Sustainability Outside of the Built Environment

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Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

We at re-habitat are interested in a holistic approach to  sustainability.  We love the design aspect of sustainability in our built environments, but we are avid learners of how other industries are incorporating sustainability into their work.  Last year we had the opportunity to moderate a sustainability panel for SUN, the Presentation Sponsor (if you are in Central New York and are unaware of this group read more here) of the sustainability event hosted by WCNY and Premier Events, a division of WCNY.  On the panel was President of SUNY Morrisville, Dr. David Rogers; Principle of local engineering firm Critical Path Engineering, Sara Martin; Amy Farrell of UBS Asset Management, the Organization’s LEED on Socially Responsible Investing; and recycling specialist, Dale Cocca, of Onondaga County Resource Recovery.  While each panelist’s background was diverse and seemingly disconnected at first glance, the conversation proved commonalities in creating adaptive cultures, the excited anticipation of more millennials in the workforce, and creating efficiencies for sustainability in our workplaces and products.  It was an uplifting discussion of innovation across multiple industries where each question created a surprising and educational response.  Watch the panel discussion here.

 

 

Making Passive Design Mainstream

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ASHRAE made an exciting announcement last month: they will create a committee to develop a Passive Design Standard.  The goal is to create a mainstream, widely accepted ASHRAE standard that will create a best practice approach for buildings to have “exceptionally low energy usage and that are durable, resilient, comfortable and healthy”.  While this process is in its beginning phase, we are excited that passive design is becoming more mainstream.  ASHRAE’s goal is to complete development of the standard in 2021.  Most excitingly, the goal of this new committee and standard is to target the creation of net zero energy buildings on a significantly larger, more normalized scale.  To read the ASHRAE release click here.

 

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

 

Clear and Simple Messages

Sustainability

I watched Greta Thunberg’s TED Talk two weeks ago, and her clear and simple message has stuck with me.  Being February we may still be working on self improvement and our New Year’s Resolutions.  I know I made a few that further targeted lessening my environmental impact.  This Talk is one of the strongest calls to action that I have seen for an immediate need to implement drastic changes to our status quo.  I know it made me consider and question the types of projects and specifications I use—not to mention my own personal actions at home and how all of the above must be deepened further.  I hope it will do the same for all of you and that you will take the 11 minutes to view this.

Weekend Renegading

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The weather has finally broken and summer is in sight which means that construction has ramped up in the “industry” and weekend renegaders such as the folks here at re-habitat are pulling double duty.  Project number one at my own fixer-upper were the dilapidated front steps and the woodpecker-attacked siding.  Take a look at the before images below.

Now, the key to being a good weekend renegader and rehabber is to know when you are out of your league on a project.  Let’s just say that both projects got the best of me, both took way longer than a weekend (so much for the renegading), and both are finally done about four weekends later!  My scope of work on these projects became limited to design, demolition, project management, and then the landscaping.

The truth is that the stone steps started about a year ago.  The house, built in the 1950s, has some seriously solid elements—such as the steps of yesteryear.  I had stone repair contractors come out to the house about a year ago to price repointing the stone steps and what used to be the integral stone planters.  Prices ranged anywhere from $6,000-$12,000 and many of the contractors told me I was better off ripping the entire unit off and starting over (also sadly the least expensive option).  No one wanted to take on the project because you can’t even find the stone that the planters were made of anymore (NEVER SAY THAT TO A PRESERVATIONIST—those words are just a challenge).  So, I decided to risk every visitor’s life and limb for a year while determining the best way to proceed with this project.

Ultimately, we landed on a combination of recommendations.  Knowing we have a new fire pit in our future, we demo’d the side planters that were seemingly beyond repair and salvaged the “you can’t find this anymore” stone for that project.   Matt Burbidge (I found him in Thumbtack!) and his team could literally cobble together the stone steps.  We parged the sides to make them weather-tight and then built new wood boxes out of 2×12 Douglas Fir which was stained with water-based deck stain and then polyurethaned with a marine grade finish.  I am loving how the front of the house is coming together. We are a long way from done, but year-by-year the house is starting to look less like a dilapidated eyesore and more like a home.

One of the coolest parts about rehabilitations are the things you find.  See our new friend and guard—a metal army man found buried under the steps.  I told the Contractor he could keep it, but after they cleaned up I walked out on the “new” steps to find him crouched in positon guarding the door.  He’s too cool not to keep and as my brother would say, every house needs something weird that’s been left behind by the previous owner.  I guess this is our thing—although we uncover new ones on a pretty regular basis.

I also need to give a shout out to VanDusen Home Exteriors out of Liverpool.  They took on the challenge of the siding, which we feared had led to some structural concerns (again—some projects are best left to professionals and when it comes to structures I defer to the best).  They did a fantastic job as usual and painting is now underway on the repaired portions.  While I would have loved to move forward with cedar to match existing siding material, finances always play a decision-making role and we used a primed composite.  Since we knew we were going to paint it and it was ultimately most important to get the house fully weather-tight as quickly as possible, I am comfortable with the decision.

 

Its June 18th and two major projects are checked off the list.  We’ll keep moving and improving!

 

Re-habitat’s Take on Earth Day

The tradition of Earth Day, started in 1970 as a grassroots movement by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, was the result of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California the previous year.  The purpose of the program was to create a national day of public education on the importance of the environment.  Since its inception those in political, scientific, and sustainability spheres have incrementally increased the duration of this public awareness from Earth Day, to Earth Week, and now to Earth Month.  As I publish this post on April 25th I think we can all tell that I prefer the “month” of awareness and this is for two reasons:  (1) Let’s be honest, I ran out of time on Earth Day; and (2) (and of the utmost importance) we at re-habitat do our best not to limit environmental actions to a single month, but to take on this charge every single day.

 

In my research on Live Science website, I came across the following quote that sums up the historic and seemingly current cause for Earth Day: “‘Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values,’ according to a history of Earth Day by the Earth Day Network, which was Founded by the event’s organizers to promote environmental citizenship and action year-round.”  Today this message is eerily similar.  We have seen significant improvements to air and water quality, species taken off endangered lists, corporate responsibility in growing demand, manufacturing of ALL things becoming more transparent, and consumers able to make environmentally and socially responsible decisions.  But now in this very uncertain time of possible environmental deregulation and promotion of fossil fuel-based energy sources, I find myself scratching my head and saying….but isn’t this 2017?  Have we learned nothing since 1970?  How can we all be looking at the same scientific facts and discern them so differently?  Can the US Government spare the funds to ship a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to every US citizen? How is the person in the White House stating, “I am committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection.  Jobs matter!”?  Can someone please hand that businessman a copy of You Can’t Eat GNP: Economics as if Ecology Mattered by Eric Davidson?  I am doing that cartoon double-take of confusion.  The simple facts are: You cannot have an economy without products. And you cannot have products in a collapsed environment because there are no resources left.

 

So… enough about general environmental activism.  Let me share with you my own teeny tiny contribution. Roughly 40% of US energy consumption in 2015 was used by residential and commercial buildings (according to the US Energy Information Administration).  In addition, 75% of all electricity produced in the US is used to operate buildings (according to Architecture 2030)—and this operational statistic is cause for 45% of our CO2 emissions.  If one also includes the energy associated with the manufacturing, transportation, and installation of building elements to create these mighty structures we occupy, otherwise known as embodied energy, the demand of building energy grows exponentially.  The design and construction industry has the resources, capabilities, and (I might add) the responsibility to build buildings that are both good for people and good for the environment.  And they are doing it in spades—in the1970’s passive solar homes were all the rage; and since the 1990’s, rating systems such as the US Green Building Council’s LEED Rating system series, the Living Building Challenge, and the Passive House Institute are just a few of the most notable third-party rating systems that factually assess the sustainability of our new and existing built environments (should you pursue them).  Re-habitat’s goal is to slash the embodied energy side of the design process by restoring existing buildings.  We know this is not possible in every case, and that’s when we talk to owners and developers about rating system options.  But on each project, our goal is to specify environmentally responsible products (i.e. those with Cradle to Cradle certifications and/or not on any Red Lists) and to work with architects and engineers to create the most energy-conscious project possible.  These are not always easy discussions to have with owners, design teams or contractors, but in observing Earth Day every day, we know that education is key to positive change.

 

Find additional resources about Earth Day and the importance of daily observation at the following sites:

EPA Earth Day Site: https://www.epa.gov/earthday

Earth Day Network: http://www.earthday.org/

Mother Earth Day: http://www.un.org/en/events/motherearthday/

Architecture 2030: http://architecture2030.org/

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

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This here is my brand-new coffee table.  You can see from the images that it’s a “Nutting.” The Nutting Truck & Caster Company was based in Faribault, Minnesota and was a leading producer of cast iron casters, wheels and hand-trucks at this location from the late 1800’s to the early 1980’s.  Since closure of the Faribault factory, Nutting (now ACCO Nutting) operates out of Watertown, SD and is still a leader in custom trailers and carts.  I’ve seen these carts as leftover relics on our factory remodel projects and have always been tempted to make an offer for one—only to have them be incorporated on site as part of the design.

 

Table by Tim Glisson of Glisson’s Rustic Store in DeRuyter, NY.

My coffee table is a custom model thanks to the amazingly talented Tim Glisson and his family.  The Glissons, based in DeRuyter, NY, run Glisson’s Rustic Store and Bakery and are the kind of people you want to know.  Not only tremendous neighbors, but a family of true craftsmen (and it is quite the family with 15 adopted children).  The Rustic Store is an ever-changing shop of hand-crafted furnishings and one-of-a-kind salvaged objects and furniture.  I spend many weekends spring to fall combing through the inventory.  If they don’t have what you are looking for, just ask Tim—there is inventory to spare.  For Tim, each piece of this hidden inventory has a design intent and let me tell you—it keeps you coming back to see what he will do next.

Back to my cart: these original production carts range in size from “too-big-for-my-living-room” to “way-too-freaking-big-for-my-living-room.” Tim worked on creating something based on dimensions I provided to him and it’s a stunning, scaled-down masterpiece of the original.  Even at the smaller scale the cast iron structure of this piece makes the table weigh right about 100 pounds.  The wood, mostly original from the cart it was crafted from, also has a few pieces of reclaimed wood to complete the top.  The cast iron has been cleaned, but no further finishing was completed on these parts.  And a clear poly finish was applied to the wood for its protection, but also otherwise left to show original markings and wear and tear from the carts previous use.  Tim even went as far as to salvage the original wood nail hardware.

This table has performed serious labor in its previous life and is still by far the sturdiest coffee table I’ve ever owned.  It doesn’t move without some intentional force (and it’s a lot of force).  And I love that any additional wear and tear we might inflict upon this piece just adds to its character.  We love that we are a part of the growing numbers of “makers” like Tim popping up in both big and small, unassuming towns like DeRuyter, keeping these materials (in our case buildings) and the custom arts in play.

 

Hello and welcome!

re-habitat

Welcome to re-habitat my work and verb for the design philosophy in rustbelt/post-industrial cities and towns.  To “re-habitat” is to reengineer or renovate existing buildings so that they preserve local character and history, while also promoting economic development, community, and ecological sustainability.  This isn’t a new philosophy by any stretch—for decades architects and preservation societies have been impressing upon the public the importance of saving buildings for all of the reasons noted above.

I spent the majority of my Masters work in Construction Management and Green Building concerned with global warming and the impact it will have on our Nation’s coastal region’s economic, societal, and ecological health.  The basis of my thesis researched embodied energy of building materials and considered keeping existing construction materials in “play” through deconstruction and reuse of these materials elsewhere in the country.  The basis of this research has stayed with me through my professional career and is now being applied as “re-habitat” the company.  This company is my own approach to engraining sustainability into our everyday lives whereby existing buildings are restored and made healthy for their inhabitants and creating the basis for a healthy community.

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