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Zion National Park Visitors Center (Utah, USA)

Credits: National Park Service

In creating the Zion National Park Visitor Center, the National Park Service (NPS), working with DOE's National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), has complemented Zion's natural beauty.

This low-energy, sustainable facility is the entry to a transit- and pedestrian-centered visitor experience, providing park information, interpretation and trip-planning assistance within a resource environment. The visitor center is part of a transportation system that seeks to reduce resource impacts and enhance the visitor experience. Consisting of indoor and outdoor spaces for visitor services, this facility creates a setting to promote and interpret park resources and agency conservation values. It was built in 2002. Several effective energy features were included in this project: daylighting, Trombe walls for passive solar heating, [[downdraft cooltowers]] for natural ventilation cooling, energy-efficient lighting, and advanced building controls. A roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) system provides electric power. This project will save roughly $14,000 and about 10 kW of electric demand per year through these energy-saving measures.


Zion Trombe Wall

Zion Visitor Center Trombe wall, clerestory windows, and cooltower National Park Service

The Zion National Park Visitor Center is an award-winning example of sustainable design. The Denver Service Center, working with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, created a sustainable building that incorporates the area's natural features and energy-efficient building concepts into an attractive design that saves energy and operating expenses while protecting the environment.

The facility combines a wide range of basic sustainable designs and technologies. The facility is expecting 80% energy-savings over conventional visitor centers. The park is expected to save $16,000 per year in energy costs. Following is a list of sustainable concepts incorporated into this project: Energy-Efficient Features:
Trombe wall
Photovoltaic (PV) system
Glazing design and selection
Passive down-draft cooltower
Energy-efficient landscaping
Natural ventilation
Thermal mass flooring
Optimized overhangs

Zion Alternative Transportation System
The Zion Transportation System shifts the visitor experience from the automobile to a natural resource environment. This shift creates a seamlessness between buildings and landscape as well as between the park and the gateway community of Springdale, Utah. Visitors are encouraged to leave their cars at designated areas in Springdale and ride environmentally friendly propane-powered buses. One-half of the transportation system operates outside the park, thereby utilizing existing parking areas and development. This reduces traffic and improves community relations.

Site Description
Using this site, previously a campground, avoided unnecessary impact of natural and cultural resources. No undeveloped lands were used. Underutilized, existing areas in Springdale were used for parking and facility development. Construction was phased to minimize disturbance. Topsoil was stockpiled, runoff was diverted to existing sediment-catching areas, existing vegetation was maintained, no soil was transported off site, and dust control was implemented in roadwork adjacent to the existing campground. Native low-water-use grasses and shrubs were used for landscaping. Historic irrigation channels were restored. Collected rainwater joins river water and is diverted through a series of gravity-fed irrigation ditches. High-efficiency irrigation techniques and drip irrigation with a weather data controller were installed primarily to encourage the reestablishment of native vegetation. (It may be possible to achieve 100% reduction of potable water for landscaping after plant establishment.)

A 70% reduction in energy use was met through the design and implementation of natural ventilation, efficient lighting, effective glazing, insulation, passive downdraft cooltowers, Trombe walls, photovoltaics, energy-efficient landscaping, and an energy management system. The roof insulation is Structural Insulated Panels (SIP's). The walls are 6-inch steel studs with a spray-in-place foam insulation. The cooltower design was adapted from a technique used to condition outdoor patio spaces. Hot dry air is drawn into evaporative cooling pads at the top of the tower. The air is now more dense and falls naturally through the tower into the space. High windows in the building relieve the hot air. 12% of the total energy load is provided by on-site PV, with an additional 10% allowed-for in the building design.

Materials & Resources
20% of materials, including stone, concrete, and paving, were manufactured within 500 miles (800 km) of the site. Cleared vegetation and pavement were recycled. 

Indoor Environment
Cool towers (which provide over 5 air changes per hour) and operable windows provide natural ventilation to building occupants. Thermal, ventilation, and lighting systems may be controlled by users. Extensive daylighting was implemented. The building remained unoccupied for 2 weeks following construction, while commissioning and final punch items were completed. Visual Comfort and The Building Envelope Use skylights and/or clerestories for daylighting

American Society of Landscape Architects Professional Awards Program in 2001; Category/title: Honor Award AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects in 2001

Green Building Challenge in 2000

Lessons Learned
Designing the electrical system and installing the conduit for future PV was ideal. When PV was added, it was installed in a few hours. The photovoltaic system and inverter are used for an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system. A better definition of what loads were to be UPS-powered would have been useful. The UPS system is not guaranteed to provide continuous power. About 5% of the outgates have left the building with a brief (less than 1 second) outage—enough to reset computers. Some small UPS computer backups have been installed for the brief outages. Cooltowers have worked as well as direct evaporative coolers except in the enclosed offices, where additional small fans were added. The recommendation is that cooltowers be used only in large open spaces. Daylighting levels have been lower than anticipated. This was due to the large number of dark beams in the space and the white stained ceilings (instead of white paint, as modeled). In addition, bug screens on the operable windows have affected the daylighting level. The result has been additional operation of artificial lighting. Trombe walls have exceeded operational expectations. However, a design change resulted in two enclosed offices against Trombe walls, and these offices tend to overheat. In large open zones, the Trombe walls are very effective.



  Zion Visitor Center Energy Performance Evaluation NREL 2005 (3,518 kb)

  Zion National Park Sustainable Features Brochure (467 kb)


Zion National Park Visitor Center, Utah (USA)