New buildings on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, are so tightly constructed these days that engineers need to make special provision to improve cell-phone coverage inside the buildings.
While the University's newest buildings have met exacting standards for environmentally responsible construction, officials discovered that the same steps they take to keep heat and air conditioning inside the buildings limit the transmission of cell signals.
It's not a big deal to install small repeaters inside the buildings to improve cell coverage, says John Walsh, the University's Director of Capital Improvement Projects. Still, Walsh says, the phenomenon demonstrates the University's commitment to construction that's environmentally responsible.
In the past decade, every major building on the University campus - a list that includes big projects such as the Joe Crowley Student Union, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and the Center for Molecular Medicine, among others - has been built to the equivalent of LEED Silver or better standards.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards are set by the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize best-in-class building strategies and practices.
The University also holds LEED Silver certification on the Nevada Living Learning Community, which opened in fall 2012, and the Marguerite Wattis Petersen Athletic Academic Center, which opened in 2008.
Peavine Hall, the newest residence hall currently under construction, is anticipated to earn LEED gold certification upon its opening in fall 2015.
LEED standards, Walsh explains, are based on environmentally friendly design as well as sustainable practices during the actual construction.
Among the "green" design features routinely incorporated in new construction on the campus are automated control systems that conserve utility use, design features that allow for maximum use of natural sunlight to replace artificial lighting and highly efficient insulation and windows to reduce heat and cooling losses.
And as buildings are under construction, the LEED standards recognize projects whose recycling practices keep construction waste out of landfills.
In fact, construction companies' experience with green-building techniques and their track record with the sustainable practices outlined by LEED standards often play a role when the University awards a construction contract.
The University long has been in the forefront of environmentally responsible design and construction, Walsh says, and the effort got further support in 2006 when the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education began requiring that all new construction meet at least the equivalent of LEED Silver standards.
As green-building technologies become better understood throughout the construction industry, Walsh says the cost differences between traditional and green building have narrowed.
Any increased construction costs generally are offset by lower operating costs because the buildings constructed to LEED standards use less electricity and natural gas.
But the University's commitment to environmentally responsible construction is based on more than mere calculation of its return on investment.
"We are doing what we should be doing," Walsh says. "We are committed to stewardship."
The commitment of students plays a major role, too.
"The students have been a big driver of this," Walsh says. "Our commitment to environmental standards has become a selling point for new students."
That's reflected in the anticipated application to earn LEED Gold designation at Peavine Hall.
While the University is committed to meeting the equivalent of LEED Silver standards on all its new buildings, administrators typically have typically redirected the expense and investment of time necessary to earn official LEED certification into incorporating additional green building practices.
But Peavine Hall, in which extensive use of LED lighting technology scores big points on LEED certification, holds the promise of delivering LEED Gold certification, a first on the campus, that would be a strong source of pride for the entire University community.