Skip to main content

Ask the Green Architect: Green Church Construction; IAQ RFP; Designing a Green Dorm

Green architect Eric Corey Freed answers your questions on sustainable building performance, materials, and design.

Green architect Eric Corey Freed answers your questions on sustainable building performance, materials, and design.

  1. Keystone Community Church: Grand Rapids, Michigan (Certified)

  2. Camp Aldersgate Commons Building: United Methodist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas (Gold)
More information on these specific projects can be found at the USGBC LEED Projects List.

Since LEED is not the end all of green building, I also consulted various other sources for a case study of a green house of worship. Using "synagogue, church and mosque" as my search criteria, I found a surprisingly small number of case studies.

Three interesting case studies found were:

Agudas Achim Synagogue
Austin, Texas
Built: 2001
Architect: Lake Flato Architects
Some of the more interesting green features include:
  • native landscaping
  • exposed structure
  • high insulation
  • high efficacy lighting
  • occupancy sensor lighting
More information is available in PDF format online.

Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren
Scottsdale, Ariz.
Built: 2004
Architect: FEZ Architectural Design
Some of the more interesting green features include:
  • drip irrigation system
  • waterless urinals
  • thermal mass design
  • high insulation
  • high efficacy lighting
  • occupancy sensor lighting
  • locally produced materials
More information is available online here and here.

Felician Sisters Convent and School
(I know this is not a church, but it is related.)
Coraopolis, Penn.
Built: 2003
Architect: Clearview Project Service
Some of the more interesting green features include:
  • super energy efficient insulated envelope
  • high-performance glazing
  • daylighting
  • operable windows
  • occupancy sensor lighting
  • solar hot-water panels
  • recycled content, sustainably harvested materials
  • restored meadowland habitat
Online, find a project overview and case study.

You will also be interested to know the Church of England is greening up their act. Dr. Rowan Williams, (a.k.a. the Archbishop of Canterbury), has explored ideas for a greener future for the church. In March 2005, church leaders discussed the topic of global warming and how it relates to their buildings. The church is even encouraging local ministers to incorporate organic bread and wine into services.

But perhaps the most interesting discovery from this research is the swelling interest in the general greening of worship facilities. Numerous articles in such specific trade publications as Church Executive, Church Business, and Worship Facilities all featured articles on the benefits of greening up your place of worship.

Aside from the standard elements of green building, some worship-specific green features could include:
  • reuse existing buildings
  • locate the building within community walking distance
  • design for durability (especially at the typically carpeted areas around pews and aisles)
  • offer the building to the community for off-hour use
  • often typified but large roof areas, churches should consider a planted roof or a light-colored reflective roof
  • choose local materials and labor to support the community
  • solar panels to produce electricity for the community
The interfaith power and light movement, now active in about a dozen states, helps congregations by providing access to energy efficiency upgrades; information on funding resources; and a means for purchasing solar, wind, or landfill gas power.

Houses of worship, it turns out, are some of the biggest wasters of energy on a per capita, per hour-of-use basis.

The movement -- started in California by an interfaith discussion on how to respond to global warming -- began in the late '90s with backing from the state's bishops. Two San Francisco priests formed Episcopal Power & Light just as California was deregulating the electrical industry.

In 2000, other churches and synagogues joined the effort with the formation of California Interfaith Power & Light. Congregation Shir Hadash of Los Gatos, Calif., became the first synagogue in the state to install solar panels, spurred, says Rabbi Melanie Aron, by the bible's teaching of repairing the earth.

Congregations that practice environmental responsibility can save 30% on their utility bills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This would save U.S. congregations an estimated $573 million annually and prevent 6 million tons of CO2 from polluting the air -- the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.

In the end, a house of worship sets an example for the entire community. Expect a sharp rise in the green features of these buildings in the near future as churches, synagogues and mosques lead by example.

Back to Top
* * * * *

In preparing an RFP (Request for Proposals), there are points given for Indoor Air Quality Management (IAQM) during construction and before occupancy. Is there a specific list of steps that outline exactly what would be required for these management plans?

Perhaps the least understood and, yet, most important aspect of green building is the indoor air quality (IAQ). IAQ issues emerged in the 1970's when architects started sealing up our buildings to minimize the infiltration of cold outside air. By doing so, toxins in the air built up and not enough new, fresh air was provided to replace it. The result: increased asthma rates (especially in children) and sick building syndrome (especially in offices).

The impact of poor IAQ is obvious, but the benefits of good IAQ are worth mentioning. Increased sales in retail stores, lower employee sick days, and higher student productivity can all be attributed to having a healthy indoor air quality. Since some of us spend 80 to 90% of our time indoors, healthy IAQ is more important than ever.

In addition to pollutants, IAQ also generally refers to the amount of natural light (daylighting) and the amount of fresh air in a building. Sources of poor IAQ include paints, adhesives, preservatives in cabinetry and lack of operable windows.

Specifically related to your question of RFP requirements, OSHA and the EPA have published a report titled
Building Air Quality: Action Plan, which includes a helpful checklist.

A general list of measures for improved IAQ are:
  • Use zero/low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) paints and adhesives (suggested manufacturers: Auro Paints, AFM Safecoat, Bioshield)

  • Design mechanical systems to use higher level of fresh air

  • Provide operable windows

  • Allow users to individually control their area or zone

  • Use non-toxic cleaners (suggested manufacturers: Seventh Generation, Method Home, Ecover)

  • Provide natural light from at least two directions

  • Avoid dirt/mold trapping materials like wall to wall carpet, or use carpet tiles for ease of replacement

  • Use low emitting materials, such as formaldehyde free particle board in your cabinetry

  • Avoid the use of vinyl finishes

  • Provide a radon and carbon monoxide detector in your home
Here in California, we have a protocol for testing the toxic emissions of materials. Commissioned by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), Section 01350 contains specifications on environmental and public health considerations for building projects. Some key elements of Section 01350 are procedures to ensure good indoor air quality to protect human health.

Section 01350 can be used as a standard to measure materials and is used as a reference requirement by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) standards.

Related Resources:

Indoor Environmental Quality Backgrounder

IAQ Hotline and Resources

IAQ Tools for Schools

Back to Top
* * * * *

I am an architecture student and have been assigned the design of a dormitory building. What would be a good strategy and approach to make this a green building?

The design process for architects is as unique as the designs we produce. You (presumably) want to build something beautiful, fits within the budget and meets building code. Design is about defining the constraints of the problem. Frank Lloyd Wright used to say, "The solution to every problem is contained within itself." He believed once you define the problem, the solution would present itself.

The thing to remember in wanting to build a green building is how these desires are just additional constraints of the problem. One suggested approach would be to look at the various areas of green building:

Sustainable Siting
Water Efficiency
Energy and Atmosphere
Materials and Resources
Indoor Environmental Quality
Innovation in Design
Community Development

and to think about how the project (in this case a dormitory) would benefit from each category. Part brainstorming process, part case study analysis, your job would be to isolate the areas you can improve the building performance in each category.

For example, in the case of your dormitory, each of the areas would produce the following measures:

Sustainable Siting: Orient the dorm rooms to be mindful of the waking morning sun from the East and the hot afternoon sun from the West. Locate the building to be within walking distance of a cafeteria and campus transportation.

Water Efficiency: Dorms use an incredible amount of water from the toilets and showers. Consider a greywater system to flush the toilets with soapy water collected from the showers. Since the footprint of the dorm is so large, collect the rainwater from the roof as well.

Energy and Atmosphere: A dorm is a 24-hour building and the students run lights, stereos, and computers around the clock. Consider an alternative energy source or request the school purchase green power from the local utility.

Materials and Resources: Select materials that will withstand the harsh treatment from the students' hi-jinks, especially in the high traffic hallways and doorways.

Indoor Environmental Quality: Select cabinetry with low emitting materials, allow individual zoned temperature control of each room, avoid carpet and educate the school about non toxic cleaners.

Innovation in Design: Look for additional opportunities related to a dorm. For instance, where can acoustics be improved?

Community Development: Design for intentional community by allowing hallways wide enough for meetings; bend hallways to create the sense of defined rooms; and provide specialized study and horseplay areas for the inevitable needs of the students.

These suggestions are off the top of my head, but give you an idea of the process. Luckily, numerous studies and reports prove the important long term value of taking such simple measures.

Green design is not an exclusive club; it is simply a new set of considerations to add to your existing problem solving process.

Related Resources:

Environmental Virtual Campus

University of South Carolina, West Quad complex

University at Buffalo High Performance Building Guidelines

Back to Top
* * * * *

Got A Question?
Send your questions about environmental management issues to [email protected]
We can't guarantee that we'll answer every question, but we'll try.

Eric Corey Freed is principal of organicARCHITECT and teaches sustainable design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and University of California Berkeley. He is on the boards of Architects, Designers & Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), Green Home Guide, and West Coast Green. Portions of this article have been excerpted from his upcoming book, The Inevitable Architect: A Phase by Phase Guide to Green Building.

More on this topic