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.

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

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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!

Open Studio!

May 29, 2012

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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.

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Steven in his shop.

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

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They’re also great for hanging out

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Under construction

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

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

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Future window-seat location

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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!

Most of us have a long list of items that we want to see for our home.  I’ve found that most of our clients want to save energy costs, by adding insulation or upgrading their homes’ mechanicals, but they really need their new mudroom first, and the gutters fixed….. 

‘Green Design’ and ‘Sustainability’ are terms that are everywhere these days, and their immediate value to our own homes isn’t obvious, especially when other problems are more glaring – no storage, an ugly kitchen, a messy playroom.  Making changes to reduce energy use is real and translates to savings for you and the homeowner, but beautiful design and function is just as important.  If your house works well for you and is beautiful, you will love it – you’ll stay there and take care of it.  If it is well-detailed and built well, it will last for many years.  Your home won’t need to be torn down and rebuilt, because it will be worth keeping.  That’s green!

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One of our projects, completed earlier this year, a renovation and addition to a 1630 home in Newburyport.

Over the past year, we have been helping our clients with a cost-effective way to organize and plan for upgrades to their homes, by creating Master Plans.  Master Planning, or creating a single design that incorporates current and future projects, gives our clients drawings that can be used for cost-estimating as they decide to move forward with individual projects. The Master Plan is also an important tool that insures that each project is moving them toward their desired goal and that today’s construction won’t have to be rebuilt or removed tomorrow.

A recent example of our Master Planning work was completed for an ‘New Englander’ home in Newburyport.  Our clients for this project are a young couple with one young child and another baby on the way.  They have strong roots in the home (one of them grew up there) and plan to live there for the long term. 

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The Master Plan for their home includes a new Kitchen and Mudroom on the first floor, an expanded Master Bedroom Suite on the second floor, an ‘au pair’ suite on the lower level, and the renovation of their garage to a patio-side ‘Cabana’.  Our schematic or design drawings consist of floor plans, exterior elevations, and a model. 

With our partner company, Riverview Builders, we are able to provide cost-estimates and quality construction for all or portions of the work, providing complete architectural and construction services.

For our Newburyport clients, their greatest need right now is their 2nd Floor Hall Bath – we’re excited to be starting with that project early next year.

We would love to talk to you about your home and where it will be in a hundred years – feel free to contact us with any questions or to find out more about this process.  Happy New Year!!!!!!

Juli MacDonald, AIA, LEED-AP

info@greenbridgearchitects.com

www.greenbridgearchitects.com

farmers-marketNewburyport is getting  a farmer’s market!!!!  Can’t wait for summer?!

From their site www.thenewburyportfarmersmarket.org:

“Beginning in June and held every Sunday, the farmers’ market will take place in the Tannery Parking lot, along Water Street, come rain or shine! When the market opens this Spring, enjoy fresh produce grown by our local farmers and come see what artisans in the community have been creating!

Our mission is to support a viable food system that brings local farmers and the community together where we can enjoy the fruits of the earth and learn from each other. To promote awareness of sustainability practices and how they help preserve and protect the planet.”

Go to www.thenewburyportfarmersmarket.org for more information.  They are kicking it off with a dance party February 20th at the Mission Oak Grill and an info meeting on the 22nd at the Tannery.

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