Passive Haus Design at Olney Friends School
Passive Haus Design at Olney Friends School
by Kirsten Bohl, Olney Friends School
For its first new construction project in more than 40 years, Olney Friends School will soon build an activity center that meets an impressively high European standard of energy efficiency and low environmental impact. The new activity center will provide a much-needed expansion of indoor space on the campus, particularly during the winter months. The new building will be home to a full-size gymnasium that will double as a performance space, offices, four classrooms of various sizes, a fitness center, and a serving kitchen.
Many are familiar with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, a U.S. standard by which points are awarded for such factors as site selection, use of materials, and energy efficiency. The building was originally designed to meet this standard.
But the building was to become “greener” yet. One day in the winter of 2008-09, Head of School Rich Sidwell received a phone call from an alumna urging him to consider Passive Haus standards, which are 80-90% more energy efficient than normal construction. She even provided funds to send him, along with maintenance director Joel Rockwell, to Frankfurt, Germany in April for the 13th annual International Passive Haus Conference. The two returned to campus energized, convinced the standard was a real possibility for the building.
“The challenges of global climate change and rapidly diminishing fossil fuel resources are already having a significant impact on each of us. Ahead is totally unchartered territory. The Olney community can promote peace, understanding, and thus the transition to an enlightened approach to living on this planet,” says Sidwell.
In addition, he notes the architect has adapted the building design to the higher standard without an increase in the price tag of $2.7 million. The energy savings from the new building will be at least three times greater than what would have been realized by LEED-certified construction.
The new activity center will be sited between the Main building and the Girls Dormitory, creating a pedestrian quad where there is now a parking lot. Construction materials will include local and recycled materials such as standing seam roofing from Follansbee, West Virginia and bricks from Sugarcreek, Ohio. South-facing panels to capture solar energy for electrical power, skylights and other “daylighting” features, airtight construction, heavy insulation, an interior “living wall” of plants to help purify indoor air, and heat-recovery ventilation systems are some of its many distinctive features. Year-round, the small inputs needed to heat and cool the building will be met entirely through a geothermal process making use of the nearby campus lake.
Originating in Germany in 1991, the Passive Haus standard is increasingly common in new construction of civic buildings in Europe. For example, the city of Frankfurt requires all new government buildings be built to the standard. Depending on when ground is broken, the new activity center at Olney Friends School will be the first non-residential building in the U.S. built to the Passive Haus standard.
Passive Haus design focuses especially on the energy efficiency of the building envelope, the creation and maintenance of healthy indoor air quality regardless of the weather, and the optimization of non-fossil fuel inputs for heating. Especially, it aims to eliminate or minimize the use of "active energy" systems for heating and cooling. The maximum energy input permitted is 15 kilowatt hours per square meter (equivalent to 4,250 BTU per square foot) per year for heating and cooling.
In addition to being the first new building on the school's campus in more than 40 years, the completion of the new activity center will allow for other much-anticipated campus updates – in particular, to the historic Main building – to proceed while classes are in session.
“Passive Haus is the best thing going in building technology that we know of at this point, for new construction. Its principles are being applied in renovation as well. With the use of Olney’s campus lake for geothermal heating and cooling, this will potentially be a net-zero building,” says Sidwell.
Rockwell goes one step further, saying “While energy efficiency is a huge part of the change we need to make, the consensus is coming around to the fact that as a society, we need to reduce the amount of energy we use overall. Passive Haus is very encouraging in this regard.”
The Olney Friends School campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The school was founded in 1837 and many of the buildings in use date from 1910.
Located in Barnesville, Ohio, Olney Friends School is a college preparatory boarding and day high school enrolling about 60 students from around the state, around the country, and around the world. The school is located on 350 acres, and has a working farm and garden. The academic program focuses especially on the humanities, the arts, and the environment.