HG: SustainAbility Column February 07, 2009

In order to learn about green architecture, you have to learn a whole new language. Luckily, Ed Chamberlin and Eric Tscherter of Chamberlin Architects are fluent in that language.

Words and phrases such as Trombe wall, Rastra Block and heat recovery ventilation begin to make sense under their tutelage.

Chamberlin Architects has been in the business of sustainable architecture for a long time.

When the company started in the 1970s, it designed 50 or so buildings that used passive solar or earth sheltering techniques to ensure low energy use.

With 20 employees, the Grand Junction-based company now does work nationwide and has offices in Denver and Rapid City, S.D.

“Sustainability has been a basic part of design for the last 30 years,” Ed Chamberlin explained.

Some of the work around the country has been for the National Park Service and other federal agencies. The Park Service was a forerunner in setting sustainability goals and promoting historic preservation.

A project for a private client up on Glade Park is on the cutting edge of sustainable architecture. The ranching compound is on the electric grid but is shooting for net zero and will be able to function off the grid with batteries.

Net zero means any energy needed for the building will come from renewable resources.

The buildings are designed for reduced electrical use with the required power coming from photovoltaics and possibly a wind turbine.

One building has a Trombe wall, two different types of solar hot water heating and gets electricity from nearby solar panels. In case you were wondering, a Trombe wall is a full wall placed next to a window that absorbs heat during the day and radiates heat at night. In combination with a window overhang, this is a passive method to supplement heating at higher elevations.

The walls are constructed with Rastra Block, a lightweight type of insulating concrete form made from recycled Styrofoam and concrete. Rebar and additional small amounts of concrete are added to thick panels to create the structure.

According to Chamberlin, this system has just the right amount of insulation and thermal mass for this area.

The building is also insulated with Icynene, a spray foam insulation that “really seals things” and does not emit harmful gases once cured, according to Chamberlin.

Semi-passive heat recovery ventilation employs the exchange principle and fans blowing across a medium to bring fresh air inside at a moderated temperature. This system is used in the building and helps with both heating and cooling.

A cold roof involves additional air space with radiant barrier sheathing above a conventional roof to keep the roof surface a uniform temperature to avoid ice damming.

The building also makes use of a water saver system that allows greywater recycled from the sink to be used in the toilet.

Warmboard is another special feature. The low-density, radiant floor heating system is designed to warm up quickly.

Another ranch building, used for equipment storage and a shop, is earth sheltered by being built into a hill. It will be lighted, heated and ventilated with a passive system of ventilated light pipes. Tubes will be placed under the ground allowing a flow of temperate air from below ground up through the roof.

Chamberlin Architects is partnering with a company from Minneapolis on the Century Project at St. Mary’s Hospital. They are working on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, most likely at the Silver level. (There are four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum, the highest.)

A wide variety of sustainable practices are being used for the project, including making the roof a light coloreto reduce the heat-island effect. Efficiency in the area of lighting surpasses the standards set in the International Energy Conservation Code by 23 percent for interior lighting and 45 percent for exterior.

A hospital has unique needs, but low-flow plumbing fixtures are being used whenever possible. Lumber for the project must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes sustainable forestry.

Fifty percent to 75 percent of the construction waste is being recycled. This includes steel, aluminum, carpet and even drywall, which is difficult to recycle. Also, a special fund was created to allow the purchase of energy-efficient hospital equipment.

Chamberlin Architects’ office is at 437 Main St,. and you can call 242-6804 for information or go to chamberlinarchitects.com.


Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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