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MUM's Sustainable Living Center Opens April 20

Net Zero Building Will Produce More Energy Than It Consumes!

by Ken Chawkin

mum, sustainble living center
The new Sustainable Living Center on the Maharishi University of Management campus in Fairfield, Iowa, is as green as it comes, thanks to a wind turbine, solar panels, geothermal tubing, extensive use of daylight, earth-block walls, and many other measures. (photo by Troy Van Beek)

With an opening celebration and press conference scheduled for Friday, April 20, 11 a.m., Maharishi University of Management’s new Sustainable Living Center will have the distinction of being one of the few net-zero energy buildings in the country—it will produce as much if not more energy than it uses.

The building is designed to eventually be completely off the grid, including for water usage and waste treatment, as more funds are available. However, it will initially be connected to the grid, using electricity as needed during extreme weather conditions. At those times when the solar arrays and wind turbine produce more than the building uses, it will feed excess energy into the campus grid for use in other buildings.

Annually the building will produce more energy that it will consume.

The building’s 58 solar panels are capable of producing 15 kilowatts, and the 100-foot wind turbine is capable of producing 10 kilowatts. In addition, energy savings result from the use of technologies such as a heat pump and geothermal tubing. Many passive methods of alternative energy also contribute, such as extensive use of daylighting, the use of earth block walls to moderate temperature extremes and insulate, and strategic placement of windows and verandas.

As more funds are raised, more features will be added until the Sustainable Living Center is completely off the grid with respect to electricity, heating, cooling, water, and waste. A rain catchment system will provide water, and there will be on-site sewage treatment.

“Even in this phase of development, the building is one of the best of the current generation of green buildings,” Lonnie Gamble said. Eventually the building will be carbon neutral, which entails being completely off the grid.

“Our carbon footprint is much smaller than most new buildings as we used earth block, earth plasters, and many other low-embodied energy and low-carbon materials in construction,” Mr. Gamble said.

In addition to many university supporters, Kresge Foundation and Wege Foundation provided grants, and nationally recognized leaders in green building materials offered in-kind donations.

The building currently qualifies for gold LEED certification, said construction manager Tim Messenger. But the application is being held until the water and waste systems are in place, which will raise the Sustainable Living Center to the highest level of LEED certification, that of platinum.

The opening of the Sustainable Living Center will coincide with the EcoFairfield weekend being organized by students, and also with Earth Day on April 22.

EcoFairfield events will begin Friday afternoon with community service tree planting, and a keynote presentation by Seth Braun on Friday evening on shaping a collective vision for the future of Fairfield. See ecofairfield.wordpress.com.

Joel Hirschberg is the founder of Green Building Supply in Fairfield, IA.                                  

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