News and Articles

Microclimate – Bringing Biophilia to Child Care: The Child Care Center at Hort Woods

[The following is an excerpt from Volume 23 of The ReeSource, which was published in August of 2012. This volume was a special issue which focused on the innovative design features of the Child Care Center at Hort Woods – the first Penn State University building ever awarded a LEED Platinum Certification. An online version of this project feature is still viewable on the Penn State University Sustainability Institute’s website at]

From the beginning of the first design charettes, the Hort Woods were always viewed as central to the Child Care Center, as their use for outdoor play and education was integral to the new center’s program. However, the idea that the Hort Woods could also contribute to interior comfort and climate control was more gradually discovered. Reese Engineering had investigated natural or hybrid ventilation in the past and looked to possible synergies such as prevailing wind, ‘treescaping’, and even the use of exterior water features; but, initially we didn’t grasp how much the existing woods could contribute, not just to energy savings, but to indoor/outdoor integration. Ironically, we didn’t ‘see the forest for the trees’, and over the coming months we would better comprehend the value of our neighboring ‘microclimate’.

In the late spring and early summer of 2009, Reese Engineering made a few trips to campus to get a better sense of this potential asset. We took along a thermal imaging camera to help us document and tell the story of how this microclimate could significantly impact the building system operation. What we discovered on two days in late May and late June was that the conditions in the Hort Woods were five to ten degrees cooler than the future street address at Allen Road to the south. In May, we recorded 76° at the street and as low as 69° along the path through the woods. On the above-average day in June, our street high was 86° while the woods remained just over 78°. Engineers are notorious for designing systems thinking foremost of peak conditions – and have to – but consideration of more prevalent conditions throughout the season is where potential energy savings really exist. Although State College may see a couple weeks each summer in the 90s, the average high in July is 82°. With the Hort Woods 7° cooler, this means a potential incoming air temperature during natural or hybrid ventilation operation of 75°, which is also Penn State’s standard cooling thermostat set point. Therefore, we realized that the Hort Woods could potentially limit mechanical cooling for the majority of the summer. Our next challenge was figuring out how to bring the woods inside.

– Bryan C. Smith, PE, LEED AP

Bryan is a Licensed Mechanical Engineer, a LEED Accredited Professional, and Board Member of the USGBC Central Pennsylvania Chapter. Please feel free to contact Bryan for further details regarding the above information.