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.

margarita

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

net-zero home

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.

net-zero home 2

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!

The Hobbit House visited

January 27, 2013

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”  first line of The Hobbit, J.R.R . Tolkien

Just got back from finally seeing The Hobbit with my youngest son.  Seeing movies with my kids is often a chance for a decent nap, but not this time.  Although I have to admit I’ve never had much interest in the Hobbit series, Bilbo Baggins’ house, Bagsend, was incredible!  I completely understood his desire to get back to it (and his books!) throughout the movie, especially when every character encountered was more frightening and UGLY than the last…

The Hobbit house set was built in New Zealand….

hobbitx

Exterior of the home and garden.  Nestled into the hill, the home is mostly underground.  Throughout the home, the color, texture and attention to finely executed detail is breathtaking.

small-scale.net

Circular doorways sometimes require climbing over the curved threshold.  Worth it.

hobbitapp2

The curved plaster ceilings are reminiscent of a wine cellar and the comforting curved shapes are everywhere.

hobbitapp1

I was struck by the soft light and shadow throughout. 

During the movie, I did start fantasizing about living in a Hobbit House, what would it take?  Judging from Google, lots of others are looking at this as a viable option.  Here is a great look at what it would cost in real life….How Much Does Bilbo Baggins’ House Really Cost?

“It was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” Absolutely.

All images from tumblr.com, small-scale.net and the Hobbit app.

Open Studio!

May 29, 2012

DSC_0115

This month has been a milestone for GreenBridge and The Riverview Company.  After almost 5 years of being in business, we have moved into our new studio space! I wanted to give you a tour of our new space and share its history. Our little barn building was built in the late 18th century. When we first moved to our house, this out-building was nearly falling down the hill to its rear and was 11” out of plumb. It was all potential, but my husband Steven and I loved it at first glance.

It’s been nine years and slow going construction-wise, diversions like our toddler, then a new baby, challenging careers, LEGOS… all were in collusion to the barn not getting finished. For the most part I didn’t think about it and have made a small office next to the kids’ bedrooms work. Steven (my husband and business partner) pressed on, slow but steady. Within our first week in the house, he raised the rear of the barn and installed new foundation piers. As time went on, he built out the interior of the first floor for his cabinetry shop and repaired the clapboards and trim on the exterior.

DSC_0006

Steven in his shop.

DSCN0130

He built an amazingly WIDE stair to the second floor space, with careful detailing that gained us a dry storage shed below the stairs.

IMG_2981

They’re also great for hanging out

DSC_0010

Under construction

DSC_0002

Steven and friends added the dormers last fall, which make the space comfortable and roomy, with space for a future bathroom and storage.

DSC_0117

The studio!  This view is toward the PowWow River and the little green bridge

DSC_0115

DSC_0120

Future window-seat location

DSC_0119

Steven built a beautiful conference table using salvaged lumber from a 17th century Amesbury Point Shore structure, a piece I will always treasure.

I’m thrilled to be in the space and can now testify more strongly than ever to the power of design. This space, so perfect for me and my work, is conducive to happy production, collaboration and creativity.

For more information or to schedule a visit, feel free to contact me at juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

Best wishes for a wonderful summer!

The Front Door

March 21, 2012

I was so excited to see Denise’s blog this month, Façade Face Lift. I love doors and entryways; we get a strong impression of the building or home from the front door. Entries are your first interaction with your home after being away, or for your visiting guests as they arrive to enjoy your company.

55 Cliff_exterior_1

One of our newest additions in Wellesley and one of my favorites.  Our client loves the special detail of the small overhead light that is activated by a motion-sensor – perfect for key-finding.  Construction by The Riverview Company.

Many homes have entry design challenges that fall under a few categories. Do you recognize your own home in any of these scenarios?

1. Come on in, but please don’t look. Nobody uses the front door, and the back door is ugly and doesn’t work. This item is especially prevalent in older homes built before most everybody had cars. Once most people had cars and garages, the closest door to the drive, often a small back or side door next to the kitchen, became the most used door for the house.

IMG_3248

This was the family and guest main entry, hidden behind the garage. The door is right next to their Eating Area table.

160

A new generous entry is in keeping with the rest of this lovely Wellesley home. Our client filled her window boxes as soon as they were finished.  Construction by The Riverview Company.

2. Where’s my right boot? No easy storage at the family’s entry. The word ‘easy’ is important here. If you and/or your family are normal, shoes, coat, keys and purses will be deposited on the first surface available. Thoughtfully designed storage with habits and lifestyles in mind makes a big difference. I like to design hooks and a kick-under bench, but with a closet to shift items as items pile up on the hooks and under/on the bench.

IMG_3758

Taken from the web….but most of us can relate.  except for the mini-well (?)

Mud Room_2

For this new basement entry, we added lots of storage with hooks, a closet, open shelving and a lift-top bench.  Construction by The Riverview Company.

174

As part of this addition, we created a generous formal entry space with large closets.  Construction by The Riverview Company.

IMG_1164

A small custom built-in with cubbies and a lift-top bench where space was limited.  Construction by The Riverview Company.

img33i img31i

A free-standing storage system can work wonders.  These are from Pottery Barn.

3. Hello? Can’t find the door or don’t know which one to approach. This is one of those challenges that we don’t think of until we have visitors and think about our home from their perspective. If you need to give directions to the door before you have a visitor, this might be an issue for your house.

DSC03472

You would think you’d go in the middle door in the back, well you don’t.  That would bring you to a tiny space leading to two tiny doors that will take you to the living spaces.  So you can pick from one of the many doors on the ‘L’ which will bring you right into the Kitchen or the Eating Area.

Greenbridge_2_32

As part of the renovation and addition, we created a clearly defined entry using  a pergola, lighting and sidelights on either side of the French door.  Construction by Becker Builders.

4. Door in name only. The front formal door is used at Halloween only. Reasons vary – maybe it can’t be seen easily, or it has no character, or other design problems making it uninviting, or common in new construction, there is no walkway leading to it!!

imagesCA44ULAM

I wouldn’t trick or treat here!

IMG_2831

We love projects like this – let’s get drawing!!

001

The rebuilt entry and porch have rich classical detailing, with inviting lighting, a generous landing with wide steps, AND a new walkway from the drive.  Construction by The Riverview Company.

Greenbridge_1_26s

This new entry in Georgetown, complete with new garden walls and paving (by UBLA design) was transformative.  Constructed by Meadowview Builders.

If your home has any of these ‘issues’, rest assured, you can make it better. The ideal entry is one where the landscape welcomes and brings you to a protected and well-detailed doorway, and on the interior has generous space and thoughtfully planned storage.  Feel free to contact me if you’d like some assistance with your design plans and estimates of associated costs.

Happy Spring!

Juli MacDonald

GreenBridge Architects

juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

978.518.2811

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.

IMG_1940

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.

IMG_1948

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.

IMG_3192

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

IMG_3197

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

IMG_3193

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….

Copake plan

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.

071

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.

065

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.

076

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.

150

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.

136

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.

010

Ed and Mary

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

www.greenbridgearchitects.com

www.riverviewcompany.com

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.

IMG_2732

Volunteers helping with the tire-pounding

IMG_2715

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

IMG_2799

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.

IMG_2952

Adam working on the bottle wall

DSC_0098

Final exterior

DSC_0103

Final interior

DSC_0108

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)

Our glimpse of Rome

November 17, 2010

My husband and I just got back from our trip to Rome – one of the strongest impressions we brought home is of the fabulous artisan shops dappled throughout the city.  While strolling in historic Rome, how wonderful to stumble upon a tiny shop where a man is tooling leather or another with a couple painting ceramic tiles.  Here is a sampling of some of the shops we happened upon on our trip…

Picture 538 

A mosaic tile shop.

Picture 540

A couple laughing and chatting with one another while they painted ceramic tiles.

Picture 100

The ‘glove lady’ who caresses your hands as part of the sales process.

Picture 542

The upholsterer’s shop.

Picture 075

Brass restoration?

Picture 546

Plaster artisan shop and scooter garage.

Picture 343

The leather shop owner.

Picture 074

Barber shop

Picture 073

Most importantly, the best gelato shop. 

Picture 030

Me happily enjoying Piazza Novona, feeling a million miles away from Home Depot and Walmart. 

These glimpses help us to remember what we love best about being in architecture and construction.  We have opportunities every day to select vendors, subcontractors, and consultants.  When we choose well, selecting those who are also devoted, diligent and who love their work, the process is rewarding and the projects are spectacular.

Arrivederci!

Juli

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.