Have you heard of net-zero? It’s a term that’s being used in architecture, construction and more recently, real estate circles. This month, GreenBridge Architects is gearing up for the design of a new home for future neighbors here in Amesbury, MA, and our clients want to ‘get close’ to net-zero. So we’re booting up our spreadsheets, consultants and specification data to help them get there.

But first, since I’m writing this at the cusp of summer on my sun-filled patio, let’s discuss the perfect margarita. This was passed on to me by my friend and architect Kate Hauserman, who always knows what to drink for the occasion and when to take note of a perfect day.

margarita

The Perfect Margarita

Ingredients

1-1/2 oz tequila (Patron is worth it)

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz lemon juice (freshly squeezed – one lemon)

½ cup shaved (or crushed) ice

1) Salt rim of glass: To salt rim, place a thin layer of salt in a small dish or bowl, take empty glass and moisten its rim with a lemon wedge and dip the rim in the salt

2)Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake

3)Strain or serve with ice

Ok, got that out of the way. So with drink in hand….

 

Net -zero Homes

net-zero home

The Bosch Net Zero Home in Serenbe, Georgia.  For more information on this house, see the article at The Great Energy Challenge.

First -What is net-zero? A net-zero home is one that produces as much energy on site as the energy used over the course of a year. Typically energy demand is greatly reduced by construction methods and efficient equipment and energy production is achieved using photo-voltaic systems (PV or solar panels).

Why Does It Matter

Buildings worldwide account for 40% of our primary energy use, and 24% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving net-zero in our homes and buildings will have a major impact on our energy-security and the health of the planet.

How to Build a Net-Zero House

Achieving net-zero requires disciplined decision-making, a systems approach, and larger front-end construction costs. These costs may seem prohibitive for the typical family, but it’s important to remember they are fixed and one-time costs that can be included in your mortgage. In this way, you are paying for your energy costs as part of your mortgage and not in future unpredictable energy bills. The following is a general overview of the four steps involved.

1. Build Only What you Need

A careful design process that aims to keep the footprint small creates a home that has less space that needs to be heated, cooled and lighted (and cleaned!) Multi-use spaces, adaptable spaces planned for changes in the family, and modest, well-proportioned room sizes help to create an efficient home. Sarah Suzanka in her Not So Big House Series offers a wealth of insights and solutions toward building small.

2. Build a Highly Efficient Envelope

Your ‘building envelope’ is everything that separates the inside from the outside: the walls, roof, floor slab, windows and doors. Your mechanical system’s job is to make the interior of your house comfortable by moderating the interior air. An efficient, highly insulated envelope is a separation that allows minimal heat or cooling to move between the inside and the outside, requiring less work (energy) of the mechanical equipment. Less work means smaller equipment and less energy.

3. Reduce energy demand.

-The careful design of your home will include using these same efficient windows that are integral to your building envelope to assist with the reduction of energy demands. Well-placed windows and the architecture and landscape designed around them will at the right times of the year allow the sun to heat and light the room, bring in a cool breeze through heavily shaded trees, or lead hot air up and out of the house.

-Use the highest-efficiency mechanical system and water heating equipment you can purchase. The reduction in demand from steps taken above will help keep the systems smaller. The selection of your equipment should be done with care, with the entire construction and design team factoring all items specific to your home: the design, the site, your energy use, against the efficiencies and costs of available mechanical systems.

-Efficient appliances, water heating, lighting and other electrical equipment are the other big generators of energy demand in your home. Besides the energy used in their function, they create additional heat within the building envelope—heat that your mechanical system then has to use energy to remove in summer months. To reduce demand of these items, install only those appliances you really need and select the most efficient you can afford.

- Gaining control of the “ghost loads”, power used by all those computers, printers, and TV’s and appliances that have lights glowing around the clock, can make or break achieving net-zero. In most homes today, ghost loads can account for around 25% of all electrical power use. Informed appliance selection and the use of timers and power-off outlet strips can help with this feat, as will energy monitoring systems that can track your changes and these extra energy loads.

4. Add Solar

For a net-zero home, you need to now balance the energy ledger, and generate the amount of energy to equal the demand. Solar panels are the most common answer for electrical power, although small wind turbine technology is making wind power equally attractive in some areas. In addition to photovoltaics, solar power can heat not only the water in your hot water tank, but also your whole house, if you use a radiant hot water heating system. All net-zero houses must have some combination of these energy-harvesting systems.

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As always, we’d love to hear your comments or questions. You can give us a call at 978-518-2811 or email us at info@greenbridgearchitects.com.

Thank you to the Green Architect’s Lounge with architects Phil Kaplan and Chris Briley for their seasoned information and inspiring mix of knowledge and drink recipes!

In our next post, we’ll be looking at the installation of a modular home designed by GreenBridge. Happy Summer!

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.

drillingrig

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

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:

 rose_wall secs copy

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.

bulb philips-master-led-light-bulb

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.

replacement windows

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

DSC03542 Lemonade stands and trips to the beach!  With the onslaught of these sweltering hot days, it’s that time of year again. The time when I face off with my entire family who wants to put the air conditioners in the windows the first hot day. If I had my say, we wouldn’t have air conditioning and would just live with it. I have to admit though, that on hot days like today, it does feel good going to the grocery store, or to the library, or sitting in the one conditioned room in our house. I feel the meanness peel off me, but am not sure if it is worth it. Re-entering the real heat of the day is always worse after.

What are your air conditioning stories?

I will always remember a wise and venerable architect friend musing that television and air conditioning were the death of community. He talked about the ‘old days’ when everyone was forced after dinner to go for walks on warm evenings or to sit outside on their porches, activities that led to neighborly conversations and sharing.

Another memory is of another friend and my boss years ago, who has a wonderful old farm house, with shading trees on the south side and lots of windows. I house-sat for her one year and learned how her house worked best – on hot summer days, she showed me how to close the windows and pull down the shades during the day, in the early evening run the whole house fan for 10 minutes to pull the hot air out of the house, and in the evening open up the windows and use fans to move around the cooler night air. Her lesson helped me understand the value of our being aware of and part of our environment instead of being constantly separated from it.

The Cons

Air conditioners are expensive to operate: in a hot month, consuming $500 worth of electricity is common. They are also climate-unfriendly: according to the U.S. Department of Energy, a typical home air conditioning system yields around 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and 31 pounds of sulfur dioxide per year. Our and other rapidly expanding economies’ consumptions continue to increase annually.

In addition to energy and environmental concerns, closing windows and continually re-circulating air in a central air system can lead to indoor air quality problems. These issues give us more and more reason to look for alternatives to air conditioning.

whole house fan

How a whole house fan works – image by Whole House Fan Company

Alternative Cooling Options (from simple to major):

Simple :

  • Pull down your shades on the sunny side of the house during the day.
  • Close the windows for the hottest part of the day and open them at the coolest.
  • Use window fans in the evening to draw in the cool air.
  • Try wearing a damp wrist band or try making your bed with a just -washed (not dried) sheet. (Let me know if you try this one!).

Limited Expense with Big Payoff :

  • Add deciduous trees or climbing foliage on the south side of your home to shade in the summer and allow the sun to stream through in the winter.
  • Install ceiling fans – moving air cools without dropping the temperature.
  • Install an energy efficient whole house fan, a high-volume fan mounted in the attic. It will flush hot air out of the house and replace it with cooler outdoor air that comes through open windows.

Major: As part of a renovation or when planning new construction:

  • Place the building on the site and select and place windows to maximize air flow and the best orientation for the sun.
  • Design roof overhangs to shade the home’s interior from the summer sun.
  • Add sun shades and awnings – electronic controls are available that open and close shades on a schedule or when temperatures rise above a pre-set limit.
  • Install adequate insulation.

Resource Links:  Alternatives to air conditioners:

Happy summer to you and your family!  Let me know if you have any questions or want to share your A/C stories.

Juli MacDonald    GreenBridge Architects     978.518.2811  juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

 pizza

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

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

modern

image: www.insideview.ie

Greenbridge_2_7

image: greenbridge architects

allkit

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.

natural%20home

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

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