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….

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.

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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

The truck idling while the hose is stuck into the side of our house, the oil-smeared shocking bill shoved in our mailbox. We could not live through another year of oil delivery. My husband and I have been pining for a conversion for years, but have put it off because of the costs. We finally bit the bullet and did it – the new gas boiler and indirect water-heater were installed at the end of last week. We have helped our clients with their own oil-to-gas conversions and now have been through the process ourselves. If you are considering such an upgrade or upgrades in your windows or insulation, there are significant financial incentives that can help defray costs – rebates and no-interest heat loans. I hope that reading about our experience will help you in making your home more efficient and comfortable.

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our new thermostat, directing the boiler to slow down for the day

PURCHASE OF UNIT:

We bought our new boiler through National Grid. We purchased a Burnham Alpine 96% efficiency forced hot water unit. We initially were looking at other manufacturers, but buying through National Grid, where the reduced-cost options are limited to American Standard and Burnham, was the best solution for us. The cost of the unit was about $1000 less than retail, which made them far less expensive than the units we looking at, for the same efficiency.

For Massachusetts and New Hampshire, go to www.powerofaction.com and click on “Covert to Natural Gas” to find purchase options and conversion assistance if you need contractor referrals. The site also has a link to tax credit information – these have been greatly reduced for 2011 and presumably for 2012.

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our new boiler and water heater – taking the place of the oil tank

ZERO INTEREST LOAN:

The zero-interest HEAT Loan for insulation and mechanical upgrades in the home, currently offered by many regional and local lenders, is a great way to defray the costs of the upgrades while saving with reduced energy use. MassSave coordinates the process, and although the their employees are helpful with questions, there is quite a bit of homeowner coordination required for the loan process.

The call and the energy assessment report

The process starts with the homeowner making the call to National Grid/MassSave (1-800-696-8077). MassSave then sends a home auditor to perform a free Home Energy Assessment Report for the home. For us, they scheduled an auditor right away – one of us needed to be home while the auditor visited. He took about 3 hours, and had the report for us at the end of his visit. The report is an assessment of the home which includes windows, doors, insulation, air leakage, and mechanical systems. The report includes recommendations for energy-savings and contractors to complete the efficiency upgrades, although the loan process does not require that you use those companies. In addition, insulation and sealant work is offered through National Grid, so for our house, the report also included a proposal for insulation. National Grid subcontracts directly to various companies and the price to the consumer is dramatically reduced with an instant rebate. Our house needs wall insulation – the proposal was for about $4000 with an instant rebate of $2000. Two important notes are that National Grid will inspect the insulation work as part of the assessment program, and for our house, the insulation work will cause some damage to our siding that we’ll be responsible for repairing.

Getting proposals

Once we determined what energy-saving projects we wanted to take on, we needed to get proposals from subcontractors to do the work. In our case, we already had the insulation proposal from the auditor, so we needed to get window supply and installation prices, and the mechanical installation prices. The mechanical subcontractor’s proposal needed to include a heat-loss calculation and the cost of the new equipment (minus the rebate) even though the boiler was being purchase by us. All proposals, the auditor’s report and the loan application form are submitted to MassSave. They process the paperwork, and if all is acceptable, send an Intake Form to the homeowner. The homeowner brings the Intake Form to their chosen bank to use for the Heat Loan.

The Loan

Our understanding is that the loan is a zero-interest seven year loan.  If approved, the bank issues 2-party checks for each portion of the work, made out to the contractor and the homeowner. (This assures that the homeowner isn’t using the money to go to Foxwoods.) We are still mid-process for the loan – we’ve submitted our paperwork to MassSave and are waiting for the Intake Form. Ideally, we would’ve started the process in July, secured the loan in August and completed the conversion before heating season. Since we started in October, we needed to buy the boiler and hire the plumbing contractor to install it without the loan. The loan can still cover the work if it has been completed, although obviously the risk with this approach is if we don’t get the loan, we still have to pay the plumber! If we get the loan, we’ll need to cash the checks with our plumber, who will then reimburse us the amount already paid. We know our plumber well – if we didn’t, it would be important to cover these financial maneuvers contractually.

REBATES:

Available through National Grid., the 2011 Residential Efficiency Rebates are for programmable thermostats, high-efficiency heating equipment and water heaters, and combined high-efficiency boiler and water heating units. For our boiler, which is 96% efficient, we’ll get a $1500 rebate and $25 each for the new programmable thermostats (I LOVE THESE). Our indirect water heater will gain us an additional $400. We’ll need a receipt or invoice showing the installation was done by a licensed contractor and the manufacturers name and model number of the units. See www.gasnetworks.com for rebate information and forms.

Our house was built in the 1790s. Every installed technology is a marvel and a beautiful contrast to the hand-sawn timbers and rubble foundation walls. Because we have heating zones in the house now, we are able to go up the stairs without a 20 degree change in temperature. We are thrilled to find that every room is comfortable!!!

Converting to gas does give us some pause, how much better is gas than oil? Dramatically increased efficiency of the heating system helps – and we also plan to install a pellet stove on the first floor to further offset our use of gas. After last month’s power outages, a lot of us are looking to wood and pellet stoves and generators so we can be independent of the grid if needed. When we think about our home’s history, a move toward ‘off-the-grid’ would bring it back to its beginnings, although in a more technologically advanced way.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or if you want to share your own experience through the quagmire of energy incentives. I can be reached at juli@greenbridgearchitects.com or 978.518.2811. Happy heating season!

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

A Fable of Light

April 10, 2011

goldilocks Once upon a time there was a precocious little girl called Goldilocks who ventured into an inviting cabin nestled in the woods. She was so tired from her journey, she decided to have a rest. She wandered into the sunlit living room (too bright) and pulled across the curtains. Too dark! She pulled down the light-filtering shades. Ahhhh just right; she had a lovely rest.

When it was near evening, she woke and found that she was famished. So the bold but independent girl made her way to the kitchen to whip us something delightful for herself. She was cutting up some apples in the corner and needed more light, so she flipped the switch for the overhead fluorescent, happy in an ‘I’m green’ sort of way to see the familiar swirly bulb. PING! Out it blew, too dark again. Another switch brightened the countertops with beautiful LED under-cabinet lights. Oooooo, just right, perfect for preparing a steaming bowl of porridge topped by her chopped apples.

Then with her feast to the dining room, where the motion sensor spotted her and flipped on to a preset dimmed setting, leaving her surprisingly and for the first time, calmly satisfied with what she had…until in her silence she heard a growling sound in the distance just as the motion sensor lost her and the lights went out.

The moral of Goldilocks’ story is that lighting design is more than lumens and watts…it should also take into account our personalities and how we live in our spaces. High-quality and efficient lighting design includes a mixture of lighting choices and the use of controlled natural sunlight to the greatest extent possible. In recent months we’ve been researching lighting efficiency and current technologies for a kitchen renovation project. We can’t help but be influenced by our own prejudices, such as our big disappointment with the compact fluorescents we’ve installed in our own home’s light fixtures. We guiltily feel nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ when we didn’t think about our energy use every time we flipped a switch, and when our faces were always soft-lit by the old-standard incandescent.

We are also looking to January 2012, when the federal energy standard phasing out the incandescent will go into effect….one of our friends is hoarding them in anticipation of the phase-out. We are excited about the new technologies, especially by the great strides made in LED lighting and systems controls (dimmers, motion-sensors) over the past years.

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We found some robust websites with loads of information about design strategies for efficiency, comparison of different light types (incandescent, fluorescent, LED, Halogen), and the new federal standards. California adopted the federal standard for efficiency in January of this year, and the State’s web site has some of the best information and links we came across. Energy Star is an especially useful resource since the standards are a reliable measure of a product’s effectiveness in a quickly changing and competitive market. All Energy Star fixtures are required to use at least 75% less energy than incandescents, and both CFLs (10x) and LEDs have far greater longevity (20x) than incandescents.

From our reliable standby The Green Building Advisor comes the practical advice, “The right combination of task and ambient lighting can save energy. A mix of lighting sources allows you to use the type of light you need: task lighting for reading, food preparation and other activities — where strong, concentrated light is helpful — or ambient lighting where more general illumination is better. Not all lights have to be on all the time, and natural light can be a significant contributor when floor plans are designed accordingly.”

Even with all the benefits of web research, we rely on our local experts. So we asked Lucy Dearborn at Lucia Lighting, what she recommends for efficiency and quality of light. She says one of her favorite combinations for ‘being green’ is to combine Eco-Friendly Halogen Lamps with the Lutron Eco-Minder dimmer. “You get fabulous bright white light when you need it and can dim down t a softer, warmer tone when you don’t need task lighting. The Eco Friendly light bulbs work with a regular dimmer, but we recommend an Eco-Dim Diva (perfect for The Divine Miss Goldilocks!). The Diva dimmer only allows light bulbs to go to 85% of their full capacity, so you can more than double lamp life and save energy at the same time! This solution is a great alternative to compact fluorescent light bulbs that sometimes don’t have a warm enough color & do not dim.”

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The Eco Dim Diva (Lutron)         Color Kinetics LED under-cabinet light

For our kitchen project, we’re planning on a combination of Color Kinetics LED under-cabinet lights (as recommended by Lucia), some track and general lighting using dimmable Eco-Friendly Halogens, and big south-facing windows!

What are your lighting preferences and what are your plans for 2012’s changes? As always, feel free to contact us to find out more about what options may work best for your home. Best wishes for Spring and long days filled with daylight!

Juli

juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

Some links to find out more:

Lucia Lighting

Bulbrite Eco-Friendly Halogen Lamps

The California Energy Commission: Frequently Asked Questions – New Light Bulb Standards

U.S. Department of Energy’s description of the national regulations: Lighting Choices to Save You Money

Energy Star Products, describes the Energy Star requirements for all products offered

Whole Building Design Guide – Energy Efficient Lighting

Lighting Options for Your Home (National Electric Manufacturer’s Association)

This week, we were approached by a local builder who would like to build an Energy Star home. The bulk of our work is additions and renovations, and although we bring much of the same principles to our projects, we needed to look at the program (Massachusetts New Homes with ENERGY STAR) again to see what are the benefits and costs of getting the certification. New Homes with Energy Star is a straight-forward program built on common-sense good building practices. Basically, you can’t go wrong with the program – besides available incentives there is quick payback with dramatically lower energy costs and increased property value. The following is basic information on the Energy Star for Homes program from information found at the energy star website www.energystarhomes.com :

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Program Overview

The Massachusetts New Homes with ENERGY STAR program is a new construction program based on an energy efficiency standard developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ENERGY STAR qualified homes are at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-savings features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than homes built to local residential construction codes. The EPA’s initiative is supported in Massachusetts by a consortium of utility companies and energy efficiency service providers who collaborate to promote the benefits of energy-efficient, high performance homes. ENERGY STAR qualified homes are five-star rated and nationally recognized for greater value, lower operating costs, increased durability, comfort, and safety. Homebuilders are eligible for various benefits for building ENERGY STAR qualified new homes and homebuyers are demanding homes built to these specifications.

Features

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Save significantly on home heating, cooling, lighting, and appliance costs with an ENERGY STAR home.

A high quality ENERGY STAR home combines the best of traditional craftsmanship with the latest advancements in building science and technology for a home that’s more durable, efficient and economical to maintain. ENERGY STAR homes help eliminate builder callbacks for problems which are common in code-built homes, such as interior moisture damage and roof ice dams.

Many homes built today lack certain basic energy performance features — features that can save the homeowner thousands of dollars in energy costs. When properly incorporated into design and construction, energy-efficient detailing can significantly increase the comfort and quality of a home.

Some of the performance features that distinguish an ENERGY STAR home from an average quality home are:

Enhanced Insulation
Insulation is measured in R-Value: the higher the R-Value, the greater the insulating effect. Higher insulation levels in walls, floors, and attics result in better energy performance and improved homeowner comfort. The insulation value of windows and doors is also an important determinant of comfort.

Air Sealing
Simply caulking, foaming, and gasketing the holes and gaps in the heated building envelope can reduce annual heat loss and utility bills by over 15%.

Ventilation
All ENERGY STAR homes come equipped with mechanical ventilation, which ensures a continuous supply of fresh air to the home.

High-Efficiency Appliances
ENERGY STAR homes typically have high-efficiency household appliances, lighting, and heating and cooling systems, which use less energy to perform the same job.

With an ENERGY STAR qualified home, you get more home for less money. That’s because ENERGY STAR homes use proven technologies and advanced building practices to make sure your new home performs as well as possible. Each ENERGY STAR qualified home is inspected and “performance tested” to help ensure better energy performance, greater comfort, and a healthier living environment.

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ENERGY STAR Homes Benefits

Homes built in the 21st century are judged by how well they “perform” for their owners. The top two performance indicators are comfort and lower costs. A truly comfortable home is warm in the winter, cool in the summer, free from stuffiness and drafts, and quiet. At the same time, a home must be economical. ENERGY STAR qualified homes cost less to heat and cool than conventional new homes built nationwide. That means big savings every month, every year, you own the home.

ENERGY STAR Homes offer a variety of benefits to help you build a more comfortable, affordable home that is better for the environment. Discover what makes an ENERGY STAR home so much better!

  • Comfort and Health
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Performance Tested
  • Smarter Investment

A few questions from the ‘frequently asked’ page that we often hear:

How much does it cost to build to ENERGY STAR Homes standards?

Typically, the upgrades needed to meet ENERGY STAR Homes standards are in the range of 1% to 3% more than code levels. Of course, if your builder is already building at a level higher than code, the cost is even less. Unlike a hot tub, marble countertops or hardwood floors, the ENERGY STAR Homes energy upgrades begin paying for themselves from the moment you move in. How? Let’s say all of the upgrades total $1,500. This amount added to your mortgage, assuming a 30-year fixed rate of 7 1/4%, will cost $10 more per month in your mortgage payment. These upgrades, in turn, could easily result in a reduction of $360 or more in your annual heating/cooling costs. At a savings of over $30 per month, this gives you a positive cash flow for the life of your home. An ENERGY STAR home is a home that pays you back, while helping to protect the environment.

It all seems a bit complicated. What help can I expect throughout this process?

When building an ENERGY STAR home in Massachusetts, a consultant from ICF International will be your resource to help make the right energy decisions and to guide you and your builder through the process of building a high performance home. For all of your energy related questions, ICF will work hard to find the right, cost-effective answers.

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For more ‘frequently asked questions’ and plentiful information on the program, visit the Energy Star for Homes website at www.energystarhomes.com.

We are excited about our upcoming project, and see our involvement and the New Homes with Energy Star program as a means to help the builder create a better product, that will perform better throughout its years of use.

As always, we’d love to talk to you about this post topic and how it can help you in your upcoming project.  With best wishes for a wonderful summer,

Juli MacDonald, GreenBridge Architects  978.518.2811

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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

A Welcome Home

January 24, 2010

A vivid and powerful memory from my childhood is of my grandmother, who was wheelchair bound, visiting our home in the 70s, well before the American Disabilities Act was in place. Because her wheelchair didn’t fit anywhere, and because of our stairs, my grandpa or my dad had to carry her everywhere – into our house, into restaurants, into the bathroom. 

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Me with my grandma and mom

She was sweet, joking about being a bride being carried over the threshold, but she must’ve felt humiliated at times. Now as my parents age, their home is becoming a more difficult place for them to live. I’m sure this is true for most of their fellow baby boomers.

In my last blog, Master Planning, Dreaming Prudently, I wrote about how careful detailing of construction and repairs is a top priority when considering the sustainability of a home, and how thoughtful design for current and future needs is critical to efficient building and decision-making throughout the years. High-performance, quality design and construction helps to assure that the building will remain useful and vital and will not be demolished to become landfill.

To really meet this goal of the viability of a home for generations, the design of a renovation or new home should also include planning for future changes in the family structure, or changing abilities of family members. Universal Design is the design of buildings for all people, regardless of age or abilities. Universal Design can be followed exhaustively or minimally, depending on the objective. At minimum, it makes sense that every home, when possible, has an entry that is at ground level, and a bathroom on the first floor that is accessible or could easily be made accessible.

With these features in their home, the owners are able to stay if their or their family members’ abilities change, with some minor changes to create a first floor bedroom if one doesn’t exist. Their home is also welcoming for older and less-able guests.

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Some welcoming folks at a non-greenbridge designed home

AARP, a leading advocate for universal design, lists five common features of the concept on its web site:

No-step entry: No one has to use the stairs to enter the home

One-story living: Places to eat, bathe and sleep are all on one level

Wide doorways: Doorway design takes into account the width of wheelchairs and walkers

Wide hallways: Hallways are wide enough for easy access between rooms

Extra floor space: Open floor space allows for extra comfort and mobility

With care, the concept of Universal Design can be seamlessly integrated into a homes’ design.  In this design for a Newburyport family, the addition included an entry at ground level and wide doors and access to a first floor three-quarter bath.

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For more information, please visit the AARP website or the American Institute of Architects Universal Design Resources or as always, feel free to contact me with any questions or to discuss further.  juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

With best wishes,

Juli

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

This month, I met with a friend to discuss the fit-out of a relatively non-descript office space.  What the space lacks in amenities, it makes up for in potential, with planned windows opening to views of historic Newburyport in one direction and an expanse of marshland in the other.  Adjacent to this space is a large flat roof that is nearly at the same height as the office’s floor -a great opportunity for a roof garden or a green roof.

Green roofs, also called living or planted roofs, are systems of living plants and vegetation installed on an existing or new structure.  Popular in Europe for decades, the technology has seen continued improvement, making green roofs available in and appropriate for nearly all climates and areas of the United States, even in New England!

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Chicago City Hall (photo by Roofscapes)

I relocated to the east coast from Chicago in 2002, just as the greening of the city was taking off.  The then and still-reigning king of Chicago, Mayor Daley, was inspired by a trip to Germany in the late 90’s.  The rest is Chicago green building (and green roof) history – In 2001, the first green roof in Chicago was installed on City Hall.  Mayor Daley and the city’s efforts have been successful through mandates and incentives for green roofs and other green building features on public buildings and new developments that receive money from the city.  Chicago now boasts more than 600 green roofs, or 560,000sf of green roof – my favorite view over martinis from the Signature Room in the Hancock Tower will never be the same!

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Holyoke College, Holyoke, MA (photo by Roofscapes) 

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Boston Children’s Museum (photo by BCM)

As part of my research for this project, I sought local experts.  Through Roofscapes,  a green roofing product manufacturer, I made contact with two Massachusetts local green roof design/builders:  Apex Green Roofs in Somerville and Earth Our Only Home in Boston.  Both have vast experience in the construction of public/commercial and residential green roofs.  Their websites offer loads of information about green roofs and photos of their work – we’re happy to have them as local resources.

Green Roofs – Some Basics:

I found clear and concise information on green roofs from Toolbase Design and Construction Guide.  The following detailed descriptions are mostly gleaned from that site.  I’ve also included other useful links at the bottom of the post.

What are the Benefits?

  • The added mass and thermal resistance of green roofs reduces the heating and cooling loads of the building. These systems reduce the ambient temperature around the roof, decreasing the building’s urban heat island effect; reduce the ambient temperature of the roof’s surface; and slow the transfer of heat into the building, reducing cooling costs. They also provide added insulation to the roof structure, reducing heating requirements in the winter.
  • Green roofs reduce stormwater runoff by absorbing and retaining the water in the soil medium for plant growth. The plants can filter pollutants and carbon dioxide from the air and rain water. These systems reduce rooftop temperatures and can reduce air and noise pollution. They also serve as living habitats for birds and other wildlife.
  • Vegetation protects the roof from extreme temperatures, ultraviolet radiation, and harsh weather conditions, resulting in a longer lasting roof system.

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Image by e-roofing.com

 

What are the components of a green roof?

All green roof systems consist of four basic components: a waterproofing layer, a drainage layer, a growing medium, and vegetation. Some green roofs also include root retention and irrigation systems, but these are not essential.   There is a wide variety of materials used for each component of the green roof system, depending on the chosen plants, type of system employed, climate, and underlying structure.

  • Waterproofing Layer – The waterproofing membrane is a critical component of the system and should include a root barrier to ensure the underlying roof surface is not compromised. If the weatherproofing material is not root-resistant, an additional layer must be applied to serve this purpose.
  • Drainage Layer A drainage layer is required to adequately distribute water and prevent pooling. To minimize the weight of the system, drainage layers are often made from plastic or rubber, but may also be made of gravel or clay. The drainage layer may or may not include filter media to ensure aeration.
  • Growing Medium – Growing mediums include soils, peat and other organic materials, gravel, and other aggregates
  • Vegetation – Plants used in green roof applications must be easy to maintain and tolerant of extreme weather conditions including heat, freezing, and drought, and must have relatively shallow, fibrous root systems. The plants should also be resistant to diseases and insects, and not generate airborne seeds in order to protect surrounding plantings. Climate-appropriate succulents, mosses, and grasses are often best suited for extensive green roof systems. These types of plants are available in a variety of colors, in both deciduous and evergreen options. Many nurseries throughout the country specialize in vegetation for green roofs.

What are the types of Green Roofs?

Green roof systems are often broken down into two types—extensive and intensive systems.

Extensive systems:

  • Consist of low-lying plants such as succulents, mosses, and grasses
  • require relatively thin layers of soil (1-6 inches), and plants usually produce a few inches of foliage.
  • weigh 10-50 pounds per square foot on average
  • typically accessible only for routine maintenance
  • most common for residential applications

Intensive systems:

  • feature deeper soil and can support larger plants including crops, shrubs, and trees
  • harder to maintain, depending on the plants used
  • weigh from 80 to more than 120 pounds per square foot
  • typically designed to be accessible to building inhabitants for relaxation and/or harvesting

How difficult are they to install?

Green roof systems can be implemented in new and existing construction. The roof’s structure must be carefully considered to accommodate the additional loads. Roofs do not need to be flat to support green roof systems, but different systems have varying pitch recommendations and limitations, which should be considered during the design phase. The systems also require selection of appropriate plantings for the climatic region. Flood testing of the roof membrane should also be conducted prior to placement of the green roof system.

What are the costs?

Costs for research, design, and materials of the green roof system and structural support are higher than a conventional roofing system. Extensive systems can cost as little as $7 a square foot, though ranges tend to be $10-15 for extensive, and $15-25 per square foot for intensive systems.

There will be some additional costs involved with maintaining the roof top plantings, but overall maintenance of the roofing membrane will be reduced. Since planted roof systems increase the life-span of the roof, repairs and replacement should be minimized.

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If you have any additional local information on green roofs or want to talk about possibilities for your project, I’d love to hear from you!  juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

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Some useful links:

Roofscapes

Toolbase Design and Construction Guide

Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council – resource for all aspects of green roofs

The Green Roof Industry Resource Portal

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Green Roof Industry Association

Local design/builders:

Earth Our Only Home 

Apex Green Roofs 

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