Wow, what a full week this has been! Fair Warning, this will be an extra long weekly report, but I want to get everything down…
I. ECOLOGICAL PLANNING, DESIGN, and CONSTRUCTION Course
The course was lead by three instructors: Keith Giamportone, an Architect from Raleigh NC who is LEED Certified and done several large scale buildings with a sustainable approach, Jim Newman, who works for BuildingGreen, Inc, publishers of Environmental Building News, and Jeff Schoellkoph, an Architecture instructor who has taught at MIT, Norwich University, and Yestermorrow and is in associate in Edgcomb Design Group which specializes in humanistic and ecological design.
Much of the course was basic introductory information on ecological design—most of which I have been previously introduced to through last summer’s internship, SENS courses, or work, so I won’t go in to detail on the stuff that was old news to me but I will mention the new stuff!
So we started out the first day with a discussion on sustainability and environmental issues—the biggest problems and biggest solutions. A pretty general overview was given, and the instructors gave a historical view of the term which was a new approach that I hadn’t heard: The term really became used in the form as we know it in the 90’s, and was a great use of an old word because it was overreaching and inclusive enough to allow economists, environmentalists, and others working in the social arenas to “speak in the same language.” One of the largest aspects of sustainability that was stressed during our day one discussion was, of course, architecture, namely the dichomotomy of green design—simple, indigenous, vernacular, passive, and natural based structures vs. technical, large scale, urban, complex, and expensive. Which is better? These aspects of building are usually tailored to the situation, though the general consensus was that as resources become fewer and the population becomes greater, a combination of the two building styles will become increasingly necessary.
ON LEED Certification
Much of this course emphasized LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard building—the plusses, minuses, methods, and theories. We took a close look at the actual scoring charts that are used for determining a building’s sustainability, along with visiting several LEED Certified buildings. Following are some brief descriptions/observations:
Being LEED certified is a debatable process. Certification is very expensive, so to be so is therefore an exclusive standing only achieved by financially successful businesses. Following the standards often doesn’t make the best and safest use of resources. For instance, we visited the new headquarters of NRG systems, a Model Manufacturing and Office Facility for designing wind systems and assessment kits. They have about 20 tracking PV panel set-ups the same size as the SENS House, along with several roof panels for a system total of 67 kwh. LEED awards one point for use of PV electricity. NRG chose to only use recycled car windshield tiles and slab concrete for floors, for thermal mass, less off gassing (no carpet) and for their radiant floor heating/cooling system. However, LEED offers one point for installation of recyclable/recycled material carpet, so NRG put in 25 sq ft of carpet in their only elevator to get the point. There’s something kind of goofy about that, as both the tour guide and our instructors pointed out. Their webpage is: http://www.nrgsystems.com/
They have this incredible radiant cooling system that makes use of their lake, a wood pellet fired furnace system, solar hot water, and great signage for educational purposes (reminded me how much SENS and Campus buildings need informational signage!!).
We visited a very similar building (equally impressive in design and size) that is the new headquarters of Northern Power Systems, an environmental testing lab, non LEED certified but winner of the Integrated Design award from Efficiency Vermont. Solar hot water, PV powered, daylighting, environmentally safe finishes, etc…web link is: http://www.northernpower.com/
At the VBG (Vermont Builds Greener)/Efficiency Vermont office, we learned about the new pilot program of LEED Home Design. There are about 20 homes certified and 30 more or so going for certification this summer. They gave each class member a great book that I’ll pass on to SENS resources—the High Performance Design Guide to Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings.
We stopped by the Vermont Law School in South Royalton, a non-certified (because it was built before certification was possible) but very impressive building. The most interesting things to me were the huge Clivas Mulstrum composting toilets in the main buildings that work great and smell great and are the
preferred toilets of all facilities. The enthalpy wheel is cool too: check it out at http://www.vermontlaw.edu/
When we visited the construction site of two large dorm facilities designed to house 800 students at UVM, the contractor was unexpectedly enthusiastic about following lead points. He presented the project by detailing each aspect of the “green” building, concluding that they could theoretically be silver certified though its more likely that all points won’t pass (for instance, it’s difficult to prove that 50% of deconstruction site waste was reused) and that they’ll end up with a building that is simply LEED certified. He emphasized that all crews, no matter what their experience with green design or motives/lack there of for care of the environment can all relate to a point based system (“ok, Jo, if you wire everything like this, we get one more LEED point which means more money and recognition for our building”).
LEED doesn’t address buildings of smaller size nor does it give points for buildings constructed with durability in mind. The most important points cannot be scored—the ones for common sense. However, it’s a policy in the right direction and LEED seems to be of growing interest to architects and builders alike.
The composting toilets at Vermont Law school.
Other Class Stuff
Some random stats on buildings-the environmental impact of human structures comprised of 42% energy use, 40% atmospheric Emissions, 30% Raw Materials, 25% Solid Waste, 24% Water use, 20% Effluents, and 15% land use…..I know, I know, that that doesn’t add up to 100% but you get the idea…
We had a great discussion on systems thinking-it was presented from a builders perspective of linking all aspects of the structure, appreciating how interconnected systems are, looking at how one change effects another, looking at processes, and thinking ecologically and relationally. It was a much better introduction here than what I experienced at Lost Valley in the permaculture context.
I got the chance to understand the commissioning process and architectural lingo—(ex. PD, SD, DD, CD, and CA—pre design, schematic design, design development, construction docs, construction administration…SWEMI—site, water, energy, materials, indoor env. quality)information that I’m sure I will build on with the community design build class that I’ll take in three weeks.
Question of the day: Shouldn’t we expand on the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle” and make it “refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle?
We had a great presentation on building materials—once again a far superior and more detailed description compared to the one I received last summer. We talked about all kinds of things including PVC/Vinal alternatives, life style assessment, cradle to cradle materials use, everything that has PVC in it (including plastic bags, blinds, rubber) CCA wood and alternatives…here’s the info: http://www.buildinggreen.com/
Some notes on green roofs-a light roof in the heat of the day is about 110 degrees F, whereas a dark roof is about 200 degrees F. Green roofs are even less than a light color. They improve air quality by reducing dust in the surrounding area. The largest concern is the ability of the structure to hold additional weight of soil material. The most common failure of green roofs is no continued maintenance of the plants on top which cool and slow discharge of water and allow the roof to actually work. Green roofs are proven to provide a drastic reduction in what are known as “urban heat islands” (when infrared pics are taken of the earth, cities of course appear as red hot). If you ever have a chance you should check out the GAP manufacturing building in San Francisco—it has a green roof done by Bill McDonna.
A quote for Richard: “I’ve visited over 20 living machines in my career, and only 10 or so were actually functioning when I saw them” (one of my instructors—he went on to say just how complicated and high maintenance they are…)
One of my favorite field trips was to the Cob Hill Cohouseing project, an intentional community in the little bitty town of Hartland VT. You can check it out here if you’re interested: http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org/cobbhill/
It was designed by Jeff Schoellkof, one of our instructors.
It’s a community of about 35 adults, it’s been around for 5 years or so, 100, 000 community fee, 250,000 for purchasing a house, solar hot water heat on all houses and green design, each house has a composting toilet (phoenix-2-3 thousand dollars each), several small enterprises (cheese, farm stand, beef, CSA, the sustainable food laboratory, the sustainability institute started by Dana Meadows, Our Climate Ourselves), it is heated in the winter by one large wood fired furnace that heats water which in turn goes through radiant floor heating (residents take turns firing it), average per house is 2 ½ cords of wood per year which comes from their 100 acres, per capita average of 25 gal h20 per day, what I heard was 1275 kwh per month per capita average, but that’s questionable b/c it’s about 40 kwh per day, and if that’s true I don’t think they’d advertise it. The homes are beautiful, as are the gardens and land and farmland. The people are all upper middle class and many work off site. Pretty elitist. One of the founders was explaining that the process of designing the houses was an interesting demonstration of how easily we all can get wrapped up in American materialism—as each person involved allowed their house to get larger and larger, more complicated and complex. He explained that in retrospect many have realized that it would have been easier and cheaper to keep the units the same and allow individuality to be expressed through internal décor and outside landscaping. They have great ties to the community due to the CSA and struggle the most with privacy issues due to the design (similar to our Ecovillage).
Cob Hill Cohousing project in southern VT--the village, boiler door, cheese making facilities, in-home bathroom mosaic, commons house, and the CSA. Thanks for the pics from Sandy Spada.
Our class project was to design an affordable housing community on a piece of land purchased by Warren for that purpose. I worked with two fellows who just graduated from architecture school, and we designed quite the community. It will be reviewed by the board next week and they’re hoping to begin construction next spring and use our classes input. Cool stuff.
Some of the new architectural components of building that were introduced to me had a central theme of lighting (passive solar, roof overhangs/deciduous trees/vines/screens, translucent skylights/lighttubes, light shelves, reflective techniques, beam placement perpendicular to…)and insulation (triple paned windows, cellulose, SIPS, various insulative materials and techniques (not so much the natural ones)).
Eco-design affordable housing design site--the frisbee goes everywhere!
A wood fired masonry stove, one of the houses we visited that is going for LEED certification, the site of affordable housing design.
All in all, I saw lots of the same fans/lighting systems and sunny boy’s being used here in VT as Berea's Ecovillage!
II. THE 25th ANNIVERSARY Founders Dinner and Weekend Celebration
Lucky me, I happened to pick Yestermorrow’s 25’s Birthday to be here. All of the founders and many of the past board members, staff, interns, and students were here throughout the weekend. Workshops and tours and talks were given by a variety of Yestermorrow folks. The big shindig was Saturday night—a formal dinner for 120 folks that us interns got to serve for. Yikes! Food service for that type of thing is a rush. New experience for me! It was neat to observe the interactions of such successful people in a field of work I understand and agree with.
III. ON RUSTIC FURNATURE WORKSHOP July 2nd
On Saturday, in amongst work and all sorts of preparations, I worked with the rustic furniture making workshop. The instructor was highly experienced and a large proponent of using sustainable local materials, which is what rustic furniture is all about. We made a table and bench for the front lobby. We talked about morphogenic resonance (willing the wood to find its proper place in the design), use of green wood, and various types of fastening.
IV. ON THE COB OVEN WORKSHOP July 3rd
On Sunday, I helped construct a temporary earth oven for the American Flatbread company in Warren. Cob was defined for me the first time as “a culturally specific earth building method that comes from England.” Ben, our instructor then went on to tell of young lad’s tossing “cobs” of clay up to wall stackers in Great Britain. He pointed out that most of the rest of the world lives in earthen structures of some sort. We talked about two types of construction—woven twig, and molded wet sand. Then we did a different method of brick stack with a soapstone hearth and stacked rock foundation. We talked about the necessity of letting an earthen oven cure for 2-4 weeks and I ate pizza out of our oven today. We talked about making the size ratio 4:7 from top of doorway to top of oven and creating a catenary (sp?) arch for strength and efficiency. We did neither and the pizza tasted great. Building with earth is flexible.
SO this is how you build a temporary cob oven! Above is the "mud" (actually clay from a pit behind American Fatbread) mixing (kati's never been happier in overalls and dirty feet), brick stacking, inside view, and finished product.
ON July 4th Activities and Warren Village Parade
So the little village of Warren has a famous 4th of July parade, attracting around 10 thousand people each year. The floats are usually human or bicycle powered and almost always have a strong political statement. My favorite was a humongous pile of dirt that followed a herd of vegetables and a large banner that said something about food independence. If you were in the right spot in the crowds, the dirt pile would stop and “sprouts” would grow out of the top. Others included a three story white house that bucked like a horse with a bizarre looking Gorge Bush riding the top, and a series of consecutively smaller pigs that had 460 billion spent on pentagon, 38 billion on education, 15 billion on AIDS and world hunger, etc…
This is the Cob Oven at Flatbread in use on July 4th and my fellow interns at the parade.