Building green


A joke among architects attributes the death of environmentally friendly design to the invention of the air conditioner.

The problem is not that air conditioners guzzle fossil fuels as much as they free architects from the need to design a building to cooperate with its environment, like orienting a house away from the sun to keep it naturally cooler.

That kind of environmentally conscious design is still best practice for Doug Sherwood, architect and vice president of Sawyer Sherwood & Associate.

Some choices included green features like a geothermal HVAC system, a rainscreen siding system and foam insulation, but many stemmed from a simple willingness to work with the environment.

On March 28, the Sherwoods invited the public to tour the house during an event sponsored by the Cape Fear Green Building Alliance.

“It was a love/hate relationship at first because we had a nice, big live oak but it was right in the middle of the property,” Doug said.

That is how the 2,350-square-foot, L-shaped house got its dimensions.

Windows were penciled in for every available space. The windows, made from Andersen Windows’ SmartSun glass, block UV rays and radiant heat and also seal the house from outside air.

A rainscreen siding system, on the other hand, traps air to form a water barrier around the house. A breathable orange building wrap beneath the siding creates a layer of air that stops water from getting trapped beneath siding.

The geothermal system transfers heat to or from the ground in order to regulate the house’s temperature, versus a traditional heating and cooling system that uses the air.

As with most green technology, the investment price is considerably higher for a geothermal system. But after incentives — a 30 percent federal credit and a 35 percent state credit — the cost of a geothermal system is competitive.

The use of foam insulation instead of fiberglass will also reduce heating and cooling costs for the house. Foam insulation is more expensive than fiberglass, but it is also more efficient, and until December 2013, it qualified for a federal tax credit.

“They haven’t come around to really putting the price tag on the benefit of those items, so you have to personally make a decision that you’re going to bridge the gap,” he said.

“We hope we’ll be here for a long time,” Katie added. “We’re building it to be here for a long time.”


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