Greening state facilities doesn’t require piles of gold

ODOT owns more than 1,100 buildings and facilities, spread all across our beautiful state. Some of our sites are brand new and highly energy efficient, like the completely refurbished, LEED Platinum-certified Transportation Building in Salem (the highest rating!). It was torn down to its beams and built back with motion sensor lighting, the ability to reuse stormwater, efficient heat and air systems and much more.

Then there are other, older facilities – many of which are approaching the end of their design life and are highly inefficient and expensive to maintain. As Oregonians, we want to build or re-build these facilities in energy-efficient, environmentally friendly ways… but doesn’t that require a lot of money? Our Research Unit decided to find out, once and for all.

“The capital upfront is always a concern,” said Josh Roll, research coordinator. “Even though it’s pretty well documented that these measures pay for themselves, we wanted to know if it was true for Oregon and for what we do here – not just for buildings on the East Coast but right here in Oregon.”

Comparing two facilities

A team took an in-depth look at two of ODOT’s facilities – the traditionally built Maintenance facility in Albany and the energy efficient Maintenance facility, built in 2008, in Sisters. The Sisters building has a ground-source heating system, which ODOT managers pushed for when the building was under design. They figured if this geo-thermal source could perform in the severe, fluctuating weather of central Oregon, then it could be applied as a sustainable effort wherever ground source energy was available. But there were concerns about the cost.

Not to worry: The conclusion of this research project supported their vision.

“It’s true – it doesn’t cost more to be environmentally friendly and energy efficient,” Roll said. “We found near parity in the 50-year cost to construct, maintain and operate the facility.”

There are more benefits, too

With these advanced construction processes and materials, we get even more benefits: we reduce our carbon footprint as a state agency; we use locally/regionally sourced materials to help the local economy; and – did we forget to mention? – we meet or exceed the state’s requirement of adhering to the latest State Energy Efficiency Design rules (SEED).

Albany Maintenance Facility
Our Albany Maintenance facility uses traditional building materials.

Sisters Maintenance Facility
The energy-efficient, environmentally friendly facility in Sisters.

The research effort, which involved significant contributions from Oregon State University principal investigators Jason Ideker and Karl Haapala, as well as Ph.D. student Anh Tong, along with members of OSU’s Energy Efficiency Center, resulted in a best practices guide the agency and others can use as facilities come up for repair or replacement. It’s called the Sustainable Maintenance Facilities Design Guide, and ODOT Facilities Energy Analyst Kristen LaLonde said her team is already using the guide.

“That is something we take into consideration when designing new construction,” she said. “We always ensure new buildings meet State Energy Efficiency Design requirements, invest in green energy technology – usually solar – during capital construction, and opt for energy efficient equipment when cost-effective.”

Using energy efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable methods to build, rehabilitate and operate ODOT’s facilities is a clear benefit to the state, visitors, Oregonians – and future Oregonians.

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How we’re building for sustainability

Here’s a peek at some of the best practices recommendations. For materials:

  1. Focus on the larger volume purchases and their sustainability (the 100 30-foot glulam beams instead of the 4-foot piece you need for the front door).
  2. Prioritize the use of regional materials for the most-used building materials – and especially those of greatest density or weight. This reduces the environmental impacts of transporting material and also supports the local economy.
  3. Consider using materials that you get multiple benefits from; for example, selecting double or triple pane windows is both a good choice for material as well as one for energy savings.
  4. Include materials with recycled components (as long as they meet your requirements).
  5. Select materials that have service lives that meet or exceed the intended service life of the structure (as documented by independent third-party studies).
  6. Develop a maintenance plan to ensure materials are taken care of in a timely manner throughout their lifespans.

You can learn more about things we’re doing in our Sustainability Program, and you can also find out about current research projects. See photos from the Sisters construction project and the Albany facility.