Saturday, January 28, 2012

Small Footprint Building Project In Upstate, New York Exemplifies Green Affordability

By Paul E. McGinniss

Picture above depicts the site for the Building Project in Barryville, NY. The site overlooks the Delaware River - a River that is at the center of a controversy over the detrimental impacts of Fracking For Natural Gas in the region. This pristine region is a source of drinking water for major urban populations living in New York and Philadelphia.

Hi Everyone. So, in the past year I have written about everything from continued devastation caused by the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf and the astonishing film about it, "The Big Fix", to reporting on the brighter side, Green Roofs in Toronto. This post is about something closer to home. Literally. It's about a super efficient eco-loft barn we are helping clients build on the Delaware River in Barryville, N.Y.

This project came to us via the awesome NYC-based Architect, Drew Lang, who introduced us to the amazing clients who wanted advice on how to find a builder and project manager/green building consultant for a small getaway space that could be used as a creative escape from their hectic lives in NYC.

One of the client/owners Jorge, George Abetti and myself overlooking the house site.

This building project involves George Abetti of Geobarns - the gentle genius who I fondly refer to as the Minister of Building. What's cool about George and working with him to build a structure for a client is that he approaches the whole experience with a holistic eye. The process becomes a spiritual group effort that fully involves the client, project managers like us and all the various trades required to complete a structure. As part of a team, everyone learns and grows from their participation. George said in one of his many email missives about his passionate work:

"Even though we have a wonderful design and building system, what we do is only as good as the character and work quality of those who do it. What we are is who we are...and we are truly blessed with extraordinary people who devote their hearts to the work we do...something which no amount of pay or praise can compel in that this can only come from an act of grace."

George discussing with Jorge the best place to situate the structure considering the slope of the land, access point and views of the river.

George sitting down to sketch out his concept for the structure on site after discussing site issues and desires of the client.

One of the best things about the way George works, besides his "be a good steward" advocacy, which by the way, echoes the philosophical - advocacy aspects of the wonderful Living Building Challenge - is Geobarn's innovative diagonal framing technique that George invented. This framing technique uses less wood than conventional wood framing while being stronger engineering wise. It's timber frame style so there is no need for any interior walls or support structure leaving how you design the interior space incredibly open, adaptable and flexible for future needs or space planning. The lumber used is also sourced regionally (Vermont) and comes from sustainably managed forests.

The structure is 600 square feet per level and is built into a small hill. The front entry is on the second level (see picture on left to see view of house from front).

The house in the back has a balcony which will overlook the Delaware River. (Picture on right shows the back of the structure.)

Another green aspect to this project is the installation of an advanced treatment septic system by Eljen. The system uses much less ground space than conventional septic systems and is ideal for sites where there is a limited amount of space for septic fields. The plastic parts to the system are made with recycled materials. The septic effluent, upon leaving the septic tank, is filtered through a special Bio-Matt™ geotextile (fabric). According to Eljen: "Open air channels within the GSF Module support aerobic bacterial growth on the Module's geotextile fabric interface, surpassing the surface area required for traditional absorption systems." After passing through the Bio-Matt, the effluent moves through a layer of sand. So, when the effluent hits the ground soil, it is already pre-filtered."

Tom, the Engineer, measuring the site and determining location for the septic system and well for the site plan.

Here are some highlights of other things we are doing to make this eco retreat as sustainable as possible:

*Blown Cellulose done by BPI Certified Contractor
To minimize heating and cooling load, the structure will be well sealed. Collaboratively, it was decided to use blown cellulose insulation as opposed to spray foam because the cellulose material is from recycled paper and it does not contain any petrochemicals. (Spray foam insulation contains petroleum based polyols. Even most "biobased" foam insulation products such as those from soy are made only partially with biobased oils. They, too, are made mostly from petroleum based polyols.)

*Efficient Ductless Mini Split Heat Pumps for HVAC
Trying to reduce or possibly eliminate the use of propane/natural gas or oil heat, the clients are considering the use of mini split heat pumps which offer heating and cooling. (The electricity required to run the mini splits could eventually be offset by solar PV.) This option was identified after a team conversation about how many anti-fracking advocates still use propane to heat their homes despite their concern over how the gas and oil industry adversely affects the environment. (Propane gas is one component of natural gas and is also derived from the oil distillation process.)

While this structure is not built under any particular green building program, it is interesting to note that the Passive House BKLYN uses mini split HVAC. This is a real indication that it is a good option if you want to head toward Zero Energy Design for a living structure.

*Super Efficient LED lighting scheme to reduce energy consumption
The electric scheme for the house is being analyzed to strategize how to reduce power consumption by immediately installing super efficient lighting including LEDs and solar powered lighting requiring no power draw at all.

Photo of the foundation work being done before the walls are poured.

Photo of foundation from back side of house after the walls were poured.

We'll post more info when the framing and construction of this project starts up again in Spring.

If anyone wants to build an eco retreat upstate, please contact us here at The New York Green Advocate. ( )

We have a great design-build team ready to help you build your green dream or renovate and retrofit existing structures to be more energy efficient, healthy and resilient. Importantly, we can assist you in sorting out the many renewable energy options that can help you head towards a Zero Net Energy life. Should you need assistance in identifying and analyzing land on which to build, my New York State Licensed Real Estate Brokerage, Paul E McGinniss, can provide this service.

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2012

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