Sustainable Construction Systems: Solar Power and Geothermal

Throughout April, our blogs have covered various sustainable practices used in the construction industry. So, what better way to wrap up Earth Month than with a short project case study that highlights how sustainable features can be incorporated into a renovated facility, bringing it back to life while minimizing its carbon footprint.


Case Study: International Harvester Building

Constructed in 1937, International Harvester operated as an auto showroom and repair garage for decades. Five years ago, Ross Group renovated it as our corporate headquarters and today, it is a contributing building to Tulsa’s Blue Dome Historic District. Throughout the renovations, which included the complete interior demolition and structural rehabilitation, we retained the historic, industrial, and commercial character of this facility.


Every decision made in during design and construction paid homage to the original structure. For instance, the original showroom at the front of the building now contains glass-walled conference rooms and a reception area. The transparency of the conference rooms preserves the view through the space to the restored back wall of the showroom, while the unique color palette throughout the building matches shades from classic International Harvester vehicles from the era — daffodil, beyond blue, and green dill. We removed paint from the brick on the exterior of the building to return it to its original color, and the deteriorated areas of brick were rebuilt using materials with the same composition, texture, color, and joint profile of the original walls. Even the new exterior signage is hung in a simple pin-mounted style, similar to the original International Harvester signage.


Sustainable Features

One aspect of this renovation project that we are particularly proud of is the sustainable features incorporated into the building. Before discussing the two most remarkable sustainable features, it’s worth noting that this is a renovation of a historic facility, as opposed to the construction of a new one. While it is certainly not always the case, sometimes it’s more sustainable to renovate an existing facility than to construct a new one. According to the EPA, a renovation project may reduce the consumption of land, energy, and materials. There are many considerations that go into making this decision, one of which is determining a facility’s place in the community from a historic perspective. A qualified construction firm will be able to guide you throughout your decision process of whether it is more sustainable to renovate a building or construct a new one.


International Harvester incorporates renewable energy sources and sustainable energy best practices. For example, the building has 120 rooftop solar panels that generate between 10% to 20% of the electricity needed to power the building, reducing our carbon footprint. With rising utility prices and the decrease in the cost of purchasing solar power systems, it is possible to reduce operating costs and protect against changing utility rates with these types of systems. Businesses can further save money by taking advantage of available state and federal tax credit incentives. Finally, solar power systems require little to no maintenance. So, although the expense up front may seem like a lot, the lack of maintenance and the long-term savings add up significantly.

Our facility also includes a geothermal system for heating and cooling the building, which is another very cost effective and sustainable way of minimizing the building’s carbon footprint. Geothermal systems work by utilizing the thermal energy that’s been absorbed and retained by the ground or a body of water, with the heat transferred by use of a heat pump. Our facility has a geothermal field with 29 wells to sustain 18 heat pumps, and has water systems underneath the parking lot area. There are numerous benefits to using geothermal power, including:

  • low operating costs; for commercial facilities, geothermal can provide a considerable monthly savings in utility expenses

  • significant reductions in energy usage and carbon emissions, as they don’t generate greenhouse gases or by products

  • very little required maintenance, similar to solar power systems

  • increased comfort and superior air quality

Geothermal heat pumps are ecofriendly; provide comfortable, reliable heat; and the economic benefits mean your building will have low operating costs for decades.


Future of Sustainable Construction

The future of sustainable construction is bright. Advances are being made at a fast pace and we are excited to see what new technology will lend itself to sustainable construction. One thing to keep an eye out for is the ability for improved storage options for solar power, which would be a step towards lessening the current gaps in this type of power. Also, some solar companies are now designing shingles as solar panels, which could make solar power more appealing in residential construction. Whatever the future holds, we can all benefit from sustainable construction and features through cost savings and indoor comfort, while supporting the overall health of our environment.

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