• The Omega Center for Sustainable Living

    Rhinebeck, New York

Omega Center for Sustainable Living

Rhinebeck, New York

The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York provides innovative educational experiences that awaken the best in the human spirit.  The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) is a wastewater filtration facility that is designed to use the treated water for garden irrigation and in a greywater recovery system, Omega uses the system and building as a teaching tool in its educational program designed around the ecological impact of its campus.

“Omega is thrilled to have crossed the finish line, and hopeful that projects like ours will mark a new era in sustainable design, one that reflects a truly integrated approach to creating built environments that are in harmony with the natural world.” - Skip Backus, CEO at Omega

Use the icons below to find out how this project approached each Petal of the Challenge.


© Farsid Assassi, courtesy of BNIM Architects

Site condition prior to project start: Greyfield

Significant site information:
The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) is constructed on land that was previously used as a burial spot for solid debris from years of operation with the previous owner. In addition, the original fill material was removed and sold, dating back to sometime in the 1950s.

Name of Habitat Exchange project: Scenic Hudson
Location of Habitat Exchange project: Hudson Valley area, New York, US
Name of participating Land Trust: Scenic Hudson Land Trust
Land Trust website: www.scenichudson.org/

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Annual water use: 16,476 gal

Harvested onsite: 16,476 gal
Rainwater cistern size: 1,800 gal
Collection strategies: rain, ground well
Systems fed:
Ground Well: lavatories, drinking fountain, sinks
Rain: toilets, washdown functions
Grey water: Eco Machine
Systems fed: dispersal field that recharges groundwater
Black water: Eco Machine
Systems fed: dispersal field the recharges groundwater


Estimated total water
use per capita:

30 visitors/day for 231 days/year
6 visitors/day for 134 days/year
2.525 gal/visitor/yr
16476 gal/yr (calculated)

Design tool(s) and
calculation method(s):
Proprietary water/rainwater calculator
Sub-metering data: NA

Water Sources and End Use Locations

Potable water comes from private wells located within the Omega Campus. After use this water is passed through to an Eco Machine system for treatment and eventually returned to the ground via subsurface dispersal. The following locations in OCSL are connected to the “potable” well water system: Bathroom Lavatories, Drinking, Fountain, Janitorial Sink and Wash Sink.

Rainwater from the building roof is collected in an underground cistern which is sized to provide adequate reserve for 100 percent of non-potable water use through-out the year. On demand, water is pumped from the cistern to a holding tank and UV sterilizer. From the holding tank, rain-water is distributed to its usage location. After use, this water is passed through to the Eco Machine system for treatment and eventually returned to the ground via subsurface dispersal. The toilets and hose bibs in OCSL are connected to the rainwater system.The Eco Machine treats roughly 3 million gallons of water from the Omega campus per year.

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Type + size of renewable energy system(s) used:

  1. Sun Power, Roof Mounted PV
  2. Sun Power, Trellis Mounted PV
  3. Sun Power, Site Wall Mounted PV

Total design output:  46,305 kWh

  Annual Energy Use
37,190 kWh/yr
Simulated/designed: 48,460 kWh/yr
Energy use intensity: 28.3 kWh/sq ft
Annual electricity generated: 38,994 kWh

Design tool(s) and calculation method(s): eqest, ASHRAE

Additional Energy Petal comments:
Three solar arrays were installed on the building at Omega. The main parts of the solar arrays consist of the modules themselves, the racking system and the inverters which convert the DC to AC. The building employs 211 Sun Power 230 watt modules, combined with 8 Sun Power inverters. The inverters are sized specifically for the individual arrays and consist of three Sun Power 5000m, one 6000m, and four 7000m’s. The Sun Power modules is mounted on Uni-Rac solar mounting system. This system interconnects directly to the existing electrical panel directly feeding the buss bar effectively powering the building.

The three arrays are located on different roof spaces and a wall throughout the building. The awning array (A) is mounted on the wall of the bottom holding tank. The racking system is attached to the wall of the holding reservoir and holds 70 Sun Power 230watt modules on awning hardware that provides a 35 degree angle. These 70 modules will be feeding power to the Sun Power inverters in the electrical room. The North roof array (B) consists of 84 Sun Power 230watt modules on a Uni-Rac racking system attached to the seams on the roof with S-5 clips. This array feeds to the inverters in the electrical room directly underneath the array. The Outdoor classroom array (C) is mounted on a steel frame, consists of 57 Sun Power 230watt modules attached to Uni-Rac rails and feeds to inverters located below the North Roof.

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Summary of short- and long-term health considerations for design, construction and occupancy phases:
Air quality during and after construction was, and is, important to the project team.  The construction team used care to keep the construction site clean and keep dust down during construction.  Ducts, etc. were kept covered and protected from dust accumulation during construction. Once HVAC was brought on-line during construction, high MERV filters were used to keep dust from accumulating in the system and being recirculated. The building design and materiality was carefully considered to minimize extraneous surface treatments and materials. In most areas the actual building structure is left exposed as "finish". Paints and sealers are low VOC and adhere to LBC requirements for IAQ.  All regularly occupied spaces have access to operable windows and are naturally ventilated.  The building owner has implemented a "green cleaning" program to use healthier, less toxic cleaners.

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Summary of approach to achieving the Materials Petal Prerequisites:
The team had a vetting process for each piece of material. This process included the builder, Architect, MEP Engineer, Landscape Architect and owner in collaboration to acquire product data from the manufacturer, check that against LBC and find alternatives if necessary. The project manual included relevant LBC criteria for each product/material class.

Successful Red List substitutions:

Original Product   Red List Item   Specified Manufacturer + Product Names


  PVC   HDPE, Cast Iron


  Formaldehyde Adhesive   Reclaimed Plywood, Reclaimed Lumber
Insulation   Polyurethane   Polyisocyanurate

Exterior Wood

  Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol   “Mushroom” Cypress (reclaimed cypress lumber)


  Formaldehyde Adhesive   Glulams utilizing Phenol-Formaldehyde Adhesive
Fibeglass Insulation   Formaldehyde Adhesive   GreenFiber Cellulose Insulation
Roof   PVC   EPDM Membrane Roof
Foundation Drain Pipe   PVC   HDPE
High Performance Coatings   VOCs   Low VOC Coatings (Tnemec)
Interior Wall Paint   VOCs   Low VOC Wall Paint
Upolstery / Carpet   HFRs   Not Used
Roller Shades   HFRs   Lutron - Vela Frabic
Wood Windows   Formaldehyde   Wood Windows laminated with Phenol-Formaldehyde Adhesive

Biggest hurdles to achieving the Materials Petal:
We found some of the biggest hurdles here to be tracking down what materials are actually in a given product. Often representatives and manufacturers don't know exactly what are in their products or components of their products that are outsourced. Further complicating this process, many red list materials have aliases. Finally, the team found that in some cases redlist compliant products/materials were available, obscure and hard to find, but at a significantly higher price.

Notable regional products specified:

Spec   Weight Class   Product   Manufacturer   Manufacturer Location   Radius   Major Ingredients
033000   Zone 1   Concrete - Cement   Lafarge   Ravena, NY   41   Clinker, Calcium Sulfate
061800   Zone 5   Glulams   Unadilla   Sidney, NY   86   FSC Wood
072100   Zone 5   Insulation, Cellulose   Green Fiber   Albany, NY   53   Cellulose
072100   Zone 5   Insulation, EPS   Dow   Gales Ferry, CT   95   Polystyrene
072100   Zone 5   Insulation, Polyisocyanurate   Hunter   Kingston, NY   10   Polyisocyanurate
072100   Zone 5   Insulation, Nail Base Polyiso   Hunter   Kingston, NY   10   Polyiso, FSC Wood
092900   Zone 2   Gypsum Board   National Gypsum   Shippingport, PA   53   Gypsum

Notable manufacturers who made "Proprietary Claims" when asked about product contents:
Manufactureres were suprisingly cooperative once they new excatly what information we needed and why.

Sources for wood: certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), salvaged
Notable manufacturers of FSC certified wood products:

SPec   Weight Class   Product   Manufacturer   Manufacturer Location   Radius   Major Ingredients
061000   Zone 2   Wood - Preservative Treated   Maine Wood Treaters   Mechanic Falls, ME   232   FSC Wood
061800   Zone 5   Glulams   Unadilla   Sidney, NY   86   FSC Wood
072100   Zone 5   Insulation, Nail Base Polyiso   Hunter   Kingston, NY   10   Polyiso, FSC Wood
085200   Zone 5   FSC Wood Windows   Loewen Windows   Steinbach, Manitoba   2500   FSC Wood, Glass

Brokers that assisted in sourcing salvaged materials: Nathan Benjamin, Planet Reuse

Embodied carbon footprint (TCO2e): -1,387metric tons

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Note: This project was certified under Living Building Challenge 1.3. The Equity Petal was not developed until Living Building Challenge 2.0.

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Project website: www.eomega.org/omega/about/ocsl

Tour information:
Omega Institute
150 Lake Drive
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

OCSL is open for visitors:

Apr. 1st - Nov. 15th:
7 days a week from
1:00 - 2:00 p.m.
Guided tours given
Wed. - Sat. 1:00 p.m.
Group tours by appointment

Nov. 16th - Mar. 31st
Monday - Friday
1:00 - 2:00 p.m.
Group tours by appointment


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Relevant details about project use:
A classroom within the OCSL building serves the campus facility needs in addition to use as a "learning lab" to engage OCSL visitors.

Project costs (land excluded): $4,200,000
Soft costs: NA
Hard costs: NA

Creative financing opportunities:
NYSERDA (about $200,000 for PV)

Design Process
The Omega Institute commissioned BNIM Architects to design a new 6,200 square foot facility and 4.5 acre site to serve as a new and highly sustainable wastewater filtration facility. The primary goal for this project was to overhaul the organization’s current wastewater disposal system for their 195-acre Rhinebeck campus by using alternative methods of treatment. As part of a larger effort to educate Omega Institute visitors, staff and local community on innovative wastewater strategies, Omega decided to showcase the system in a building that houses both the primary treatment cells and a classroom/laboratory. In addition to using the treated water for garden irrigation and in a greywater recovery system, Omega will use the system and building as a teaching tool in their educational program designed around the ecological impact of their campus. These classes will be offered to campus visitors, area school children, university students and other local communities.

To achieve the client’s vision and goals for the project, the design team first sought to reduce energy and water requirements throughout the basic design of the building and then to embrace appropriate technologies in an effort to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impact from the required loads. The team accomplished this primarily by integrating collaborative solutions between all the design and engineering disciplines.

The building’s design is intended to meet the US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum standards and achieve certification as a Living Building. To achieve these goals, the process is relying on a highly collaborative team of experts in wastewater, civil, landscape, mechanical and structural design with a history of working together on high-performance buildings.

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