America’s Top 10 Eco-Friendliest Dorms and Tips for Greening Yours

From coast to coast, universities around the country are doing everything they can to lessen the carbon footprint of their campus. A large part of that is the construction of green dormitories, which are breaking new ground in innovation even before their construction. Below are ten of America’s greenest dorms on college campuses.

Western Oregon University
Ackerman Hall, home to about 330 students of Western Oregon University, can not only brag about its green standing, it has the certification to prove it. In August of 2011, the dorm was awarded the LEED’s Platinum ranking from the U.S. Green Building Council, and is the first large-scale residence hall to do so. Its amenities include a rain water harvesting system used for toilet flushing, solar panels used to heat air and water, occupancy sensors which turn off lights when residents leave a room, and bathrooms fully equipped with low-flow water devices, including toilets and sinks. In addition, the dorm includes an outdoor courtyard, with a surface made from recycled glass which allows water to be absorbed into the soil. Green concerns were even noted during the building’s construction, as trees removed from the building site were later repurposed inside the dorm. Overall, Ackerman Hall uses only 25% of the water and 35% less electricity than average dorms of comparable size, and setting the bar for green dorms of the future.

Arizona State University
Students of Arizona State University have a unique opportunity in the Hassayampa Academic Village, as the university has made a green center suited uniquely for the climate of Phoenix. More than just a freshmen dorm, it also includes tutor centers and study lounges. To save energy, Hassayampa was built with reflective materials, especially the roof. Low-flow water equipment including toilets and faucets reduce water use by 40%. Lastly, the site was designed with native and drought resistant plants in mind. As such, these plants reduce the need for irrigation by 50%.

Unity College
Once completed, the TerraHaus at Unity College in Unity, Maine set a precedent as the first college residence in the US to be designated a passive home, using effective passive solar design and using 90% less energy than a standard code compliant building. 10 students of the college spend their time as residents educating and informing others to the benefits of the Terrahaus. Among its green auxilaries, the home is equipped with a solar heat pump instead of oil for heating and cooling, superinsulation, and three pane windows.

Emory University, a private research school in Atlanta, Georgia, is no newcomer to the circle of green colleges. In July of 2008, Emory was named to Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll, based on the college’s transportation, waste management and energy sources, and with the completion of Evans and a Few Halls shortly after, their place is certainly cemented. A combined bed-count of 292 means more than a handful of incoming freshmen get the opportunity to live out the learning experience these dorms can offer. Both halls have solar capabilities for energy usage and employ a rainwater harvest system. Ultimately, these efforts have led to both dorms receiving a Gold LEED rating.

Pitzer College
The three newest dorms of Pitzer College, located in Southern California, have made national headlines for both their green efforts and the style they’ve been pulled off in. The key to the design of these dorms was simple, water. For this, drought tolerant landscaping and storm water recycling were the first step. The student-run organic gardens, cactus landscape and rooftop gardens both benefit the buildings and organically tie-in the structures to their surrounding mountain environment. The buildings themselves, each three stories tall, were built with recycled steel, carpeting, insulation and cement, and the rooftop is equipped with PV panels that generate 28,067 kilowatt hours of renewable energy annually.

Berea College
The EcoVillage holds a unique spot on this list as it exemplifies a truly green community. Though built with only 50 suites for student living (comparatively small to others on the list), the EcoVillage has far too many scholastic amenities to labeled a simple dorm. Instead, it seeks to be a completely green scholastic community, with a common house, a child development lab and a Sustainability and Environmental demonstration house, in addition to housing. With it’s green efforts, energy usage has dropped more than 75% in total and per capita water usage by 75% as well. These numbers have been accomplished with the use of PV panels, wind powered electric generators and passive solar design.

University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina’s West Quad, home to roughly 500 undergraduates, was built with a mission in mind – to prove that green dorms can be just as cost effective as traditional dormitories. The total cost of the building was $30.9 million, a figure comparable to other dorms its size, though using 45% less energy and 20% less water and built with recycled cement blocks, copper roofs and interior carpeting. Also included in that price tag is an outdoor amphitheater, a storm-water filtration and management system and a turf roof, which cools cools the building by absorbing heat and reducing rainwater runoff.

Plymouth State University
Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire, has set a goal that in within seven years, the campus will be carbon-neutral. As part of meeting this, the university built the Langdon Woods Residential Complex, two residential buildings with more than 100 thousand square feet and housing for 347 students with differing room design and living accommodations. Energy usage is regulated with motion-sensitive lighting and heaters that turn off when windows are open, and conservation efforts like passive solar design elements, low-flow faucets and waterless urinals also play a part. The biggest step toward their goal of carbon-neutrality comes in the buildings’ heat supply. The buildings are heated completely from waste heat from a nearby co-generation plant, recycling the energy for additional use. For each of these efforts and more, the Langdon Woods Residential Complex has earned a LEED Gold status.

Salem State College
Marsh Hall, the newest dormitory in Salem, Massachusetts’ Salem State College, proves to be a progressive step forward for the university. Costing an estimated $57.5 million, the sophmore dorm has earned a LEED silver status for their environmental efforts. Chief among them is the building’s roof, which includes several inches of soil and a top cover to absorb rain and save energy. Other parts of the roof are covered with thermoplastic membranes to deflect heat and save energy. The building’s construction also contributed heavily to their LEED status, with carpets made from recycles fibers, and furniture made from recycled steel and plastic. At the benefit of students living in the dorm, touch screen monitors are also available to monitor the collective energy usage of the residents.

Drew University
McLendon Hall, a six floor dormitory housing 159 students is one the most recent green steps taken by Drew University. The building shares many amenities as other dorms on the list, like water-saving sinks and showers, construction from recycled materials, and reflective roofing. However what makes McLendon Hall stand out from the others is a geothermal heat pump which supplies the dorm’s heat. The first of it’s kind installed on a university dormitory, the pump consists of a network of water-filled pipes which travel 420 feet into the ground, effectively using the planet’s internal temperature of 55 degrees. During the winter, this system will draw heat from the ground while in the summer, heat will be pushed into it. In total, the geothermal systems have been recorded to use and impressive thirty percent less energy than traditional heating and cooling systems.

Whether you’re lucky enough to be living in one of these super-green dorms or somewhere else, here are several steps you can take to make your living space a little more eco friendly:

  • Instead of buying linens and towels with polyester, look for items filled with or made from organic wool or organic cotton, especially organic cotton sheets, curtains or towels. These items have been noted to be both softer and healthier because of the lack of pesticides.
  • Take a look at the lightbulbs currently in your room and replace them with CFLs. These will increase energy efficiency and increase the lifetime of your bulbs. I personally prefer the soft light 40 Watt versions with outer rounded filter, they just feel better on your eyes.
  • When looking for furniture, from couches and beds to drawers and shelves, consider purchasing used items, or especially at local stores. Buying used is just another form of recycling. Buying local cuts down on the impact of nationwide transportion. Plus, as everyone knows, vintage never goes out of style.
  • Plug all of your electronics into a single power strip, and practice turning it off at night or while you are away on the weekends. Be wary however, to monitor the heat of power strips and avoid overloading outlets.
  • When shopping for a minifridge, microwave or any other appliance, try to buy only Energy Star approved items. Also, share these with your dorm mates to make friends and conserve power. Over holiday breaks empty, clean and unplug these items.
  • At the end of the year, when it’s time to head back home, store your items locally as an alternative to shipping them home if you live out of state. While you’re at it, reuse packing supplies, especially boxes, which can easily be attained for free from grocery stores or copy centers.