Green Rehab project promotes a more sustainable university

In the United States, buildings account for 36% of total energy usage and 65% of electrical consumption. For architects, engineers and property owners alike, improving energy efficiency is both a moral and practical imperative. Over the last year, an interdisciplinary mix of faculty and students from Washington University in St. Louis has developed an experimental framework for testing sustainable redevelopment strategies in a group of University-owned apartment buildings.

Buildings are energy hogs, consuming more than 40 percent of total energy in the United States. While new buildings may be constructed with sustainability in mind, older buildings must undergo extensive renovations to become more energy efficient.

While many of these renovations and upgrades have been successful in reducing or stabilizing energy use, they often do not consider the comfort of the occupants or seek human input.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers and students from the School of Engineering & Applied Science, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis is tackling this problem head on.

Over the last year, they have developed an experimental framework for testing sustainable redevelopment strategies in a group of University-owned apartment buildings north of the Delmar Loop.

The Green Rehab project is designed to find the most efficient way to renovate 1920s and ‘30s-era apartment buildings owned by Quadrangle Housing to become more environmentally friendly and to make better use of the space.

Quadrangle Housing, the university’s non-profit housing office, is in the midst of a $100 million, project to renovate 850 units of housing in Parkview Gardens over six years. The apartments in the six-family buildings were originally built for families, but now serve primarily undergraduate and graduate students.

The aim is to make the spaces more user friendly for students, to increase the sustainability of the buildings and to make better overall use of the space.

School of Engineering & Applied Science

As part of the project, a group of engineers is studying the energy usage of the bulding’s residents.

Arye Nehorai, PhD, the Eugene and Martha Lohman Professor of Electrical Engineering and chair of the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering, has received a one-year grant from Washington University’s International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy & Sustainability (I-CARES) to take an interdisciplinary, “human-centered” approach to making buildings more energy efficient.

Co-investigators include Chenyang Lu, PhD, professor of computer science & engineering; Don Koster, senior lecturer in the Sam Fox School; and Bill Drake, strategic technology manager for Emerson Climate Technologies.

“Our ultimate goal is to develop an automation system that will give recommendations to the residents of the apartments about how to use their appliances at different times to have the best tradeoff among their comfort, energy savings and reduction of emissions,” Nehorai says. “In the long-term, we will design local hourly pricing schemes so we can be specific in our recommendations on using energy at the best times of the day.”

To learn about the comfort of the residents and their preferences, the team will conduct surveys to learn about their behavior in using appliances and how tolerant they are of changes in the environment, such as heating and cooling, Nehorai says.

Lu, an expert in wireless sensor networks, will develop and install a wireless monitoring and control system throughout one of the buildings, known as a test bed, that will report real-time data on how residents use their heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems or household appliances, such as washers, dryers and dishwashers, at different times of the day.

Using algorithms formulated by Nehorai, residents of the building will be notified via a Smartphone app the team will develop about how they could use their appliances more efficiently. For example, if a resident wants to use the dishwasher at 3 p.m. on a 95-degree day, the system can send a message telling them that if they waited, they would save both energy and money.

Unique to the entire project is the “human-centered” approach, Nehorai says.

“Students can use the appliances anytime they like,” he says. “But we
want to show that those in the experimental building will save money
and still feel they didn’t sacrifice too much in terms of comfort and
convenience compared with those in the other building.”

In addition, the team will evaluate the benefits that could be seen
from using renewable energy, such as rooftop wind turbines and solar
panels, and calculate any energy savings from changing to those sources
from electricity during peak times.

Students living in the apartment are encouraged to initiate research projects of their own based on the system, Nehorai says.

Sam Fox School

During last spring semester, a studio titled “Quadrangle: A Green Rehab Experiment,” was led by Andrew Cruse, former assistant professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and by Christof Jantzen, the I-CARES Professor of Practice.

The studio, which will continue this year, drew on faculty and expertise from Olin Business School, the School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and the Master of Landscape Architecture program in the Sam Fox School.

Working in small teams, students proposed and modeled strategies for improving building envelopes (ie, walls, window and roof) as well as HVAC systems, water usage and other factors. They also explored the implications of different floorplans, changing the current layout — in which each building comprises six three-bedroom apartments — to one-bedrooms, duplexes or even communal living.

“The Green Rehab project is comparing buildings
renovated using standard construction practices and mechanical systems
with those designed and using more sustainable materials and
procedures,” Koster says.

“It is a unique opportunity for our students and
faculty to directly contribute to providing a more sustainable future
for Washington University,” he says. “It is an opportunity for our
students to participate in a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary applied
research project that will shed meaningful light on the importance of,
and best practices for, renovating our nation’s existing residential
building stock – the most prevalent building type in the United States
that is responsible for the largest portion of energy consumed by
buildings nationwide.

“Students will be tackling the technological and practical challenges
facing the A/E (Architecture and Engineering) community and building
owners when rehabbing residential buildings that include balancing the
desire to improve building performance, reducing the environmental
impact of buildings and improving inhabitant comfort, while addressing
economic realities,” says Koster, whose work explores issues of urban
vacancy in the city of St. Louis.