The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, has been an iconic part of the Chicago skyline for many years. And now, thanks to plans for a major energy efficiency overhaul, it may give visitors and residents in the Windy City something even more important to think about.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the tower is spending about $200 million to $300 million to upgrade its energy efficiency and become more “green” overall.
And this doesn’t just mean they’re switching to CFLs or upping their recycling goals.
Built in the 1970′s, when the idea of energy conservation seemed laughable, and bigger always meant better, the Willis Tower was constructed with single-pane windows that leak around the edges and let in hot air in summer and cold in winter, lights everywhere and inefficient electric heating throughout.
Sara Beardsley, a senior architect at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture in Chicago, pointed out that these are serious design flaws that have a big impact on the buildings energy consumption.
“Each old window is like a car driving around,” Beardsley told the Chicago Tribune. “And people don’t think of it that way — it’s just a window. But I think maybe we need to start thinking about it that way.”
The article mentions that replacing the 16,000 window with new, more efficient ones is estimated to be enough to cut heating needs by 50 percent and allow for new, smaller mechanical systems with a significantly lower environmental impact. A plumbing upgrade is expected to reduce water usage by 24 million gallons a year.
But that’s not even the most exciting part of the project.
Already plans are underway to create a “green roof” on the buildings 90th floor. Although the altitude means that only mountain vegetation can be grown there, metal meshing (too keep the plants from blowing away), sod and plants have already been brought to the building site.
The Tribune reports that “in design plans, the “green roof” project would be expanded to the building’s multiple roofs, along with wind turbines and solar panels.”
When completed, the greening of the Willis Tower will help to keep millions of pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere. The engineers and architects working on the project hope that this renovation will inspire other buildings to seek the same level of efficiency, which could eventually help reduce demand for energy from fossil fuels.
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