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!

The Front Door

March 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I wouldn’t trick or treat here!

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

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

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

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

Happy Spring!

Juli MacDonald

GreenBridge Architects

juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

978.518.2811

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

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

Heating Season Begins…

October 11, 2010

As we slide into the heating season again, it’s a great time to look at the energy usage in your home. Will it be the same as last year or are you looking to make some changes to add efficiency and reduce costs? As part of our GreenBridge/Riverview Builders design and construction services, we want to offer our clients alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal) analysis and options as part of their building projects.

We looked to Adros Energy to be our collaborator for those clients interested in pursuing alternative energy options for their properties. Adros Energy is a company that offers engineered analysis of different alternative energy systems and weatherization for a given property. They work hard to keep up to date on current products and technologies, including geothermal, water, solar and wind. I’ve known Oliver Sheridan, their local regional representative, for years and was excited to hear about his joining Adros. To see how the collaboration might work, I decided to ask Oliver to visit, using me and my house as a model client and project. As a follow up, I hoped that my sharing my experience might give insight to the process and open up options for others for their own homes.

Our House

DSC01820 Winter 2009

We live in a house built in 1796 – it has a granite rubble foundation with the original structure and no wall insulation. We have a 10 year old oil-burning boiler and are hoping to install a high-efficiency gas unit this season. Our hot water is currently heated with gas.

To get the greatest benefit from any alternative energy system, weatherization, or ‘buttoning up’ of the house should be taken care of first. We’ve made some progress in that regard; Two years ago, we used the Green Cocoon to install soy-based insulation in the roof framing and at the connection of the 1st floor framing and the outside wall (the band joist). These are high-payback locations and in our house, were also the most accessible. Our heating and cooling have been reduced by about a third. We still have weatherization ‘issues’, but also want to take advantage of tax and rebate incentives while they are still available.

The Assessment

Because we have already had an audit done and have a good understanding of our weatherization needs, Oliver limited his review to alternative energy options. We were primarily interested in solar hot water heat and although pricey, we also wanted to learn about the opportunities for a photovoltaic (PV) system for the future.

Oliver came with the solar orientation of the house in hand, so he knew that we have a pretty good roof for solar. It’s a hip roof, with one of the long sides facing predominantly south. Oliver usually takes enough measurements to be able to estimate the space available and to roughly design a system, but I had drawings and measurements he could use.

He came last week, on what was (I think) our last hot muggy day of the year. I gave him a tour of the house ending in the basement, which was stuffy and muggy as usual. He noticed our dehumidifier and suggested that we consider an Air to Air Heat Pump instead of a solar hot water system for our water-heating needs. A less expensive system up-front, it pulls the heat from the air around it and uses it to pre-heat water before it goes to the water heater. Extracting heat from our basement is an advantage since it provides free air conditioning and dehumidification–because it cools air as it is circulated through the heat pump. For us, Oliver suggested it as a more affordable solution that would help us with our humid basement.

Alternative Energy Options and Proposals

Oliver followed up with proposals and analyses for a 2.3 kW photovoltaic system on the roof, an air to air heat pump water heater, made by Geyser, and a solar hot water heater option.

Photovoltaic system

image

Schematic layout of a PVC system for our home

The photovoltaic array proposed by Oliver and Adros would generate 2,500 kwh annually.

Besides saving us money on our electrical bill, the proposed system would also enable us to earn money by selling solar renewable energy credits (SREC’s) from the kWh’s the system produces. In MA it is predicted that we could get anywhere from .20 to .40 cents per kWh. Using the lower end of that range, .20 cents per kwh, our system would earn an additional $500 annually. This SREC program is in place until the year 2025.

The Adros proposal includes installation with all necessary components and labor for a completely operational system including all electrical work needed and manage the connection to the grid.

Costs and Incentives:

PV array components, installation and wiring      $13,400

Total Financial Incentives*                                          -($6,320)

Cost after Financial Incentives                              $7,080

*  Financial Incentive Summary: Federal Income Tax Credit (30% PV) of $4,020 + MA CEC Rebate $1.00/watt $2,300 =Total Financial Incentives of $6,320)

Using Oliver’s estimates for savings and the SREC’s, based on current energy prices, we’d save $925 annually. The system would be paid for in approximately 7 years.

Air to Air Heat Pump Water Heater option:

installation diagram

The Geyser system illustrated

This price is for parts and labor for a turnkey installation of a fully operational unit.

Costs and Incentives:

Geyser Heat Pump, supplied and installed                   $2,900

30% Federal income tax credit                                       –($870)

Total after incentives                                                   $2,030

Annually, Adros projects a savings of $147 annually from the current gas-fired hot water heater cost, and $200 for the cost of the electrical dehumidifier, for a total savings of $347 annually. The system would be paid for in around 6 years.

Solar hot water heater option:

image

solar collectors on a roof

The pricing includes a complete system with all necessary equipment including solar collectors, roof mounting system, collector connections pipes, pump station, system controller and storage tank, all installation labor, plumbing work and electrician work. The system uses flat plate solar collectors with an 80 gallon storage tank (sized for 2-4 people).

Costs and Incentives:

System Costs                                                                          $11,200

Total incentives  **                                                                -($4,110)

Total after incentives                                                     $7,090

** Financial Incentive Summary: Federal Income Tax Rebate of $3,360 + Federal Solar Hot Water Tax Credit $750 = Total Financial Incentives of $4,110

Adros projects a savings of approximately $240 annually (at current fuel prices), so system would be paid for after 29 years!

Our plans:

Each year, we hope to increase the efficiencies of our home and its use of renewable resources to meet our energy needs. Based on these proposals and projections by Adros, we are most excited about the heat pump. We also really want to make the move on the PV system, and can’t wait to see solar panels on this 1796 roof, but will need to assess our home improvement budget for this year.

For more information on alternative energy options, feel free to contact me or Oliver at Adros Energy. ollie.sheridan@adrosenergy.com. You can also see the Adros website for more information. www.adrosenergy.com

Happy heating season!

Juli  juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

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