Fern House built in Wisconsin from my plans. Much better than the original. enjoy.
July 23, 2013
July 23, 2013
Fern House built in Wisconsin from my plans. Much better than the original. enjoy.
July 15, 2013
This is a schematic design for a local project I’m working on where I am doing master planning up front. See this post. After meeting with Gary MaCarthur to look at the whole site and master plan in terms of solar potential – the owners may, at least initially be “off the grid” – it was clear that the best locations for the house and barn were not so great for photovoltaics. Gary, like many other folks who design and install PV, like a clean simple installation, Ideally on the steeply pitched roof of a shed where the equipment can be housed. “a Power House”. I knew the owners wanted to be able to spend weekends on the site year round and be comfortable and we had discussed building the barn first and finishing off the upstairs. Not a great solution unless you are prepared to build a fairly expensive barn as opposed to a pole barn for equipment and animals. Gary, upon listening to the master plan, long term build-out goals, suggested a cottage instead which could eventually become a guest house but in the meantime would serve as compact living quarters, the power house and storage for a tractor and whatever things get left here on a more permanent basis initially. being relatively small, a cottage could fit nicely into the overall site plan in a location ideal for photovoltaic panels.
As usual lately, I’m trying for the holy grail on this one and I hope the clients like the ideas.
Holy Grail =
Passive house priciples of low energy use, durable design and good building science
local materials wherever possible and minimal environmental impact of materials
Logical construction methods – nothing complicated or fancy
Simple modern design – Scandinavian-ish?
Clues from tradition but not a slave to it. – No Anachronism – use what works and eliminate frippery
Texture and light and air
Shadow and light.
Intimately tied to the land.
Seasonally adaptive and responsive
Low maintenance – no or minimal exterior paint, stain , varnish – weathering materials and durable materials
Emotionally uplifting space
Proportion and grace.
Specifically to this project the long design seems to work best in terms of what we want to do with the site, the available roof for solar, the idea of layering, keeping the roof sheltering and low at the eave, build part now/part later if needed to get power set up, the gardeners cottage / gatehouse idea, overall simplicity, steep roof (Gary says to max winter gains) etc. I was also looking at cladding materials in more of a fabric sense with varying degrees of transparency which seems very Japanese and works very well for how I design wall systems.
Here is the initial sketch from my sketchbook:
July 12, 2013
Here are some photos from a recent project. This is an addition to a huge old barn which had a fairly recent Timberpeg addition to it. I did some work with the addition plus a larger new addition in a Greek Revival style with wrapping porches to create a more cohesive whole (and add a bunch of space) The addition is framed with double stud walls and super-insulated. Windows are triple glazed double hung. Fiber cement siding over rainscreen.
June 28, 2013
I love competitions like this and I’m spreading the word as I know many architects and students read this blog. I’m doing some cut and paste here – hope they don’t mind.
Welcome! Thank you for your interest in the Suburban Sustainable Design Competition.
This competition is a project of a team of sustainability-minded organizers and designers in partnership with The Sustainability Project.
In the spring and summer of 2013, we are holding two competitions for the redesign of a suburban residential property in Keene, New Hampshire:
1. Sustainable Home Renovation Design
2. Suburban Backyard Homestead Design
The property is a one-acre site near downtown Keene. The house is gutted and has been uninhabited for several years. The yard is mostly lawn at this time and has a lot of sunny southern exposure.
We believe that the property has the potential to serve as a great model for sustainable suburban design, including backyard food production and capturing renewable resources, in Keene and the northeast. The property’s current transitional state and its situation in the context of a city and region with rapidly growing interest in sustainability make it a particularly rich site for experimentation. Because so many Americans live in suburban properties and sustainable suburban options are still in such early stages of entering the mainstream, we are very excited to have the opportunity to bring attention to sustainable suburban design through holding a design competition and sharing the entries with the community.
Designs will be showcased in an open house and community celebration on Saturday, October 5. Stay tuned for details!
Designers, learn about the competition here.
Connect with us on Facebook!
June 12, 2013
The Architecture of Cabin, Cocoons and Hide-Outs
A new book from Gestalten in Germany contains a full page spread of my barn and one page on the fern house. The page after my barn is a lovely cabin by Kundig, a big name architect who will probably win the Pritzker some day. (just sayin)
May 28, 2013
Guy Manly, a New York based creative film company filmed me and the Fern House in Vermont last fall.
Check it out
May 8, 2013
I recently got to tour the Brooks House in Brattleboro which burned a few years ago. A group of local investors is working to re-build and restore the Brooks House and I tagged along on a tour given to some potential contractors. Mostly insulation and roofing folks. Here are a few shots that most local folks wouldn’t otherwise get to see. (Being on the roof was awesome!) Most of the interior spaces will be jsut white sheetrock when all is said and done so it was cool to see the bones of the place. The Mole’s Eye was rather gross. Throughout the tour I got to be the proverbial “fly on the wall” and I was disappointed with the improvisational approach to insulation, air sealing and energy. One contractor said “well, cellulose is a good air seal”. (!) What a contrast to the thoroughness that Coldham and Hartman Architects put into the Union Crossing Project – I went to a presentation on that project earlier this year and came away rather thoroughly impressed.
May 1, 2013
It’s not often I get to do this. I am usually called in when it is too late to have much input into overall site design on a rural project. I am a scholar of historic farm and homestead planning and I am always acutely aware of the relationships between the various elements of the site whether natural, man-made, Solar, weather, history (stone walls and old roads, etc – very important in New England) and the buildings that are located to be a part of the landscape (or not as is often the case) Design often starts with floor plans but is so much richer in the long run when the site is considered with as much rigor and intensity as the floor plans. How a home “lives” is very much a function of how the land outside the walls of the house “lives” from the point outside the front door to the yards to the property lines to the town, region, state…
April 30, 2013
Perry Road House for sale – see April 11 blog post on Vermont Architect.
Note: it is unfinished – Folks moving on in search of greener pastures
4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, super insulated, all on 70 acres with 2000′ of Green River frontage on one edge of property and a brook with over 100′ of cascading waterfalls in the middle, perfect for micro-hydro system. Heated it with 3.5 cords of wood and the sun. Old foundations on property. Nice sunrise view down the valley.
April 22, 2013
I often need to spend minimal time – 10 to 20 hours at my hourly rate – to do a simple master planning/feasibility study to explore what can be done to an existing house and if it’s worth it. This process includes measuring existing conditions as much as is needed, photos, a thorough initial client meeting, thinking, sketching, some schematic design, modeling, more thinking, writing lists and generally trying to pare down the simplest solution to the client’s goals. The result is a .pdf file which attempts to get all this down in a clear format which can be given to a builder for feedback and a VERY rough costing on the various parts and options. I have been assured by other architects that I am ridiculously fast at this in terms of total time spent. Projects often don’t progress past this stage as clients realize that it would cost more to achieve what they want than they are able to spend. Or the project gets pared down at this early stage. It is a very useful exercise in saving money by spending some on the architect up front. It seems to be a good graphic way to quickly get a handle on the whole project without committing much in terms of $ from the client or time from me. Here are some examples of three recent projects.
April 11, 2013
Some friends recently announced that they were going to leave the Brattleboro area in search of a better life.
The list is:
1. A Waldorf school for their kid to be able to go to through high school.
2. Better job prospects
3. An easier place to grow old in – perhaps this means less dirt roads, closer to town…
4. Closer to some long term friends for more regular visits.
5. They are tired of living in an unfinished house.
Then my wife said she would be willing to move for the right reasons too – specifically a great, high paying job (for me). This sent me into a few days of introspection and soul searching. I had to re-evaluate my own values by themselves and in relation to my family. I have always felt an incredibly strong connection to land and place. If I plant a tree, I have a need to watch it grow for the rest of my life. Fine – I can accept that this is unusual. I also have a strong need to be in the woods pretty much every day. I would have a hard time being the sort who goes camping on weekends to get my outside time and even day hikes in the mountains have little allure. I need the outdoors much more integrated in my daily routine. I think if I were living in an urban or suburban area for any length of time I would feel very constrained.
1. School – Brattleboro does have some excellent options for schools. Charlotte got a good start at Neighborhood Schoolhouse and Alden will too in a few years. The big crisis came when it was time for Charlotte to start kindergarten. Our ideal choice would probably be the Grammar School in Putney, http://youtu.be/Yk49lac7EPU an excellent private school whose “philosophies” most closely align with our own. Financially it was not in the cards. With a number of educators in the immediate family we are rather progressive in our education ideals. We also would rather not have our kids attend a school with only like-minded students and parents. Perspective is a very important aspect to social development. She will have a number of excellent teachers to get to know over the years and the advantage of a small school is that she is already getting to know them – she has a great rapport with her future 7th/8th grade teacher. She will get to know a wide variety of classmates and their families – Perspective! Our ideal is that our kids’ elementary experience provides them with the social tools to easily handle the pressures of attending a larger public high school, and life in general, and come out on top. Our local public elementary school has been trash-talked by a number of friends and neighbors so we were a bit leery of sending Charlotte there but realized that all the nay-sayers were speaking from very little or very limited experience. This didn’t sit right with us and we are currently glad we decided to form our own opinion. The school is fairly small – my daughter’s kindergarten has 5 kids – and the size has definite advantages in terms of addressing individual students’ and parents’ needs. The school is also a community in itself and very tied to the local community – a community integrated education is also very important to us. The main issues we have with our local elementary school are the sheer amount of driving time and gasoline used in our cars to get there there every day, (see #2 below) and not enough time spent outdoors (probably the same as at any public school). It is also very important for our kids to take advantage of community opportunities in the arts and Brattleboro is certainly a top notch community with it’s dizzying array of opportunity in this regard. Brattleboro is a very kid-centric community.
New England Center for Circus Arts
Brattleboro Music Center
Vermont Jazz Center
New England Youth Theater
Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center
Brattleboro School of Dance
River Gallery School of Art
Plus the high school has an excellent cross country ski team!
2. Job prospects – It is hard around here to earn a living for sure. The average household income in my town is under 30k. People say “but the quality of life and and fewer expenses and blah blah blah ..” however, automobiles cost the same – and where I live all-wheel or 4 wheel drive is needed part of the year. Which means a more expensive car with worse gas mileage.
And fewer opportunities to accomplish the daily activities on a bicycle. There are fewer cost savings to living in the country than many people seem to think. In terms of my own job prospects, I could possibly work in a larger firm in a more urban environment and perhaps I would even love the job but the likelihood of a paycheck big enough to make it worth it is very unlikely. Working for myself is definitely stressful and most years is quite un-sustainable but I’m an optimist and always seem to think that things will turn around soon. Very soon. (stressful on family) Other Job Prospects:
3. Growing old. – I’m hoping to gradually make our estate into a place we could hole up in for weeks at a time. I do have 30+ years before I really need to think along these lines. A lot could happen in 30 years. The North Atlantic Gyre could cease due to melting polar ice and then all bets are off.
4. Friends. – A very personal one. Kid-less friends always complain that when their friends have kids they have no more time available for visiting. Certainly true, however having kids suddenly opens up a whole new world of potential friends. You get out what you put out for sure. My wife is much more social than I and would love to see dozens of her best friends every day for coffee.
I, however, am an old-codger-in-the-making and am perfectly happy to mutter around the house and grounds for days at a time without seeing anybody. Working on my woodpile.
5. House – I feel this one. – We live in a small house and I realize that our “standard of living” would be unacceptable for most middle-class people in America, at least for the past thirty years or so. I do have great plans for addressing this but…see #2 plus reference this older post
March 21, 2013
Some images from the model. Of course I don’t think the clients can afford it but it’s a good starting point. This is a one car garage with a studio space above it, a rear yard screen porch and a mudroom connecting all these. We can treat the addition as a separate unit from the existing house itself by building it to passive house standards and heating it (and cooling it) with a simple mini split heat pump. or we could ignore the cooling aspect and use a very small amount of electric heat.
March 7, 2013
Apparently, although I never got an email, I am now a Certified Passive House Designer!!
What is Passive House ?
– The passive house standard represents the highest level of energy efficiency and “green building”.
- The passive house standard is where state and municipality energy codes are headed.
- Public housing groups such as Habitat for Humanity and regional housing authorities and land trusts are starting to require new housing units to be built to the passive house standard as these groups tend to prioritize overall cost of ownership over initial cost of construction.
- The roots of Passive House trace back to the 1970s, when the concepts of superinsulation and passive solar management techniques were developed in the United States and Canada.
- More than 25,000 buildings have been built to the Passive House standard in Europe. The standard is especially common in multi-family housing where it often makes little financial sense not to build to this level of energy efficiency.
“Maximize your gains, minimize your losses”. These are the basic tenets of the Passive House approach. A Passive House project maximizes the energy efficiency of the basic building components inherent in all buildings; roof, walls, windows, floors and the utility systems: electrical, plumbing & mechanical. By minimizing a building’s energy losses, the mechanical system is not called to replenish the losses nearly as frequently. This saves resources, operational costs and global warming related pollution. Unlike any other structures, Passive House buildings maintain occupant comfort for more hours of the year without the need for mechanical temperature conditioning of the indoor air. The opposite has been the norm in this country where we have a history of inexpensive fuel and construction techniques with little consideration for energy losses through thermal bridging, air-infiltration, and inadequate levels of insulation.
Passive House is both a building energy performance standard and a set of design and construction principles used to achieve that standard. The Passive House standard is the most stringent building energy standard in the world
The Passive House approach focuses on the following:
Strategic Design and Planning:
Passive House projects are carefully modeled and evaluated for efficiency at the design stage. Certified Passive House Consultants are trained to use the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), a tool that allows designers to test “what-if” scenarios before construction begins. They are also trained to use other software tools to identify and address potential thermal bridges and moisture issues at the design stage.
Specific Climate, Siting and Sizing:
Passive House design uses detailed, specific annual weather data in modeling a structure’s performance. Orientation of the windows can maximize or minimize solar gain and shading. Passive House theory leans towards minimizing the surface area to interior volume ratio, favoring an efficient shape to minimize energy losses.
Super-Insulated, Air-Tight Envelope (But Diffusion Open):
To keep the heating/cooling in, wall assemblies require greater insulation values to “stop the conditioned air” from leaving. Walls are typically much thicker than today’s standard construction. Passive House takes great care in designing, constructing and testing the envelope for an industry-leading control of air leakage. Blower door testing is a mandatory technique in assuring high performance. Walls are designed to be virtually air tight, while allowing water vapor to dry out. “If moisture gets into the wall, how does it dry out before damage can occur?” is a fundamental tenet of modern building science addressed in Passive House design. Wall assemblies are analyzed to allow for proper water and moisture management to make a long lasting and an exceptionally healthy building.
Thermal Bridge-Free Detailing:
Breaks in the insulation layer usually caused by structural elements and utility penetrations in the building envelope create a “thermal bridge,” allowing undesirable exterior temperatures to migrate to and “un-do” expensive interior conditioned air and creating colder interior surfaces that encourage the growth of mold. Passive House design attempts to minimize thermal bridges via progressive mindful architectural detailing.
Advanced Windows and Doors:
Historically these items are the weak link of a building’s envelope and thermal defense system. Passive House places significant emphasis on specifying high performance windows and doors to address concern. To meet the high performance needs of various climate zones, windows must meet strict performance standards regarding: component insulation, air tightness, installation and solar heat gain values.
Energy Recovery Ventilation:
The “lungs” of a Passive House come from a heat (or energy) recovery ventilator (HRV/ERV). It provides a constant supply of tempered, filtered fresh air 24/7 and saves money by recycling the indoor energy that is typically found in exhaust air. The heat from outgoing stale air is transferred to the unconditioned incoming fresh air, while it is being filtered. It provides a huge upgrade in indoor air quality and consistent comfort, especially for people sensitive to material off-gassing, allergies and other air-borne irritants. HRV’s are fast becoming standard equipment in all new houses in Vermont.
One of the best benefits to implementing Passive House design is the high performance shell and extremely low annual energy demand. This allows owners to save on operational costs as they can now significantly downsize a building’s mechanical system. Passive solar gains, plus heat from occupants and appliances supply most of the needed heat. Radiant floor, baseboard, or forced hot air heating systems are unnecessary!
Considering alternative energy systems on your project? Building to meet the Passive House Standard is the smartest starting point. The significant reduction in energy use, allows alternative energy to power a greater percentage of a buildings demands. Likewise smaller demand equates to smaller and more affordable alternative energy systems providing higher cost-benefit value. Passive House design puts a project within reach for achieving true “Net Zero” performance (the building generates as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year), making use of alternative energy systems smaller thus more affordable and attainable.
February 19, 2013
Dreaming in Architecture
I have noted before that I have probably spent more time thinking about design in my adult life than most people have spent sleeping. In this post I shall one-up myself.
Sometimes I dream-design.
In a dream a few days ago there were some houses moved onto our property that had been built by my late father-in-law and we had inherited them. It was in the middle of the winter and the property bore no relation to our own and my father-in-law didn’t build houses and there was other strange dream stuff such as the two elderly Asian women sitting high up in a window of one of the houses eating and the sink was full of dishes that should have been frozen in another house. You get the picture.
In one house, there was a specific arrangement of the stairs to the very long kitchen table which set me off into that place in my head where I design things – It seems that whether I’m conscious or not has little to do with it. I started exploring the design and pinning things down on a very personal thesis of some things I really would like to explore in how I would like to live in a house in Vermont.
The idea of a very long kitchen table that was where everything happens formed the basis of my exploration. An important part of the thinking came from a recent photo I had seen in a magazine with a hearth room off the kitchen where the ceilings were low, windows minimal and set in deep walls, books, mattresses, comfy chairs, a stone floor, and lighting only for reading. It is a perfect space for reading in the winter evenings. It is very “Slow Living” Who needs a living room? An advantage of designing while I am dreaming is that my ideas come out with greater clarity. When I wake up and sketch out my ideas I may find that none of them work very well in that they ignore some practical aspects of form and function. This design, however, identifies some issues that I will need to think about and develop. It probably isn’t very marketable as it comes from so deep within my own self but it may be interesting to others in terms of thinking about how design can respond on a very deeply emotional and personal level that goes far beyond searching for the perfect floor plan.
February 14, 2013
As I have mentioned before, much of my work is for people who would never have gone to an architect in the first place, thinking that they could never afford it. Designing a custom home for someone is an incredibly complex endeavor. You can buy a set of plans relatively cheaply that may go 75% of the way towards fulfilling your needs and end up with a decent house. Most people go this route. However, some of my best work to date has been for people who are more concerned with money and value. I have been hired by clients to say “no, you can’t afford it” when they lose focus in the process of building a home and start to make a decision or series of decisions that would blow the budget. A good architect should be able to save a client at least the cost of architectural services if that is one of the stated goals. If you have $250,000 to spend on a house you can buy a plan and build a house that is worth $250,00 or you can spend $20,000 on an architect and build a house for $230,000 that gets you a better looking house with a more efficient and flexible floor plan and nicer spaces that fit your lifestyle more comfortably, a house that costs less to maintain over the longer term. Notice that I keep saying “good architect”. As with any profession there is a wide range of talent and specialties. Always ask for and check references. Find an architect and a builder who you are comfortable with. You need to develop a good relationship with these folks. They’re not just there to sell you something.
Of course if you have lots and lots of money, maybe you don’t need an architect. Many problems can be solved by throwing more money at them. Perhaps a not-so great-floor plan can be solved by increasing the size of the building. If it starts looking too big you can add jigs and jogs and gratuitous dormers and gables to lessen the visual impact. Perhaps a high heating bill doesn’t bother you so why bother with energy modeling and value engineering? Perhaps you are not planning on spending a lot of time in the new home so certain things are simply less important. If your caretaker discovers leaking, rot and mold 6 years down the road there are folks who are perfectly willing to deal with that too.
January 31, 2013
From Passive House Academy – I like the use of wine. It takes only two bottles of wine for a family of four…. or something like that. Just watch the video.
January 15, 2013
SEON or Sustainable Energy Outreach Network is a relatively new organization in the Brattleboro area. The mission from the website is to “establish a network that promotes Southeastern Vermont and its neighboring regions as a vibrant center of sustainable energy.” which sounds rather vague. I think they are trying to feel out exactly what their role in the community will be. They are off to a great start by sponsoring a monthly building science learning group. This is in a presentation and discussion format, often moderated by Peter Yost of EBN and GBA, with topics brought to the group by the participants who are mostly local builders.
“Each month over 20 building professionals meet for 3 hours to advance their understanding of building science principles especially as it pertains to the problems they confront on their worksite. Case studies are reviewed, root cause analysis is applied, hypotheses are generated based on the physics of building science. The challenge is that there are no clear solutions to many of the problems. We are still learning in the midst of uncertainty and ever changing product design. Hence the need for ongoing discussions.”
The discussions are at a pretty high level but are very accessible to everyone as a goal is to bring the general building science knowledge level in this area to a very high level, making this area even more of a hotbed for green building than it is currently. Many of these folks are way beyond the standard hour and a half presentation you tend to get in symposiums such as at Better Buildings up in Burlington – not to knock that one (definitely go!) – and, perhaps had been feeling the need for much more in-depth and collaborative discussion relevant to their own daily work.
As an architect, this is a joy to see because these are the folks that I get to work with on a regular basis. As an architect, I often have to provide a basic education in building science to both the builder and the client. Having a builder who is “hip” to green building and building science issues makes my job much easier.
I encourage any local builders, architects and designers, and any folks involved with building and energy to check this group out. They usually meet from 3 to 6, once a month on a Wednesday or Thursday. Where and when can be found on the website calendar.
January 4, 2013
I visited the Stratton Project the other day to see how things were progressing. Flooring is going down (locally milled white oak) and plaster is going up. I’m very happy about the decision to plaster the walls on the main floor. The whole house inside and out is turning out to be a very tactile thing. The (experimental) rough hemlock siding on the exterior will weather to a soft grey and has the appearance of fabric, the plaster has just enough texture to do wonderful things with light in a way that a painted wall simply can’t and the raw steel structural beams and posts provide a beautiful space defining element.
The steel siding is actually “midnight bronze” which means it has a lot of color depth and can appear black in low light and shadow but really bursts forth in bright sunlight with the bronze undertone. Houzz.com has a lively discussion of black houses going on right now and lots of very strong opinions are being expressed! I have always loved black and dark houses. The more monochromatic the better. It speaks to the kid in me – I expect something more exiting from a dark house in a monsters under the stairs and witches in the attic way. With a modern looking project like this it’s always interesting to see what the folks who work on it say. Some are completely sold and others not so much.
I completed Passive House Designer training after the design of this house and with my new level of knowledge of super-energy efficient construction, I would have done a few things differently perhaps but not much. At some point I will complete energy modeling on this project to see how close to the passive house standard we go.
Over the next few months the interior should be completed and I will post photos as things progress. The outside will look good for a while, then the snow will melt and it will look crappy until site work is completed.
December 20, 2012
Here is an example of a basic one-page-wonder construction drawing for a simple house. Not all the information is here to build a house but an expert builder can fill in missing details. For example, I put the stairs in the section with a very basic level of detail to make sure they work and meet code, however, I did not detail anything further than that. The stairs could be built in a very modern way with cable railings or very old fashioned with spindle ballusters and a newell posts. I concentrated on the overall aesthetic, proper Greek Revival details for the location and good building science practices with a very detailed double stud wall section from foundation to roof.
December 3, 2012