Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Q+A with architect Stuart Crocker about Crocker Pond House

Bethel architect Stuart Crocker was both behind the 1970s energy crisis and ahead of today’s energy-efficiency trends when he built the Crocker Pond House in 1993. With a nod to A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, which has influenced his design thinking since first published in 1977, he offers some time-tested, inexpensive, and common sense planning elements that anyone can use to build a smarter home.

Crocker Pond House in winter. Photo courtesy Stuart Crocker.
  • Orient buildings on 45th parallel at +/- 12 degrees east of south to maximize solar gain and favor morning sun.
  • Use shading and vegetation on west and north sides to protect from prevailing winds and stronger afternoon sun.
  • Place screen porch on northeast side for coolest location for afternoon and evening use.
Crocker Pond House in summer. Photo courtesy Stuart Crocker.
 Floor Plan
  • Design a long thin house with high windows to allow sun to penetrate deeper into rooms.
  • Place common rooms and bedrooms on south side for solar gain, and service spaces, bathrooms, and hallways on north side.
  • Create higher ceilings in south and lower in north to maximize incoming light and add contrast.
Living room. Photo courtesy Stuart Crocker.
  • Use double-wall construction or dense-pack cellulose and spray foam insulation.
  • Put stairways and chimneys in central location to bring heat upstairs in winter.
  • Make use of stack effect by opening low downstairs windows and upstairs skylights to allow cooler air in and hot air to rise up and out.
  • Place windows on two sides in each room and closer to corners so light reflects off walls for more uniform light.
  • Add overhanging dormers and sunshades to keep out higher summer sun.
  • Use smaller windows on the north side to minimize heat loss and offer picture-frame views.
Loft. Photo courtesy Stuart Crocker.

Learn more at Crocker Pond House.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Q+A with Angela Adams on How to Bring the Outside In

Since founding their company, Angela Adams, in 1998, Angela Adams and Sherwood Hamill have been creating contemporary furniture, rugs, and tapestries that bring the clean lines, shapes, and colors of nature into the home. We asked them how they do it so well.

Dune Area Rug and Propeller Coffee Table.
Photo courtesy Angela Adams.
Q: What’s the key to replicating the natural world in your designs?
A: I see beauty and natural patterns and colors in nature every day. Translating those inspirations into textiles or other designs is a dream job. The key for me is making the time and having the peace of mind to absorb that beauty and get the ideas into my sketchbook. Life can be crazy and distracting and if we do not tune in, we can miss amazing moments in the natural world.

Harbor Area Rug.
Photo courtesy Angela Adams.
Walking to work is a luxury that helps me to be more in synch with migrating birds, the weather, our neighborhood. We spend as much time as possible on the water and in the woods and that’s the best way for me to recalibrate and get back in synch with nature, even when life or work is a bit intense.

Garden Area Rug.
Photo courtesy Angela Adams.
Q: What goals do you have for creating sustainable products?
A: Sherwood and I strive to design textiles and furniture that will last for generations. We also look for locally and responsibly made materials and all our manufacturers sign a code of conduct to be socially and environmentally responsible.

Woodland Area Rug.
Photo courtesy Angela Adams.
Q: What’s new on the horizon?
A: We’re working on a new collection that will launch in the coming months. What’s brewing in our sketchbooks is always exciting to us.

Learn more at

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Q + A with Development Officer Greg Payne of Avesta Housing’s Oak Street Lofts

The first affordable multifamily building in Maine to achieve LEED Platinum certification, Avesta’s Oak Street Lofts were designed and built by CWS Architects and Wright-Ryan Construction, with sustainability consulting by Thornton Tomasetti. The 37 artist-friendly apartments benefit from a solar preheat system for up to 85 percent of the building’s hot water, high-efficiency condensing boilers, energy recovery ventilators that return 76 percent of the energy in the exhaust airstream, a tight thermal envelope, panelized wood-wall framing to minimize waste, and locally-sourced wood.

Photo courtesy Avesta Housing.
Q: What are the energy costs compared to similar Avesta buildings?
A: The apartments are twice as efficient as a standard apartment. In the first year of occupancy, heat and electricity costs per apartment were just $46 a month, compared with $92 a month for a typical apartment. That’s a $20,424 annual savings for the entire building.

Photo courtesy Avesta Housing.
 Q: What did you learn during the LEED certification process?
A: We learned that location matters. LEED gives a lot of points for housing density and proximity to transportation and services. City transit lines make over 250 stops a day within a half mile of the building, and there are numerous restaurants, shops, and public services within walking or biking distance.

Photo courtesy Avesta Housing.
 Q: What features attracted the most notice?
A: We’ve received national attention for demonstrating that energy-efficient design not only lowers operating costs and creates a more durable building but also doesn’t have to significantly increase construction costs.

Q: What’s next?
A: We’d like to explore rooftop gardening or urban green space.

Learn more at Avesta Housing, Thornton Tomasetti, Wright-Ryan, and CWS Architects.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Q+A with Justin McIver of Main Eco Homes

We asked designer and general contractor Justin McIver what he’s learned from building and living in his first net-zero model home in Sweden, Maine.

Photo courtesy Main Eco Homes.
 Q: How do you build a home that uses less energy than it produces?
  • Build only what you need.
  • Create a tight, well-insulated building envelope with controlled ventilation.
  • Site for passive solar, and put living areas in southern exposure and bedrooms in northern.
  • Reduce electric loads with an efficient electric heating system, LED lights, and Energy Star appliances.
  • Include alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic solar.
  • Live a low-impact lifestyle.
Photo courtesy Main Eco Homes.
Q: Which energy-efficient products performed best?
A: We were amazed by the Mitsubishi Mr. Slim mini-split heat pump’s ability to heat a 2,000-square-foot home located on a windy mountain, while using a third of the electricity of a normal baseboard. We were also able to save $10,000 on less expensive R5 triple-glazed windows by adding insulated honeycomb blinds to get to R10.

Photo courtesy Main Eco Homes.
 Q: Anything you’d do differently next time?
A: Instead of the backup baseboard heater I’d like to try connecting an inline electric heater and thermostat to the heat recovery ventilator (HRV). We’ve also found a double wall with recycled cellulose insulation to be a better, cleaner, and less expensive alternative to foam board and spray-foam layers. Lastly, the three floors provide more space than two people need, so the resources for the third floor could be used for a garage instead.

Photo courtesy Main Eco Homes.
Q: What’s next?
A: We’ll find out this year if the 6.8-kilowatt solar array is enough to get us to net zero. Our total energy bill in January was $149 and by May had gone down to $9. We expect to come out even with solar credit over the summer, but if needed, we’ll simply add more panels.

Learn more at Main Eco Homes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Q + A with Peter Maher about his Yarmouth solar and geothermal home

Peter Maher, an engineer and principal at Sevee and Maher Engineers, was renovating a home with Slocum Custom Builders in 2009 when he decided to attend a geothermal conference. With the help of friends, he then laid the pipes for his own geothermal heating and cooling system. The heat pumps pull warmth from the earth’s crust in winter and return the heat in summer, and the 8.8-kilowatt solar array installed by ReVision Energy grabs energy from the sun—and the Mahers enjoy the benefits.

Photo courtesy Slocum Custom Builders.
Q: Was the geothermal difficult or expensive to install?
A: It took about a week to lay the 6,400 feet of pipe at a depth of eight feet. Gagnon Heating and Air Conditioning connected the pipes to two ground-source heat pumps and the radiant floor heating. The system cost about $3,000 to $4,000 more than a conventional furnace, but with no annual fuel bills, so it paid for itself in less than two years.

Photo courtesy Slocum Custom Builders.
Q: Have the systems performed well?
A: Yes. Total energy costs for the 4,500-square-foot house are only about $1,500 a year. That’s propane for on-demand hot water and the gas range in the kitchen, as well as electricity not covered by the PV [photovoltaics].

Before renovations. Photo courtesy Slocum Custom Builders.
Q: Anything you’d do differently?
A: The cost of solar has dropped 22 percent a year since 2008, which makes me think we should have waited, but I guess enough people had to pay the higher prices for them to come down.

Photo courtesy Slocum Custom Builders.
Q: What’s next?
A: We have room on the roof, so we’ll see what prices do in the next few years and add enough solar panels to get the house to net zero.

Learn more at Slocum Custom Builders, ReVision Energy, and Gagnon Heating and Air Conditioning.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Q+A with Karen Boffa and Dan O’Shea of Falmouth Elementary

Falmouth's new elementary is setting the standard for school energy efficiency. Designed by Oak Point Associates and built by Shaw Brothers Construction in 2011, it features passive solar siting, abundant natural light and lighting that adjusts for need, solar thermal hot water, 10,000-plus feet of green roofs with gardens, porous pavement to manage runoff, rainwater capture for toilets, and a wood-chip heating system that also serves the middle and high schools. We asked the principal and director of finance which features they like best.

Falmouth Elementary School
Q: What stands out about the school's efficient features?
A: We especially like the radiant floor heating and efficient lighting; the wood-fired boiler is consistently warm and efficient; and conservation is huge from the solar thermal panels that heat the water. There’s also the rainwater collection for toilets.

Q: Was there anything important learned during construction?
A: Despite the sun shelves on the exterior of the building, we found the winter sun was still reflecting on the whiteboards on one of the walls, so we installed shades on the upper windows of the southern side, and that fixed the issue.

Q: What are the heating costs per year?
A: This 145,000-square-foot building costs approximately $50,000 to heat, and that may go down next year by about $10,000, when all three schools are on the same heating loop and wood-chip heating is extended to reduce oil, a total savings of about $150,000 annually.

Q: What happens at the school over summer?
A: The school is used for extended school services and professional development for teachers and is accessed by Falmouth Community Programs for summer activities. The gardens are especially lovely then, too.

Learn more at

Monday, August 26, 2013

Q+A with David and Anne Daniel, owners of the Lean Too House in Brunswick

Architect David Matero designed the Lean Too House as an energy-efficient and affordable 2,000 square-foot spec home, with a projected LEED Gold certification, for a small development in Brunswick. We asked the Daniels about their experience as the first Lean Too homeowners.

Photo courtesy David Matero
Q: What do you like most about your home’s efficient features?
 A: We like the many high-efficiency windows, especially the corner windows that are so unique. When we Skype with our family they always comment on how bright it looks in the house, even on a cold winter day. When we come home after being away, the house is still at 60 degrees thanks to the passive solar gain and well insulated R-38 walls and R-60 roof. Within 5-7 minutes of turning up the heat, it’s at temperature and stays there for some time. In the summer months, the Douglas Fir sun shades over the windows keep it cool, even when it’s 90 degrees outside, so we don’t need A/C.

Q: What helpful things did you learn during the construction process?
A: The home is so top quality in the design that we felt compelled to go with higher end, energy-efficient appliances and finishes, so we could have used more allowances than we had initially. We also found that snow slides off the metal roof and hits the sun shades in winter, so they put snow stops on the roof and that really helped.

Photo courtesy David Matero
Q: What’s next?
A: We plan to add a sunroom/hot tub room as the house was designed for easy additions, and it’s sited and set up for solar panels whenever we’re ready.

Learn more at and share your thoughts here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Q+A with found-object artist Louise Philbrick

Louise Philbrick is a South Portland artist known for her creative use of found objects, from old pianos to objects in nature. Her work has been exhibited at many galleries in Maine and across the county, and she's currently at work on a series of commissions.
Courtesy Louise Philbrick
Q: How and why did you begin using found objects in your art vs. buying new?
A: Finances were a consideration in art school, but I've always been drawn to objects that visually demonstrate the rigors of their history. A friend rebuilding his front steps gave me the old stair treads instead of taking them to the dump. The toe-nail scratches of a dog eager to get outside and the wear of 20 years of people coming and going aren't features one can request when purchasing new. And there never seems to be a shortage of these types of objects available for the taking, if I keep my eyes open.
Courtesy Louise Philbrick
Q: Why musical instruments?
A: Music is a huge part of my life and I'm fascinated by the craftsmanship of old instruments. There were close to 325,000 pianos manufactured at the turn of the 19th century that are now reaching the end of their "useful lives." People don’t have the space to keep them around as beautiful objects so they are literally dumping them into the ground. There are so many ways to repurpose them and as many reasons we should. I think we need to redefine the term "useful life."
Courtesy Louise Philbrick
Q: Do you reuse items for other purposes than art?
A: Right now I'm turning the head of an old cranberry rake into a mail and key rack for the entry to my sister's house.
Courtesy Louise Philbrick
See for more info and share your thoughts here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Q+A with Robin Moody about the vegetated roof on his home at Pemaquid Pond

Designed by Chris Briley of Green Design Studios, this wood, stone, and glass home features a tight building envelope and energy recovery ventilator (ERV), passive solar siting, 90-tube solar thermal array that provides all hot water and contributes to the radiant heat, and a notable 2,600 square-foot vegetated roof. We checked in especially to see how the roof has been performing.
Photo by Trent Bell

Q: What have you enjoyed most about your roof?
A: We like the fact that rainwater is partly absorbed and released by the roof over time, so excess runoff doesn't pollute the nearby lake, and that it's a natural insulator in winter and respires in summer to keep the interior cool. We also find the roof beautiful, even in winter when everything is brown, and we love when it flowers at different times of the year—sometimes the flowers are yellow and sometimes pink.
Photo by Trent Bell

Q: Was it complicated to install?
A: The builders and engineers know how to build for weight, and the roof is sealed with the same materials as any roof. The fast-draining, low-nutrient, drought-resistant alpine sedum arrived on a truck from Xero Flor in slabs that were simply laid out like a suburban lawn.
Photo by Trent Bell

Q: Have you had do any maintenance?
A: We did water it in its first year, but haven't had to since. I'm told the root system is so dense that weeds and other plants can't thrive, though I have seen the occasional infiltrator. Some parts of the roof where the sun is restricted look a little thin, and may need replanting with time, but we’ve had no leakage or problems with the weight.
Photo by Trent Bell

For more info see and

Monday, February 11, 2013

Q+A with Jason Peacock of Maine Green Building Supply about Souler House

Jason Peacock set out to design and build his own comfortable, nontoxic, energy-efficient, and solar-powered home in a small solar community in Wiscasset. The result is the Souler House, named in accordance with his daughter's fortuitous misspelling. The 950-square-foot home features a 3.6 kilowatt solar array as well as many eco-smart products and design elements.
Souler House, photo courtesy Jason Peacock
Q: Which products have provided the best returns?
A: Because we wanted to maximize the solar energy produced by the house, it was critical to find efficient appliances. The magnetic induction range uses 50 percent less energy than a normal range. The lights are all LED, and we use a superinsulated Marathon tank for hot water. Heat is provided by an electric Convectair heater, plus a Regency wood stove when needed. The photovoltaic panels produced 4,300 watts last year, and our consumption was about 5,100 kilowatt-hours, so our total annual utility cost was around $200, plus one and a half cords of wood.
3.6 KW solar array, photo courtesy Jason Peacock
Q: Which interior design elements do you enjoy most?
A: The insulated slab concrete floor is incredibly durable and beautiful, with a warm, rusty-colored no-VOC stain and finish. I'm really impressed at how fresh and restorative the air feels from having used no-VOC finishes and American Clay walls along with the Venmar HRV ventilation system. We're also happy with the formaldehyde- and VOC-free Executive Cabinets from Maine Green Building Supply, as well as the PaperStone countertops. And we have a gray swivel chair from EcoHome Studio with soy-foam cushions and organic fabric that is a perfect fit for the contemporary interior.
American Clay walls, photo courtesy Jason Peacock
Q: Is there any other element you'd add?
A: Maine Green Building Supply now has Intus triple-pane (R-11) windows, now priced similarly to double-pane windows, that I'd add to future projects.
Photo courtesy Jason Peacock
See Souler House on Facebook and Maine Green Building Supply for more info, and share your thoughts here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Q+A with Kris Folsom at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

In the year since it opened at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the 8,000-square-foot Bosarge Family Education Center—Maine's second commercial LEED Platinum building—has met its net-zero goal, which means it consumes no net energy and produces no carbon emissions over the course of a year. Designed by Portland's Scott Simons Architects in collaboration with Maclay Architects of Vermont, it is the first nonresidential building in Maine to reach net-zero status.
Photo courtesy Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Q: What are some of the building's most efficient features?
A: Bensonwood's prefabricated shell allowed the building to be built quickly during the winter months, and to the highest standards. The foot-thick walls have an efficiency rating of R-40, and the roof is R-60. Triple-glazed windows allow for passive solar gain in the winter and keep the building cool in summer. All this means the air infiltration is one of the lowest of any building in the state, making it very easy to heat and cool.
Photo courtesy Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Q: How did the building achieve net-zero energy status?
A: The building's 135 photovoltaic panels on the roof and 102 panels in a nearby field—installed by Allied Engineering of Portland and Energy Balance of Vermont—generated 55,184 kilowatt-hours in the past year. This is 30 percent more energy than it used, so it's actually an energy-plus building. At this rate, the system will pay for itself in 10 years.
Photo courtesy Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Q: What have you appreciated most about the building?
A: Not only is it being called "the greenest building in Maine," but it's a comfortable and lovely place to spend time when visiting the gardens.

Learn more at and

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Q+A with the owners of 29 Waterville Street

A new building at 29 Waterville Street in Portland's East End is what happens when a developer (Peter Bass of Random Orbit), two architects (David Lloyd of Archetype and Jenny Scheu of Redhouse Architects), and a builder (John Ryan of Wright-Ryan Construction) team up to build their own three-unit apartment complex. Here's what the six owners appreciate about the energy- and lifestyle-efficient building they now call home.
Photo courtesy 29 Waterville
David Lloyd and Nancy Adams
The most surprising element of the project for us was the ease of coordination between the six individuals involved (fairly strong-minded, all!). Everyone agreed on an overall vision of design and function, so we were able to make decisions quickly, and we valued each member's contributions to the mix. We also love the open floor plan after living in a shotgun-style Victorian, and that our energy costs are a quarter of what they used to be.
Photo courtesy 29 Waterville
John Ryan and Jenny Scheu
The key was to keep it simple, be prepared to compromise, and maintain a sense of humor. We also affirmed that it's better to invest in an airtight, well-insulated enclosure than sophisticated systems. As a result, we heat our 1,800-square-foot unit for $150 per year using a natural-gas-condensing boiler, and our utility bills for gas and electricity are less than $1,000 per year. Plus, since we walk to work and downtown, there are weeks when we never get in the car.
Photo courtesy 29 Waterville
Peter Bass and Lin Lisberger
The best part of the physical building is how comfortable it is year-round. Constant ocean breezes and ceiling fans keep the flat cool all summer without AC, and the temperature is incredibly even with no cold spots in winter. The boiler was down last winter, and we didn't even notice until day three. The other benefit is our transformation to a walking/biking lifestyle. We had no idea how much we would enjoy the engagements of living in town.

Learn more at Random Orbit, Archetype, and Wright-Ryan Construction and share your thoughts here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Q+A with Jan Robinson of EcoHome Studio and Jan Robinson Interiors

Jan Robinson of Jan Robinson Interiors and EcoHome Studio in Portland, Maine, helps her clients pair sustainable furnishings with livable and beautiful interiors.

Photo courtesy Jan Robinson
Q: What products do you recommend for eco-friendly interior design?
A: I look for items that use recycled or reclaimed materials, emit limited or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and are manufactured within 500 miles, requiring less fuel for transportation. The chair pictured above is made with soy-based foam and sustainably harvested wood and does not contain formaldehyde. Some Maine favorites include mirrors made from old windows and doors and a dining table made from reclaimed roof boards.
Photo courtesy Jan Robinson
Q: How can we minimize impact on the environment with our design choices?
A: Consider how to best dispose of items so as not to contribute to the eight million tons of home-decorating waste added to U.S. landfills each year. Ask how long materials will last and if they can be recycled or repurposed when you're ready for a change. I'm bringing in a new line of recycled rugs that I'm excited about. I also look for furnishings made from recycled postconsumer materials, such as textiles and plastic bottles, or from bamboo and wool, two rapidly renewable resources.
Photo courtesy Jan Robinson
Q: What's new and exciting?
A: The quality and durability of no- or low-VOC paints have improved dramatically. Sherwin Williams just came out with the Emerald line, a very nice paint, and Benjamin Moore has Natura, which features many great colors. It's always worth asking around, as smart interior design choices continue to be developed.

Learn more at and share your thoughts here.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Q+A with sustainability coordinator Jesse Pyles about Unity College's TerraHaus

Designed by Matt O'Malia and G•O Logic, TerraHaus is a 2,100-square-foot dormitory for 10 Unity College students. Completed in 2011, it boasts a certified Passive House designation and a 2012 EcoHome Design Award for architectural excellence and sustainable performance.
Photo courtesy of Unity College
Q: What makes TerraHaus unique compared to the other dorms?
A: TerraHaus is the first certified Passive House student residence in the country, relying primarily on superior insulation and air sealing as well as solar orientation for space heating, and solar thermal hot water. All active heating systems are run on electricity instead of oil. We have small electric baseboard heaters in individual bedrooms and a cold-climate heat pump for heating and cooling the larger common area, but we rely very little on these units to heat the house. In zero-degree weather, the heating load could be met with a standard hair dryer.
Courtesy Unity College
Q: What are the energy costs?
A: During the 2012 spring semester, space-heating costs for TerraHaus averaged $21.59 per month, and $86.35 total for January through April. During that time, domestic hot water costs were $96.98 for electric backup water heating and circulation. So that's $183 for space and water heating for four months. Pretty amazing, considering TerraHaus replaces two smaller cottages that costed us $4,364.58 for 1,307 gallons of fuel oil a year.
Photo courtesy Unity College
Q: What do students seem to appreciate most about TerraHaus?
A: In addition to a beautiful design that "feels like home," our students enjoyed being part of a "Passive House" class that used their study of building energy concepts to connect local residents with home weatherization incentives through the Town of Unity Energy Committee. The public is welcome to visit the building for the NESEA Green Buildings Open House tour on Saturday, October 13, 2012.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Q+A with Meredeth Winter about her solar array on the South Freeport waterfront

Meredeth Winter, a philanthropy adviser at the Nature Conservancy, recently updated her 1984 South Freeport waterfront home with a 4.8 kW grid-tied photovoltaic array that generates 6,602 kWh annually and a Chromagen flat-plate solar hot-water collector that produces 19,000,000 BTUs of renewable heat energy annually—together offsetting more than 14,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
Photo courtesy ReVision Energy
Q: What inspired you to add a solar array to your home?
A: As a long-time employee of a conservation-minded organization, it was largely about walking the talk at first, but because our house is optimally sited for solar it was a natural progression. We called ReVision Energy and they quoted us the options and installed the system in four days, not to mention fixing a faulty snowmelt heater that was running overtime and helping us with the tax rebate. I can't say enough good things about them.
    South Freeport Harbor by Dave Cleaveland/Maine Aerials
Q: What have been the benefits of this addition?
A: I love feeling like a power station. Since I dislike opening bills, it's great to get one that that says they owe me money. We make more kWh than we use from March to October, and the extra goes back to the grid to offset the months of November to February when there's less sun. For example, last June we produced 475 kWh but only used 415 kWh.

Q: What's next?
A: If I could do something better, it would be to sit down with my kids more often and look online at the TED Dashboard that shows in real time what we're producing. We're also interested in connecting the solar hot-water system to more radiant floor heating.