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!

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

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Home Office Ideas

March 30, 2010

Happy Spring!!  Daffodils, tulips, vacation planning…taxes.  Where did you prepare your taxes this year?  Was it in an organized, calming, well-lit, comfortable environment?

In this month’s greenbridge blog, I’m focusing on home offices, or more specifically, office spaces.  Instead of looking at an entire room used as an office, where lots of space is available, I wanted to look at options for integrating office areas into otherwise under-utilized spaces.  Some fantastic options include under stairs, in closets, or as part of the kitchen.  These tucked in office spaces are ideal for family-centered computer work, paying bills or dropping off or organizing the mail.  With clever detailing, they can also be built to fold away or close when not in use, hiding inevitable clutter or unfinished projects.

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An image from a This Old House blog on kitchen offices

The first step in creating a home office is to look for a location that works for your living patterns and lifestyle. 

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Is there an unused nook at the end of a pantry?  In this photo, they found a beautiful spot under a window, close to the kitchen, but tucked away.

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Or a seldom or under-used closet?  Here, a WIDE door opening helps the office space to not feel like a closet.

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How about a space under a stair?  I love the heater at the knees in this one.

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Sometimes office spaces can be worked into other renovation projects such as a cabinetry project or a kitchen renovation.  In this recent cabinetry project above by Riverview Builders, we incorporated a small desk area at the end of the new living room cabinet.

Once the size and location have been determined, consider what you’ll be doing there and plan for the storage, desk area and electrical to fit those uses.  For these spaces, each planned detail can make an enormous difference once you’re ‘moved in’.  Examples of small important details might include a well-placed grommet hole so that wires can feed through the desktop or a cabinet where to hide  computer wires.

Beyond the detailing of the function is the overall design.  Do you want the cabinetry to match other cabinets in the room, or to look like a separate piece of furniture?  Painted or clear-finished wood?  Would you like to close it up when not in use? 

What are the possibilities in your home?  If you’d like our assistance with planning or cost-estimating your upcoming project, feel free to contact me at juli@greenbridgearchitects.com  or juli@riverview-builders.com.  Our initial consultation is always complimentary.

With best wishes for a wonderful spring season,

Juli

www.riverview-builders.com

www.greenbridgearchitecs.com

 pizza

I make a GREAT pizza, and love every minute of the cooking process. Kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise, while the oven and baking stone heat up…some of my favorite memories in my home include making pizza with one of both of our boys hanging out with me, sketching or chatting away, while I work that dough.

The Kitchen! One of the most central spaces to our lives, the room that provides sustenance and satiation to us and our family, a place where the cook’s creations come to life, and the focus point of most of our entertaining, whether we like it or not!  A kitchen renovation grounded in the creation of a beautiful environment and on the practical efficiency of the layout and selections will add enormous value to quality of life in the home. In recent greenbridge blogs we’ve talked about big picture design and master planning; once those items are in place, it’s time to start focusing on the spaces themselves, starting with the kitchen.

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image: www.insideview.ie

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image: greenbridge architects

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image: www.hometogether.net

At GreenBridge Architects or at our partner design-build company Riverview Builders, we ask a lot of our clients early in the kitchen renovation project. While we are measuring and drawing the existing conditions, we assign our clients the task of thinking about their personal goals for their kitchen. We then meet with them to review their goals for the space. What follows is a summary of the items covered in a kitchen renovation:

Getting Started

Pull out all those clipping or copies of kitchens you’ve been enjoying in the magazines and newspapers, or even online. (We have great magazines and books to lend if you haven’t been doing this yet.) Make a quick note on each describing what you like about that kitchen. (example – ‘love this floor’ or ‘great light’ ) These notes are invaluable for the designer who will pull these items together for you. Don’t worry if there are conflicts or if you aren’t sure about some items – your architect or designer is there to help you. We love a million questions at this stage!

Before our initial design meeting, we’ll ask that you give some thoughts to the items below – again, you don’t need to have an answer of even a strong feeling about each item, but if you do, we want to be sure we’re including those items that are important to you.

General Feeling

What words describe your dream kitchen? Historic, country, modern, charming, warm, cool and clean?

Layout

How does your kitchen work for you now? If it doesn’t work so well for you, what have you thought about as a solution?

Color

Even though color can be selected far down the road, early design is a great time to consider a color palette – that palette may drive some of the big selections, like appliances, countertops and flooring.

Cabinets and countertops

What style and materials do you like? What color? Will they be all alike, or will you vary the style and color around the room? Will your appliances have door panels to match the cabinetry? What style of knobs will you use?

Appliances

What style and finish to do like? Will you have any appliances in addition to the major appliances (stove, refrigerator and dishwasher)? Will you install door panels to match your cabinets?

Sinks and faucets

How many sinks do you need? Have you chosen the size, style, and material for each? Do they work with your countertop? Does the faucet complement your look and work the way you like? Selecting low-flow faucets is an imperceptible water-saver.

Floor

What material will give you the look you’re after? Can it be laid in a pattern and do you wish to use it that way? Will it be comfortable to stand on and easy to clean?

Lighting Fixtures

Will you use decorative or unobtrusive fixtures, or a mix? Consider the color, finish and size of whatever you choose as well as the style. Will they take energy-efficient bulbs? Will they work with dimmers?

Walls

Do you prefer paint or wallpaper, or have some other treatment in mind? Will you use tile for backsplashes or wainscoting?

Window treatments

Use them for privacy or to complete your look. If they’re near the stove or a sink, keep them simple and easy to clean.

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image: www.thekitchendesigner.org

Greening the Process

The early planning stage is the best time to consider opportunities to ‘green it up’, or to make selections or decisions that will improve the environmental impact and energy and water use for the space. Items to consider when renovating a kitchen include:

In General –sustainable items included as part of our standard practices and detailing:

· A well-designed and ‘timeless’ space won’t need to be renovated again, saving energy and resources for the future.

· A kitchen renovation usually involves demolition of the wall surfaces – this is a great opportunity to not only improve the wall, ceiling and floor insulation, but to also better insulate all plumbing and heating pipes ductwork.

· Sealing leaks in doors, windows, plumbing, ducting, and electrical wire, and penetrations through exterior walls, floors, ceilings and soffits over cabinets will save additional energy.

· Insure air quality by proper ventilation at the stove or cooktop.

Sustainable opportunities to think about while making selections:

· Are there any items in the kitchen that can be reused such as cabinetry or appliances? For the items not being reused, we donate or recycle the items when possible.

· Use low-flow faucets for water savings and improve water quality by adding a carbon filter to the faucet

· Shop for Energy Star rated appliances.

· Use halogen and LED lighting for light quality and energy efficiency.

· Make sure that cabinetry built with plywood (which often contains a urea formaldehyde glue which can cause a range of health issues) is properly sealed before entering your home. Better yet, use solid wood cabinetry and solid surface countertops to avoid the use of plywood.

· Use low VOC paint and wood finishes.

· Wood flooring, recycled content ceramic tile, stone tile, or exposed concrete are desirable surfaces. Natural linoleum is made from natural materials can be finished in a range of colors, and can be installed without the use of adhesives.

A kitchen renovation is life-changing. The process is an exciting one, filled with many decisions, each having impact on achieving your initial goals for the space. At GreenBridge Architects and at Riverview Builders, we are passionate about getting you there, by providing all design work, helping with selections, and by providing coordination and guidance through what can be a challenging, but enormously rewarding process.

We’d love to talk with you about your upcoming kitchen project, even if it looks far down the road. We can provide an initial design and cost estimation to help you launch your dream kitchen.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss your upcoming project, or to chat about your favorite kitchens and kitchen memories, or about New England pizza.  Next month’s blog will take on the ultra-important bathroom renovation!

www.greenbridgearchitects.com 978.518.2811

www.riverview-builders.com 978.518.1863

As we head into the holidays, a lot of us start planning for next year’s home renovations.  Options for making changes to your home include working directly with an architect or designer, hiring a builder for those smaller projects that don’t require design or drawings, or a Design-Build option.  Design-Build is a term you’ve probably heard before, but may not be clear on  exactly what it means.  The Design-Build process combines the work of architectural design and construction, with one company having oversight over the entire project. The benefits include one-stop shopping, attention to the budget from the initial phases of design, and reduced project schedule.

I have always been an advocate of the process because of the benefits  it gives the homeowner and the design-build team.  Now with GreenBridge’s partnership with Riverview Builders, we are able to offer Design-Build services to our clients.  We want to get the word out on why your choosing this process with GreenBridge/Riverview makes great sense for your home.

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Riverview Builders’ complete exterior restoration project of a home in Sudbury nears completion

A Team Committed to You

As architects, we work closely with you as we develop the design to include your dreams and vision while taking great care to understand and incorporate your home’s existing style and attributes. As builders, we bring superior project management, client-centered responsiveness and technical ability throughout the project, from early cost-estimation through your move-in date.

Throughout the project we will be your single contact. We will handle design and design revisions, project feedback, budgeting, permitting, construction issues, change orders, and billing. Dealing with only one entity simplifies your responsibilities, improves communication and gives you peace of mind – allowing you to enjoy the transformation of your home.

Constructability/Efficiency

We are dedicated to constantly educating ourselves on both the most current and traditional methods of design and construction. We are committed to sustainability in our projects and make use of natural passive methods of design as well as the practical application of new technologies and materials. Inherent in the design/build process is early involvement of the builder during design. Including the builder’s knowledge early into design fosters creative, cost-effective, and practical design and construction solutions.

Establish and Reduce Cost

A design-build model allows us to establish and agree to a fixed construction cost and scope of work early on in the project. Early knowledge of construction costs help us to design the project that you want that fits in your stated budget. As the design-builder, we have control over the design, scope and budget, so we give you clear cost and schedule adjustments for any changes you consider or make during the project.

Establish and Reduce Schedule

A design-build model also allows us to establish and agree to a fixed schedule of work early on in the project. An integrated design and building entity eliminates time otherwise required for the contractor and designer to coordinate their efforts and understanding of the project. In addition, the design-build process reduces the construction schedule because it allows us to work on several facets of your project at the same time. For instance, while the building permit is being approved, we can be working on the interior design and assisting you to pick out doors, windows, and appliances. We are also able to anticipate and order items with long lead-times.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.  Have a wonderful and flavor-filled Thanksgiving!!! – Juli

juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

panel-flyerIt should be a great discussion with input from varied professional perspectives.  Looking forward to it!

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