Swimming In Sustainability

LEED certification for natatoriums is the same as for buildings, but the strategy to obtain it is a little different. Start by deciding the goals for the property, and then match those goals with the rating system for LEED-certification requirements.

“LEED certification is the validation of what you’ve done to develop a more environmentally friendly building,” says Chad Edwards, president of Cincinnati Regional Chapter of the USGBC and principal with Emersion Design, an architectural design and engineering firm specializing in green-building designs. “By understanding the true goals of the project, you can better focus on the aspects of LEED certification.”

Before sneaking a peek at the LEED checklist, sit down with your team and answer the following questions:

1. What do you want to achieve with the building?

2. What is the budget?

3. What do you want the building to look like?

4. What image should it convey?

5. What is your brand, and how does it tie in with the natatorium?


Think of a new way of accomplishing a LEED goal, and it can earn up to five extra or Innovation LEED points. To score points on a natatorium, you need something aggressively different.

“I’ve seen innovation points awarded for an ultraviolet-sanitization system because of the subsequent reduction in the need for some pool chemicals,” says Edwards. “However, something such as aggressive humidity control doesn’t count because it is a standard design component of a natatorium.”

To find ways to save resources, consider the basic components of maintaining a swimming pool, such as cleaning the filter, which can result in thousands of gallons of wasted water. For instance, sand filters require a full back-flushing once a week, wasting man hours and up to 1,500 gallons of water weekly if they aren’t recaptured in a settling tank. However, new filters entering the market use perlite--diatomaceous earth--instead of sand and need to be flushed once a month with only 800 gallons of water.

Recycle The Recycling

From recycled tiles to benches created from recycled HDPE (commonly known as milk containers), there are multiple opportunities to garner LEED points by increasing the number of recycled items in the facility.

“Steel is the only material to have a default recycled content score of 25 percent since anything made of steel has some recycled content in it,” says Edwards. “But, it is important to keep track and get confirmation from the manufacturer about the actual recycled content because it can be much higher, and you should get the credit for that.” Emersion Design typically works with steel that is 70- to 97.7-percent recycled content. Steel can be used for lockers, doors, door frames, shelving, furnishing, etc.

Wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, as well as rapidly renewable resources, such as bamboo, also can be used. To maximize points, keep purchases within 500 miles from the installation location to reduce emissions and the amount of fuel needed to truck the material to the site, as well as to support local businesses.

Shedding Some Light

“Having a view from a window is just as important as saving energy costs by using natural light rather than turning the lights on,” says Boyd Johnson, project designer and LEED-accredited professional with KZF Design, a full-service architectural and engineering firm. Daylighting, views, low-emissivity coatings and thermal ratings on windows all count toward rating points.

However, a natatorium in which competitions are held might be able to opt out of the daylight portion for the pool area, due to possible issues with glare. Project representatives would need to plead their case to the United States Green Building Council for a waiver. On the other hand, if your facility is primarily for recreation, it might not qualify.

It is also important to note that credit for daylighting is only given to spaces regularly occupied. This automatically excludes locker rooms; however, the director’s office and training room will qualify.

Speaking Of Locker Rooms

Motion sensors and infrared sensors (which detect infrared heat instead of movement) can save a bundle in restrooms and locker rooms, and should be considered for any LEED project. Be sure to look beyond electricity for other cost-cutting measures.

“There are two ways to save water in a natatorium,” says Tim Harris, Vice President, who oversees the plumbing aspects of designs for The Ballard Group Inc., a mechanical engineering firm which consults on recreation centers and LEED projects. “We use water-saving fixtures, such as toilets that flush with 1.28 gallons or a dual flush at 1.1 and 1.6 gallons, as well as urinals that only use 0.125 gallon of water per flush.”

Electronic faucets timed at 12 seconds, coupled with half-gallon-per-minute flow, help reduce the amount of water used. “We’ve dropped showers from 2.5 gallons per minute to 1.5 gallons per minute,” says Ballard. “All the little savings add up and help achieve the 35-percent mark for the LEED points.”

Instead of using paper towels, many facilities are opting for hand dryers that concentrate a forced stream of heated air over hands, resulting in shorter drying times. “It is a higher energy output, but it is used over a shorter period of time, therefore saving energy,” says Edwards. “Plus, there is no waste and, as a result, no cleanup.”

Snug As A Bug

Before evaluating all of the contents of the interior, look at the building as a whole to reduce the amount of energy needed. Keeping the natatorium’s humidity contained while preventing the heat and cold outside from entering the building with proper insulation and barriers increases the energy efficiency of a structure.

“You can have a strong thermal envelope around the building from the outside walls and roof to the windows and natural ventilation. If those are designed well, then your energy needs are less,” says Edwards. “The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t need.”

Also look at renewable energy sources--solar and wind turbines--to reduce the number of units needed to sustain the facility. Since renewable-energy credits are based on a percentage of the energy consumed--more renewable sources, such as solar or a wind turbine--the higher the points earned.

The Price For Sustainable

“Our design space was built for under $27 per square foot, where most design-firm spaces cost $45 to $85 per square foot,” says Edwards. “Sustainable improvements can save you money during the building process and after in energy savings. Sustainable designs can be works of art, too. We’ve received five peer-reviewed design awards.”

Sustainable natatoriums aren’t a fairy tale. With a good planning team--including a LEED-accredited professional--and plenty of pre-planning, a sustainable structure with reduced energy and maintenance costs is obtainable. You just have to decide on the goals.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC, which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at tammy@landsharkcommunications.com.