The Watershed Resource Center is housed in a former park ranger station at Arroyo Burro Beach County Park. Throughout the process of redesigning it as a public education facility, our goal was to make it a model of green building principles. In fact, we believe we've created the "greenest" building in Santa Barbara County.
Designing and constructing a building that is sensitive to the environment is as much of a process as it is a product. Led by Blackbird Architects and general contractor Allen Associates, the project team worked hard to integrate this ethic into the vision of an elegant, functional, and inspiring space. The team evaluated every aspect of the project for potential low-impact environmental technologies and techniques—from the solar-powered roof shingles, to the earthen channel that receives and filters all of the Center's runoff water. This was particularly challenging because the market for these materials and technologies is constantly changing and improving.
In addition to redesigning the Center in a way that matched our organization's deeper principles, we also had another motive for making this effort: we wanted to create a building that could serve as an inspiration and model to others. The 1,200 square-foot facility is comparable in size to a single family residence, but many of our choices can be replicated in large or small buildings. These include:
Selecting construction materials
Reducing demolition and construction waste
Designing with energy use in mind
Landscaping and designing with water use in mind
Preventing water pollution
SELECTING CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS
The goal in building the Center was to use recycled-content, salvaged, low-toxicity, and sustainably harvested products whenever possible. Design features include:
Recycled-content materials. The siding and roof shingles are made of fiber-cement — a combination of recycled cement, sand, natural fibers and water. This material, made by James Hardie Building Products, resists moisture and termite damage and, as a result, reduces the use of chemical preservatives. The material also is durable and fire resistant.
The decking and two of the three staircases use Nexwood as the finish surface. This is a composite product made of recycled plastic with wood-like cellulose fibers. While similar to wood in texture and appearance, the plastic content makes the product resistant to rot, moisture, termites and other wood boring insects. Because it doesn't warp, splinter, blister or peel, it doesn't require the use of potentially hazardous paints, stains or sealers.
Recycled or salvaged products. The maple floor of the Center was salvaged from the gymnasium at Casa de la Raza in downtown Santa Barbara. The sinks and countertops in the wetlab were salvaged from a remodel of Santa Barbara City College's biology labs.
Sustainably harvested lumber. All framing lumber used at the Center is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The wood for the railings and the benches are made of Pau Lope — a tropical hardwood that is extremely weather resistant and sustainably harvested. We selected cabinet materials without formaldehyde, non-toxic mastics and adhesives to reduce or eliminate potential indoor air quality problems. Cabinets are constructed of Medite II medium-density fiberboard—a timber by-product made from lumber shavings and sawdust.
Engineered lumber. The ridge beam, columns, decking members and trellis in the tomol area were constructed of paralam strand lumber (PSL). Rather than using whole trees, PSL is made of wood by-products that are glued and laminated together. It won't swell or shrink and is actually stronger than real wood.
ACQ treated wood products. Unlike other pressure treated products, ACQ is a method of treating wood without arsenic or chromium. This provides long-term protection from rot, decay and termites without the use of hazardous chemicals. ACQ treated wood was used in areas where wood comes into contact with cement and there is potential for moisture, such as the foundation system, deck posts and trellis posts.
Paints, stains and coatings. Paints, stains and coatings were selected for their low toxicity content and low (or no) VOC emissions. Products used include Frazee No-VOC interior paint, Cabot acrylic stain, and World of Color No-VOC clear sealant.
Natural linoleum. The bathroom floor is made of Marmoleum, a product made from sustainable, natural ingredients including linseed oil, wood flour and rosins, which are mixed and calendered onto a jute backing. This product is a substitute for synthetic and petroleum-based materials that contain binders, fillers and pigments. The linoleum requires minimal maintenance, and due to its natural ingredients has anti-static properties that repel dust and dirt and prevent the breeding of many micro-organisms.
REDUCING CONSTRUCTION AND DEMOLITION WASTE
Because we were working with an existing building, our project team used a technique called "deconstruction" to carefully remove and salvage materials, rather than simply ripping them out. As a result, we prevented 15 tons of green waste and over 50 tons of construction materials from being thrown into the landfill. These materials were either sent to MarBorg Industries' construction and demolition yard or reused for other projects.
DESIGNING WITH ENERGY USE IN MIND
Our goal was to reduce the Center's energy needs by making the building as energy self-sufficient as possible. We do not expect to ever have a significant electricity bill over the course of an average year. Design features include:
Photovoltaic system. The Center is the first building in Santa Barbara County—and only the second in Southern California—to use a system that integrates photovoltaics directly into the roof shingles. Located on the south-facing roof of the building, these tiles — manufactured by Atlantis SunSlates—convert light energy into DC current, and then into AC current.
We chose the tile system instead of the more traditional stand-alone photovoltaic panels because of their architectural appearance, their ability to be sized to fit conventional roof layouts, and the fact that they are installed like a standard roof shingle. The system generates 6,000 kW hours of electricity a year—about the amount needed by a family of four in a 2,000-square-foot home. However, for this highly efficient building, this is far more electricity than we need. As a result, the Center will be "selling" energy back to the power grid.
Integrated on-demand water and space heating system. The Center is equipped with an on-demand water heater, which heats water only when it is needed—as opposed to conventional water heaters that continually use energy to keep water hot, whether or not it is being used. An on-demand hot-water heater uses about half of the energy of a conventional water heater in a typical residence.
The forced-air heating component of the system draws air over a First forced air coil unit with hot water from the on-demand heater. The heated coils warm the air, which is then distributed through the building. The dual function of the water and space heating unit saves space, requires less venting and eliminates system redundancy.
For more information about this system, visit the manufacturer.
Use of natural lighting. The Center has seven skylights—six along the ridge line and one over the main entrance area. The Velux Skylights are 40 percent more efficient than the national building code requires and meet DOE/EPA Energy Star approval guidelines. They are also designed with a special glass that provides protection against heat gain and loss, fading, and condensation while still providing maximum light and clear views. Shading over the skylights can be adjusted to suit our needs.
Natural ventilation. The skylights also help ventilate and cool the building. Those located along the ridge of the building are fixed skylights with a ventilating flap, which open to allow air to circulate. Because hot air rises, this system reduces heat gain and regulates moisture balance by allowing stale, warm air to be released through the skylights at the highest point of the building. The skylight at the entry is an operable skylight controlled by a remote, so we can adjust it to assist with air movement.
Energy efficient doors and windows. The French doors and tilt-turn windows are made by Marvin. These products are energy efficient and have an exterior aluminum cladding that reduces the maintenance needs of the product.
Trellis. A trellis along the south side of the building is planted with deciduous vines, which provide shade in the summer and allow sunlight in the winter.
Electrical design. Small areas such as workspaces, storage areas and the restroom are lit with the most efficient fluorescent lamps and electronic ballasts. The restroom lighting and fan are controlled with a motion sensor; this keeps the fan on for 15 minutes after the room is vacated before automatically turning it off.
Lighting. Many people think that incandescent and halogen lighting use more energy than fluorescent lighting. This isn't necessarily true. At the Center, halogen lights illuminate the room, exhibits and work spaces. They are controlled by a dimmer, which limits the light levels to that needed during a given use or time of day. As a result, the total system wattage of the dimmed lights is actually less than a comparable "energy-efficient" fluorescent system.
LANDSCAPING AND DESIGNING WITH WATER USE IN MIND
The Watershed Resource Center consists not only the building itself, but of the entire 4,500 square foot site. Some of the landscaping features include:
Landscaping. The drought tolerant landscaping was designed by Van Atta Associates and includes plants from five of the major plant communities found between the Santa Barbara coastline and the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. These include Wetland Seep, Coastal Bluff Scrub, Coastal Sage Scrub, Riparian and Oak Woodland.
Irrigation system. The water efficient irrigation system, donated by Rainbird, includes xerigation emission devices that reduce water usage by efficiently delivering precise amounts of water to plant root zones.
In addition, indoors the toilet and faucets are low-flow fixtures.
PREVENTING WATER POLLUTION
What better way to promote awareness about water pollution than by creating a building in which these concepts are demonstrated? Design features include:
Bioswale. The swale is a planted earthen channel lined with fabric and gravel and covered with a layer of soil. All runoff water from the site is directed to this vegetated area, which filters pollutants and slowly percolates water into the ground, thus recharging groundwater supplies. A downspout basin, located at the southeast corner of the outside of the building, shows where runoff from the roof collects, overflows, and travels over to the bioswale.
Mix of paved areas with vegetation. Concrete blocks, or pavers, are layed into the ground in the tomol and wetlab terrace areas in such a way as to provide a permeable surface for water. Again, this allows runoff water to percolate back into the ground and recharge groundwater supplies.
Designing and producing a green building requires a solid team. Community Environmental Council and their project advisory committee worked with Blackbird Architects to outline the vision and basic goals for the project and to lead the design team. Both Blackbird Architects and the general contractor, Allen Associates, have been nationally recognized for their experience in designing and realizing projects that emphasize sustainability.
Architect: Blackbird Architects
Contractor: Allen Associates
Structural Engineer: John Oeltman
Civil Engineer: Mike Gones
Electrical Engineer: John Maloney
Mechanical Engineer: MEC
Landscape Architect: Van Atta Associates