U.S. Geological Survey, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Project Point of Contact

Dave Nichols, USGS
Gosnold Laboratory, Massachussets

Project Summary

The U.S. Geological Survey Woods Hole Science Center recently completed a 4,400 square foot laboratory addition designed and constructed using the sustainable design principles and technologies including: a vegetated roof, native landscaping, a rain garden, use of low emitting and non-toxic materials, natural ventilation and lighting, and an increased connection with the outdoor surroundings.  The sustainable facility, completed in December 2007, increased the size of the existing building by 44 percent and achieved an energy savings of 61 percent through the use of active and passive solar technologies, natural ventilation and lighting strategies, increased insulating standards, and optimization of automated controls.  They incorporated extensive passive solar design strategies in the entire building.  For example, the “Nice Day Switch,” allows occupants to turn off the heating or cooling system and to open windows for natural ventilation.  The simple payback period of the energy conservation measures is nine years.  Additionally, they realized an energy savings of $20,000 per year from the elimination of freezers located outside to an appropriate indoor storage facility.

Project Description


The U.S. Geological Survey Woods Hole Science Center (WHSC) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, is a 30- year old campus with roughly 25,000 square feet of laboratory/office space and 25,000 square feet of warehouse or storage areas.  The USGS earth scientists at WHSC explore and study many aspects of the underwater areas between shorelines and the deep ocean, off the U.S. East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and in parts of the Caribbean and Great Lakes.  The campus has struggled with overcrowded offices and laboratories and a severe lack of economical sample storage.

The USGS management identified the need to increase the size of one laboratory building on the campus by 44 percent, and determined that the best way to achieve the EPAct 2005 energy reduction mandates for new construction was to apply sustainable design principles.  Furthermore, USGS applied for and received a $15,000 technical assistance grant from the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) to identify the technologies and principles that would be life-cycle cost effective for the new building design.

The new space would help modernize the existing buildings and facilities, relieve present overcrowding, and would provide economical and efficient storage solutions for frozen sediment samples that are currently archived in extremely costly “outside” portable containers that require separate refrigeration/freezer units.

Energy and Water Savings

The FEMP design analysis team used an ASHRAE 90.1 base case laboratory model to determine the energy savings that could be realized from various energy saving and sustainable technologies.  The FEMP analysis revealed that the incorporation of the several energy measures would reduce annual energy consumption by 61 percent as compared to the base case model.  The reduction translates to 380.9 million British thermal units (MMBtu) and $4,300, each year, at current energy rates.  In addition, FEMP concluded that the capital cost increase to implement the measures would equate to roughly $37,300, or just 5.3 percent of the $708,000 construction costs, which was well within the standard project contingency of 10 percent.  Therefore, no additional funding would need to be requested.  The simple payback period of the energy conservation measures is nine years.

More importantly, dramatic savings will be realized through the elimination of the “outside” freezers.  Relocating the frozen storage samples to an appropriate indoor facility reduces the site’s annual energy consumption by 1,888 MWh, or 6,444 MMBtu, and yields a cost savings of $20,000 a year.  This is equivalent to the average annual electricity consumption of close to 200 homes.

The energy and water conservation measures incorporated in the new design are detailed below:

  • Building Envelope: The building envelope is generously insulated with R-values more than double that of the base case model in order to reduce heat loss, which will result in lower expense for fuel and lower emissions from the heating and cooling system.  The facility was also partially constructed into the sub-terrain which provides an added measure of thermal protection and internal space stabilization, allowing for more efficient heating and cooling control.

  • Efficient Heat Distribution: Radiant floor heating is used requiring lower temperature water than traditional baseboard systems, which saves energy and reduces the generation of greenhouse gases caused by fossil fuels.

  • Natural Ventilation: The building is designed with a “Nice Day Switch,” which allows occupants to turn off the heating or cooling system and to open clearstory windows on moderate days.  Offices are equipped with desk height windows and acoustic air transfer grills that draw warm air from the high lobby space out through the clearstory windows.  Natural ventilation connects building occupants with weather cycles and reduces the use of mechanical equipment.

  • Sun Screens: The addition is equipped with sun screens to protect south facing windows from heat gained during the summer, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning.

  • Light Shelves: Light shelves are used to reflect natural light deep into office spaces, reducing the need for artificial lighting.  Within the office spaces, angled ceiling panels help to reflect light to work surfaces.  Windows have been placed adjacent to offices walls, instead of in the center of the space, in order to reflect natural light into the space.

  • Automatic Controls: The application of occupancy and daylight sensors has been optimized to reduce the amount of energy used for artificial lighting.

  • Exterior Water Use:  The addition was also designed to minimize the use of exterior irrigation.  Only native plants species were selected to increase the areas of local habitat and to ensure that no potable water would be used for irrigation.

Use of renewable Energy/Alternative Fuels

The use of renewable energy is a major component of the facility’s sustainable design.   Extensive passive solar design strategies were incorporated into the entire building, such as the “Nice Day Switch,” which allows occupants to turn off the heating or cooling system and to open clearstory windows for natural ventilation.  The sunscreens installed on the south facing windows are another passive solar technology that lessens the need for mechanical air conditioning.  The use of light shelves is another passive solar strategy that promotes natural lighting techniques as opposed to artificial electrical lighting.   

The facility also utilizes an active solar technology comprised of 300 individual evacuated solar tubes mounted in ten roof-top solar array panels that circulate hot water to radiant floor zones throughout all spaces in the building.  The tubes collect enough solar energy to heat the addition.   The estimated renewable energy generated is 12.4 MWh.

Sustainable/Whole Building Approach 

The FEMP design analysis employed a whole building approach to the design through the use of modeling software and the simulation of the sustainable design strategies to determine the interdependence of the techniques.  This process resulted in the most economical and life-cycle cost effective design.

In addition, to the sustainable energy and water conservation measures and renewable energy technologies discussed above the following sustainable strategies were also integrated into the new design:

  • Storm Water Quantity and Quality Control:  The impervious area of the addition was reduced by creating a vegetated roof system.  The native plant materials and soil not only slow down the flow of runoff water during a rain event, but also absorb the water reducing the amount of contaminants carried to water systems. 

  • Reduce Habitat Disruption: The vegetated roof system at the addition replaces habitat that was disturbed by the project. 

  • Light Pollution Reduction: Site lighting was designed to the minimum levels required for safety.  Fixtures where chosen that direct the light downward to ensure the visual access to the night sky and to prevent the disruption of nocturnal animal habitats.

  • Rain Garden: Rain water collected from roof drains is directed to a landscaped swale allowing the water to infiltrate on site and connecting building occupants to the water cycle.

  • Recycled Content: Carpet, ceiling tiles and gypsum wall board were all specified to have a high level of recycled content thereby reducing the demand on harvesting virgin materials and reducing the burden on our landfills.

  • Low Emitting Materials: Paint systems were specified to have zero harmful VOC gases ensuring the health of the applicator and the occupants of the building.  Formaldehyde free products were used to prevent harmful off-gassing from polluting the indoor air quality. 

  • Non-Toxic Materials: Materials that produce toxins during their manufacture, during their use and at the end of their useful lives where avoided to ensure the health of the building occupants and the health of the planet.

  • Daylight and Views: The addition is designed with access to natural light and views connecting building occupants to the environment and minimizing the energy required by artificial lights.

Environmental or Non-Energy Benefits

A sustainable design inherently carries a host of environmental and non-energy benefits.  The WHSC laboratory addition and renovation project reduced the building’s impact on the surrounding natural environment by minimizing rainwater runoff, light pollution, habitat disruption, and impact of local energy demand.  The FEMP design analysis concluded that the energy and water conservation measures alone would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 68 thousand pounds or 45 percent, sulfur dioxide emissions by 225 pounds or 33 percent, and nitrogen oxides by 138 pounds or 36 percent.  In addition, the annual electricity savings realized by relocating the frozen storage samples to an appropriate indoor facility corresponds to a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 1,250 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane).

The health of the occupants was taken into the utmost consideration while planning for this sustainable facility.  Specific building construction and finishing materials were chosen to reduce VOC gases and other off-gassing potentials to maintain a high level of indoor air quality.  In addition, the use of natural ventilation and lighting improves building occupant satisfaction, as does the maximization of natural views.  All these components achieve a natural connection for the occupants between the building and the natural surroundings.

Institutionalization and Transferability 

The success of the WHSC sustainable laboratory design is extremely important to USGS as a whole.  USGS owns and manages hundreds of facilities of similar size, and smaller, throughout the nation.  The success of this project proves to USGS management and facility decision makers that sustainable design is achievable and affordable.  Green buildings are often viewed as significantly more expensive to build and therefore, unattainable particularly for smaller facilities.  Receiving the design assistance grant and working with FEMP, enabled USGS to prove that is not true and that the agency can meet energy and environmental legislative requirements through the use of sustainable design.  In addition, building and renovating USGS facilities with sustainable design features follows closely to the portion of the USGS mission statement “… manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.”

USGS will advertise the success of the WHSC project throughout the agency to ensure that all levels of management throughout all of the regions understand the benefits of sustainable design.  Receiving this FEMP Energy and Water Management Award would be an effective avenue for outreach.

Outreach Activities

The management at the WHSC constantly provided information to the building occupants on the design and construction of the laboratory addition and renovation.  Meetings and emails were the primary forms of communicating the sustainable design features of the new addition with the scientists on site.  WHSC management found the communication to be well received and the scientists were very anxious for the project to be completed and interested in the project details and sustainable attributes.

Content of the emails included websites of the specific types of equipment that would be used such as for the active solar hot water heating system and the “Nice Day Switch” control option.  Anytime an issue, new feature, or question arose, WHSC management would send an email addressing the topic.

Innovative New Technology/Technology Transfer 

The WHSC sustainable design project incorporated many innovative technologies:

  • Radiant Floor Heating

  • Evacuated Solar Tube Water Heating System

  • Passive Solar Design Strategies

  • Natural Ventilation/”Nice Day Switch”

  • South-facing Window Sun Screens

  • Natural Light Shelves

  • Native Landscaping

  • Vegetated Roof System

  • Low Light Pollution

  • Rain Garden

  • Low Emitting/Non-Toxic Materials

  • Recycled Content Building Materials

This is an impressive list of sustainable design technologies that is most often seen incorporated in larger construction projects.  But this WHSC sustainable design project was completed on a 10,000 square foot facility that added 4,400 more square feet.  This project is an extraordinary example of USGS WHSC management not taking the easy, commercially standard path for an addition/renovation project, but challenging themselves to create a better building, minimizing the use of natural resources; maximizing occupant comfort, health and satisfaction; achieving Federal goals; and developing a more sustainable existence.  This is truly a role model for all small Federal facilities, a strong demonstration of “Leading By Example.”

Gosnold Laboratory Addition and Renovation Final Picture


Gosnold Laboratory Addition and Renovation Plan