- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The flushless toilets, the little lights at the ends of the building that signal when it is OK to open the windows, the cisterns that collect rainwater.

They are some of the features, most of them working as planned, that help make the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s headquarters one of the nation’s “greenest” buildings.

Almost five years after it opened, the building has won national recognition for its pioneering conservation efforts and has drawn visitors from around the world looking for ideas they can take home to construct more environmentally friendly buildings.

It was the first building given a platinum rating by the U.S. Green Building Council, which considers it to be one of the greenest buildings ever constructed.

It has received several awards and has been rated highly in studies done by the U.S. Department of Energy for energy conservation and for satisfaction of the employees who work in the building.

“Overall, we couldn’t be more pleased,” said Mary Tod Winchester, vice president for administration and operations at the Bay foundation’s Philip Merrill Environmental Center. “We couldn’t be more pleased how it works as a model, how it works as a green building.”

When the Bay foundation bought the property on the Chesapeake Bay just south of the mouth of the Severn River near Annapolis, the goal was to do everything possible to reduce negative affects on the environment.

Planners and architects used sustainable building materials — cork and bamboo floors, beams made from recycled wood, linoleum from linseed oil, ceiling tiles that were 90 percent recycled newspaper.

Landscapers used native plants that need no mowing and could withstand drought without watering. Water that runs off the very limited impervious surface on the property is filtered through wetlands to remove pollutants.

Inside, the design incorporates an array of features to save energy and reduce the use of water.

Take the flushless, composting toilets. Waste material falls into bins below the building and is slowly turned into compost.

“That’s one of the things people were worried about. They said, ‘Why would you want to do that with the smell?’” Miss Winchester said.

The system does not smell, she said, so long as everyone remembers to keep the toilet lids down so the air current carries smells above the building into the air. Little signs in the toilets remind users to keep the lids closed.

The toilets are the big reason for a drastic reduction in the use of water — only 90 gallons a day for a building with 80 or more employees working every day, compared with 1,200 to 1,500 gallons a day for a typical building of the same size, Miss Winchester said.

Of those 90 gallons, about 60 gallons a day come from rainwater collected in cisterns and only about 30 gallons from a well is used for purposes such as drinking water.

Heating and cooling systems and lighting were all designed to reduce the use of electricity.

The building’s open design and window walls offer a million-dollar view across the Chesapeake Bay to Kent Island and flood it with light, especially on sunny days. Two banks of lights closest to the windows are equipped with sensors that dim the lights or turn them off when the sun provides sufficient lighting.

Passive solar heating, geothermal wells for heating and cooling and a sophisticated energy management system significantly reduce the cost of heating and cooling the 32,000-square-foot building.

Even on cold winter days, sunlight produces enough heat that, by midmorning, the computer will switch off the heating system and either mix in some outside air or signal employees it is OK to open windows.

That’s where the lights at each end of the building come in. When they are on, employees can open the windows and let natural ventilation take over for a while.

The environmentally friendly features made the building more expensive. It cost about $199 a square foot, with about $46 of that being attributable to the cost of green measures.

But the U.S. Green Building Council said the initial investments will be recovered in seven to eight years through lower operating costs.

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