 list came out in January and … umm … Nevada wasn’t on it. Chalk that up to the recession slamming the lid on new construction.
But the achievement of the 2000s will resonate in Southern Nevada long after the recession has come and gone. Several exemplary projects made a point of integrating buildings into our climate, rather than fighting it. We now have one of the biggest LEED-certified “campuses” in the nation and another one so eco-friendly it helped write the rules on eco-friendly. The question is whether these buildings are living up to their promise.
In honor of Earth Day, April 22, we checked in on how seven of our marquee green projects are performing with a bit of mileage on them. Do they meet efficiency goals set by their designers? Do they save money? Are they comfortable?
The Animal Foundation Dog Adoption Park
LEED certification: Platinum
Sometimes when you’re trying to be green, things don’t work out as planned.
The Animal Foundation is contractually obligated to take every stray animal in Clark County. It handles some 50,000 animals per year, one of the highest volumes in the country. Each has to be housed, watered and fed. Cleaning all those cages requires an enormous amount of water, and strong disinfectant to prevent the spread of disease. So when the foundation expanded its dog-adoption facility with 22 individual “bungalows” in a park-like setting, designers came up with an innovative system to recycle wastewater by pumping it through a mini wetlands on-site to filter. The water would be filtered in a bed of live reeds, then reused.
It sounded good in theory, says Andy Bischel, the Animal Foundation’s director of development. But all the pumping from the individual bungalows used a lot of power. “It was too expensive to operate,” Bischel says. “It cost $2,000 a month to [in electricity] to run it, and water costs were $500 to $600 a month.”
Today, the wetlands is a dried-up patch of gravel and dead plants. Otherwise, the bungalows’ design works, Bischel says. They are bright and airy, thanks to large windows protected from direct sun by overhangs; they have radiant heating in the floor; and tall vertical towers promote cooling. Plus, the on-site array of photovoltaic solar panels helps cut down the power bill, though Bischel didn’t have hard figures on the savings.
LEED certification: Platinum
The list of enviro-friendly attributes at Springs Preserve is long: walls of rammed earth and hay bales for insulation, locally sourced building materials, systems that collect rainwater and filter gray water, carpet made from plastic bottles and corn husks, photovoltaic solar panels that provide about 75 percent of the power, evaporative cooling towers, etc.
And after five years in service, the structures are performing as they should; better in some cases. “Our solar arrays are producing 104 percent of the power they were designed to produce,” says Daniel Huard, a construction manager with the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which owns the preserve.
Overall, the campus needed to be 30 percent more energy-efficient than a similarly sized set of buildings. Huard didn’t have an exact figure, but says Springs Preserve meets that standard. It also meets some standards of the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge—a newer national standard that is stricter than LEED and considers criteria such as habitat offsets and equal access to the natural environment. Springs Preserve can’t be certified to the Living Building Challenge standard because, for one thing, it isn’t net zero in water usage—a requirement that rules out almost any building in a climate as dry as ours. But its wetlands are so effective at recycling water and reducing usage that the LBC took note of them when designing its standards, Huard says.
Date Street Complex, Bureau of Reclamation
LEED certification: Platinum
The Bureau of Reclamation’s new headquarters in Boulder City has only been operating for about six months, so it’s too early to tell if it will meet design standards by being 30 percent more energy-efficient and using 70 percent less water than a conventional office building of the same size.
But early indications are good.
The 49,000-square-foot office building incorporates a 134-kilowatt-hour solar field, built on contaminated land that could otherwise not have been used, supplying 63 percent of the building’s electricity. It also features a solar-powered water heater and an innovative system to reuse water from its cooling towers. Water is cycled through the system four times, then filtered and used in the toilets, urinals and landscaping. Date Street is one of only two Southern Nevada spots, along with the Springs Preserve, to employ this kind of intensive, on-site water recycling, which is actually not allowed by code in Clark County. Ordinarily, the Southern Nevada Water Authority captures gray water, filters it and sends it back to Lake Mead to be reused. But the federal government can do what it wants in its facilities, and it seems to be paying off.
“We had to recalibrate the water meters because our [usage] was too low to register,” Bureau of Reclamation engineer Terri Saumier says. “The meter was reading zero.”
LEED certification: Gold
One could argue that calling CityCenter “green” is like driving a Cadillac Escalade hybrid and calling yourself an environmentalist. Still, the six-building resort is a leader when it comes to green designs in an industry that traditionally hasn’t been terribly concerned about efficiency and environmental responsibility, and its sheer size is one of the reasons Las Vegas rates as highly as it does in terms of LEED-certified building space per capita.
CityCenter’s structures incorporate innovative technology, such as a power-generating plant that uses waste heat to supply hot water, radiant floors that help cool the Crystals retail center, and ventilation that rises from the bases of slot machines (instead of being forced from the ceiling) to cool areas of the casinos people actually inhabit.
“We are finding our modeling, which was 35 percent more efficient than a ‘typical’ Strip property, to be absolutely true,” says Christopher Brophy, MGM’s vice president of corporate sustainability.
MGM doesn’t have much in the way of hard data to determine how CityCenter stacks up against conventional resort behemoths, but there is this telling data point: In May, CityCenter hosted the World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual confab at Aria, and collected enough information on the event to show that the environmental footprint for that single event was 40 percent less than it would have been at a theoretical “conventional” Strip property based on energy use, water conservation and recycling rates.
Henderson North Community Police Station
LEED certification: Gold
The North Community Police Station, opened in late 2009, was the city’s first LEED public building. A fairly direct comparison can be made between the North substation and the smaller, relatively modern West Community Police Station in Green Valley. Although it is 40 percent larger than the West station, the LEED-certified North substation uses only 20 percent more energy, Henderson facilities maintenance manager Ed McGuire says.
A solar array contributes to the lower energy bill, but it doesn’t produce all the power needed. The station also uses skylights that direct daylight, but not heat, into the interior, and automated lighting that turns off when people leave the room.
It adds up to an inviting police station, if there is such a thing. “No one wants to go to the police station, but it is a pleasant place to work,” McGuire says.
In fact, McGuire gets fewer complaints about the building than the comparable West substation, which is only about 12 years old. One of the credos of LEED-certified space is that natural lighting, improved air quality and access to windows all create happier employees.
There were a few kinks to work out of the system, he says. A conference room got uncomfortably hot that first summer, but not because the system failed. LEED standards require carbon-dioxide levels lower than found in a conventional building, and sensors to monitor them. When a lot of people crammed into one room, the level got too high and the system tried to compensate by pumping in air from outside, in July.
Fixing that problem was just a tweak, though. “We had to modify some programming,” McGuire says. “Once all that stuff was done it has really been humming along.”
Science & Engineering Building and Greenspun Hall, UNLV
LEED certification: Silver, Gold
The Science & Engineering Building’s function is so unique that its efficiency is difficult to evaluate. The research that goes on there consumes a lot of juice—a single chemical hood, used to vent fumes from experiments out of the labs, can use 3.5 times the energy of one single-family home annually, and there 72 hoods in the SEB. Water used in the labs has to be distilled, which requires more power, and the air-conditioning system is in a constant battle with all the heat produced by lab equipment, computers, refrigerators, etc. It’s a world-class research lab, with world-class requirements.
“We have no building like this to compare it to,” says Harold “Arch” Archibald, UNLV’s executive director of facilities management. “This is a showcase building, one of a kind.”
Design standards call for the SEB to use 42 percent less water than a conventional laboratory building of similar size, and 30 percent less energy. It is meeting the water goals via low-flow bathroom fixtures and by recycling 165,000 gallons of lab gray water per year, which is stored in tanks and reused in the bathrooms. The building meets energy goals with the help of a highly reflective roof, a curtain wall that reduces solar gain, and light shelves that shade windows from direct sun and bounce sunlight into the interior, reducing the need for artificial lighting.
It works, but not perfectly. “The pumps keep going out [on the gray-water recycling system],” says assistant director of research facilities Eric Knight. “But that’s the only little problem. Everything else has been working well.”
Greenspun Hall, UNLV’s first LEED-certified building, incorporates