Austin, Texas, is a national leader when it comes to advancing the cause of the green movement, and The Querencia at Barton Creek, a continuing care facility, is a perfect example.

The Querencia was built using the latest in green materials and innovative energy-saving design features, according to CSD Architects President David Dillard, who oversaw the project. And in order to meet the city of Austin’s highest level of eco-friendliness, Dillard and his team promised to build on only 28% of the 38-acre property, leaving much of the campus unscathed.

To build the facility on such a comparatively small patch of land, Dillard decided to build vertically, not a common strategy, except for communities in big cities. The Querencia is seven stories, five above ground and two below. Even though high-rises aren’t always thought of as the greenest of buildings, Dillard says this is a misconception. The more vertical a building, the more open land is available to reabsorb rainwater, Dillard notes.

Other design elements help reduce cooling costs by blocking UV rays.

“The roof is an all-metal roof and it’s reflective and has exaggerated overhangs to protect windows and walls beneath. Sun shading devices and sun trellises hang out over windows to keep the sun from heating up rooms inside.”

Interestingly, these shading devices don’t darken the facility one bit, Dillard says. Light still pours through each window, making The Querencia a bright and airy place.

Clever design isn’t the only thing keeping The Querencia green. Ross Dickman, executive director at The Querencia, says the residents play an integral part in the process. In fact, eight of them have formed a sort of energy task force. Together, they brainstorm ideas to reduce energy costs and improve their own quality of life.

Home team advantage

“These folks are some of the brightest minds that we’ve had… in the country. They’ve been in the gas and oil business, alternative fuel source energy fields. We’ve had a chemistry professor, a mathematics major from Berkeley. Really a lot of bright minds,” says Dickman.

In partnership with the University of Texas School of Engineering, these seniors have installed motion detector light switches, solar panels to heat the swimming pool and sauna, and a timing system for the lights that cuts energy output at night by up to one-third.

While The Querencia was designed and built with state-of-the-art green materials, Dickman says retrofitting a facility to include many energy saving features is easy and relatively inexpensive. Solar panels, lighting systems, motion detectors and timers are all easy to install, he says.

“This is all ancillary type of equipment that can reduce power bills and the draw on the energy level significantly,” he says.

Because of these improvements, The Querencia is well on its way to achieving its goal of reducing energy costs by 15%–which would mean a savings of up to $115,000 annually.

The operator also has received a $75,000 rebate from Austin Energy. Now that’s the kind of green you can take to the bank.