Sustainability Spotlight – Kristina Chmelar

Kristina ChmelarThe work of Kristina Chmelar, Facilities senior program planner with Capital University Planning, and a dedicated group of campus-wide colleagues is focused largely on energy savings, whether it is about open spaces or architecture. “Everything has a sustainability emphasis in our office from campus planning initiatives through all capital projects,” says Kristina. Recently we spoke with this 12-year Yale veteran to gain her perspective on Yale’s commitment to sustainability.

What campus sustainability projects have you worked on?

Many ambitious cultural properties projects, and in particular, those at the West Campus Collections Study Center that included collaboration with Yale Energy Management and art conservation scientists. Our group focused on reducing energy demand. Using the existing building presented challenges due to the integrity of the exterior envelope. We solved this by providing new interior insulated wall systems within the building to maintain climate for the art collections. We refer to it as “box within a box” and planned for low occupancy levels, which demand much less air exchange. Our selection of lighting—LEDS—and mechanical equipment were informed by this approach and consequently require less energy use. More recently, my work on the comprehensive renovation of the Peabody Museum set a design goal to reduce current energy use by 50%. This approach influenced design strategy across all discipline scope items.

How do you reduce what is referred to as “current energy intensity?”

Architecturally, we enhance the building envelope by putting new insulation throughout the interior face of the exterior wall, including the basement walls and continuous across the inside of the roof to the best extent possible. We are also providing air infiltration barriers throughout. An example of this are the upgrades to the Peabody museum, in which improvements to the building envelope will stabilize the interior environment and make it less vulnerable to fluctuations due to exterior climate conditions.

Mechanically, we have projects that are designed with a heat recovery chiller. This new approach uses an onsite chiller to serve as a localized source for chilled water, through the ability to extract heat from the circulated chilled water system. The recovered heat can then be redirected for various heating applications, which saves energy. At the Peabody Museum, it also will reduce the demand for chilled water exported from the Central Power Plant.

Expand a little on how these projects contribute to Yale’s climate goals?

Our emphasis is on carbon reduction and energy reduction, which contribute to the lowering of greenhouse gases. In the built environment, we are focusing on building envelope improvements—higher insulation values, air infiltration barriers, and an HVAC solution with equipment that provide the targeted energy efficiency. These are the main drivers and they align with the ambitious standard of Passive House for new construction, or Enerphit for renovations, which is an energy retrofit for the existing building. Our design standards call for comprehensive projects to meet the requirements for LEED Gold certification in addition to Yale specific requirements, and more recent projects are investigating what is required to not only meet this standard, but to exceed it by providing energy efficiency through passive methods, meaning less demand on operating mechanical equipment, and more on utilizing the building envelope to maintain interior conditions.

Another effort to reduce carbon is in the care for our campus trees. We have just completed a tree management plan that includes an inventory of all trees on campus and recommendations for maintenance as well as new plantings. The study informs facilities planners, construction project managers, and grounds maintenance staff. Trees contribute an enormous benefit to our campus aesthetics as well as to personal health through carbon capture and carbon sequestration. Mike West, manager of Planning and Standards for Grounds Maintenance, assisted with the tree management plan along with new Yale landscape design and maintenance standards, and a cultural landscape report on Beatrix Ferrand, who was Yale’s landscape gardener and landscape architect for 23 years (1923-45). Ferrand designed the landscape for at least 16 buildings and locations around campus, including the first residential colleges at Harkness Memorial Quandrangle, the President’s House, and Marsh Botanical Garden. The landscape standards apply Ferrand’s design concepts, which will create needed connectivity throughout Yale’s open and courtyard landscapes.

What makes you excited about Yale’s commitment to sustainability?

right to left and top row to bottom row, Ginger Chapman, Office of Sustainability, me (in the middle) , Julie Paquette, Director of Engineering and Energy Management, Cathy Jackson, Director of Planning Administration, Mairead Brennan, graduate student.

When I joined Yale 12 years ago, I was excited that the university shared my interest in sustainability, and was pursuing ideas around energy and carbon reduction, water reduction and reuse, green space revival and connectivity, and campus stormwater management. These subjects and methods of meeting new goals are fascinating, providing new learning opportunities along the way. They create healthier places to be in, not only at Yale but in New Haven, and with Yale as a sustainability partner, we will make our local environment that much better.

Why do think Yale’s sustainability goals are important?

I think Yale is a role model for other institutions, and even other design firms. Our projects have ambitious sustainability goals—whether to meet Yale sustainability design standards, or pursue self-sufficient buildings like the Yale Divinity School project, which will replace the graduate student housing with a structure that meets the criteria for a “Living Building.” Projects like that are designed to give back to the environment 10% more than they take from it; they are role models for energy use, not “net zero” but “net positive.” Other ambitions will lead to the renovation of existing buildings per the Passive House standard, which will result in less dependence on energy and more dependence on passive, cleaner systems. The more Yale can support these kinds of projects, the more other people will find inspiration to do the same.

Any recommendations for how readers can help conserve energy at home?

While its often difficult and expensive to install more insulation within existing exterior walls, we can reduce outside air filtration into our homes. This is especially good to do during the winter when you need to retain heat within your house. Best practices are to check your windows and doors for weather stripping and try to fill or block the areas where you feel air coming in. The more ambitious can add insulation behind electrical outlets where it can be compromised due to the dimension of the electrical box within the wall.

Don’t heat the entire house; consider heating only the rooms where you are going to live and at a setting that is slightly cooler while wearing more layers or installing a localized heat source, such as a wood burning stove, in the areas where you spend the most time sitting still. Close off attic spaces at the base of the stairs to keep the heat within the areas you’ll occupy and then turn down the thermostat in spare rooms to reduce the area within your home that you are paying to heat. These are timeless practices to name a few, tried and true.