From a distance, the new Credit Human building in San Antonio, looks fairly non-descript. You might notice the solar panels crowding the rooftop, but this is a credit union, after all, how interesting can it be? Step a bit closer though, and you’ll start to notice unusual details…very unusual details. A fountain built to mimic aquifer rock, glazed ceramic medallions of bats and frogs, Harry Potter-esque hanging lanterns, tiles full of painted scenes from San Antonio lives, purple pipes snaking in and out of towering cisterns.
The remarkable aesthetic and engineering flourishes on the exterior are signs of a much deeper re-think in how a building inhabits a space.
“When we decided to build our new headquarters,” Credit Human CEO, Steve Hennigan, tells us, “we wanted to do as much as possible with the natural resources available on the site – the rain, the sun, and the constant temperature of the earth beneath us.”
The results speak for themselves, Credit Human HQ is a remarkable building—one that leaves a light, but refreshingly unique, footprint on its San Antonio setting.
“The combination of systems we have,” Hennigan says, “which includes a geothermal loop heating/cooling system, one megawatt of solar power, and a 130,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system – allows us to reduce our need for potable water by almost 97% compared to a typical building.”
While every system in this building merits attention, its water setup deserves a spotlight. In true One Water form, the building leverages a wide range of water types and features including:
- Rainwater harvesting
- HVAC condensate
- Subterranean and above-ground cisterns
- Geothermal wells
- Connection to San Antonio’s recycled water system
These features ensure that non-potable water is available to meet non-potable demands such as toilet flushing and landscape irrigation, thus reducing demand on the potable water supply.
The site is able to store 130,000 gallons of water—collected from sources such as rainwater and HVAC condensate—in underground cisterns and various tanks located throughout the site. This water is then treated and stored in day use-tanks before being pumped to its end-use on the building site. The water is used for non-potable purposes such as toilets, irrigation, and AC cooling towers. A connection to the city’s recycled water system serves as a backup source of water in case HVAC condensate and rainfall are insufficient to meet the water needs onsite.
The geothermal well system is one of Credit Human’s most unique features. Water circulates through a pipe network flowing from underground wells into the building. As water travels through the 150 wells, the earth’s temperature dissipates or transfers heat depending on the season. The cooling towers use this source of water to run more efficiently by decreasing the amount of water lost to evaporation. An estimated 1.25 million gallons of water is saved every year through features such as this.
The Cost-Benefit of Credit Human’s Sustainable Approach
Credit Human is poised to use 97% less potable water than a comparable building with these features. Water conservation features are projected to reduce water demand by 40%. The rainwater harvesting systems capture approximately 80% of stormwater onsite. Credit Human’s commitment to conserving and efficiently using all sources of water reflects both the One Water spirit and benefits the San Antonio community at large. In 2021, the Credit Human Headquarters received the Texas Water Development Board’s Texas Rain Catcher Award in the commercial category for the system’s use of automation, data sharing, and component compatibility. Credit Human is confident that the investment on the front end will pay dividends via cost savings in the future.
Investing in water reuse at Credit Human, “was the right decision for San Antonio,” says Hennigan, “because it will save hundreds of millions of gallons of drinking water over the next several decades. It was also the right financial decision for Credit Human because we’ve reduced our utility bills by over 80%.”
During its few months of operations, total water bills at the two-building 200,000 sq ft complex have averaged a grand total of $892 per month. This is compared to $3,492 per month for the prior, smaller 155,000 sq ft two-building complex on the site. Overall utilities expenses are down 81% compared to the prior buildings (see the bar chart on this page for more details). These numbers are likely to improve as building staff are still dialing-in the optimal settings for both the water and energy systems.
Alongside water conservation, other energy-saving measures make the building 40% more efficient than similar buildings. These measures include rooftop solar panels and energy-efficient windows. The investments in energy and water are projected to have a positive return on investment in 13 years. Moreover, coupling water and energy better accounts for climate change challenges by acknowledging them as linked systems.
Integrating the Cultural Value of Water
The building doesn’t just capture the financial benefits of implementing One Water principles, it also showcases the value of water through its art installations.
Art and culture are increasingly recognized as critical methods for advancing water literacy. Various local San Antonio artists’ work can be found throughout the site. From water features to sculptures, visitors will find an array of artworks that illustrate the ecological and social importance of water. Located on the Oxbow building, The Riparian Edge by Diana Kersey conveys this significance in a 25 by 28-foot mural. The piece is a representation of a river bank, honoring the river as an ecological space and as a culturally significant live-work space. Kersey’s piece functions as a placemaking feature, tying the characteristics and meaning of the river to the building and community.
The Riparian Edge by Diana Kersey
Using art as a One Water practice goes beyond the physical handling of water, allowing for more substantial and culturally informed connections. These connections are essential in leveraging water’s immaterial value to instill sustainable water practices. Locally informed practices such as Kersey’s mural are another tool for advancing One Water.
A Financial and Cultural Model for One Water
The Human Credit headquarters in San Antonio exemplifies how the business sector can champion One Water practices. Their holistic approach to design addresses water issues while also centering on well-being, local culture, local environment, and climate change. Its success communicates to others that climate-resilient buildings are financially viable. Being a first of its kind in San Antonio, the building is attracting vast interest as an example to learn from. Meeting future water demands will require investing in onsite water reuse systems and building meaningful relationships with water through art.
While Credit Human HQ is almost dizzying in its aesthetic detail and environmental ambition, its water reuse system is almost poetically simple. There are no secret patents or hard-to-replicate methods involved. Its overall design is smart, simple, and straight-forwardly effective at capturing and re-using water. That, if anything, should be what we think of when we look at this beautiful not-so-little bank in the shadow of San Antonio’s old Pearl brewery. It’s a striking symbol of the elegance, cost-benefit, and creative potential of prioritizing water re-use.
Interested in adding water reuse to your building project, but need engineering and/or financing expertise? Check out our recent guidebooks on 1) implementing One Water projects in the Hill Country and 2) financing water reuse projects using PACE:
Learn more about water conservation at Credit Human:
Credit Human President and CEO Stev Hennigan talks to the Hot Future podcast about the credit union’s new headquarters in San Antonio:
A special thanks to Matt Dunn, MEP Coordinator Joeris General Contracting and Kelli Epp at KLE Communications for helping to facilitate our visit.