Green Buildings of San Mateo County

City of San Mateo Public Library

San Mateao City Public Library - Outside View

The City of San Mateo Public Library is the winner of the Fifth Green Building Award in the County. This new 90,000 sq. ft. public library is a landmark three-story building with two levels of underground parking. A state-of-the-art resource center for literacy and lifelong learning, the Library features 100 public internet terminals, expanded areas for children and teens, and a sustainable energy efficient design. The building turns inward to preserve an existing redwood grove, and a treehouse-like mezzanine level opens to the redwood grove with tall windows. On the second floor, a two-story central reading room further aids in ease of orientation in the building and brings daylight into the building's center from high clerestory windows.

An ambitious level of sustainability was required of the new library design as mandated by the San Mateo community. With the ongoing energy crisis in the State of California and the depletion of energy resources worldwide, the community felt a duty to reduce energy and material consumption. The Library achieved LEED Silver certification, embracing many energy, material and water conservation strategies. The building will be 20%+ more energy efficient than California's already strict Title 24 energy code, and will utilize green power from alternative energy sources, including wind and thermal.

Some of the green practices and materials used in the build out of this building include:

Construction Recycling and Landfill Diversion

  • The new library replaces a 35 year-old solid concrete structure, which was deconstructed and 98% recycled

  • Excavated soil was reused in its entirety as landfill cap in the creation of a new City park

  • Construction and demolition debris recycling will divert greater than 95% of its material from landfill

Building Products

  • Building products that are high in recycled content such as steel, ceiling tiles, carpet tile backing, and composite woods were used extensively

  • Wood products are from certified, sustainably-managed forests and composite wood products are urea-formaldehyde free

  • Low VOC emitting paints that meet "Green Seal" standards are used throughout

  • CO2 emissions are reduced by utilizing flyash and slag (industrial byproducts) in the concrete mix instead of cement - reducing cement use by 40%. Manufacture and use of cement is responsible for about 8% of global carbon emissions.

Water Conservation

  • Water conservation is achieved by the use of ultra low-flow toilets, waterless urinals and sensor-operated faucets

  • Landscape planting is designed with native species to reduce irrigation water demand

Daylight & Lighting

  • The library's long east-west orientation maximizes daylighting and minimizes heat gain

  • Clerestory windows and large floor openings are provided to bring daylight into the center of the building. 90% of reader seats will receive natural light during daytime hours

  • Solar heat gain is controlled with sunshades and spectrally selective glazing

  • Staff workrooms are located near windows for natural daylight

  • Electric lights and window shades are photocell activated to be turned off when natural daylight is adequate, and turned on during cloudy weather and at night

Heating and Cooling

  • The HVAC system utilizes an underfloor air system that distributes fresh air directly to occupants, increasing comfort and improving air quality. This system also greatly reduces HVAC energy usage

  • High, operable clerestory windows at the center of the building are opened during hot weather to passively ventilate the Library

  • The chilled water system, used for air conditioning, shaves peak energy use in the summer by cooling the water at night during off peak hours. A large water tank located on the roof stores cooled water for daytime use.

  • The temperate local climate allows for utilization of fresh air without heating or cooling - allowing the fans to operate on a low energy-consuming "free cooling mode"

  • Solar gain and "heat island effect" are reduced through the use of a light-colored Energy Star coated roof that reflects heat absorption.

  • Provisions have been made for future rooftop mounted photovoltaic solar cells.


  • Bicycle racks and staff showers are provided to encourage bicycle use

  • Non-toxic water treatment. In a conventional cooling tower, water is treated with strong chemicals (primarily chlorine), which become airborne as the water is cooled by fans in an outdoor enclosure. The Library uses an innovative electromagnetic device that separates and filters the toxins from the water.

  • Docent led building tours educate the public about sustainable design practices.

Project Team:

Architect: Esherick Homsey Dodge & Davis
Builders: ARUP
Owners: Charles Pankow Builders