Ervin Architecture: Making Your Project Greener, without any Green Paint

An Approach that Reduces Toll on Environment, and Cost to Client

Remember back in 1996 when home-heating oil was $1.00/gallon here in New England? Well, those days are long gone, and will not be returning. However, a massive, global movement is upon us that is opening some exciting new frontiers in green design, and expanding on already established ones. Did you know that Germany has shut down 8 of their 12 power plants and will be closing the rest by 2022? How are they doing this?

Solar fields. Some of these solar fields can power as many as 23,500 homes from a single field. But what if simply, each home in America provided enough solar energy to support themselves? Climate change would be over – this is according to Ed Mazria, the first climate change whistle blower and the author of the 2030 Challenge. He voiced these concerns at the 2013 GreenBuild Conference in Philadelphia in a standing-room-only lecture about climate change, of which Ervin Architecture attended. The solar field in Germany is an example of a corporation-scale solution, but renewable systems and materials are more affordable than ever before on a personal scale, and you CAN live “off-the-grid” or close to it. What you need is an architect who understands these advantages, how to incorporate them into your project (commercial or residential architecture), and who will in turn, give you a better return on your investment.

We’ve had a barrage of inquiries about heating solutions living up here in the harsh (but getting milder due to climate change) winter climate of Northern New England. Ranging from clients wanting to install pellet stoves or radiant floor heat, to sophisticated VRF systems (variable refrigerant flow….a sophisticated larger scale “heat pump” system) like the one we recently installed at DownEast Orthopedics Associates new medical facility in Bangor, Maine. Each client has had a new puzzles of needs and a budget that prescribes the range of possible solutions. We also enjoy how these individually-tailored energy-saving solutions help to inform the design and make the space more comfortable.

We have witnessed two typical clients when it comes to sustainable design. The first, understands the cost savings of “going green” and is willing to pay higher up-front costs, to save on life-cycle energy costs. This client, may or may not, see saving the environment as a bonus. The second client, is one who has a more edifying outlook and one who sees an intrinsic value in the preservation of the natural world and may understand the cost savings of “going green” but is motivated more by the idea they are creating a cleaner world for future generations. Regardless of the motive, in the end, the result is the same. “Going green” saves clients that are willing to assume higher up-start costs, a significant amount of money over the life of a structure.

In fact, the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) recently published a report that said “green labeled homes sell at higher prices. A green label adds an average 9% price premium to sale price versus other comparable homes.” This study was done in Los Angeles, but in Maine, with energy costs threatening our client’s wallet to an even greater extent, we feel these numbers are accurate. Not to mention, green homes and commercial spaces sell FASTER, and that has been verified by local real estate agents like ERA Dawson Bradford here in Bangor, Maine. Those numbers are encouraging.

Ervin Architecture brings a broad understanding of energy solutions for a range of budgets, and incorporates cost saving measures as a matter of practice. Ervin Architecture offers Life-Cycle Energy Cost analysis, Energy Audits, and is familiar with the 2030 Challenge, LEED Certification, and Passive House designation. Ervin Architecture also offers Green Education seminars to clients who are interested in learning more.

A LEED BD+C Firm Committed to Reducing Energy Costs

Being a LEED BD+C (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, with a focus in Building Design & Construction) design firm allows clients to achieve the goals of the LEED Rating System for their project. If this is not needed, Ervin Architecture still designs in a responsible, and eco-friendly manner with these industry-wide tested solutions. Life-cycle energy analysis, as well as carbon-footprint and embodied energy issues, are considered throughout the construction process especially as they pertain to long-term operating costs. We endeavor to provide green design solutions that are eco-friendly, affordable, support local businesses, and give the client long-term value, and savings. Additionally, Ervin Architecture is on the forefront of understanding cold-weather energy solutions. Did you know that you should absolutely not put insulation within the interior of the wall unless at least 2/3 of the R value of the wall exists outside of the sheathing? Sounds a bit different doesn’t it? The days of filling your 2×6 stud wall with batt insulation are over folks. Don’t let a contractor tell you otherwise!

Following the PASSIVE HOUSE or LEED checklist on a budget

An important concept to understand when designing an energy-efficient building, is that you can design in the LEED template, or the PASSIVE HOUSE template, and not have to go through all the certification. Certification DOES increase a building’s value, and resale ability, but sometimes, it simply os too much for what a client desires. You DO need an architect that can cull these certification checklists for opportunities, and appropriate applications. We’ve honestly been doing this for so long, we see opportunities the minute we walk into an existing space, or listen to a client’s dreams of building new. At the end of the day, some projects simply aren’t complex enough to make it realistic for the client to pursue certification. All of our listed projects at the end of this article are examples of this type of approach. Ervin Architecture always designs with energy conservation in mind, and this is accomplished within the client’s budget, with or without certification.

Local Materials, Local People, and Region-Specific Energy Solutions

Recycling is certainly better than landfills, you only have to read an article about poisonous landfill soils leaching into a fresh-water aquifer, or watch a YouTube video on the mass of plastic floating in the South Pacific the size of Texas to understand that, but the recycling process does release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Yes, this is true. Eventually these chemicals make their way back through precipitation to the earth’s surface, and some, sadly, make their may into our lakes, rivers, and streams, and freshwater aquifers that we rely on drinking water. They impact local flora and fauna adversely. These chemicals are then cycled back into the atmosphere by means of transpiration & evaporation, and redistributed elsewhere. Remember the Water Cycle from high school biology? Recycling also requires fossil fuels to provide the energy to break-down the materials and reconstitute them, and that also takes a toll on the environment.

Solution? Don’t Recycle….REUSE. In the world of architecture, this is called Reclaiming a material. Ervin Architecture uses reclaimed products in new and inventive ways to utilize energy already spent in the extraction, creation, and shipping of all of these new projects. We also hire local craftsmen, carpenters, and suppliers to contribute to our projects, to not only help the local economy but to keep energy consumption local, and minimal.

Noteworthy Projects:

DownEast Ortho – VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) system uses heat pump technology to create a multi-zone system that relies on minimal electricity and no “on-site” fossil fuels to generate heating and cooling. This type of system can reduce energy costs from 30-40% but in order to make this happen you need someone who understands how to implement this system effectively. We added an extra two inches of polyiso insulation to the exterior of the building (beneath the brick veneer) to make this system most effective, and minimize the need for supplemental heat. The result? A very happy, and thermally comfortable, client.

Bangor Blaze– Reclaimed Penobscot River wood was used in the construction of the wood walls, and back bar. This was provided by Maine Heritage Timber. Reclaimed brick was used from a farmhouse in Holden, Maine for the construction of chases and ovens. This reduced the carbon footprint of the construction. A historic opening in the grand second-floor stair was used to recycle heat from the oven to the second floor, and circulate it through the second floor to significantly reduce heating costs. The result? Energy Savings & Carbon Emissions reduction. Another very happy, and thermally comfortable, client.

Bangor Family Dentistry – Here is a cost saving principle that cannot be discounted: Site Positioning. This facility was oriented so as to take advantage of the “solar view.” This meant the public spaces were designed to face south, to maximize solar heat gain in the winter, and was given a large overhanging roof to minimize solar heat gain in the summer. The result? A cost effective was to warm and cool the space.