Designing a Green Health Club to Help Reduce Operational Costs

When looking for sustainable ideas for your club, start by looking at these five main categories: Energy efficiency, lighting design, water efficiency, indoor air quality, and materials and resources.

Fitness clubs are one of the largest consumers of energy in our country due to the heavy use of water amenities and electricity. So how do we reduce those expenses? Design smart and with a vision from the beginning phases of the project. From low-water-use plumbing fixtures to motion sensors in specific rooms, solutions exist for every club. Careful selection of materials combined with proper systems can lead to healthier environments and energy cost savings. The goal is to create a win-win for the environment and to reduce operational costs—and, ultimately, your bottom line.

You need to consider five main categories when looking at sustainable ideas: Energy efficiency, lighting design, water efficiency, indoor air quality, and materials and resources.

Energy Efficiency

Controlling what goes in and out of the building (especially air, heat and light) is critical. A well-insulated and sealed building envelope will require much less energy to heat and cool. Windows can provide daylight and reduce lighting costs, but they need to be carefully placed and shaded with overhangs to prevent heat gain during the warmer months of the year

The building envelope plays a large role in determining what size of building mechanical systems are needed. Well-insulated wall systems allow for downsizing of mechanical systems due to reduced heating and cooling loads. A good example is insulated concrete forms, otherwise known as ICFs. On average, ICF structures require 44 percent less energy to heat and 32 percent less energy to cool.

Lighting Design

Lighting design and selections can be a major factor in the energy use of your building. Some ideas lead to multiple benefits. For example, reducing the amount of lighting saves directly on energy costs and reduces heat added to the building. This leads to a reduction in the cooling load and energy used. It also may allow for a reduction of the size of mechanical equipment, saving on both initial and ongoing expenses. Reducing energy usage directly decreases operational costs.

Selecting high-efficiency light fixtures such as LEDs or fluorescents provide lower energy costs as well as less maintenance. Light placement also is important. Understanding where higher and lower light levels are needed will help with reducing wasted light in specific locations. Where walls are bright, a lower level of light can be provided. When higher lighting levels are needed, task or spot lighting can be designed for the space.

Part of lighting design includes the control of lighting in a room. This can be achieved through occupancy motion sensors, daylight sensors and shut-off control systems. Much of the savings can be achieved by using better sensors and controls. These sensors enable us to reduce energy used for lighting, space heating, space cooling and water heating. The key is to know what goals you are trying to achieve so that the building systems and lighting can be designed specifically for the spaces. Being able to dim the lighting or to slow the pumps and motors when needed also can greatly reduce energy costs.

By implementing an automated lighting control system, most facilities expect to achieve 25 percent to 40 percent reduction in lighting energy use. This is typically a short payback period of two years or less.

Another strategy to reduce energy usage is to reduce plug loads. Plug-in devices are a leading source of energy consumption and account for up to 15 percent to 20 percent of the energy consumed by commercial buildings. These loads also can be controlled by occupancy sensors or by plug load control devices, a minimal cost for the energy saved.

Water Efficiency

The best water-saving fixtures can reduce water usage by 30 percent without compromising the sensation of volume and pressure. Reducing water usage also saves energy that is used to heat the water. You can do so by using low-flow showers heads, sinks and toilets. Look for Watersense plumbing fixtures that meet the EPA criteria and are certified for low water use.

At facilities with pool environments, the use of solar thermal designs is an efficient way to heat water. Because of the number of gallons of water requiring heat, this becomes an instant cost savings for the facility.

Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is dependent on many factors. The first step is to design a mechanical system that brings in outdoor air and provides the proper amount of air circulation. Also, using building materials that do not off-gas or release contaminants into the air can greatly help the air quality. Proper ventilation in a tightly sealed building is crucial to maintaining a healthy interior environment. It also is important to keep new contaminants from being released into the air by using non-toxic interior materials as well as cleaning materials. The resulting healthy indoor environment will benefit both the patrons and the employees.

Materials and Resources

When it comes to materials and resources, you should consider using materials and resources that have less off gassing and come from renewable sources. By using these products, you divert materials from landfills, reduce the use of new materials and improve indoor air quality. This becomes an important factor when fitness centers remain open during remodel construction and when new facilities open. The health of your members can greatly depend on the products used in your facility.

So, how green do you want your building to be? Sustainability means different things to different people. In the end, it is a balance between the competing interests of what your club would like to achieve in building performance and what makes fiscal sense in the long run. It may cost more to build an efficient building, but in the end, if the facility is well-designed, the reduced lifecycle costs should outweigh the upfront expenses.


About the author:

Christa Plaza is a principal and architect at Essenza Architecture specializing in fitness center design. She has a great passion for listening to clients’ visions and turning them into built spaces. Essenza Architecture is an international, eco-friendly firm that blends beauty with function. With more than 35 years of experience, Essenza creates visually interesting and innovative club spaces. Plaza can be reached by email at

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