NESEA protour, Kern Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge,

NESEA Pro tour – Hampshire College

By | cool stuff, education, environment, links, Uncategorized | No Comments
NESEA protour, Kern Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge

Last month I toured the R.W. Kern center at Hampshire College with a bunch of Green building Geeks and fans as part of a NESEA pro tour. This building is being certified under the Living Building Challenge or LBC label. Pretty much the highest certification a building could achieve. Way beyond LEED. The architecture firm was Bruner Cott.

Side note: I met Simeon Bruner at Ashfield Stone without knowing who he was. (I don’t pay much attention to the goings on in my own industry) He told me his firm did Mass MOCA and I nearly fainted. Now Bruner/Cott is on my top list of firms that I follow and would like to work for. Except for the part where I rooted in Vermont and became a fuddy duddy.

The group also toured the Hitchcock Center architected by DesignLab architects and also built by Wright Builders. This building is also being built towards LBC certification. I can’t wait to see the finished product

NOVA NEXT ran an article about LBC and the Kern Center. The comments on the facebook are interesting and revealing. Education about green building is slower to trickle down than technology. We need gold standard buildings like this to learn from. Lessons learned go toward Hampshire college’s goal of a net zero campus which then then are vetted and applied to the larger community. It also provides a learning tool for the current and next generation of thinkers who will apply those lessons elsewhere. Green building nowadays emphasizes durability and simplicity of systems in addition to energy use. This building will outlast most new buildings being constructed today and cost much less to own and operate. And attract the best and brightest students to the college. It’s a win on so many fronts.

Here are a few photos I took during the tour plus a short video about the Hitchcock Environmental Center

NESEA protour, Kern Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge
NESEA protour, Kern Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge
NESEA protour, Kern Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge
NESEA protour, Kern Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge
NESEA protour, Hitchcock Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge
NESEA protour, Hitchcock Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge

the cost of power

By | environment, mutterings | No Comments

Living in New England I do get tired of the rampant NIMBYism that goes on here. Wind power is a perfect example. We would rather get our power from coal and let other people deal with all the mining related issues which seem to me to be far more serious than the negative issues associated with wind. Most of those people who have to deal with the negative issues related to coal are poor and so they have much less political power than us middle class New Englanders. I suspect most of them would be happy to get their mountains back and put turbines on the ridges.

wind turbines

wind turbines

more on solar hot water – no boiler

By | environment, good ideas, good web sites, links, products | No Comments

An article by Alex Wilson of Environmental Building News in the local newspaper Brattleboro Reformer on solar water heating with some good local links.  I have done a couple houses now with solar hot water backed up with a propane or electric heating element right on the storage tank to boost water temps when needed to serve as heat (radiant) and hot water.  No boiler!  Marathon Water Heaters are how you do it.

see also passive house institute for more information trickling to this country from Europe about how to build carbon neutral-zero energy-heatyourhousewithacat homes

Also Coldham and Hartman architects have done something similar with a number of houses in the Northeast involving upgrading the shell of the house enough to be able to heat with a single space heater such as a through the wall gas space heater in the main living area.

My own house (900 square feet, 1970, poorly insulated cape) has a modern woodstove and electric radiant heat in the ceiling which we use primarily when we are away in the winter.  We heat water with a plain old electric water heater.  The presence of large sugar maple trees prevents us from utilizing the sun.

What clients come to me with

By | environment, working with an architect | No Comments

When I first meet with new or potential clients they usually have been working on their project for a year or more and have rudimentary plans sketched up as well as a laundry list of what they want. It is unusual for these two things agree with each other and I am in the position of delicately pointing this out. It reminds me of first year in architecture school when you work on a project day and night for a week and on presentation day someone on the jury picks up your model and says “this is crap” , hopefully followed by constructive critisism. At this point the project can go in at least two directions. The client can clam up and say ” I know what I want and I just need it drafted up” or the client may realize that what they have come up with may be unneccesarily complicated and expensive as well as not really achieving all it could and welcome professional input. I don’t discourage the drawings as they help me to see how people think and see. This helps me tailor what I do to maximize clear communication. Ideally, I can serve as their “jury” and coax/coach them into designing a scheme that meets all their stated (and implied) goals and perhaps even help them re-visit their stated goals to see if they are realistic. Before architecture school I spent a year in art school but dropped out beause of the lack of productive critisism of my work. If I put enough time into an assignment, I would get a high grade regardless of whether the project was actually good or not. When I got to architecture school, I welcomed the much higher level of artistic and intellectual rigor.

scary bad plastic

By | environment | No Comments

I’m sure everyone by now has heard assorted things about how bad for us (and not just the environment) plastic can be. Green Sage is an E-Zine that comes across my desk periodically and they have a concise article about the good and bad in regards to plastics.

Composting Toilets in Vermont

By | affordable modern, environment, projects | No Comments

With a title like this I’ll probably get lots of google hits and lots of spam. An interesting note: We had intended to use composting toilets in the Perry Road Project but in Vermont this allows you to reduce the size of the leech field by only 25%. They also require you to have the septic folks take your compost away every year. Another factor in our decision not to use composting toilets is the cost. This is a very low budget house and composting toilets are pretty pricey. We will probably go with Toto low flow toilets. These have a very good reputation.

Complicated Budget Houses

By | environment, good ideas, mutterings, projects, working with an architect | No Comments

I see many houses around here that would have benefited from some professional design help. It seems that people like to spend more money than they need to . These houses look complicated (if it looks complex then it is expensive) and yet they are obviously intended to be low cost housing. Not many people (or banks) “get” that spending money on an architect or designer up front can save them much more money in the months to follow during construction. Perhaps it is similar to solar hot water systems. Spend 5k to 7k up front and it takes 5 years or so before it is paid off in savings and then it starts saving money. It’s like putting and extra $50 in the bank every month. That’s an extra $6000 dollars over the next 10 years not counting for interest and certainly not counting for rising oil, gas or electricity costs. There was a picture in this month’s “National Geographic” showing a Chinese subdivision from above. Many of the houses had solar hot water systems on the roof. They must be smarter than us.

Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz
Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz


Robert Swinburne Architect, LLC AIA, NCARB, CPHD, DAD 802.451.9764
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