Posted by: nedpelger | January 22, 2010

The Struggle to be Green

It just feels wrong to pay more for less. Most people developing green buildings seem to stumble into this trap. The LEED process seems reasonable, but it generally gets executed by tossing money at the checklist. Grass covered roofs (that cost a fortune to build and maintain) or super-efficient toilets (that won’t ever payback their costs) illustrate how to buy some LEED points.

I’ve just seen another, more impressive effort at designing and constructing a green building. My brother Jim moved to Missoula, MT years ago and worked as an electrician. Soon he was taking some small jobs on his own. Over time he took many steps forward, and a few sideways and backwards, to build Rattlesnake Electric into a high quality, high value electrical contracting firm.  But he always paid attention to what the other trades, and the design professionals, were doing on the project.

Jim became a developer by starting with a small project (two residential units on one tiny lot), renovating them and selling them for a profit. He gradually worked in larger projects as financing would allow. This process takes gumption, as you have to keep everything on the table to move to the next larger project.

My Dad, son, nephew and I have been visiting Jim, Erin and their 4 kids the last few days (sorry for the lack of posts but snowshoeing, snowmobiling and skiing seemed a better way to spend my time). We checked out Jim’s latest project, an old factory that he demolished and rebuilt as a mixed use 20,000 sf  building. Here are some photos.

He took the existing building (an old factory that made specialty dental tools) and used hand demo to save almost every piece of wood or building material. The wood joists and glu-lams were are reused as structure on the new facility. Jim noted, “Not many buildings go to this level of almost total recycling and reuse. We looked for every opportunity, as the job progressed, to incorporate the recycled materials.” The front steel riveted columns were rusting in a steel scrap yard, remnants from an old water tower and Jim saw  their potential. The car port below was totally made from the recycled lumber.

This view from the roof top gathering area truly is spectacular.

Jim gave me a list of the sustainable elements in the Factory Project.

1.  Build on an existing site with existing city infrastructure and utilities.

2.  Complete deconstruction- every use-able material was either incorporated into the new building or donated to individuals or Home Resource building material center. All usable materials were staged on site, re-purposed, and installed into the new design-examples include:

a.  Existing glu lam beams were re-installed as major structural elements.

b.  Existing roof panels were re-used as terrace structure, framing for storage units, roof for covered parking, deck material on terrace, and fencing.

c.  Existing tongue-and-groove roof sheathing was re-milled for soffit material, flooring, and baseboard and door trim.

d.  Existing roof membrane was re-used as covered parking roofing material.

e.  Existing roof joist/truss lumber was re-used as covered parking framing material, exposed stair framing lumber, planter boxes, and accent trim materials.

f.  Our philosophy on this project was to re-use, re-purpose, or recycle as many existing materials as possibly/practical into the new building. Typically more energy is required for the manufacture and delivery of materials on a new building than the building will require to operate for its entire life. We attempted to limit the energy footprint in the construction and operation elements of our building. I could go on and on, but these are the highlights

3.  Use all local/sustainably-harvested lumber.

4.  All exterior walls and ceiling truss spaces are netted and filled with blown cellulose insulation.

5.  All heating sources are high efficiency gas-fired furnaces and boilers with heat recovery ventilators to add fresh air into the spaces without losing heat.

6.  Smart framing to minimize materials and maximize insulation values on exterior walls.

7.  All native plants in the landscaped areas with irrigation from an existing on-site well.

8.  Recycled all scrap building materials during construction: a) ground drywall b) all wood and brush scraps were used for firewood or mulch c) recycled cardboard, steel, and bottles & cans. d) all metals(steel, copper, & aluminum) were recycled or re-used.

9.  Low-flow plumbing fixtures.

10.Low wattage lighting with dimmers and motion sensors to lower usage.

11.All low v.o.c. paints and stains.

12.High content recycled carpet and formaldehyde free bamboo flooring.

13.High-efficiency windows.

14.Recycled paper counter tops and butcher block counter tops made from existing roof framing members.

15.All Energy Star appliances.

16.All existing batt insulation stored and re-used in interior fire assemblies.

17.All residential kitchen and bathroom cabinet faces and boxes are made from existing roof framing material.

As you can tell, I’m proud of my brother and this amazing facility that he developed. We need more common sense sustainable building projects to show how the process really does make sense.

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