Southwest Environment

Stories written by University of Arizona students

Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science
The Stories

Likins Residence Hall promotes campus sustainability

By Eric V. Wagner

John Minnella
Photo by Melanie Lenart
John Minnella stands on a sixth-floor balcony of Likins Residence Hall looking out at rooftop solar panels that heat water.
Solar-powered heating and cooling, smart electrical energy-saving systems, rainwater capture – is this the list that comes to mind when you reflect on your dormitory experience? With the construction of the University of Arizona’s Likins Residence Hall, the UA is adding a sustainable twist to the traditional college dorm experience.

Standing in the lobby of the new building, Joseph Abraham, the director of the UA’s Office of Sustainability, and John Minnella, the project manager for Residence Life who led the construction of Likins Hall, introduce themselves to a small class of mostly undergraduates. Sitting near an energy-saving plate glass wall or standing under space-age-looking energy-efficient chandeliers, these students are here to learn just how sustainable this building really is.

After the group moved into the dorm’s shared kitchen and dining area, Abraham poked at a 32-inch touch screen monitor attached to a wall and pulled up several moving images and graphs displaying the building’s water and energy consumption for the day. This advanced interactive technology, Abraham said, has been installed “to engage residents to reduce their consumption.” 

This technology collects and updates data on the amount of electricity and water used within the building several times each day. The data is then placed into a graph so residents can interactively and easily view their communal daily energy and water use.
hand by screen

Photo by Melanie Lenart
Joseph Abraham works with a touch-screen monitor displaying how much water is consumed within the hall. 

Abraham explained that this technology is becoming more popular among the hall’s residents, but when matched up against the busy life of a student, it might still be some time before this resource will be used to its full potential. 

“The point is to engage residents to use less energy” and water, he said.

Out the atrium, Abraham led the students through an outdoor section of the hall.  Newly planted trees grow out of landscaped gravel pits that have been built to capture and efficiently move excess rainwater. The gravel pits and new drainage systems will redirect water collected in the area into other more suitable areas, such as storage tanks under nearby Arizona Stadium. 

This section of the building is considered to be within the 100-year floodplain.  This means that, statistically, there is at least a 1 in 100 chance every year that this area will be heavily hit by flooding.       

Photo by Melanie Lenart
Unique landscaping within the buildings atrium efficiently collects excess rain water runoff.
The many trees planted within the gravel pits will aid in the collection of rainwater. Additionally the trees growing within the pits will collect atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that promotes global climate change.    

When asked about the use of solar power within the building, Abraham responded by leading the students up several long flights of stairs to the sixth floor. Outside, a cool breeze, the aftermath of a late season monsoon rain, led several students to put on jackets. From a bird’s eye view, Minnella directed the students’ attention to a large, complex mass of dark blue panels and piping. 

Facing south on top of one of Likins’ main buildings, large solar panels collect sunlight that is used to heat about 75 percent of the hot water used by residents. This differs from photovoltaic solar panels that, through a series of complex reactions, transform sunlight into electricity. 

From the same location, Minnella pointed out a variety of metal shading structures, which are individually angled near each of the buildings windows. These metal grates are designed to shade the windows when the sunlight intensity is at its greatest. These shade structures help keep the building cool while minimizing the use of extra electricity for air conditioning. 

Joseph Abraham in classroom
Photo by Melanie Lenart
Joseph Abraham explains to students how natural lighting and other features increase the building’s energy efficiency.
With so much talk these days about “green technologies” and “carbon footprints,” it isn’t surprising that a large public institution such as the University of Arizona has decided not only to jump on the sustainability bandwagon but to actively blaze a new trail.  Buildings such as the Likins Residence Hall are a glimpse into a more sustainable future and an example of a new way of life for first-year college students. 







Overview of Likins Hall

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