MARQUETTE - When Northern Michigan University students return to their dorms this fall, they'll be able to save water by dual-flushing their toilets - at least those students at Meyland and Van Antwerp Halls. During the last two summers, NMU has put its efforts into renovating those two dormitories, making them more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable. Most recently their efforts have earned them certification by the U.S. Green Building Council through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. In fact, NMU is the first institution in the Upper Peninsula to receive the increasingly trendy and "green" LEED certification, according to NMU's Engineering and Planning Project Manager Brandon Sager. "Meyland was 'certified' and Van Antwerp was 'silver'," he said. "For Hunt Hall, which is under construction, we're trying to achieve silver." LEED certification provides verification that a building project is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to live and work, according to the council's Web site. "Nationwide it is a very big trend," Sager said. "I think it's become one of the new building standards in the country to follow." Builders incorporate selections from several categories - recycled materials, energy efficiency, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, resources, and innovation and design process - and collect points for each installation. Depending on the rating system, the building can receive a certificate or silver, gold or platinum certification. "There were some things we didn't document the first time around," Sager said about receiving two different levels of certification. "It was just a matter of a few points difference." NMU gained points by using low volatile organic compounds paint, low flow usage showers and dual-flush toilets that use less water. "A lot of the materials we used had either a recycled content or were manufactured or harvested within 500 miles of the job site," Sager said, adding that both the doors and carpets have recycled components. "We recycled approximately 250 tons of copper from plumbing and electrical wire, diverting it from the landfill," he said. The new furniture in the dormitories is made out of rapidly renewable hardwood from Malaysia, Sager said. Old furniture and other items were donated to charitable organizations. Energy efficient lighting and heating controls as well as rooms created with more windows to make more use of daylight are also new features. Front-loading washing machines use less water and remove water from clothes better, therefore, they save on dryer time, Sager said. "They use half of the water than standard washing machines," he said. Pitched roofs, which were added to the dorms, prevent storm water from entering the storm water system. In the beginning of the construction, Sager said, it was difficult to find suppliers and vendors to accommodate NMU's "green" renovations because the building method was so new. But it did not cost ($8 million per dorm) any more than it would have with a conventional renovation, Sager said. "People always think going 'green' costs more money, but the return on savings on energy bills offsets the cost by going this route," he said. "We have a pretty large utilities system and any time we can save on energy it's a positive thing." According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in Michigan there are 245 projects registered under LEED - 66 of them are certified as of June. In the Upper Peninsula, the following projects have been LEED registered but are not certified yet: United States Coast Guard Boat House Station in Marquette; Kennecott Eagle Project's mine services building in Michigamme; and NMU's Hunt Hall. Hunt Hall construction is scheduled to be finished by Aug. 1, Sager said, and a LEED silver certificate is expected.
Brandon Sager of Northern Michigan University Facilities and Engineering and Planning explains the university’s new dual-flush toilets at Van Antwerp Hall. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)