Susan Reilly (MechEngr 84) grew up in the late 1970s learning about solar energy and renewable materials from her father, an attorney and engineer. Since those early years as sustainable design became mainstream, she developed a passion for improving the environmental quality in the buildings in which we work, study, and conduct business.
Reilly is president of Enermodal Engineering Inc., in Denver, a consulting firm committed to improving the energy and resource efficiency of buildings and building products. Enermodal's engineers and architects in Denver and Kitchener, Ontario, consult on sustainable design, evaluate environmentally appropriate technologies and products, and conduct building inspections and energy audits.
"We work with a lot of different green technologies covering everything from where the site is located, and how people actually get to the building, to how they occupy and use that building," says Reilly. "If we don't stay on top of the new technologies coming out and don't bring new ideas to the table, it's not worth having us on the team."
The company's pioneering vision has been at the forefront of consumers' growing environmental consciousness. What began as a green trend in the building industry is becoming a best-building practice as architects and engineers seek certification for their building designs from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program of the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED green building rating system is the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction, and operation of green buildings.
As a LEED-accredited professional, Reilly has consulted with design teams to incorporate greater energy efficiency and sustainable design practices for a variety of building types, including visitor centers, offices, laboratories, museums, schools, and hospitals. She earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from CU-Boulder in 1984 and a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988.
One of her favorite recent projects was the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Denver, which earned a gold rating from LEED. Reilly analyzed the double-glazed wall system that serves as a relief-air plenum (a space that channels air without using ducts) to reduce cooling loads, and the radiant heating in floors that allows fresh air delivery to be modulated to occupant requirements.
"That was a fun project working with an international design team and it was very successful in providing this gem of an art museum with a cutting-edge, LEED-certified building," she says. "Early on [museum officials] made the commitment to energy efficiency, so we were brought into the project right at the beginning."
Another of her pet projects was consulting on the Durango (Colorado) Public Library, which earned a LEED gold rating. The building incorporates several sustainable building features, including higher shading control to minimize cooling loads and visual discomfort, a raised floor for flexibility that results in lower cooling energy use, high-efficiency boilers, and demand controlled ventilation that varies fresh air based on occupant needs.
"That was an exciting project to be a part of because the community was such a strong advocate of sustainable design and the architect was so committed to making it a showcase of sustainability," she says.
Reilly also consulted with CU-Boulder's facilities department to update the campus energy guidelines to be consistent with achieving a LEED silver rating.
A truly sustainable building considers all environmental impacts. It is energy-efficient, water-wise, and uses natural materials over chemical, recycled over new, and renewable over finite. It emphasizes energy efficiency, minimizing energy usage throughout the construction process.
A long-time advocate for sustainability, Reilly feels that green and sustainable-energy buildings will help protect the world's vulnerable environment and diminishing natural resources. The seeds of Reilly's interest in sustainable and green building were planted years ago as she listened to her father talk about his work and then began honing that interest by taking environmental classes while at CU.
"The United States has been incredibly lucky," says Reilly. "We're a wealthy nation in terms of our standard of living and our many resources. There are other developed countries with similar standards of living that use a lot less energy than we do.
"Global warming and environmental problems are presenting a big change in the way we live," she says. "But it's an incredible opportunity to refocus our efforts in terms of how new products, new systems, and new services are developed."