As more and more college residence halls strive for increased energy efficiency, will the mini-fridge, a longtime staple of dorm rooms commonly used to store ketchup, Red Bull, and contraband booze almond milk, low-sodium tomato juice, and bottled green tea, fade slowly into extinction?

That seems to be the case with at least one institute of higher learning, Bridgewater State University in southeastern Massachusetts, where sustainabilty-minded global architecture firm Perkins + Will and school officials have put the kibosh on the use of energy-hogging mini-fridges in a new 160 square foot residence hall that’s eyeing LEED Gold certification (the state mandated that it achieve a minimum of LEED Silver).

In lieu of allowing mini-fridges (and microwaves for that matter), school officials will be forking out $53,000 to install Energy Star-rated full-sized refrigerators in suites with four or more students. I’d say that it looks like those living in single and double rooms at George A. Weygand Hall are going to have to make some new suite-dwelling friends but, from what I gather, the 500-bed building is an all-suite affair.

The move, which Lloyd Alter over at sister site TreeHugger calls “radical” and “important,” will pay for itself in about three years according of Yanel de Angel of Perkins + Will. Speaking to the Atlantic Cities, he anticipates that doing away with mini-fridges will save 4 kbtu of energy per square foot per year — or about $16,000 annually.

"Of all the things students plugged into the walls, and leave plugged in, micro-fridges are by far the biggest energy consumer," adds David Damon, an associate principal at Perkins + Will.  Out of the eight passive and active energy-saving strategies employed in the stunning new residence hall, banning mini-fridges have the third greatest impact behind high levels of insulation and a geo-exchange heating and cooling system.

Writes Damon on the Perkins + Will blog:

Over the past two years, Perkins+Will has been working with the University to create a dynamic environment where students can have a new kind of interaction on campus that pushes the boundaries of sustainability.  It’s one thing to design an energy-saving, green-loving, tempered-by-the-earth building – it’s another thing to operate it to its fullest potential. That was the message that we brought to Bridgewater. It’s like most things in life: you can buy the most intricate smart device, but you only get the benefits when you know how to use.

We structured the process around an understanding that there are elements that are controlled by design, and there are elements that are controlled by operations. To break down the process further, we tackled four key steps with the client: minimize building energy usage (passive strategies), maximize energy efficiency (active strategies), generate renewable energy, and reduce energy consumption based on building operation. This last one (“based on building operation”) is not often discussed in detail during the design process — but it makes all the difference!

We know from experience  that one of the uncontrollable energy costs of residence halls is plug loads, also known as energy hogs. To plan an operationally sustainable building, we worked closely with the University’s Facilities Department to take on the task of changing the policy of allowable items in the building. The bottom line is that we agreed removing micro-fridges and personal microwaves from the mix would reduce energy loads and save money, while having the added benefit of increased opportunity for interpersonal engagement and ideas exchange. 

Any thoughts? Back in the 1930s, I survived just fine without a mini-fridge — or a microwave — in my own dorm room. Considering how much they consume, nixing them and forcing residents to, gasp, share and interact with each other, seems to me to be an incredibly smart move. Thus far, students at Bridgewater State don't seem to be suffering too badly.

Via [The Atlantic Cities], [TreeHugger]

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