31 July 2009

Time to Think

There are many times I go about my day without conscious action. I am trying to be conscious of my actions every day, every hour, every minute. With conscious awareness of self comes awareness of all else. Self consciousness is a life long process.

29 July 2009

Why this is one of the most exciting times to be alive.

For years, I like many of my friends and acquaintances have wrung my hands in despair about the awful state of society and the environment. To the point where I wondered if it was worth bringing children into such a world!

Then, as if by magic I lost my trepidation and fear when I realized that, in fact, this is probably the most exciting time to be alive in recent memory. We all know that the world's human population stands on a precipice, at a crossroads, or whatever cliche suits you. Yes, it is going to be a difficult time and some or all of us may not survive, but I know that things have to change and change in a BIG way. I know that the world of 2050 will be completely different than today. I realize that all people living today will not only experience this change but can be part of it!

So I know now that the changes will be dramatic, I am sure that they will be painful (in fact ,in many areas of the world they already are) but I also know that there will be a paradigm shift and at the other end of this tunnel is a different society and environment.

28 July 2009

Some Drawings of the CEED

Floor Plan

27 July 2009

History of the Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED)

This is the first post about the Center for Energy Efficient Design. This project is very near to my heart. I have been involved in this project for almost two years and we are finally close to groundbreaking. Here is the history of the project as I am told:
2003 - John Richardson & Neil Sigmon teachers at the Gereau Center for Applied Technology came up with an idea of creating a sustainable classroom (the living classroom), where the concepts of sustainability could be incorporated into curriculum and the building itself would be part of the learning experience.
2003 - 2007 - Funding is partially procured and conceptual design is initiated with Virginia Tech School of Architecture. Project progress slows as the need to raise funds and get the project from the conceptual to the actual stage.
2008 - In the spring John Richardson is discussing the frustratingly slow progress he is making on CEED with his student, Ryan Leonard, and Ryan tells John "You know you ought to talk to my dad and his boss, they love this stuff!" With that John made contact with me and I visited the Gereau Center. It was love at first sight. The mission of the entire campus was exciting to me and I volunteered to take the project to the next phase at no cost. Our team took the conceptual design and refined it to create a buildable low energy project. We designed an earth bermed structure that was projected to use 40% less energy than standard construction. Also during this time we ran a hard cost estimate and raised $230,000 of in kind donations from subs and vendors. (Our firm donated $130,000 of this. This is a project I am fully invested in!) In late 2008 Dr. Charles Lackey approached the Franklin County School Board with the proposal and a request to fund the remaining $400,000 of construction costs. The board voted positively, as did the Board of Supervisors. There was a caveat that the project be put out on the open market to bid.
Also, in late 2008, while researching low energy, low income projects, I discovered Passiv design and was immediately taken with the possibilities. The Germans had taken the super insulated construction we pioneered in the states in the seventies and eighties and figured out through precise building physics how to create building s that basically heat themselves and use 60% - 90% less energy than standard construction. While following up on the passiv movement in the US I discovered that the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) was conducting training starting in January 2009. I immediately signed up.
2009 - This project received more response from interested firms than anticipated. With 40 responses, a committee was formed to narrow down the choices and through an interview process our firm was selected to perform design/build services. It was also during this time that I was trained as a Passivhaus designer. I asked to be allowed to redesign the CEED to passiv standards. After a redesign and repricing we found that we could build the building as a passiv structure, save about 33% more energy than the original design and save $20,000!! Cool. We were given the OK and started the final working drawings. At this point we have almost completed the final working drawings and are looking forward to submitting for permitting in early August. We hope to break ground by late August or early September.

Keep coming back for information, as I will be posting more as we begin construction!

26 July 2009

Why design / build?

d Over the years many people have asked me why I only offer design build services and not just design or just standard construction. The answer, like many things, is simple yet complex. The simple answer is that I prefer to see projects from conception to completion and that design/build is the best way to do this. Very simple see. The more in depth answer is as follows:
I grew up building and went to architecture school. My studies completed, I went to work as a stone mason apprentice and then on to a stone mason. During this time I designed a number of projects and built many of them. I found that being able to work on both the design and construction very satisfying. To be able to see how the design would progress and grow naturally through the building process was a magical experience for me, where with the projects I designed but did not build, completed, gave me a feeling of separation and I was less connected. Like when your arm falls asleep and you look at it, but feel it is not a part of you.
I worked in this way for about 6 years and then had my first child. I realized that i needed to make a more consistent and higher paying wage so I got a job in an architecture firm. ARGH! Boy was that tough! I only stayed there about 10 months before quitting and going back to designing and building. The whole architectural firm was about hierarchy and seniority and not about collaboration and good design. I was expected to be an unthinking cog in a larger wheel and frankly that is not me!
After a few years of designing and building (still not doing only design build, but designing and only building a small portion of my designs) I went to work for a construction company. This was somewhat more satisfying than my previous employment, but it did not feel right. We did a lot of bidding and I was asked to do things by my boss that went against my nature. As an example, on my first week on the job the boss brought me a set of plans to bid on. He said " look through this and find all the holes, mis-specified items, multiply specified items, questionable details and problems with the plans". After lunch he came back and asked "what do you have?". I told him that I had about a page and a half of items for clarification and asked if he wanted me to write the architect for clarification. He told me "Oh no, put that list aside, that is our change order list. Now go ahead and bid the project with all those items left out or using only the lowest cost items, that is where we will make our profit". I learned that that was the only way to win a bid. If you were not low bid, the owner would not even invite you to talk. I found out that this was the way business was conducted in the construction industry and that most architects were recommending that owners carry a 10%-20% contingency for all the items left out of the bid. Wow, what a way to do business! I am a professional and know fully what it would cost to build projects, but had to be dishonest just to get work!
When i decided to open my own firm, I decided to go back to the design build model. To treat my clients as I want to be treated and to make sure that they knew exactly how much their projects would cost from the beginning. Well 10 years, and hundreds of clients later, I have found that this model is very satisfying for both myself and my clients. I am able to look them in the eye from day one and know in my heart that I am giving them the best advice and guidance that I can and that they are getting the full benefit of my experience. It has been a good choice.

25 July 2009

Energy incentives in Canada

Ontario, Canada has announced an very forward looking energy incentives. Please take a look:

Why I blog

I am starting this blog to discuss all things that point to a more sustainable world. My specific interest is in low and zero energy construction, although i am very interested in fair trade, local sustainable economies, carbon fuel transition and other items relating to the future of our planet.

I have spent my adult life working in the construction industry as a design/builder. I hold a degree as an architect, and employ these skills in furthering my construction. I have specific interest in all things alternative (now called green). When I started working 25 years ago, I was on the outskirts of the real construction world constructing earth sheltered, passive solar, off grid, healthy homes. It was a tough road and I worked my way eventually to starting a "conventional" design/build firm in Roanoke, Virginia. I did however keep up my interest in alternative construction complete a number of new technology projects including SIP and ICF construction. About 8 months ago I discovered Passivhaus design. This is a European design system that basically took the low energy homes we were construction in the seventies and eighties in the US and Canada and applied German precision through the use of building physics to create a design system that lowers energy consumption by up to 70% from current US construction codes!

I am currently working on the first non-residential Passiv project in the Southeastern US. We have had this project under design for several years and will be breaking ground in the next couple of months. I intend on posting about this construction in the future.

Please feel free to follow this blog and to ask me questions about construction, as I have a great deal of expertise and am happy to share.