Magazine article American Libraries

This Old Library: Transforming Existing Libraries into Sustainable Structures

Magazine article American Libraries

This Old Library: Transforming Existing Libraries into Sustainable Structures

Article excerpt

Sustainable building construction is the major issue facing the architectural profession in the United States as well as around the world. Consider the implications of ignoring it: At present, 300 million people living in the United States comprise approximately 4.3% of the world's population, which is now nearing 7 billion. All 300 million of us use 21% of the world's energy resources every year.

Of that 21%, approximately 43% is used to heat, cool, and construct buildings in this country. To continue with the math, the United States annually uses slightly more than 9% of the world's energy for buildings.


As a nation and as architects, we are constantly developing ways to reduce energy consumption in the new buildings we design and construct. In fact, we are looking for ways to create new buildings that will be energy neutral--that is, they will produce as much energy as they consume. However, if we focus only on new buildings, we will not reduce our consumption; we will only increase it at a slower rate. Thus, the critical problem is to address the sustainable improvements we can make to existing buildings. (Sustainable buildings are designed to take maximum advantage of the natural setting and climate while causing the least possible damage to the environment. As a result, they are efficient in their consumption of energy.) We can reduce energy consumption in the building sector only by dramatically reducing the amount of energy consumed by all the buildings that currently exist.

One of the ironies of "green" or sustainable architecture is that each new green project is advertised as using dramatically less energy than a comparable building of the same size that meets all code requirements. No one ever asks about the intensity of the occupancy of the new building, the number of square feet per person in that new building, or whether the building was even necessary or appropriate. Often, institutions will construct new, energy-efficient buildings, but will continue to heat and cool the older buildings, which may be inefficient and perhaps superfluous. Conversely, choosing to transform an existing building into an energy-efficient, sustainable building would result in true savings in energy consumption.

Simple sustainable improvements

Why are existing libraries good candidates for transformation to sustainable buildings? Libraries are important community centers visited everyday by the public. Library buildings are usually well constructed and intended to have long lives. To preserve their contents, these buildings generally have a stable interior climate, which is compatible with most energy-saving strategies.

If a community is contemplating transforming an existing library building into a more sustainable building, a number of standard techniques can be considered. Some of these improvements are easy to bring about:

* Most older mechanical systems are relatively inefficient. Replacing major equipment (boilers, compressors, cooling towers, etc.) with new equipment can easily increase the energy efficiency of heating and air conditioning systems by as much as 20%.

* Such improvements probably would be accompanied by a new building management system or new controls for the ventilation system. Since a typical library is unoccupied almost 100 hours a week, energy savings can mount up when the ventilation systems are turned off and heating and cooling setback temperatures are used regularly.

* Electric lighting in library buildings typically consumes about 27% of the energy budget. Older buildings frequently allow plenty of daylight to enter through large window openings; nevertheless, the electric lights are left on all day. Two basic strategies can combat this waste of energy: the first, of course, is to use the most efficient lighting systems; the second is to teach the library staff to switch on the electric lighting only when necessary or, alternatively, to install occupancy sensors and a lighting control system that automatically adjusts the amount of electric light to compensate for ambient daylight. …

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