A tree starts as a seed. The same is true for children, and the analogy works for building homes, too. It all starts at the foundation.
When the Sustainable Education Every Day (SEED) Collaborative planned to build a sustainable classroom for the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, they contacted EcoCraft Homes, a custom modular builder in Bridgeville, Penn.
They knew that EcoCraft had the expertise needed to create an actual green space where children could learn about green building. The builder was more than on board with the project and completed it in five months.
The SEED classroom is one of two similar projects in existence in the United States.
“It’s designed to be a living learning science classroom to provide a different healthy learning environment for the kids,” says Elliot Fabri, Jr., vice president of EcoCraft Homes.
Built to the Living Building Challenge standards, the classroom features nontoxic materials, generates energy using photovoltaics, uses greenwalls to grow plants, and collects and recycles rainwater—many features that custom homebuilders are incorporating into new homes.
“It’s technically connected to the grid, but it could be a standalone off-grid building with all sustainable materials,” Fabri says.
Quick Hit: Passive House Goes High Tech
Digital monitors and an online dashboard allow students to track the energy production and consumption of the classroom and change their behaviors to see what impact they have on the data. All the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems are exposed so that kids can see how these elements work firsthand and learn how they contribute to healthier living for people and the environment.
“I hope they get an environment that they like to come into and that they are excited about learning in,” Fabri says. “By having all that exposed, I think it will intrigue that curiosity.”
EcoCraft also had a Building Performance Equipment cross-ventilation energy recovery ventilator (ERV) installed. “The ventilation system has several levels of MERV 13 filtration, so it has off-the-charts indoor air quality,” says Fabri. “It will demonstrate a high-performance mechanical system for smaller homes.” The small-diameter ducts heat up homes at a reduced cost, he explains. Heating and cooling are by Mitsubishi’s Mr. Slim ductless heat pump mini split.
The rainwater is harvested from the roof and goes through an ultraviolet water filtration system to guard against bacteria and other contaminants. It is then reused for flushing toilets and living wall irrigation. It is undergoing testing for possible consumption. As of right now, the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize graywater, but EcoCraft and Phipps are working with authorities to change this.
The building also has LED fixtures by Lunera with Lutron lighting control, but Fabri says there is so much natural light, they are only needed for really dark days. Solatube daylighting systems capture the sun’s rays and direct them into the classroom.
According to the Living Building Challenge website, the building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to rapidly diminish the gap between current limits and the end-game-positive solutions builders seek.
The classroom could also possibly serve as an education resource for homebuilders and buyers.
As a result of this certification, the classroom is net-zero energy and net-zero water and is built to last 100 years. That’s no bristlecone pine or giant sequoia, but it’s a start.