A New Building and a Vision: Übergrippen opened its doors with a brand new facility in July 2017. This facility was built from the ground up by local NE Denver residents, Jake and Kim Crine, with the goal of becoming a community focused climbing center. When we built Übergrippen our goal was to create an open air “climbing crag” that allows our guests to connect to the outdoors. Since, after all, it’s the outdoors that drives many of us to climb inside! Being inside a dark warehouse building with minimal natural lighting and recycled stinky chalk filled air does not conjure up those thoughts of sending your latest project in Clear Creek, Boulder Canyon, or Eldorado. We make use of numerous large windows that allow for natural light as well as giving everyone inspiring views of the Colorado Front Range. Did you know from our bouldering area you can see Mount Evans, Long’s Peak, The Flatirons, and the Indian Peaks?! We also want to find ways to minimize waste, reduce energy, and promote conservation whenever we can.
Designing for Efficiency: We have implemented many design features at Übergrippen in order to reduce our total energy use. Most noticeable is the use of LED lighting throughout our building and outdoor/parking area. We also have maximized building insulation to meet or exceed Denver’s strict energy code, used low-E glazing on windows to reduce solar loads, selecting high efficiency appliances which include Energy Star rated appliances when available, using a building automation system to control the timing of lights turning off and on (to match our building occupancy hours). For building temperature control, our system is a hybrid that uses evaporative cooling along with a combination of forced air and radiant heating. Since traditional refrigerated air conditioning uses 15% or more of total electrical power consumed by a commercial building (and makes up over 6% of TOTAL US ELECTRIC CONSUMPTION ANNUALLY), using evaporative cooling significantly reduces the total electrical power we use. Evaporative cooling relies on the natural process of evaporation to cool the air instead of electrically powered mechanical cooling! Space heating also makes up over 85% of a building’s gas usage. We reduce heat energy needs by using radiant heaters to locally heat critical areas such as the lobby, offices, locker rooms, and ground level space. Rather than over heating the large volume of air in the building due to the tall climbing space. In our quest to minimize energy use, many of these design decisions regarding heating and cooling were made after talking to other climbing facility operators in similiar climates.
Conservation in Our Community: In addition to these design features our building has, we encourage our members and guests to help us reduce our impact on the world. We do this by: (1) providing substantial bike racks and a skateboard rack to encourage alternative modes of transportation when coming to ÜG, (2) encouraging car pooling by providing preferential parking to those that chose to share a ride, (3) providing bottle fill stations to encourage re-useable water bottles over bottled water, (4) implementing a BYOC (bring your own cup) policy for our complimentary morning coffee service to eliminate coffee cup waste, (4) providing high velocity hand dryers (Dyson Air Blade) in the locker rooms to encourage quick air drying over the use of paper towels, (5) and encouraging recycling throughout our facility. Starting this year, we will also be adding composting to our waste services so we can further reduce trash. We will be composting paper towels, greasy pizza boxes, and more!
Keeping the Crag Fresh: When designing ÜG, in addition to reducing energy use, we had a goal to take advantage of Colorado’s mostly mild climate, which makes taking to the outdoors year round so feasible. Our vision was a building where the fresh breeze blows through, and where stale “gym” air is replaced with clean fresh Colorado air! To make this vision a reality we designed large overhead garage doors that we open on a regular basis whenever the Denver weather allows, which thanks to our great climate, is often. Our use of an evaporative cooling system complements this facility design since evaporative cooling relies on using 100% outside (fresh) air versus refrigerated air conditioning which recirculates most of the air going through the system. Refrigerated air would necessitate that we seal up our building to maximize system efficiency. Evaporative cooling allows us to provide a maximum amount of fresh air throughout the year. An evaporative cooling system also offers other benefits — (1) we NEVER recycle air anytime the outside temperature is above 50 degrees (100% outside air helps us maintain maximum air quality), (2) it allows us to open our large garage doors on Colorado’s numerous mild days throughout the year, (3) it provides low energy cooling (as a goal to build a sustainable business and minimize our energy use, this was a priority for us), (4) adds humidity to the air which improves air quality in Colorado’s dry climate, and (5) helps to reduce the amount of chalk circulating around our building.
Problems First Encountered and Improvements Made: When ÜG first opened in 2017, we experienced “new building” problems. Our building heating control system was setup improperly by the contractor and never properly programmed. Last summer we found our system was actually HEATING the building in the middle of July! Not only that, but our evaporative cooling system was operating poorly and the cooling performance was significantly below equipment specifications. Unfortunately, it took us through the hottest part of last summer to get this cooling system performing to specifications and programmed properly (so we stopped heating in the summer). Another problem we encountered was that our tall building was creating thermal gradients (“stratification”) from floor to ceiling — not normally a problem in typical buildings since people only exist at floor level, but in a climbing facility where people actually expect to be in the entire volume (from floor to ceiling) it creates new challenges. We worked to try to improve the situation over the last year by installing 13 new large volume fans throughout the facility. This included 7 Air Pair free hanging fans which are able to “destratisfy” tall volumes of air giving a more consistent air temperature from floor to ceiling and 6 “Big Ass Fans” through the upstairs mezzanine. The Air Pair fans move a very large volume of air and at the same time use a very small amount of electricity about 60 watts per fan, the same amount used by a typical household lightbulb. Our Air Pairs are also controlled on our building’s automated lighting system, allowing them to be turned off when the building is unoccupied at night. The mezzanine fans are individually controlled on occupancy sensors, so they only turn on when people are present. The fans allow for user selectable speed controls allowing our guests to customize the speed for their comfort. This past spring, we also installed automated sun shades on all our west facing windows. These are schedule to close automatically in the afternoon and open just before sunset, this helps us further reduce solar heating in our building by Colorado’s intense summer sun!
The Current Situation: Our building is more comfortable than it was last summer, but we’re still not performing the way we want in terms of keeping our building and our members cool. We know we need more cool air and to bring down the humidity level. On those hottest of summer days, we are experiencing temperatures above what we want inside the crag. In addition, on those highly humid days, our evaporative cooling system introduces additional humidity which makes people feel even hotter. Despite our facility improvements and building operation changes over the past year, we still struggle on hot/humid days to keep our guests comfortable. This is not acceptable to us. We are now working with engineers and contractors to come up with a system to provide additional supplemental cooling with the goal to maintain our energy efficient and open air building to the fullest extent possible. Getting this system working well is a top priority. We hope you will be seeing noticeable improvements this summer. Yet, the challenge we will have is that implementing a large cooling system does require coordination and effort from a number of trades (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and building structure).
We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we continue to work to bring our members and guests the BEST INDOOR CLIMBING EXPERIENCE possible…year round!