Minnesota History Center: Most Improved State Building on the Capitol Complex!

Water bottle filling station on the 4th floor

In the few weeks I’ve been working in the MN History Center building so far, I’ve noticed some of the visible things that are helping to reduce resource use and encourage sustainable behavior- like the water bottle filling stations that make it easy to bring your own reusable bottle rather than a disposable plastic bottle and the junk mail reduction campaign posters. I was interested in hearing more about some of the behind-the-scenes (or in-the-mechanical-room) actions that are resulting in such impressive savings throughout the MHS. Last week I talked with Karen Nichols, Facilities Manager here at the MN History Center and Green Team member, to learn about initiatives in the building to save energy, water and waste.

Shortly after I sat down, Karen proudly shared with me that the MN History Center has seen the biggest savings of any building in the State Capitol Complex. Part of the impetus for making these building improvements was based on an Executive Order from the Governor, to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent in state facilities. The energy consumption for all buildings in the Capitol complex is tracked through the State of Minnesota Plant Management Division at the Department of Administration. Based on those numbers, the Minnesota History Center has seen a nearly 60% savings in energy usage over the past 6 years, significantly more than other state facilities and above and beyond the goal of the Executive Order (1). This is especially significant given that in 2005 the History Center was the Capitol Complex building with the highest total energy use.

MN History Center Annual Electricity Use

The biggest savings came as a result of the HVAC retrofit completed in 2009. Shortly after that improvement, the Historical Society enrolled in the state Public Buildings Enhanced Energy Efficiency Program (PBEEEP), and worked with the Center for Energy and Environment to embark on a building recommissioning process. You can read more about this process in the Minnesota History Center: Existing Building Commissioning blog post from a few weeks ago, or watch the presentation from the More for the Mission and Minnesota's Energy Evolution event on December 11, 2012 (the case study of the Minnesota History Center's energy efficiency efforts starts at 46:30). The History Center was the first Capitol Complex building to enroll in PBEEEP, and many others have since followed suit.
There has been ongoing attention throughout the sustainability campaign on lighting improvements in the building. While exhibits and collections have specialized needs around color rendering, illumination, and exposure of artifacts (among other things), there are also specific considerations in the office spaces for choosing the right light. Most of the current fixtures in the office spaces are 2x4 T8 fluorescents or recessed cans with either fluorescent or halogen bulbs. As part of ongoing retrofits in the building, that lighting is being replaced with LED fixtures. You can see some in action in the 4th floor bathrooms, and in demonstration in the 2nd floor conference room and a shared office space on the 4th floor.
The new fixtures look quite similar to the current fluorescent tubes, but will be 

LED tube in 4th floor bathroom lightadjustable to preferred brightness levels and some will be fully dimmable. With the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) that some of the shared cubicle lighting will have, each fixture can be set to preferred lighting levels for a work space. Another part of the lighting improvements is the addition of motion and occupancy sensors for lights in the building. Along with the new fixtures will come an upgrade to the controls system, which will set schedules for lighting in some areas of the building. In applications where it’s appropriate, the lights will be equipped with sensors that pick up both motion and noise, so that when a space is left unoccupied the lights turn off automatically. 

The savings from these lighting improvements will be seen not only through utility bills but also through reduced maintenance. LED fixtures are estimated to last 25,000 to 50,000 hours, compared to the 1,000 to 2,000 hours that incandescents typically last and the rated lifetimes for fluorescent bulbs range from 4,000 to 12,000 hours (2). Switching to LEDs therefore means a lot fewer bulb replacements and less staff time spent changing out lights. Rebates offered through Xcel Energy for lighting retrofits are helping to bring down the costs of the project.

This is only a taste of the many ways in which the Minnesota Historical Society is improve its sustainability, I’ll be talking more in future posts about that specialized lighting in exhibits and collections, waste reduction initiatives at MHS, the new HVAC system and controls, and sharing more about how those improvements and savings are being tracked. Stay tuned, and keep an eye out around the building for other places you see and experience these sustainability initiatives!



(1) Minnesota History Center: Six Years (and counting) of Energy Conservation Work: https://docs.google.com/a/mnhs.org/file/d/0B2INJU_BDE0ERlFsekh2U0prRU0/edit

(2) How Energy Efficiency Light Bulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescents: http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/how-energy-efficient-light-bulbs-...

Photo credit: Minnesota History Center Events