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By Debra J. White
Animal shelters embrace eco-friendly construction because it’s good for animals and it’s good for the environment. The small but growing trend encourages visitors, boosts adoptions and cuts down on the spread of disease. Shelter workers and volunteers benefit from working in a cleaner environment.
The Tompkins County SPCA in central New York led the way in 2005 to become the first shelter to earn a silver LEED rating (Leadership in energy and environmental design). Since then more green shelters opened in states such as TX, CA, WI, CO, and RI. Two operate in Canada. Green shelters are in the planning stages or under construction around the country.
Why green? Heather Lewis, architect with Animal Arts in Boulder, CO, a firm that designs green shelters, says, “They reduce energy use, promote wellness and healing and provide a good example for visitors.”
In June 2011 the city of Denver opened an eco-friendly building, designed by Animal Arts of Boulder CO. The city took over industrial property once used for chemical manufacturing and mining. As a Brownfield site, state funds were available to remove residual toxic wastes. The new 36,400 sq. foot facility offers green features namely radiant flooring, natural lighting, low flush toilets, and toxic free paints. Lewis says eco-friendly ventilation design reduces contaminants that spread easily in shelters such as upper respiratory and kennel cough. Shelters usually euthanize thousands of healthy pets every year because they cannot afford treatment. With fresh air flowing into each cage or condo, air exchanges are reduced. Not only is it less costly to operate but disease is curbed. The shelter recently earned a platinum LEED rating, the first for an animal shelter.
In 2009, the Potter League for Animals in RI opened and was the first shelter to earn LEED gold. Green features include a vegetative roof for flood control due to plentiful rain and snow in the region. A 15,000 gallon cistern captures rainwater which is then cleansed of impurities and re-used for cleaning. Other features include non-toxic paints, building materials and drought resistant landscaping.
Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) in the Bay area of CA opened a green shelter in 2009 and earned a gold LEED rating. The shelter operates the largest solar installation in Milpitas owned and operated by Tioga Energy. Their current panels provide 1/3 of the shelter’s power needs says Kelly Grant, marketing manager at HSSV. Natural light and concrete floors provide additional savings in energy costs. Other eco-friendly features include on-site bioswales, or ditches, that naturally cleanse rainwater run-off before it enters the municipal water treatment system. Efficiency gains at the shelter will reduce water use by almost half. HSSV uses a similar HVAC design as the Denver shelter. Air intake and exhaust vents provide 100% air exchange in every room so pets stay healthier. There are fewer incidences of upper respiratory and other communicable diseases. During construction toxic free paints were used and all construction material was recycled. In the new shelter, animal health has improved as have adoptions.
Not all new shelters apply for LEED certification. The process can be lengthy and costly. In fact, there is no official list of LEED certified or green animal shelters. A check of architecture firms that advertise in Shelter Pages shows green shelters under construction around the US but no organization tracks how many.
Nonetheless, new shelters can still utilize eco-friendly features in their design. Take the west side Maricopa County (Arizona) Animal Care and Control shelter that opened in May 2008, replacing an aging 60-year old facility with leaky plumbing, peeling paint and rodent infestation. Linda Soto, shelter division manager, says cats are separated into stray and adoptable and live in cages inside small rooms. The shelter maximizes the use of natural sunlight. Low flush toilets and automatic sensors to control lighting reduce utility costs. Landscaping is drought resistant since the region receives so little rain. The roof is made of foam and concrete composite to lower inside temperature. That’s particularly important during the long blistering Phoenix summer when it’s sunny and over 100 for long stretches.
Noah’s Ark, a shelter in Fairfield, IA, constructed a new facility in 2004 that has many green features but lacks LEED certification. Star rated appliances, low flush toilets, and non-toxic materials are in use. There are super-insulated walls, natural sunlight and a high efficiency furnace. “We want to do our part to make sure that all animals and the folks who love them have a healthy world in which to live and play,” says Dawn Safrit, executive director.
The Ozaukee campus of the Wisconsin Humane Society utilizes rooftop solar hot water panels for kennel cleaning, hand-washing and bathing animals. Locally produced and harvested building materials say development director Angela Speed reduce carbon emissions and supports the Wisconsin economy. Storm-water runoff is collected in rain barrels to irrigate plants.
The Virginia Beach SPCA has a Going Green Campaign that encourages recycling, reducing and reusing. The shelter installed recycling containers throughout their facility. In addition, they cut down on plastic bag use, purchase environmentally friendly office product and cat litter. They collect aluminum cans to redeem for cash. Animal waste and uneaten pet food is composted rather than thrown away.
Eco-friendly shelters reduce energy so more funds can be shifted for animal care. That’s a benefit to unwanted pets. Lower utility bills for instance can re-direct funding towards spay/neuter programs or humane education. Both shelter pets and the environment benefit from green construction. A green building says Lewis reinforces a strong sense of ethics, advocacy and caring for the environment too.