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CONCRETE WALLS GIVE PRE-SCHOOL A HEAD START ON ENERGY SAVINGS|
Insulating concrete forms help Colorado facility achieve “green” goals
The San Luis Headstart Childcare Center in San Luis, Colo., was designed to provide a solid foundation for local children under the age of five, offering comprehensive child development programs that improve their readiness to enter the school system. More than that, the school is finished in adobe and other natural materials, embodying the cultural vernacular of the historic district in which it resides.
By far, the facility’s most exceptional trait is its dedication to sustainability: by using a variety of technologies and techniques, designers were able to create a structure that generates approximately 80 percent of the energy it needs to operate. Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) from Reward Wall Systems helped create this strong, durable, beautiful and sustainable project, which now serves as a model for future Headstart schools in southwestern Colorado.
Architect Michael Bertin, principal of Boulder, Colo.-based Architectural Harmonics, originally planned to build the school’s walls with locally produced materials, namely pumice-crete, a mixture of pumice aggregate, cement and water. But delays in the start of construction and the arrival of an early winter eliminated the possibility of working with the pumice stone.
Working with contractor Bret Verna of Pueblo, Colo.-based BAV Construction, Bertin came up with an alternative that could provide equivalent thermal mass and energy efficiency while staying true to his dedication to sustainability. The choice was ICFs from Reward. “We wanted a massive wall, so ICFs were a natural,” says Bertin. “We needed to achieve a certain energy efficiency and structural efficiency, and we had the constraint of cold weather construction.”
ICFs are foam forms that are filled with concrete and reinforcing steel to create a super-thick, extra-insulated wall. Used for both exterior and interior walls, they provide excellent thermal mass, structural strength, sound attenuation, fire and pest resistance, and long-term durability. At the San Luis Headstart Childcare Center, ICFs work with other sustainable features —including passive solar design, interior daylighting, high R-value windows, natural ventilation and a photovoltaic electric system—to achieve sustainability.
In the end, says Bertin, the ICFs created a more efficient, cost-effective structure: “I believe a Reward wall is better in its thermal properties and energy efficiency, and price-wise, it was comparable to using pumice-crete,” he explains. While he usually prefers to use organic, regional resources, Bertin says, “I would lean toward using Reward on future similar projects. When we need to import materials, we look at what’s available, and ICFs are certainly available anywhere.”
ICFs are an excellent fit for many “green” projects. “ICFs not only increase energy efficiency, but also minimize construction waste, make use of locally derived materials, and capitalize on the green benefits of concrete,” explains Donn Thompson, commercial sales manager for Reward. Thompson is an accredited professional with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design™ (LEED®) green building rating system, a program that ranks sustainable structures according to a variety of criteria.
Thompson says that ICFs can contribute to a project qualifying for as many as 22 points in four of the six LEED categories. Under the Energy & Atmosphere category, the system helps to minimize energy use and optimize performance. Under Materials & Resources, ICFs incorporate recycled materials, use locally derived resources and minimize construction waste. Under Indoor Environmental Quality, the system improves thermal comfort. Finally, under Innovation & Design Process, ICFs help qualify a project to earn points for innovation in design.
Sustainable structures not only function with lower operating and maintenance costs, but developers and owners often qualify for tax breaks and other incentives for building green.
Bertin says the choice to build a sustainable school is one that will pay off for decades, in energy cost savings, and in the school’s ability to enrich the community and celebrate its history and culture. “It is a showcase for sustainable building, and also the nature of the town,” says Bertin. “This being an educational facility for very young and impressionable minds, it seemed like a natural thing to give them an environment that, from the get go, reflects sustainable principles and integrity, and instills a sense of pride in their rich cultural heritage.”
• 5,800-square-foot structure opened in September 2003
• Compliance as a “contributing structure” to the San Luis Historic District
• Passive solar design; “Solar Gallery” with adobe block trombe wall
• Photovoltaic electric system; 15kW “Uni-Solar” panels and batteries
• Interior daylighting; “Solatube” skylights
• Attic ventilation: “Solar Star” PV attic fans
• Pella windows with 5.5 R value and integral shades
• Reward Wall Systems ICF exterior wall construction
• Natural ventilation; heat chimneys vent solar heat gain in summer and circulate it into classrooms in winter
• Pre-heat or cooling of make-up outside air
• Non-toxic and low-VOC building materials and finishes throughout
• Traditional harmonic proportions
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