NESEA protour, Kern Center, Hampshire College, LBC, Living Building Challenge, pbs.org

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
eave detail

Always know what and where your AIR BARRIER is.

By | affordable modern, education, links, mutterings, Passive House, projects, super insulated, traditional vs modern, Uncategorized, working with a builder, working with an architect | No Comments

I’m working on detailing out a smallish house in Greenfield, MA. We probably won’t go full Passive House on this but we will look at what additional costs and detailing it would take. And if we’re close…

We are doing some novel (to me) stuff for the shell of the house that, I suspect, will become more standard practice for me in years to come.
Here are some “progress print” detail drawings from the plan set. My drawings tend to look a bit different than most architect’s drawings due to two things: The time I spent wielding a hammer and trying to interpret my own drawings and the fact that I have worked as a sole practitioner for so long and have developed my own graphic style. I should add to that a third thing – my knowledge of building science informed best practices.

building section and details illustrating air barrier location and definition

The first thing you will notice about these drawings is actually the most important thing. The red and blue dotted lines represent the weather resistant barrier and the air barrier respectively. If your drawings don’t have at least the air barrier called out in the sections, (and continuous around the thermal envelope) The drawings are incomplete. I have been getting picky in my detailing about how to make the air barrier both easy to achieve and durable. In my opinion, relying on painted sheetrock to serve as an air barrier just doesn’t cut it – certainly not for the next 100 years.

Many builders and architects in the Northeast US are still building 2×6 walls with fiberglass batts and a poly vapor barrier. That’s how I learned to do it when I was just starting out in the 90’s. I also opened up a number of walls built that way that were full of mold.

    Good

builders don’t build this way anymore. Check the Building Science Corporation website for some pictures of what can go wrong.

One part of building science is probability and statistics. I often hear builders say “I’ve always built that way and I’ve never had any problems” – that you know about. But those builders are only looking at 50 or 100 projects. Luck plays a part here. What happens when you look at thousands or even tens of thousands? You start to see some patterns emerge and you start to see the luck factor drop out of the equation. You are able to formulate some best practice standards for a number of things including durability, air quality, energy use and even catastrophic failure. I prefer to work with builders who are informed about building science and involved in the discussion.

That’s easy here in the Southeastern Vermont area home of Building Green area, home of Building Green and SEON which sponsors a well-attended monthly building science discussion group and learning circle. – If anyone wants to get something like this started in their own community, send Guy an email at the address in their website.

I owe it to my clients to help them get the best constructed project possible. That, in addition to the most functional, aesthetically appropriate, finely crafted project possible.
– Oh and the budget thing too – Read More

Old Fashioned Stoves in New England

By | links, Living in Vermont, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I grew up in Maine with a large wood cookstove similar to this one.
old fashioned wood cook stove
Cooking in it was sketchy and it was far from tight or efficient. The top surface and oven provided excellent places to keep pies and already cooked food warm on Thanksgiving. My own home has a small efficient and relatively airtight woodstove tucked into the stone fireplace. It has a knurled top surface which makes it hard to even heat water on but it does a good job of heating the house and the front is a large widow so we can watch the wood burn. (nice) We used to have an old fashioned parlor stove but it was too big and inefficient (and a bit scary when it ran hot) It now sits in the barn awaiting installation out there for use during barn parties. Here is what it looked like in place:
antique parlor stove in my fireplace
Please ignore the pink fuzzy slippers and yellow koosh ball. And the socks…
I would love to have a spot in my home for a modern wood cookstove such as this:
Ellis cookstove by Boru of Ireland

Here are some places in New England that restore and sell antique wood stoves.

Once Upon a Time Antique Stove Shop in Vermont. VPR recently did a story on them HERE

Good Time Stove Co. in Massachusetts
parlor stove at good time stove co. in Goshen MA

Bryant Stove and Music in Thorndike ME
wood cook stoves at Bryant Stove Works in Thorndike maine
I purchased my own parlor stove from this place and it is truly amazing. there are not only hundreds of stoves but an antiques museum and a huge room packed full of dolls and gizmos that, when you flip the switch upon entering all erupt into action including merry go rounds, dancing dolls, teddies on airplanes, circus bands….I can’t really describe it well. Here is a Boston.com article that does a better job and an image from their article
Bryant stove Works Doll Circus photo from Boston.com
did I mention Slinkys?

Suburban Sustainable Design Competition in Keene, NH

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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.

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Fern house featured again on Houzz.com

By | cool stuff, links, press, projects | One Comment


Heating Options for a Small Home – Fine Homebuilding

By | education, links, products, super insulated | No Comments

Fine Homebuilding magazine has run a lovely and concise article by Martin Holladay this month (March 2011 actually) that covers the options for a small, low heat load home (my favorite type to design) What I like about this article is that it is simple and clean enough that I can ask clients to read it as a primer. Many of my houses are about 1/2 again energy star but only 2/3 passive house in terms of insulation. This is a low load house but not a no load house, a house that doesn’t need radiant heat but everybody wants to spend the extra money on it anyway. There is rarely the budget for heat load analysis and heating system design by an engineery sort so what gets installed is a regular old boiler. In recent years this is not so much a problem because there are so many good options out there for modulating boilers and the regular heat folks are familiar with them. A decade ago, this meant a non-modulating boiler would be installed capable of putting out 100,000 Btu/hour even when the house only really needed 30,000. This meant the boiler cycled on and off and wasted lots of energy. ($$$) The article covers “using a furnace anyway” as well as providing brief information on Direct vent gas heaters, electric heat (good for very low heat load houses especially if you put the money saved by not installing a conventional heating system into photovoltaics), Minisplit heat pumps – an excellent, low(er) cost option that can also provide air conditioning and are very simple to install although you usually need a certified person to do the installing in order to obtain the warranty. And also connecting a simple hot water coil to your ERV of HRV. You do have one of these in your new house….don’t you?
The article is not available online without paying something (I suspect) so pay or pick an issue at the newstand.
The Graphic below was an old scheme from when I was considering selling stock plans myself. My current collection (numbering exactly 1) can be accessed at Houseplans.com

build blog

By | cool stuff, good blogs, good ideas, good web sites, links, products | No Comments

Along the lines of; How I spend my time when surfing the net, I spend some time every week looking for what’s out there in the architectural world with focus on residential and small scale projects.
Here is a Firm whose website is great, the work they do is inspiring and they have a great blog that fosters thought and conversation. They are located in Seattle.

TED:Ideas Worth Spreading is a collection of talks and presentations that help me keep the world in perspective.

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.


also GoLogic homes in Belfast Maine is worth checking out. They have some great prototype small passive house designs. When I look to the future of my own firm, This is a great model for one possibility. Although if I were to go this route I would worry that it closes me off from being the small town architect for lots of people and doing more non-residential projects.

What architects don’t know

By | cool stuff, education, ego, links, mutterings, working with an architect | One Comment

Architecture is one of those professions where the more you know the more you know you don’t know. Many architects don’t know this. There are some who “float” and others who are in a constant state of continuing education. I am reminded of this by the large number of architects who state on their websites “We have always been green” but then you look at their projects with a trained eye and see otherwise. Geothermal heating or solar Photovoltaics on a house with 2 x 6 walls, probably insulated with fiberglass batts is an infraction I commonly see. Those architects who read this and don’t see the hyppocracy in this example would be the example of “floaters”

Serious Windows

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“I was surprised while traveling in Sweden two years ago to learn that triple-glazed windows have been, essentially, required by code in that country since 1976.” Alex Wilson writes in a Green Building Advisor article. He also mentions Serious Windows which I have been hearing a lot about lately and am anxious to try. Pricing seems very good and I have heard tell that the quality is excellent. I believe that parts of the U.S. will move towards such code legislation in the near future as the severity of the global climate crisis becomes more obvious to Americans.

current work

By | cool stuff, links, projects, Uncategorized | No Comments

My apologies for not posting much recently, overworked and sick kid are my two excuses. Here are some quick model views from a current project. I am developing two schemes for an addition/renovation to a small house, part of which used to be a “sugar shack” (In VT where you make maple syrup in February and March) Here also is a link to my picassa album with some project photos.

ART TEC – Guy Marsden

By | cool stuff, good blogs, good ideas, links | 2 Comments

This is what the web is all about.  Guy Marsden has a sprawling website (over 200 pages)  that I highly recommend only if you can relax for a while.  Guy is everything from an artist – he worked on “Star Wars” – to an inventor/engineer.  Much of the site is related to trying to be realistically self sufficient. I found lots of low-budget-do-it-yourself information as well as things for the more engineery types among us (of which I am not one of) (yet) such as his conversion of his gas lawn mower to solar charged DC batteries. ( my solution is simply to not mow the lawn)  I found lots of good materials and product resources as well.  This is something I’m always looking for as much of my work is very budget oriented and I am faced with questions such as ” should I spend twice as much on triple glazed windows or is there a shade or window quilt or storm window or panel that could do the job for 1/4 the cost?”

Architect Enters Stock Plan Market!

By | good ideas, links, working with an architect | No Comments

Recently, I have been examining the stock plan market to see if a hole exists that I should fill. I have won a few design competitions for affordable housing models on the basis of a good plan and great looking architecture with nearly “Habitat” size budgets. I have done this through using proportions and scale to create beautiful simple houses and added my knowledge of “green” and the principles of “passive house” design. Add to this my bag of tricks acquired from years of experience designing and building to a tight budget and learning how to do more for less and I can create houses that can compete successfully in the stock plan market at the $125 – $300 k range where the current offerings seem to look:

  1. Drab and ranchy with “style” either regarded as unnecessary or as something that can be applied to a poor design to dress it up.
  2. Very modern (some of which I really love) which aesthetically still turns off a large segment of the market.
  3. Very “architecty” with cost savings coming primarily from smaller size rather than simplicity of design.

Few of the available offerings also adequately address modern principles of energy efficient design for northern climates such as super-insulation with heat recovery ventilation, passive survivability, passive and active solar opportunities making these potential zero energy homes. Many of them require specific modular or prefab systems. My designs would provide a foolproof set of plans that the average person could hand to their builder, or that a builder can use to build a larger number of houses that he or she can market as green, easily get them certified through LEED or Energy Star, and sell at a profit with minimal effort.

So, in my usual enthusiastic spirit of taking on more work than I can possibly handle, I shall boldly plunge in! [Yes We Can] We (I am assembling a team) have registered www.VermontSimpleHouse.com which will take some time to get up and running. To begin, we will start by bringing one of the award winning houses up to speed with a full plan set to offer for sale over my current website www.swinburnearchitect.com until I can get a pro website up and running at the new Vermont Simple House website. Stay tuned….

Providence Competition House

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.

Perry Road Press

By | affordable modern, ego, good web sites, links, press | No Comments

The Brattleboro Reformer ran an article on the Perry Road Project today “LEED-ing the Way” For those who have been keeping tabs on this project, we will be holding several open house tours during and after construction.  Stay tuned here for dates and more information.  Also my college friend Mark LePage put an entry relating to me in his new blog Entrepaneur Architect It has been interesting to watch Mark’s firm as it grows and his internet activities expand. Very inspiring, Now I am trying to inspire other classmates from architecture school to follow suit.

green going overboard

By | good ideas, links, Uncategorized, working with an architect | No Comments

I have been mulling over this subject with a builder friend for a while now and I think I can make my point brief. He is building a very “green” house which is small and pretty and so forth but the cost is astronomical. A simple example of why it is so expensive is that the architect specified clay drain tiles around the foundation instead of PVC. Much more $$. Not that I approve of the use of vinyl – just rent “Blue Vinyl” and you’ll see why – My thought is: would the world be better off if they used the pvc and put the price difference into their town’s fund to help low income folks winterize and add insulation? That seems to me to be so much more environmentally responsible.

Building Science.Com

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Building Science.com – I am ashamed at my oversight. This is an amazing organization. They are central to the residential building industry and if one were to manage to read their entire website, one would have received quite an education. I have referred to them for years when I have a question or need a good explanation for a client but forgot to add them into my links in this blog.

houzz interior design ideas
Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz

Contact

bob@swinburnearchitect.com 802.451.9764 72 Cotton Mill Hill Brattleboro, Vermont 05301