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UofL class designs green dorm room

March 16th, 2009

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Students' concept drawing of the green dorm room.

Lofted beds. Cork flooring. Indoor plants.

Amenities in an upscale condo? Not quite. They’re part of the decorating scheme for what may become the first green dorm room at the University of Louisville.

Ten students in Jamie Horwitz’s Sustainable Architecture course, a three-hour seminar in art history, designed the room this semester after Arts and Sciences Dean Blaine Hudson came up with a $5,000 grant for the project.

The students selected a south-facing double room in Louisville Hall, talked with the room’s current residents and came up with two plans for redesigning it to be more energy efficient. The 241-square-foot room has concrete block walls, a vinyl floor and a heat and cool switch — but no thermostat.

The goal was to reduce overall energy use in the room while balancing student needs, said art history graduate student Karen Habeeb, who worked on the project.

“We wanted to support different types of student uses and living patterns in a very small space,” she said.

The class designed two room plans. One, for an “architectural” green room, offers a combination light shelf and bookcase, ceiling-mounted bike racks and open steps that allow storage underneath. Renovation costs for that plan would be $5,049, according to an estimate by Bluegrass Green Co., a Louisville business that sells sustainable home improvement materials.

The other plan, for a “portable” green room, includes a window quilt designed to control light and privacy, a solar charger for cell phones, a ceiling fan, plants and Energy Star appliances. That plan would require $6,249 in renovation costs, Bluegrass Green Co. has said.

Both designs feature space-saving loft beds, cork flooring, textured walls and smart power strips - devices that automatically turn off lights, computers and other appliances when not in use.

The university plans to use one of the designs to remodel the dorm room by this fall, said Russ Barnett, director of the Kentucky Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development, who helped initiate the class project.

“Other universities that have tried model dorm rooms like this have had a lot of student applicants,” Barnett said.

Students who live in the room will be asked to sign a contract requiring them to keep daily track of their energy use and to use the dorm’s recycling facilities, said Phillip Suttmiller, a senior majoring in interior architecture.

“Our idea is to persuade, not mandate, students to adopt green living,” Suttmiller, added.

The model dorm room could eventually spur UofL to change its approach to residence hall purchasing by focusing on environmentally sustainable products, the students said.

Their report describes a possible a future scenario in which “the housing contract comes with a very cool IKEA-like catalog of sustainable products. Cotton organic sheets and comforters are standard.

“Newcomers to the residence halls have a festive weekend designed to help them bond and feel part of the student experience. Included in these are activities that let them construct pieces of their rooms, work out the floor arrangement and personalize their sheets with non-toxic children’s fabric dye crayons.

“They can visit the massive yard sale on the quad designed to put the materials of those who have graduated or left the dorms back into circulation.”

Horwitz, an environmental psychologist at Iowa State University who now holds UofL’s Frederic Lindley Morgan Chair of Architectural Design, said she was pleased with how the class project turned out. Students in the three-hour art history seminar met for 90 minutes twice a week for one semester.

“I think they did a great job,” she said.

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