Geothermal system being considered for new Living Learning Residence Hall

Image: Drilling truck on Olmsted Green. Photo by Rhea Yablon Kennedy.

Drilling truck on Olmsted Green. Photo by Rhea Yablon Kennedy.

A new Living Learning Residence Hall (LLRH6) that will soon be built on campus may utilize a natural source of energy for heating and cooling that could help reduce the University’s energy budget and at the same time protect the environment.

SIGAL Construction, the builder charged with constructing a new residence hall on the mall between Hall Memorial Building and Peet Hall, has performed geothermal test drilling in recent months to determine the thermal conductivity of Kendall Green’s soil. The test results, which should be available by early May, may help guide the design of a geothermal system to supply heating and cooling to the new residence hall.

Geothermal systems basically work by transporting fluid, such as water, down into underground wells dug deep into the earth’s bedrock, where it is naturally heated or cooled. That fluid is then brought back up to the structure which absorbs the natural heating or cooling system of the earth’s crust using the fluid to regulate the building’s temperature of the building.

According to Hansel Bauman, director of campus design and planning, the advantage of geothermal heating and cooling over more conventional methods is that it provides a natural source of renewable energy. Soil below frost level is more stable and retains heat at a constant level, with temperatures from the low 40s in northern climates to the low 70s in the south. In the winter, these temperatures are much warmer than the outside air, and much cooler in the summer.

Bauman said that by tapping into this stable source of energy, it is easier and cheaper to retain a comfortable temperature within the building. For example, if an occupant likes to keep his or her thermostat at 75 degrees in the winter and the air temperature is 20 degrees, boosting the temperature 55 degrees quickly gets expensive. However, with geothermal energy, the temperature only has to be raised a maximum of about 35 degrees, which uses less energy and translates to a cost savings for heating operations. Conversely, applying this method for keeping a building cool in the summer also significantly reduces energy costs. Bauman added that the use of geothermal energy also reduces system maintenance costs because there are fewer moving parts in a geothermal system and thus less need of repair and upgrades. It is estimated that the savings for this particular project in both energy and maintenance costs may average $223,500 per year. 

The proposed geothermal well field at Gallaudet will consist of 60 to 80 wells, extending deep into bedrock. Bauman noted that the well field and the distribution infrastructure is entirely underground and will in no way impact the campus landscape. 

“The first field we hope to construct under Olmsted Green is a pilot project to test the reliability of the system,” said Bauman. “Depending on the results of the pilot project with the LLRH6, this project may offer some additional capacity which could be used to serve the houses on Faculty Row and possibly other campus buildings.”

The groundbreaking for LLHR6 is Tuesday, April 26, 2011, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the site in front of HMB and next to Peet Hall.

Tanya Sturgis, student writer, Office of Public and Media Relations

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