Final Report: The Green Dorm: A Sustainable Residence and Living Laboratory for Stanford University

EPA Grant Number: SU833201
Title: The Green Dorm: A Sustainable Residence and Living Laboratory for Stanford University
Investigators: Fischer, Martin , Masters, Gil
Institution: Stanford University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: II
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through August 31, 2009
Project Amount: $75,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2006) Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The physical manifestation of the Lotus Living Laboratory at Stanford University is the Green Dorm, the design, construction and operation of which is an ongoing discovery of sustainable pathways. The preferred site for the Green Dorm is behind Casa Italiana, just steps away from the Tressider Student Union. The 21,150 square foot program will be housed in a three-story building that includes: 47 total undergraduate and graduate student beds; a building systems laboratory sharing an enlarged ground floor with residential common spaces; and thorough building systems metering and monitoring to provide constant feedback to building users about building performance. A flexible design will allow for building systems to evolve over time, making the space a center for experiential education and ever evolving healthy living. 

The initiative began with a brainstorming session on November 20, 2003 organized by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in which faculty, students and invited professionals developed the initial vision for an “evolving”, “influential”, “flexible”, and “desirable” living and learning facility. The proposal advanced through the work of Engineering students and faculty, peer review by outside professionals, and the efforts of several university entities including Student Housing and Land and Buildings. A design team led by EHDD Architecture was selected in August 2005 to spearhead the Feasibility Study.

The Living Lab is not only about the final building for Stanford, but also about research into building technology, design processes, and collaboration.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Student-initiated research around the topics of water, energy, materials and structure, process, design innovation and aesthetics, and monitoring and feedback.

Water (main faculty advisor: Craig Criddle):

Anerobic Digesters (Craig Criddle)

Facilities for two Green Dorm digesters will provide an opportunity to assess the effects of different operating conditions on small-scale energy recovery from domestic wastewater (black water, potentially including food scraps). A base configuration of two well-mixed anaerobic digesters is proposed.   This configuration would be modifiable: when the reactors are operated without mixing, they become septic tanks; when they are operated with sidestream filtration, they are membrane bioreactors.   For each of these systems, a wide variety of operational conditions may be evaluated, including temperature, nature of the feed (± food scraps, ±urine), and levels of buffer addition (pH) by measuring concentrations of indicator organisms or pathogens in the recovered water before and after treatment.

 Blackwater Energy Recovery (Pascal Mues)

In support of the Anaerobic Digester design process, data on row house blackwater production have been aggregated and scaled to provide predictions of potentially recoverable energy and necessary digester size. Additionally, performance data have been collected on the most likely initial method for that energy recovery, a Stirling-cycle turbine driven by digester-produced methane and powering a generator, and an appropriately sized commercially available unit found. Finally, the recoverable-energy prediction has been recalculated for the case of using food scraps from the nearby Florence Moore dining hall, thereby giving the digesters the potential to contribute a significant fraction of the building's heating and electrical supply.

 Ultra Low Flow Shower Head Preference Testing (Jonas Ketterle)

This project is testing a selection of ultra-low-flow showerheads (1.5 gpm – 2.4 gpm) to compare their performance with the currently mandated 2.5 gpm low-flow showerheads installed in Stanford dorms. Student feedback will be used to choose ultra-low-flow showerheads with widely acceptable performance for use in the green dorm. Reduction from 2.5 gpm to 2.0 gpm can reduce water use in the green dorm by over 1000 gallons per week, and also save energy needed to heat that water. 

 Green Roofs (David Sheu)

Green roofs have been chosen for their benefits to the building itself (temperature buffering, UV shock reduction) as well as its surroundings (reducing the urban heat island effect, storm water retention). Oftentimes, however, green roofs must compete with solar panels for roof space. This experiment tests the effect of green roof evapotranspiration with photovoltaic cell performance. Symbiosis between the two could provide an extra incentive to include both features on a project. 

 Shower Use Profiling (Jonas Ketterle) 

Since showering is the primary demand for hot water in the green dorm, understanding what time shower loads are and how much students shower is very important for planning the solar water heating array. At the current standard of 2.5gpm showerheads, the green dorm would use 5800 gallons of water per week for showering; this averages out to 18 gallons per student per day. The average shower length was 9 minutes, ranging from 3-30 minutes, with an average temperature of 107.5 *F. The results of this experiment are being used to model green dorm hot water demand and efforts to reduce shower water consumption.

Energy (main faculty advisor: Gil Masters)

Shower Drain Heat Exchanger (Paul Kreiner) 

This research examines the potential of recovering heat from outgoing shower water at the drain to use it to preheat incoming cold water. This project will design, build, and test a variety of low cost heat exchangers suitable for this purpose.

 Kitchen Energy Use Optimization (Chi Nguyen)

The goal of researching the energy efficient kitchen is to reduce carbon emissions in the kitchen to save on the cost of photovoltaics needed to offset those carbon emissions. The inspiration for this project comes from the realization that carbon emissions in the kitchen are substantial and important to consider. This project includes the integration and design of a solar cooker and cob cooler into the kitchen.

 Solar Thermal Modeling (Jonas Ketterle) 

This experiment models the performance of solar thermal systems hour by hour over the course of a year. A model of the ICS (Integral Collector and Storage), for example, suggests that three times more energy can be harvested with evening showers rather than morning showers. This suggests that the green dorm could justify an ICS system sized to meet the evening demand (25%) in addition to the planned active solar water heating system. Current research questions focus on continuing refinement of the model and expansion of the model to other solar thermal systems.

 Biogas/Micro-Combined Heat and-Power System (Gil Masters)

Biogas harvested from the wastewater treatment system could power a micro combined-heat-and-power (CHP) system based on an external combustion Stirling engine system manufactured by Whisper Tech of New Zealand.   Their Whisper Gen CHP unit is the size of a home dishwasher and produces about 1.2 kW of electricity and 8 kW of heat with an overall efficiency of over 90 percent. Research questions include the degree to which biogas must be cleaned to operate the Stirling engine, how well the system performs under varying thermal and electrical load conditions, and how suitable it would be for a home CHP unit.

 Facility Integrated Vehicle (Paul Kreiner)

The goal of this research is to investigate the feasibility of a Facility Integrated Alternative Fuel Vehicle, such as a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle or plug-in hybrid. Research topics include: the type of alternative fuel vehicle that has the greatest potential for research and student use, the building and laboratory requirements for vehicle research, and potential for students to use the vehicle communally.

Materials and Structure (main faculty advisor: Sarah Billington)

Materials and Structure 

Life Cycle Costs of Structural Systems (Jen Tobias)

This research project uses LCADesign to create ecoProfiles for a steel and wood structural system in order to determine the system with the lowest environmental impact. Building materials are often chosen without full knowledge of the product's impact on the environment. This makes engineering for sustainability significantly harder. The Life Cycle Impact Analysis (LCIA) methodology translates scientific data into ecoProfiles, providing AEC professionals with information vital to sustainable design.

 Biocomposites (Sarah Billington)

The Green Dorm project presents several opportunities for investigating the application of innovative materials that promote sustainable living.   One current research area at Stanford is on the engineering of new materials made from renewable resources (e.g. fiber-reinforced plastics made from plant-based products) could be used in both structural and non-structural applications. A second area of materials research focuses on the application of traditional cement-based materials that have been re-engineered to achieve properties such as high tensile strength and ductility, resulting in more durable as well as easily demountable and replaceable building components.

Process (main faculty advisor: John Haymaker)

Process Modeling (Engin Ayaz) 

My research project this quarter has focused on how to visualize the decision making process for the Green Dorm Project most effectively. In particular, using the Multi-Attribute Collaborative Decision Analysis as the theoretical background, I have focused on the visualization of project goals, options and analyses at various levels of detail. The essential motivation for this research was to bring all the stakeholders to the same page with intuitive charts. The ultimate goal in this field of research is to come up with a formal methodology, which will allow us to effectively manage all the design decisions regarding the Green Dorm Project.

 Project Evaluation (Lauren Dietrich)

How do we work together? What tools help us to communicate with one another? Integrate the information we discover and the designs we create? Optimize the space we develop? This research is beginning to ask such questions through: research into existing online collaboration tools; appropriation of tools developed for other or more general purpose; and development of new design process and decision making tools. Present methods include literature review, project exploration, and development of a requirements framework and evalutation format for design and decision-making tools.

 Design and Construction Process (John Haymaker)

Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) projects require multidisciplinary solutions, yet AEC professionals lack formal methodologies to manage and communicate information and processes among multiple disciplines. The purpose of this research is to define and test formal methodologies that help teams manage and communicate relationships and processes between multidisciplinary design and construction information. This research designs and tests POP, Narrative, Decision Dashboard, and MACDADI methodologies with the Green Dorm as a case study.

Design Innovation / Aesthetics

Daylit Hallways (Engin Ayaz, Charlie Davis, Devin Flaherty)

This research project has focused on developing a novel architectural scheme for the hallways of the Green Dorm. Using carefully engineered skylights and cutouts on the floor, we designed a delightful space that simultaneously saves energy, increases student productivity and improves the air quality. Throughout our design process, we have incorporated daylighting, energy and computational fluid dynamics analyses, using IES Virtual Environment as our primary software tool.

Drops – Outdoor Water Sculpture (Alex Ko)

The potential energy of rainwater can be used to create a temporal sculpture piece that improves occupant understanding of building and natural water cycle adds beauty to the site. The rainwater is accented by lighting at night, forming interesting and intimate public spaces.

 Living Light Fixtures (Mike Lin)

The Living Lights project seeks to create a low power lighting system that provides safer dim night lighting for restrooms. The project illustrates in form the relationship between organisms and their environment and invokes observers to consider the interaction between light, water and air.

 Waterwall Rooms and Recyclable Furniture (Alex Ko)

The Waterwall rooms project explores the use of water-walls to define paths and doorways in outdoor space. The recyclable furniture project explores the potential of living-hinge/translucency characteristics of recycled high-density polyethylene in furniture applications.  

Monitoring / Feedback

Resource Use Visualization (Mike Lin)

Current building technology has the capability of producing high-resolution real-time water, electricity and other natural resource data. This research project seeks to make this information accessible and usable by mapping the detailed data to computer generated imagery and sound. Converting the large volume of quantitative data into intuitive to interpretive information pulls the numbers out of the data so that it may be used to improve occupant awareness, understanding, and behavior.


The Green Dorm will not only be the most sustainable dormitory building we know how to make today, it also will be a “living laboratory” that enables ongoing experiments, measurements, and comparison of new technologies, methods, and concepts that have a promise to improve how we live in buildings and operate them (Figure 1). Particular areas of interest are energy (operational and embodied), carbon and other environmental footprints, water, materials, and durability in earthquakes. Performance comparisons will be made relative to the other 260 housing buildings on campus and to buildings elsewhere that are willing to share performance data. The Green Dorm offers the unique opportunity to bring sustainability to life and make it real through academic-industry partnerships.

Figure 1: Conceptual drawing of the Green Dorm from the project’s Feasibility Study (available from:

Building: Located at the heart of Stanford’s campus, the dorm will house 47 students and include a lab. However, its design and construction will provide the flexibility to use the whole building as a lab. This physical space enables a program involving innovation, laboratory research, education, and student housing. The building and its design and construction process will be supported by and documented with detailed Building Information Models and Process Models so that we end up with an accurate, digital as-built 3D building information model of the building (e.g., to support energy simulations) and learn how to create such buildings. We will close the loop by validating the models and improving the design and management processes by measuring and tuning actual performance of the facility in relation to the models. As a mid-size multi-use facility, findings in the dorm could likely be extrapolated to residential or commercial projects.

Innovation: Enhanced energy efficiency, better use of materials, effective use of water, etc. require innovations and changes in how we design, build, and operate buildings. This requires careful attention to the implementation of the innovations, integration of the innovations into the technical systems and social fabric of the building, and the measurement of performance impacts of the innovations. The Green Dorm will enable the real-world testing of promising innovations, such as new onsite energy production methods, participation of a building and the vehicles of its occupants in local and regional energy management, new interfaces for building occupants to understand and act on energy consumption, and behavioral research to explore ways to influence user behavior to affect energy use and demand response. This will allow the Green Dorm stakeholders to gain a realistic picture of the value of a particular innovation for a portfolio of buildings (e.g., all housing units on campus, all multi-family residential customers for a utility, etc.).

Lab: By providing an opportunity to test innovations in the messy real world, the Green Dorm should help accelerate the introduction of worthwhile new technologies and methods to the market by showing benefits and barriers for these technologies. It will serve as a demonstration place where these innovations can be seen in practice. By measuring the performance of a particular innovation and comparing the performance to computer simulations and comparable buildings the Green Dorm provides validated real-world data to building users and operators, technology developers, and policy makers. In this way, it will provide a bridge between academic and industry research laboratories and the marketplace. All lifecycle phases of the project will serve as a laboratory so that the impact of the organization of the design and construction process on achieving sustainable buildings, the role of building codes, the accuracy and cost-effectiveness of available energy and other performance simulation methods, and the nature and frequency of performance measurements can be assessed.

Dorm: The Green Dorm aims to be the most desirable living space on campus. In addition to the researchers participating in the experiments, the Green Dorm will directly inform the 47 students that live in the dorm every year. It also will enlighten many more Stanford students through courses in virtually all Schools at Stanford that will interact with the Green Dorm. It also will reach participants at conferences and workshops that will be hosted at the facility. Finally, it will, of course, have a strong web presence to inform the global community about its findings.

In summary, the Green Dorm facilitates an innovation, research, and education program in sustainable building and living based on academic and industry partners with excellence in research and practice. It has the potential to demonstrate all kinds of innovations and measure their impacts, from distributed wireless sensor networks to organic materials, all under a single collaborative roof. This research has shown that students can carry out research that benefits the design, construction, and operation of sustainable building projects. Building professionals and university staff benefit from this research. At the same time students learn by doing and inspire each other to push the envelope of existing knowledge and practice.

Unfortunately, the actual construction of the Green Dorm is on hold because of the financial crisis.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 2 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

RFA, Scientific Discipline, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, energy conservation, sustainable development, clean technologies, green design, performance based code compliance, environmental conscious construction, environmental sustainability, green building design, conservation, alternative energy source, architecture

Relevant Websites: Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2007
  • 2008 Progress Report

  • P3 Phase I:

    The Green Dorm: A Sustainable Residence and Living Laboratory for Stanford University  | Final Report