The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) awarded the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Austin and Central Texas (RMHC-ACT)LEED-Platinum certification for its new Austin, Texas, facility. The structure is the first to earn Platinum certification in Austin and the third in Texas.

"It is great that we have shown that it is something that is attainable," RMHC-ACT's CEO Kent Burress tells EcoHome. "It sets the bar for other non-profit and for-profit construction."

Because Ronald McDonald houses provide lodging, support services, and meals to ill children and their families, a lot of thought went into how the 30-room, 30,680-square-foot structure would incorporate sustainable functions. Most guests, according to Burress, have compromised immune systems, so indoor air quality is a priority. To meet that need, the building features a closed-loop air handling system that minimizes the spread of germs, and a building management system that monitors carbon dioxide levels and introduces fresh air when needed.

"None of the rooms share the same air," Burress explains.

In addition to the air handling system, the building includes recycled-content carpeting and low-VOC adhesives, sealants, and paints. Fifty percent of the building is powered by photovoltaics (approximately 10.8 kW of electric power) while the remaining needs, such as power for all the Energy Star-rated appliances, are provided by wind power. The solar array, which was donated and funded by the Green Mountain Energy Co. and Austin Energy, consists of 54 photovoltaic panels, covering nearly 950 square feet of the roof.

It is estimated that the building will use 40% to 60% less energy than a conventionally constructed building.

The $10.5 million facility, which was built on a designated brownfield site, also features a stormwater management system. Reclaimed water will account for 100% of the water used to irrigate native plants and trees on site. Meanwhile, the irrigation system uses an underground drip system so that no water is lost to evaporation or spray.

And water conservation doesn't stop outdoors: The bathrooms all feature low-flow fixtures and showerheads.

Finally, to reduce heat retention, no asphalt products were used. Instead, a reflective concrete product that does not absorb heat was installed for the parking and paved areas.

Because of all the sustainable elements, Burress says the RMHC-ACT can provide a better recovery experience for the guests.  "Our new house is not just where healing happens, it helps make healing happen," he said in a recent press release.

The national Ronald McDonald House Charities organization is taking notice. The Austin model, which is the first in the group to earn LEED-Platinum status, will be implemented nationwide, according to officials.