Williams College's Kellogg House becomes a $5.2M experiment in sustainability

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Editor's note: This story was modified on April 14, 2014 to correct that reusable materials removed from the Kellogg House were donated to the Center for EcoTechnology EcoBuilding Bargins store in Springfield, not the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, as originally reported.

WILLIAMSTOWN -- In 1794, Kellogg House was built as the new home for the Williams College president, just one year after the school was established.

Today, Kellogg House is the home of a $5.2 million experiment in both learning and sustainable construction: Once the Kellogg House is complete, designers hope it will produce at least as much electricity as it uses, and that it will only use the falling rain for all its water needs.

Just as important are the construction practices and materials used in renovating and adding to the original structure.

"It's an experiment in some ways to see if we can do it," said David Dethier, Williams College professor of geology and mineralogy and chairman of the Kellogg project building committee. "It's a building designed to achieve total neutrality in its affect on the environment."

More than a year after completion -- which could be as early as this fall -- officials are hoping it will qualify as a Living Building Challenge project by the International Living Future Institute.

Through the use of the latest in insulation tactics, photovoltaic solar panels, mulching toilets, a 6,000 gallon water collection tank, and a complex rain water retention and water filtration system, the operation of the facility should not require water from the town supply, nor use of the town sewer system, and will hopefully produce more power than it needs. Any surplus power would feed into the public utility grid.

The real challenge, Dethier noted, is installing these 21st century technologies into a structure that was built with wooden planks and spike nails 220 years ago.

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"It's a philosophy being put into practice," he said. "If done right, the building will behave as a part of the ecosystem."

To qualify for the Living Building Challenge (LBC), in addition to net zero use of electricity and water, the plan has to include environmental restoration of the project site to minimize its impact on the local habitat. The project also needs to use materials that are nontoxic -- both as part of the structure and in their manufacture -- and procured from sources as close to the project as possible.

There can be no incineration of any kind, so no fireplaces or pellet stoves.

The LBC standards are rigorous: In the United States, only four buildings have been awarded the LBC certification, and more than 50 are seeking LBC certification.

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Even after completion, the occupants of the building will play a role in the certification. They are the ones who will have to be meticulous about conserving water and power by shutting down equipment or lighting and conserving water when they can.

The total structure will be roughly 6,900 square feet at completion. The solar panels will provide enough power to operate a forced-air heating system. At least one window in every room has be operable to provide for natural cooling and air circulation in the warmer months.

"It depends an awful lot on the individuals that occupy the house," Dethier said. "It will be educational for us in every standpoint. The Living Building Challenge is serious. Not everyone that tries is certified."

Once complete, Kellogg House will serve as offices for the Center for Environmental Studies and the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.

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But first, the house had to move. It was relocated slightly to the north -- the third time the structure had been moved on campus.

In the 1870s, it was relocated and converted into faculty housing. In 1919 it was moved again to allow for the construction of Stetson Hall.

The project necessitated the demolition of two additions to the structure and the Seeley House, which also had to be conducted in a sustainable process that involved reusing of about 90 percent of the removed materials.

Much of it went to the Center for EcoTechnology (CET) EcoBuilding Bargins store, a nonprofit operation that sells used materials to contractors, in Springfield.

The project includes complete renovation of Kellogg House, and the construction of an addition on the eastern side, which includes an elevator.

The project is in the renovation phase. The interior and exterior of Kellogg House are being stripped and readied for new materials. The elevator tower is nearly done, the first step in construction of the addition.

At the end of the first year, Dethier said, if they are unsuccessful in achieving the LBC certification, "we're willing to accept that risk as part of the educational process."

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