2013 Vermont Pro Tour Review

08/26/2013 - 11:41

There is something unique to walking into the most innovative buildings in New England and hearing the experiences of the designers, builders, and owners. No case study, lecture, or presentation can take the place of seeing the buildings up close and personal. NESEA and Yestermorrow have partnered in one exciting weekend to allow passionate practitioners to explore innovative environments, and cutting edge technologies. The first Vermont Pro Tour was a success and model for upcoming events in our region. The event sold out with 26 participants from all over New England; attracting architects, builders, engineers, and other energy enthusiasts to Vermont.  This event epitomized the NESEA culture of gathering to share experiences, information, and network with peers. Keep an eye out for more events like this in the future! By combining 9 unique high-performance building tours in one weekend, the intangible benefit is to see the connections and themes between the buildings and how collectively they work to solve larger problems. There is far too much information to provide on each specific project. Instead, here are some of the common themes that tied these high performance projects together: Common Themes

  • Set a goal for energy use: Each building was able to openly discuss the energy footprint, and define goals for energy use. With so many strategies for a building, starting with the end in mind must include your energy goals.  Net-zero energy, no fossil fuel use, energy independence, passive heating are distinct but achievable goals as demonstrated by these projects.
  • Active occupant participation matters: Each owner was invested in the occupants both financially and socially. The occupants can range from families to employees and must be relied upon as interactive parts of the building systems to control their own personal comfort.
  • High-performance systems must be monitored: All buildings used some level of monitoring to inform the owners and users how the building is operated. Without feedback there is no way to learn from these systems. Proper tuning of each system was necessary to operate as designed.
  • Envelope matters: In each high performance building, the conversation on envelope started at twice the code level insulation. When energy and long term operation are factored, relatively cheap envelope upgrades can significantly impact mechanical design and long term utility bills.
  • Ventilation moves energy: When loads are reduced, the ventilation system is a primary mover of energy. Getting ventilation right provides the intangible benefits of comfort and productivity of occupants.

The value of walking through buildings is not just hearing the pre-scripted list of features, but to openly discuss lessons learned, hardships, and outstanding questions. After a day of touring innovative buildings, we captured the burning questions of the group. There may not be real answers, but our discussions raised some interesting questions. Burning Questions

  • How do you determine the optimum envelope operationally and economically?
  • What is the real indoor temperature we are trying to reach? What comfort levels?
  • Where do you find customers to do high performance buildings?
  • What is a good ventilation system?
  • When is it worth installing solar hot water systems?
  • Modular vs. site built homes? Which is better?
  • How do we learn from these buildings to bridge the gap from early adopters to standard practice?

As we walk away from a weekend of sharing experiences, we are all teachers and advocates. Every project we undertake is an opportunity to bring lessons and experiences to our clients and colleagues. Special thanks to Andy Shapiro, Paul Eldrenkamp, Kate Stephenson, the Yestermorrow staff, and all the professionals and homeowners so gracious and willing to share their buildings and homes with curious followers.


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11/21/2014 - 11:36