New Choate Building Aims for Net-Zero Goals

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The Kohler Environmental Center (KEC) at Choate Rosemary Hall is the first residential environmental immersion program in secondary education in the US. Designed for net-zero energy efficiency, the facility includes ASSA ABLOY integrated opening solutions tested to live up to the highest sustainability standards for green building construction.

Located in Wallingford, Connecticut, the 458-acre campus is the perfect backdrop for the collaborative learning experience. The KEC, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, is a stunning 31, 325 sq. ft, LEED Platinum certified facility that includes dormitory rooms, faculty apartments, common spaces, classrooms, laboratories, and a state-of-the-art research greenhouse.

The visible design elements include stone walls, cedar trim, and fiber cement plank siding, creating a rustic aesthetic for the building that blends with the meadows, wetlands and fields of its surroundings. But it’s the unseen aspects of the green design that make the KEC a power unto itself — literally.

The net-zero energy efficiency goals demand full participation of the residents, 14 students and two faculty advisors who live and work in the KEC for the duration of the academic year. Students are able to monitor energy consumption in real time on the buildings dashboard, online, and on their smart phones; divided into teams, they can then adjust their usage to bring their output down and their team’s energy savings score up. While the students may be competitive, in this case, everybody wins.

The building employs both cutting-edge and common sense methods to reach its goal, including solar panels, usage of waste cooking oil, rain water collection, and careful site orientation to enable daylight harvesting. Nothing goes to waste. To enhance the efficiency of the building’s door openings, the architectural team chose to work with the experts at ASSA ABLOY for the doors, frames and locking hardware.

Curries hollow metal doors are installed as part of the building’s highly efficient envelope. It’s important to note that standard core testing for doors, ASTMN C518, while still an industry standard, simply does not reflect how the opening actually functions in the real world. ASSA ABLOY uses ASTM C1363 operational test standards in which the full assembly is tested in a simulated operable environment, and in a net-zero building like the KEC, this can add to much reduced thermal and air leakage.

David Goetzinger, technical marketing manager, ASSA ABLOY Door Group explains that this is how the US Green Building Council (USGBC) sets the criteria for door openings in LEED certified design. “One of the things that the USGBC looks for is a simulation of the actual building. The core calculation alone is not viable given the new standards.” While there are significant differences between the calculated core values and the operable door assembly values, Dave notes, “The advantage of the ASSA ABLOY architectural consultants is that they go out to designers and educate on the correct standard, and on how to work that in their specifications. A spec may call for R-11 criteria; we can see that doesn’t work in the real world, so we ask them to look at the operable value. We can show them why these values make sense and how the building will benefit from these more sustainable specifications.”

The KEC energy savings initiative offers a glimpse of what the American Institute of Architects, the leading professional membership association for licensed architects, hopes to achieve with its net-zero building goals for 2030. Reaching this goal will be possible if building product manufacturers continue developing high performance solutions. With that in mind, ASSA ABLOY continues to lead the industry with products, services, and education that are vital elements of good sustainable design. The KEC sets an impressive new standard for what is possible for a secondary school by modeling fully integrated green living.

“The point is to spread what we learn here,” says Sarthak Agrawal, a Choate senior, “I’m excited for the end of the program when we go out in the world and help bring our ideas to a larger audience.”
ASSA ABLOY door and hardware products used on openings throughout the KEC facility include Curries hollow metal doors, Sargent exits, mortise locks and door closers, McKinney hinges, Rockwood pulls and accessories and Pemko weather stripping. Also in place is a Medeco X4 key system.