Barb and Greg Whitchurch
Twelve years ago, Green Energy Times (May 4, 2010) reported on an innovative building project in southern Vermont at The Putney School, a private residential high school. They built a net-zero field house for their sports programs, designed by Maclay Architects (bit.ly/get-542010).
Now, the Putney School is beginning another major project: a pair of combined faculty housing and student dormitories. The principles and players described below are already well-known and have a proven track record.
Once again, the architects are Bill Maclay and his seasoned team at MaclayArchitects.com. Bill is a widely-traveled presenter and sought-after resource (bit.ly/aia-vt-fellows). He is a leader among architects using modern building science principles and sustainable building practices, and the author of The New Net Zero (bit.ly/get-bm-nnz).
The construction company is ReArch Company of South Burlington, VT (bit.ly/rearch-sus), itself a company with a long history of high performance and net-zero construction, e.g. bit.do/get-tph2 and the Passive House certified bit.ly/get-elm-place. ReArch works toward “improving lives through the built environment” and focuses on all aspects of healthy, sustainable design.
Maclay has chosen Andy Shapiro of Energy Balance to oversee the construction and integrity of the building envelope. Andy is himself a widely-recognized expert and educator on issues related to applying building science and energy efficiency principles to high-performance enclosures of all types.
We attended a pre-construction meeting on September 14th at the school with the major members of the team. Andy Shapiro conducted this meeting, wherein he reinforced the need for tight integration of all parties throughout the project: from preparing the foundation underlayment through to the roof ridge cap, from intermediate blower door testing through final commissioning of all building systems, all leading to handing the keys over to the school one year from now.
Shapiro described the documentation software and procedures for flagging problems, developing solutions, and verifying the fixes. He described his position as “Umpire and Field Judge,” overseeing details of every imaginable magnitude. He will verify the final blower door reading: target 1,418 CFM at 50 pascals. After occupancy, the ongoing energy monitoring will disclose the high-performing and net-zero results required for final certification.
With the Putney School, Maclay Architects has developed a “net-zero energy master plan” for the whole campus and will provide ongoing proof when it has done so. As Andy pointed out, these will be state-of-the-art buildings with very low energy use and will be net-zero once the overall campus PV system is enlarged. The campus currently has 500kW of solar PV; and, over time, will add another 1,000KW to provide electricity for the existing buildings and the two dormitories.
When Andy is not directly available, continuity will be provided by his assistant for this project, Jacob Deva Racusin of NewFrameworks.com, a respected energy and sustainable materials expert, builder, and presenter in his own right.
ReArch Company has selected subcontractors who have proven themselves capable for such a project. Representatives of all these companies were in attendance.
Envelope air sealing and moisture control: NicomCoatings.com/
Mechanicals: EngineeringVermont.com will engineer and haydenph.biz will install mechanical systems. A lot more will be said in the next article about the fossil fuel-free choices (fossil fuels are more expensive, unsafe and unnecessary). Solar thermal hot water, too!
You would be impressed at the level of detail that is discussed at such a meeting. All materials (foundation through roof, membranes, tapes, caulks, insulation, fasteners, etc.) and suggested alternatives are considered (e.g. a 25% or greater slag concrete for the foundation to reduce its carbon footprint).
In addition, every type of envelope penetration and its repair is discussed in detail: who makes the hole, who repairs it, who’s responsible for certifying the finished detail and how that is recorded. Wherever two materials touch (tape on a membrane, caulk on concrete, etc.) how is their compatibility measured, who certifies that compatibility, who enters the information in the tracking system? The “issues log” is the tool for assemblers to announce, track, discuss, address each little “surprise difficulty,” and sign off on its completion.
Then the participants moved on to discuss the sequencing of tasks. For example, intermediate blower door testing has been scheduled. During the meeting we were treated to a demonstration of theatrical fog, which is used to confirm the air barrier continuity. Finally, participants discussed how to deal with intermediate weather and UV exposure of materials that will be protected eventually: selecting materials with verified exposure ratings specific to this project’s timing.
This is the first in a series about the Putney School dorm project: demonstrating the future of high-performance building in Vermont and elsewhere.