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.

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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.