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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Visiting Energy-Smart Designers and Builders in Maine

The Energy Nerd heads east — Down East — to learn about deep-energy retrofits and new construction along the Atlantic coast

Architect Chris Briley considers the merits of a vinyl-framed triple-glazed window made by Intus, a Lithuanian manufacturer, at the June 7 meeting of the Building Science Discussion Group in Portland, Maine.
Image Credit: Martin Holladay

I recently spent a couple of days in Maine, where I visited with an active group of energy-conscious architects and builders. My tour of seven job sites facing Casco Bay in the Atlantic Northeast nicely balanced my tour of several job sites facing the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest in March.

At the second-floor office of Kaplan Thompson Architects in downtown Portland, I was greeted by Phil Kaplan and Jesse Thompson. Phil and I sat down for some brainstorming for a deep-energy retrofit course we will be teaching at Yestermorrow school in August. Later that afternoon, architect Chris Briley arrived, and I joined Phil and Chris for a recording session of their popular podcast, Green Architects’ Lounge. (Unfortunately, because the hour was early, the featured beverage was coffee rather than stronger spirits.)

Building science talk and beer

At 5:00 p.m. we drove a few blocks to Maine Green Building Supply, a materials showroom and warehouse operated by retailer Steve Konstantino. Steve is the gracious host of a monthly get-together known as the Building Science Discussion Group, a hot-dogs-and-beer party that meets in the loading bay in back of the store. The discussion group is an opportunity for designers, builders, energy raters, and manufacturers’ representatives to talk about energy-efficient construction methods.

Everyone benefits by participating in the information-sharing and learning that happens at such a collaborative gathering. I figured that these meetings were important enough to merit an article on the topic, until I remembered that Michael Maines beat me to it. His January 2010 blog about the Building Science Discussion Group was titled Steve’s Garage.

At the June 7 meeting, about 40 attendees participated in a charette to review plans for a deep-energy retrofit of a 3,000-square-foot building on Victory Avenue in Biddeford. The building is owned by Community…

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  1. Jesse Thompson | | #1

    Existing Conditions
    Martin, Thanks for the posting, it was great to have you in our area. Where's the next stop on your tour?

    For anyone interested, here's a picture of the house we bought to start the project: a very distressed 1962 single story ranch house a few blocks from our kid's school, 15 minutes from downtown by bike, a very typical style of house in our area (and all across the country...).

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Next stop on my tour?
    I've been trying to convince my bosses at Taunton that there are all kinds of interesting green projects in the south of France, but for some reason no one has offered me a plane ticket yet.

  3. user-723121 | | #3

    Energy rehab
    Nice article, Martin

    There are many opportunities to buy existing homes in good neighborhoods for a reasonable price today. Most homes are structurally sound but need energy upgrades and some TLC. Twenty years ago I moved from building new homes to the refurbishment of existing homes. I have found upgrading existing homes to be more enjoyable than starting from scratch. Homeowners I have worked with have a strong connection to the neighborhood and have a good idea of the improvements they would like to make. Highly skilled remodelers are in demand, builders should take advantage of this.

  4. greenophilic | | #4

    Noisy HRV
    Martin, I have to say that I've heard a LOT of complaints about noisy HRV/ERV units. Most complaints tend to be when the units are set to medium or high fan speed, at which point you have two blowers going, often pulling between 250-350 watts. Anyone have any positive experience with units they would characterize as legitimately quiet HRV/ERV? I guess the other issue is, why are we ever ventilating at the rates these units provide on high/medium (right around 200 cfm), particularly given the large amounts of fan energy required?

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Brennan
    As I noted in the caption to one of the photos of the Thompson job, the Zehnder HRV has a reputation for being very quiet. Of course, it costs an arm and a leg. You get what you pay for.

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Low-wattage ventilation
    If you have a small house, and you want low-wattage ventilation, you can't beat an exhaust-only system using a Panasonic FV-05VK3 exhaust fan, which moves 50 cfm using only 4.3 watts. Talk about electrical efficiency! And it's super quiet.

    Of course, you don't have the heat recovery than an HRV provides, so (compared to an HRV) you pay a thermal penalty.

  7. Jesse Thompson | | #7

    Brennan, the Zehnder is the quietest unit I've been around, on high you can hear the air moving fast through the registers, but you don't hear much of any loud fan noise from the machine itself unlike most units we've worked with in the past.

    It is well worth checking the wattage of the HRV / ERV unit on the HVI website: Units like the Venmar EKO and Zehnder now only draw 65 watts or so on high, very different from less expensive units or in the past.

    Good quality bath fans do always win on first cost, quiet and electricity draw however, but by our numbers it usually takes heat recovery to get down to truly low-energy house levels that meet our climate change goals.

  8. user-788447 | | #8

    nice projects
    I like your treatment of the lap siding and the integration of more modern detailing with the windows and exterior insulation.
    You make me look bad. I'm working on my own place in the evenings and the weekends. I backed off of adding the exterior insulation because it created more work and figuring through transition details (I'm fighting a deadline with the city because of a flaking paint violations notice so I have to work quicker than I would have hoped). Nice work. Trust me I know how much effort is involved.

  9. Jesse Thompson | | #9

    Thanks! But, I'm not going


    Thanks! But, I'm not going to claim we did all that work ourselves, there were a lot of different people who helped build this project. We hired out just about everything that takes more than one person to do. That leaves plenty, however...

  10. dankolbert | | #10

    Discussion Group
    As I posted way back when Michael wrote his blog, I think the discussion group has been a great improvement to the local building scene. We've learned a lot, met each other, helped talk each other through some interesting and tricky situations, and met like-minded designers, distributors, trades people, consultants, etc. A mutual support group if nothing else.

    I would encourage anyone with any kind of population density to try putting together a similar effort in your own community. Greater Portland isn't very big - about 60-70,000 people - and we regularly attract anywhere from 20-40 or more people to our meetings. The on-line world is great, but there's nothing like being together in a room with a chalkboard (and beer). Plus many of these conditions are local - the housing stock, the suppliers, the economy, the weather, etc.

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