plum island kayak

My son and I just finished a kayak trip on the Merrimack River from downtown Newburyport to Amesbury. If you’re local,  Plum Island Kayak is the best – I highly recommend them for a well-planned, safe and beautiful trip. The highlight for me was a fantastic view of our project on the river in Amesbury, a new house constructed with factory-built modules.  My experience with modular construction is limited to lots of articles and a visit about 5 years ago to Epoch Modular Homes with my architect pal Hilary Ward. (Modular Homes Field Trip) It was interesting and exciting to see the possibilities of the process, but it wasn’t until this year that I had the opportunity to see one of my own projects go ‘modular’.

We started working with our clients in May of last year. The design process was an amazing one – their clear and concise vision for what they wanted for their home and a stunning site overlooking the Merrimack River were instrumental in our creating a design that as one of them described provided the “desires of (her) heart.”

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GreenBridge’s model of the design

From the start, our clients were interested in modular construction, both for cost savings and for the efficiencies of the process itself. For construction, they contracted with Bernie Christopher of Great Woods Post and Beam Company, who uses New England Homes out of Claremont, New Hampshire for his modular construction projects. Bernie’s role is to coordinate the construction process and to build all pieces of the project that aren’t feasible or practically built by the modular company.  Because of the complexity of the design, there will be more site-built carpentry for this project than a typical modular home.

This is a quick summary of the process with my comments –

  1. Our clients interviewed 2 modular companies and received prices from both based on the GreenBridge design drawings. At this time, the companies were given the opportunity to weigh in on any aspects of the project’s design that would not work for modular. We didn’t get much feedback on the project’s modular constructability at this time, aside from the size of the modules, which affect transportation costs. For this project our clients were comparing the costs of modular to conventional construction, and the savings were considerable. In retrospect, minimal detail in the modular proposals hampered a fair comparison between the two construction types. In many cases, less-expensive materials and details were assumed in the modular pricing.
  2. Our clients chose the contractor and modular company. The modular company was given our design drawings to use in creating their own factory-ready construction drawings.
  3. GreenBridge, our clients and Great Woods Construction reviewed the progress drawings for design consistency and errors. New England Homes revised the drawings as requested. This was an incredibly long, frustrating and drawn-out process! There were many inconsistencies and errors in the progress drawings: most were corrected and some could not be changed because of the requirements of modular construction. During this phase, pricing was reviewed and changes to the scope were reconciled. We are so fortunate that our clients understood the importance of our role in the project during this phase to review the drawings and to make sure the design intent was carried-through.
  4. Once the drawings were approved, the factory constructed the modular pieces. This went quickly – about 6 weeks.
  5. The pieces were installed on site by New England Homes. (The grading and foundation were completed in advance.) It was so fun to visit the site on the day of installation and see walls paint-ready with doors, windows, trims and light-fixtures installed! We were all thrilled to see the amazing views to the river and to walk through the new spaces.
  6. Bernie and Great Woods are now working on completing those items not included in the modular package – siding, decks, stairways, and some interior detailing. The Kitchen cabinetry and other cabinetry are also outside of the modular package. These items are being designed by the wonderful Emilie at Carriagetown Kitchens in Amesbury and will be installed by Great Woods. We’re working on revised landscaping and grading designs and the detailing of the front and rear decks.

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Installation day!  The gable roof in the yard is waiting for installation at the back wing of the house.  The crane’s availability drives the schedule.

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The water-side elevation.  There will be a screened porch left of the garage and a porch across the front of the house.

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Another view of the front – the grade will be built up to decrease the height to the porch level.

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View from the Living Room down the river.  The framing at the ceiling level will be removed to open up the cathedral ceiling.

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The upstairs will be finished at a future date.  The trusses were factory-built and hinged so they could be folded up for their ride to the site.

The process has been a long and in some ways grueling one, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Our clients are thrilled with their new home and can’t wait to move in. I’ve asked for the second floor southwest room, but am not sure if I’m getting it or not…

The modular design and construction process has been difficult and lengthy, but it did save our clients money. It was exciting and even shocking to see the speed of the installation, but we are somewhat relieved that the balance of the project is now in the hands of carpenters on site. It’s going to be a beautiful project – we’re happy to be a part of it.

If you would like to chat about modular construction or summer on the Merrimack feel free to contact us.  Enjoy the rest of the summer!

With best wishes,

Juli MacDonald, GreenBridge Architects

Have you heard of net-zero? It’s a term that’s being used in architecture, construction and more recently, real estate circles. This month, GreenBridge Architects is gearing up for the design of a new home for future neighbors here in Amesbury, MA, and our clients want to ‘get close’ to net-zero. So we’re booting up our spreadsheets, consultants and specification data to help them get there.

But first, since I’m writing this at the cusp of summer on my sun-filled patio, let’s discuss the perfect margarita. This was passed on to me by my friend and architect Kate Hauserman, who always knows what to drink for the occasion and when to take note of a perfect day.

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The Perfect Margarita

Ingredients

1-1/2 oz tequila (Patron is worth it)

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz lemon juice (freshly squeezed – one lemon)

½ cup shaved (or crushed) ice

1) Salt rim of glass: To salt rim, place a thin layer of salt in a small dish or bowl, take empty glass and moisten its rim with a lemon wedge and dip the rim in the salt

2)Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake

3)Strain or serve with ice

Ok, got that out of the way. So with drink in hand….

 

Net -zero Homes

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The Bosch Net Zero Home in Serenbe, Georgia.  For more information on this house, see the article at The Great Energy Challenge.

First -What is net-zero? A net-zero home is one that produces as much energy on site as the energy used over the course of a year. Typically energy demand is greatly reduced by construction methods and efficient equipment and energy production is achieved using photo-voltaic systems (PV or solar panels).

Why Does It Matter

Buildings worldwide account for 40% of our primary energy use, and 24% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving net-zero in our homes and buildings will have a major impact on our energy-security and the health of the planet.

How to Build a Net-Zero House

Achieving net-zero requires disciplined decision-making, a systems approach, and larger front-end construction costs. These costs may seem prohibitive for the typical family, but it’s important to remember they are fixed and one-time costs that can be included in your mortgage. In this way, you are paying for your energy costs as part of your mortgage and not in future unpredictable energy bills. The following is a general overview of the four steps involved.

1. Build Only What you Need

A careful design process that aims to keep the footprint small creates a home that has less space that needs to be heated, cooled and lighted (and cleaned!) Multi-use spaces, adaptable spaces planned for changes in the family, and modest, well-proportioned room sizes help to create an efficient home. Sarah Suzanka in her Not So Big House Series offers a wealth of insights and solutions toward building small.

2. Build a Highly Efficient Envelope

Your ‘building envelope’ is everything that separates the inside from the outside: the walls, roof, floor slab, windows and doors. Your mechanical system’s job is to make the interior of your house comfortable by moderating the interior air. An efficient, highly insulated envelope is a separation that allows minimal heat or cooling to move between the inside and the outside, requiring less work (energy) of the mechanical equipment. Less work means smaller equipment and less energy.

3. Reduce energy demand.

-The careful design of your home will include using these same efficient windows that are integral to your building envelope to assist with the reduction of energy demands. Well-placed windows and the architecture and landscape designed around them will at the right times of the year allow the sun to heat and light the room, bring in a cool breeze through heavily shaded trees, or lead hot air up and out of the house.

-Use the highest-efficiency mechanical system and water heating equipment you can purchase. The reduction in demand from steps taken above will help keep the systems smaller. The selection of your equipment should be done with care, with the entire construction and design team factoring all items specific to your home: the design, the site, your energy use, against the efficiencies and costs of available mechanical systems.

-Efficient appliances, water heating, lighting and other electrical equipment are the other big generators of energy demand in your home. Besides the energy used in their function, they create additional heat within the building envelope—heat that your mechanical system then has to use energy to remove in summer months. To reduce demand of these items, install only those appliances you really need and select the most efficient you can afford.

- Gaining control of the “ghost loads”, power used by all those computers, printers, and TV’s and appliances that have lights glowing around the clock, can make or break achieving net-zero. In most homes today, ghost loads can account for around 25% of all electrical power use. Informed appliance selection and the use of timers and power-off outlet strips can help with this feat, as will energy monitoring systems that can track your changes and these extra energy loads.

4. Add Solar

For a net-zero home, you need to now balance the energy ledger, and generate the amount of energy to equal the demand. Solar panels are the most common answer for electrical power, although small wind turbine technology is making wind power equally attractive in some areas. In addition to photovoltaics, solar power can heat not only the water in your hot water tank, but also your whole house, if you use a radiant hot water heating system. All net-zero houses must have some combination of these energy-harvesting systems.

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As always, we’d love to hear your comments or questions. You can give us a call at 978-518-2811 or email us at info@greenbridgearchitects.com.

Thank you to the Green Architect’s Lounge with architects Phil Kaplan and Chris Briley for their seasoned information and inspiring mix of knowledge and drink recipes!

In our next post, we’ll be looking at the installation of a modular home designed by GreenBridge. Happy Summer!

Intrigued by Geothermal?

February 13, 2012

In my experience, geothermal systems are generally desired but widely misunderstood. Many of us understand that geothermal systems take advantage of the earth’s temperature to heat and cool buildings, that they involve deep drilling and that they are expensive to install, but cheaper to run that conventional heating and cooling equipment. Beyond that, general knowledge gets dicey.

This blog will give you an overview of geothermal systems, especially as they relate to residential applications. My description of geothermal systems is pulled from April’s Architect Magazine with additional input from Melanie Head at EnergySmart Alternatives. If after reading this, you are interested in geothermal for your own home, I would strongly suggest that you consult with a trained and experienced expert to find out more. My go-to local geothermal expert is EnergySmart Alternatives out of Wakefield, MA. Not only are they experienced installers and contractors, they have a team of engineers who make sure that every installation is done right.

Geothermal Systems – What Are They?

Geothermal systems for buildings, also known as geothermal heat pumps or ground-source heat pumps (GHPs), use the thermal energy stored in the upper portion of the Earth’s crust to heat or cool a building, replacing conventional heating and air-conditioning systems. “The temperature of the Earth down 20 or 30 feet is a relatively constant number year-round, somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees , says John Kelly, the COO of the Geothermal Exchange Organization, a nonprofit trade organization in Washington, D.C. “A geothermal heat pump moves heat to and from the Earth by circulating water through a well.”

In other words, in winter, a GHP moves the thermal energy from the earth into a building, and in summer it reverses that process, transferring heat from a building into the earth. These systems incorporate a piping loop buried in the ground through which anti-freeze is circulated, and the heat pump extracts the temperature from the anti-freeze and distributes it through the building, much in the same way that central air conditioning works. Alternatively, groundwater is directly circulated through a series of wells.

Either way, GHPs are significantly cheaper to operate than conventional heating and cooling systems. “The cost savings occur because the ground offers starting temperatures closer to what is desired for heating and cooling than the seasonal temperature extremes upon which many conventional air-source HVAC systems rely,” says John Rhyner, a senior project manager at P.W. Grosser Consulting in Bohemia, N.Y., a civil engineering firm that specializes in geothermal. “It takes less energy to make up that smaller difference in temperature,” Rhyner says.

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diagram showing heat transfer to and from the Earth in Cooling and Heating Seasons

The three most common types of GHP systems are closed-loop, open-loop, and standing column well.

Open loop systems circulate anti-freeze through a sealed network of pipes buried underground. The anti-freeze within the pipes transfers heat from the earth to the building during the winter, and vice versa during the summer, by way of a heat exchanger. Since the anti-freeze flows in a closed loop, it does not exchange all of its temperature; it can get as warm as 80 to 90 degrees F in summer and as cold as 40 to 30 degrees F in winter. For this reason, the anti-freeze is usually a food-grade antifreeze with freeze protection between 15F to 20F (for example, ethanol) to keep the fluid from gelling during the winter months.

Closed-loop systems can be laid out either horizontally in fields, buried just beneath the frost line, or vertically in wells, bored typically 200 to 500 feet deep. Horizontal systems are generally used for smaller or residential projects with plenty of space. In geographic locations where there are few rocks and bedrock is not present close to the surface, horizontal loops are cheaper to install. However, horizontal loops are affected by outdoor air temperatures, meaning that they can become less efficient as a season progresses as the soil takes on the characteristics of the air temperature.Horizontal loop systems typically require large amounts of land. “For a closed-loop system, it’s all a function of how much pipe you can get in the ground with the open land area you have available to work with,” Rhyner says.

Vertically drilled closed-loop systems are more efficient than horizontal systems, as more of the pipe is in contact with a more constant earth temperature. They are most efficient if they can be drilled into groundwater rather than dry ground, since water is a good conductor of heat. “You get a certain number of tons per linear footage [a ton of heat is 12,000 British thermal units per hour], and can get more pipe in the ground going vertically than horizontally,” says Rhyner.

Standing column wells are another type of open-loop system that is well suited where bedrock is close to the ground surface. Standing column wells are typically less deep than vertical closed-loop systems with similar heat output capacity. Whereas vertical closed-loop borings are typically 250 to 400 feet deep, standing column wells can be anywhere from several hundred feet to over 2,000 feet deep. Steel casing is installed to hold the borehole open up to the depth of bedrock. The remaining depth is drilled through bedrock and is left as an open rock borehole. In these systems, the groundwater is pumped up from the bottom of the well, passed through the GHP, and then returned to the top of the well, where it filters slowly downward, exchanging heat with the surrounding bedrock.

Choosing which of these systems is right for a specific project requires calculating a building’s heating and cooling demand and conducting a subsurface analysis to determine the thermal capacity of the site, and how many wells or how large of a loop field will be needed. If the calculations are done correctly and the system is properly designed, GHPs can handle all of a building’s heating and cooling loads, no matter what climatic conditions prevail.

High Upfront cost versus Return on Investment

When designed and installed correctly, GHPs drastically reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool a building. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, GHPs are 48 percent more efficient than the best gas furnace and 75 percent more efficient than the best oil furnace. They require 25 to 50 percent less energy than other HVAC systems and bring down operation and maintenance costs by as much as 40 percent.

The main inhibitor to the wide-scale adoption of GHPs today is the relatively high up-front cost of installation. The main difference in cost between GHPs and conventional systems is the drilling cost. The mechanical equipment itself—the heat pumps and heat exchangers—is no more expensive than high-efficiency conventional heating and cooling systems. Annual savings on energy bills, however, offset the up-front cost. When taking advantage of the available incentives, payback periods for commercial GHP systems can be as little as 5 to 7 years when replacing an aging, inefficient HVAC system. GHP systems are especially cost-competitive against many conventional systems in new construction. In the past, GHPs were primarily popular with municipal and institutional clients, building owners who planned to inhabit and operate their facilities over the long term, and those who were simply more interested in environmental stewardship than the bottom line. With the currently available incentives and the high price of fossil fuels, payback periods have been significantly reduced making GHPs an attainable investment for more building owners.

The cost of installing a geothermal system can vary depending on site specifics. In existing buildings, challenges like duct routing, construction type, and space restrictions can affect the cost significantly. Such challenges are more easily overcome in new construction where these issues can be discussed with the architect or builder early in the design process. Your chosen geothermal company will be able to assist you with a cost analysis for the system that is best suited for your home. Their analysis will factor in the cost of installing a traditional heating and cooling system, the cost of fossil fuel and the available local and federal incentives. The following links have information on these incentives from both federal and local programs.

Federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit  (30% of the price of the system)

Massachusetts Incentives/Policies for Renewables & Efficiency

Local energy company incentives may also be available.

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a geothermal drilling rig

Common Myths About Geothermal

It’s surprising how often the same questions and comments arise regarding geothermal systems. The following, part of Energy Smart Alternatives’ ‘Geothermal Demystified’ series, sheds some light on some of these common misunderstandings regarding geothermal installations.

Myth #1: Backup Heating

There is a common misconception that GHPs are not able to provide 100 percent of heating requirements. This simply isn’t true. A properly designed GHP system will provide all of the heating and cooling requirements of the building. There is no need whatsoever to install a gas or oil boiler to provide a backup heat source.

 

Myth #2: Winter Installation

Transitioning from a fossil fuel heating system to a GHP in the winter can be a challenge. In most cases, the home will be without heat for one or two days while the new geothermal system is being installed. Although a temporary heat source can be used while the transition is being made, some homeowners choose to just add a few layers of clothing.

The drill rig used for vertical installations can drill through bedrock and certainly has the capacity to drill through frozen soil and ice. Trenching in winter can be difficult, though; the degree of difficulty depends on your geographic location and ground cover conditions.  When trenching in a small area, a few straw bails can keep the ground from freezing long enough to complete the installation. In some cases, excavators may not be willing to dig in the winter because of wear-and-tear on equipment.

Myth #3 Concerns about bedrock or ledge

Installing a vertical geothermal boring through bedrock is not a problem. Geothermal boreholes are created by cutting and grinding a 6-inch core through bedrock; there is no blasting, hammering, or pile driving. An experienced driller can drill between 200 and 300 feet through solid bedrock in one day. In New England, bedrock will usually be encountered within 50 feet of the ground surface and is encountered on almost every single geothermal installation.

Some homeowners have expressed concerns about drilling through bedrock in close proximity to their own, or their neighbors’, basement foundation wall. To my knowledge, no foundation damage has ever occurred – even when the borings were advanced within 10 to 15 feet of a foundation wall. The drilling will not cause an earthquake. It will not rattle the entire neighborhood.

Shallow bedrock can be an obstacle to horizontal closed-loop installations where hundreds of linear feet of trench are required. It can also be a problem when trenching between the location of vertical borings and the basement foundation wall. A careful evaluation of the site prior to digging will dictate the location of drilling or excavation so as to minimize encounters with ledge during excavation activities.

 

Myth #4 Concerns about wasting money on drilling.

EnergySmart’s team has installed over 200 tons of geothermal heating systems throughout New England and there has never been a situation where drilling has occurred and the installation has not been completed. First, it starts with an understanding of how the underground components of a geothermal systems actually work.

For both horizontal and vertical closed-loop systems, the heat transfer occurs between the soil or bedrock and the geothermal piping to the antifreeze circulating through the pipe. While groundwater improves the heat transfer properties of the underground portions of a closed-loop system, the presence of copious amounts of groundwater is not absolutely critical to the operation of the system. The presence or absence of groundwater should be accounted for in the design process but does not preclude the installation and effective operation of a GHP system.

Open-loop systems circulate groundwater through the GHP system.  It is imperative that the well has enough capacity to support the geothermal system.  Low well capacity can be overcome by fracking the well or deepening the well to increase its capacity and yield (this is a chemical-free fracking technique that is completely different from that used by the natural gas industry).  In extreme cases, systems that were originally intended to be open-loop can be converted to closed-loop when the well doesn’t produce sufficient good quality water. Similarly, if salt water or hard water is encountered, systems originally intended to be open-loop can be converted to closed-loop where water quality will have no impact.

Thank you to Melanie Head at EnergySmart Alternatives for her valuable information. Feel free to contact EnergySmart Alternatives for more information.

Juli MacDonald, GreenBridge Architects

Best of 2011

December 15, 2011

This year, through our partnership with The Riverview Company, we’ve had some fantastic opportunities to see our design work constructed in Wellesley, Stoneham, Newburyport, Amesbury, Sudbury and Copake, New York. Our project in Copake was by far the most challenging, exciting, and interesting. We thought a recap of the project might be of interest to you and hope you’ll agree.

Copake is about 3 hours away from us, around 2 hours away from most of our subcontractors – a logistical challenge. The clients are an amazing couple we’ve done several projects for at their Wellesley home.  This is their vacation home, so  they couldn’t be there to see day-to-day progress.  In order to take on the project,  they wanted the extra assurance gained from our relationship with them. There was never a question in Steven’s (my husband and co-owner of The Riverview Company) or my mind that we’d take this project on; we’d do anything for them.

Program and setting

The multi-acre property is on the outskirts of Copake, a town in the upstate New York Berkshires, on an expansive lake. Ed, the husband, fully aware of its problems, loves this getaway and its quiet and rural character. His wife Mary is of a more urban taste, but cares about the home because he does.

They knew that they wanted to make it look better!  Besides that, they also needed a new main entry and a screened porch with a fireplace and grill. New cabinetry and millwork would improve the interior, but they didn’t want to make major changes to wall locations. Other aspects of the project’s requirements included major upgrades to the insulation and mechanicals.

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Approach to house, view from street: the awkward entry door opens onto an undefined bedroom or den. It was unclear where to enter the house; the preferred entry was on the garage side. The windows have no trim and the exposed foundation is unattractive.

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View toward lake: lots of glass doors in the Living/Ding Room face the view, but the doors were failing. Other than those, one small window from the Kitchen and one from an upstairs bedroom faced the view.

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View from the Living Room to the Kitchen: the cathedral ceiling created some sharp, uncomfortable shapes.

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View toward the Stair: the large opening was unorganized and plain. The stair (behind the wall with the 3 frames) was narrow and closed.

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Kitchen: the owners wanted to keep the same layout, but upgrade appliances, finishes and add color.

The project

Working closely with the owners over the course of several months our plans took shape….

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First floor plan: the dark lines show new construction and the tightly dashed lines indicate construction we removed.

The major plan changes were on the left side facing the garage and the rear, or water-side (top of page). The new Screened Porch makes the most of the expansive view and is designed to be a multi-use, multi-season room. In addition to the new Screened Porch, we added French doors from the Kitchen and a large bluestone patio accessible from the Living/Dining Room, the Kitchen and the new Screened Porch. On the garage side of the house, we added an inviting entry porch, with wide stairs accessing the front and rear yards and leading to an enlarged mudroom.

Riverview’s team of carpenters and subcontractors stayed at the house for many overnights during the work. Their continual positive attitudes and talents are what made the project a huge success.

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On the interior, we rebuilt the stair and added an open rail to the stair and the balconies. In the large Living/Dining Room, we defined the spaces and ‘dressed them up’ by adding cabinetry and trim. The Dining Area cabinet is built for use as a buffet table and to store the owner’s plate collection.

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The Screened Porch floor is bluestone and the fireplace wall is made with American Granite. In cooler months, a radiant floor and storm panels make this a 3-4 season room. This quickly became everyone’s favorite space.

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We gave the Kitchen a facelift with a new countertop, appliances and window, and we painted the cabinets and walls. The new French doors open up the room to the lake view.

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From the drive, the landscaping and new walk lead to an inviting covered entry porch. We added a stone veneer to the exposed foundation, replaced the siding and added trims.

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The lakeside of the home and its outdoor spaces are open to the lake and the view.

Gratitude

For this project, we were fortunate to have incredibly committed and thoughtful clients and dedicated subcontractors. We want to thank The Riverview Company’s stellar carpenters, Stephen Tucker and Brett Belisle and their wives, the subcontractors: Kevin Thibodeau “The Plumber”, Pacewicz Electrical and Nelson Landscaping (stonework) and of course our fabulous clients, Ed and Mary.

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Ed and Mary

Happy holidays and best wishes for a joyous new year!  Juli and Steven MacDonald

www.greenbridgearchitects.com

www.riverviewcompany.com

A Camden Jewel

August 10, 2011

The Camden Public Library in Camden, Maine is a magnificent example of stately architectural and landscape design, and of the citizenry prioritizing the most important building in town. When visiting a few weekends ago, I was struck by the 1996 addition to the library, and how the architect, John Scholz, approached the design with a careful hand. The addition was built UNDER the existing library and grounds, with a new lower level entry at the side street.

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Street view

Ground Plans

Architect’s renderings of the grounds (from the library’s website)

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Corner view

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New entry

The existing library and its views across the Olmstead-designed Harbor Park to the harbor is breathtaking and unchanged, aside from a lantern-like glass building on the lawn that serves as an  oculus/skylight for the new spaces below.

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From Library

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Toward library from Amphitheater

Because of the glass entry to the street, the oculus and roof windows, the new lower level spaces are light-filled and pleasant. The interior spaces are elegantly finished similarly to the historic library above.

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First Floor

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Lower Level

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Detail of oculus

From the library’s website:

“On March 23, 1896, the citizens of Camden voted to establish a free public library to be known as the Camden Public Library. The proud townspeople of Camden raised the money to build this library through various fundraising efforts. No assistance was provided by library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Mary Louise Curtis Bok donated the land for the library in 1916. Parker Morse Hooper and Boston architect Charles G. Loring offered building plans. The cornerstone was laid on August 17, 1927 and the Library opened its doors on June 11, 1928 with Miss Katherine W. Harding serving as the first librarian.

In 1996 the library underwent a great expansion under the south lawn. The opening of this Centennial Wing allowed the library to accommodate larger collections and computer-based technology without compromising the scenic or historic value of the original building.”

 

 

Most of our existing New England libraries are too small for current requirements and many of them could use an update and more space. There are a lot of examples of modern buildings being stuck on these old venerable structures, or even of libraries moving to new buildings on the outskirts of town, where parking and land is available. Because the addition was funded by the citizens and businesses of Camden, there were no federal or state mandates on parking, number of meeting rooms, etc. It was such a pleasure to see Camden’s solution, which demonstrates pride in the historic structure, and an optimism for the new.

A brief history of the library and adjacent grounds also from the Camden Library website:

“Constructed in 1928, The Camden Public Library, the only library in the village of Camden, Maine, sits at the highest point on Main Street. Architects Parker Morse Hooper and Charles Greely Loring chose to position their building close to the street, under the shade of existing elms and maples – a more direct relationship with its surrounding built environment rather than its larger landscape scenery.

The grounds of the Camden Public Library create a distinctly unique, highly articulated series of landscape experiences, the centerpiece of which is a public outdoor garden amphitheater. Designed by the renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele, this landscape is one of his best works of art. It was designed and constructed between 1928 and 1931, and funded by local patron of the arts, Mary Louise Curtis Bok. Steele’s landscape design is an important transitional composition that blends elements of the traditional Neoclassical with the ‘new’ ideas of the French Moderne (Art Deco) and successfully marries the ideals of the Renaissance Italian garden theater with the richness of Maine’s native landscape. The popularity and unique qualities of the amphitheater immediately led to the christening of the site as the “Camden Amphitheatre”.

The library building is a long rectangular Colonial Revival structure whose primary axis runs southwest to northeast, parallel to Camden’s Main Street. From the rear of the library, the back door opens onto a secondary axis, linking the library to the Amphitheatre’s central lawn at an oblique angle. The primary axis for the Amphitheatre runs north to south, aligned with the primary views to the harbor. Experts have celebrated the use of this bent axis as one of the first steps in landscape architecture’s move from Classical Revival to French Moderne (Art Deco).

Across Atlantic Avenue, the two-acre Harbor Park, designed by the Olmsted Brothers between 1928 and 1935, continues and extends the views from the Amphitheatre toward the harbor and its busy waterfront. This park retains its own, aesthetically distinct design vocabulary, and remains a separate yet intimately connected, companion to the Amphitheatre. The park was designed in concert with the Amphitheatre, though its naturalistic design and informal planting program contrast significantly with the structured design of the Amphitheatre.

The Camden Amphitheatre retains its historic integrity, setting, original materials and the quality of original workmanship and design. Fieldstone, brick, grass and native trees and shrubs weave their way throughout the Amphitheatre, and wrought iron rails, light standards, gates and arches add grace and French-inspired Art Deco overtones to the carefully executed, highly detailed landscape design.

 

 

For more information, visit the library’s website, or the library itself! The Camden Library, Camden Harbor Park and Amphitheatre are located just off Route 1, on Atlantic Avenue, in downtown Camden.

http://www.librarycamden.org

Blogging about the Garbage Garage has connected us with amazing eco-enthusiasts around the world. Thank you for all the interest and comments.  This blog (the final on this project) will focus on the garage’s construction, the best part! See previous posts for information on Project Genesis and Design, Permitting and Preparation for Construction.

Construction Process:

The Long Way Home crew (Liz and Adam Howland, Erica Temple and Aaron Colvin) came from Guatemala to install the rammed-earth tire walls. Once permits were in hand, The Riverview Company coordinated the foundation work, including the rebar that anchored the foundation to the tire walls (and reassured the building inspector). I tried to prepare for the crew’s arrival by ordering the soil that would be used to fill the tires. My extensive research and questioning of experts was not helpful, and the soil ended up being far too sandy for the required use. Quote from Adam from Long Way Home “That’s not dirt.” Drat.

So, once the crew arrived, they had the cumbersome task of finding soil that would compact well in the tires. The selected soil ended up being a mix of sand and clay. At this point, the comparisons with construction in the US and Guatemala began. In Guatemala, there was is no special search for soil – they use what is there. Fortunately, we were able to use the sand later in the project as a base for the slab and the pavers.

Elizabeth (the owner) supplied the tires. The selection of the tires was crucial for this project since the finished exterior wall needed to be vertical and would have a stucco finish. We couldn’t have various thicknesses and widths of tires as can be used in the Guatemalan projects, where the final buildings are more organic and rough in finish. It turned out that there was some variance in the tires, but the LWH crew was expert at sorting and placing the tires accordingly.

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Volunteers helping with the tire-pounding

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Liz and Erica getting the dirt ready

As part of the permit approvals, we were required to have the compaction of the soil tested during construction.  The compaction consistently met and exceeded all requirements.  (More Guatemala comparisons…compaction testing?!)

The Riverview Company followed up with the installation of the slab, the wall, attic and roof framing above the tires, and the plywood underlayment and stucco exterior finish.  IMG_2794

Brett Belisle from Riverview working on the roof

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Detail of the interior

Adam from the Long Way Home came back to install the glass bottles in the upper gable, and also installed some back-lighting behind the bottle wall to light the gable at night. The glass bottles were a challenge – we all love the idea of brightly colored bottles, but we had trouble finding bottles outside of clear, brown and green. There is a certain bright blue vodka bottle that we couldn’t get enough of…LWH did have a volunteer party, where everyone could get a chance to pound tires and to donate some bottles.  I gave tire-pounding a try that day, for about a minute.  Erica and Liz are now my new heroes.

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Adam working on the bottle wall

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Final exterior

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Final interior

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Interior at the bottle wall

A recap of the project:

The genesis of this project was my client, Elizabeth Rose, who is president of Long Way Home, a community-based, nonprofit organization in Guatemala that is building homes and schools using these construction methods.  In Guatemala, these construction types are a perfect solution for very poor residents who need shelter and community buildings.  In addition to the benefits noted above, building with tires, cans and bottles is cheap; the materials are virtually free, labor costs are low, and the building techniques are easily taught to otherwise unskilled laborers.

Elizabeth saw her family’s need for a garage as an opportunity to showcase alternative environmentally sustainable building practices and to help potential supporters understand the important work that Long Way Home is doing.

We are grateful to our amazing clients (Elizabeth and her husband Joe) for the opportunity to be involved in such an interesting and important project.  We appreciate their tenacity in getting the project done and their amazing outlook even during the biggest challenges we encountered.

Let us know if you have any questions about the Garbage Garage. We had such fun being a part of the project and hope that it will stand as a demonstration of creative approaches to construction that are sensitive to the needs of communities.

With best wishes,

Juli MacDonald, GreenBridge Architects

978.518.2811  juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

 

More information:

Georgetown Record’s article via Wicked Local

Wicked Local photo gallery

Tires, Cans and Bottles, Oh My!

Tires, Cans and Bottles, Oh My! (Part 2)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since we first started working on the “Garbage Garage” , a new garage constructed using rammed-earth tires and salvaged glass bottles. (see our post from June 2009)

Last month, the painters completed their work. It is done!

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In this blog, I’ll discuss our design process and preparing for construction. Next month’s blog will be focused on the construction process.

Recap

The genesis of this project was my client, Elizabeth Rose, who is president of Long Way Home, a community-based, nonprofit organization in Guatemala that is building homes and schools using these construction methods.  In Guatemala, these construction types are a perfect solution for very poor residents who need shelter and community buildings.  In addition to the benefits noted above, building with tires, cans and bottles is cheap; the materials are virtually free, labor costs are low, and the building techniques are easily taught to otherwise unskilled laborers.

Elizabeth saw her family’s need for a garage as an opportunity to showcase alternative environmentally sustainable building practices and to help potential supporters understand the important work that Long Way Home is doing.

We are grateful to our amazing clients (Elizabeth and her husband Joe)  for the opportunity to be involved in such an interesting and important project.  We appreciate their tenacity in getting the project done and their amazing outlook even during the biggest challenges we encountered.

Construction Documentation and Planning for Construction

The project was quite a journey…we worked hard with Joe Fix, our structural engineer, on proper detailing for the project. The wall details and construction became a hybrid of the methods used by Long Way Home in Guatemala and methods traditional for this area and required for permit approval. Ericka Temple, who is part of Long Way Home, assisted with the construction drawings and was also part of the construction crew. The final design included a massive concrete foundation with steel reinforcing bars anchoring the foundation to the tire walls. Here is one of the wall details:

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Placing the garage on the site was another challenge. Construction of the garage would be near a beautiful cherry tree and we needed to avoid harming it during construction. We also wanted the placement to ensure that the garage was not seen first while approaching on the drive. Matt Ulrich from UBLA provided the site design work for what proved to be a perfect location for the new garage.

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We had some touch and go with the moving the project forward. Our first hurdle was finding a contractor comfortable working with the rammed-tire process. Our clients planned to bring a Long Way Home crew from Guatemala to complete the tire portion of the project, but contractors were still squeamish and bid the project (high) accordingly. We even had one low point in the project when our client requested that for cost reasons, we revise the drawings for conventional construction. The project lost all momentum until Elizabeth said, “Wait! What are we doing?” She really wanted the garage to be as originally conceived, a demonstration of construction using salvaged materials.

GreenBridge’s partner company, The Riverview Company, stepped up to the plate. Steven was excited to see the construction method and was comfortable working with the Long Way Home Crew. Next hurdle – permitting!

The Permit Process

When we were initially looking at the project, I spoke with the Georgetown building inspector. He was excited to work with us in the permitting process. He is also a ‘green’ builder, and we felt we had a strong advocate in the town. Once we were ready to submit for permit, we found out that he no longer worked there!! The interim inspector ended up being incredibly helpful and supportive of the project, but did request review from the state inspector and additional engineering documentation for the project.  Once we’d submitted proper engineering documentation and agreed to have the rammed earth in the tires tested for compaction throughout the construction process, the permit was approved. We obtained structural reports from EarthShip verifying the structural integrity of the rammed-earth tire walls, and we engaged McPhail and Associates to provide compaction testing.

With our soils engineer at the ready, contractor in place, and plane tickets purchased for the Long Way Home crew, we were ready for construction. Stay tuned to our next blog on construction of the Garbage Garage!

Juli MacDonald, GreenBridge Architects

978.518.2811

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