Picture this. On a freezing December day, a few days before Christmas, 2008 an electrical fire started in the basement utility room. The burn damage was so severe at the origin site that the exact cause could not be determined, but the theory is that a transfer switch connected to an emergency power generator started the fire when an auto test series was initiated. The fire quickly spread to the ceiling of the basement utility room, which was not fire rated, and burned the floor out of the kitchen above, at the center of the two-story home. In a very short time, the kitchen collapsed into the basement.
The fire began shortly after the five family members left for work and school and was discovered by a worker who arrived to complete a bathroom remodel. Thick black smoke poured through every vent to the outside. By the time firefighters gained control of the blaze, the 3,000-sq-ft house and everything in it was ruined.
If this image conjures a big black carbon cloud for you, imagine what the family was going through. Everything they owned was burned or covered with black soot and ice. It was a devastating blow to a smart young family going about their daily lives. It was the epitome of a dark cloud, and a silver lining seemed only like a myth.
About the same time, a group of local tradesmen called the Hamptons Green Alliance (HGA), who organized a few months earlier, were busy soliciting local architects. Through the AIA Peconic, the HGA sent an e-mail blast to all members in order to find a project they could initiate in order to exercise their old and new sustainable building skills. Their goals were to apply their cumulative knowledge and expertise in sustainable practices and integrate them into a sum greater than the parts. Each individual company had experience, but never before had they consciously collaborated on a design that integrated all their systems at once. All would share the benefit and help the HGA raise the bar on sustainable building so they could offer experience, expertise, and specific energy usage and production data, including life cycle analysis, to future clients. They offered their services at their cost, to any architect’s client interested in a new house or remodel that would be rebuilt with the highest and best sustainable practices possible. At the peak of the financial panic, AIA members found no takers.
Richard (Ric) Stott, AIA LEED AP, architect, was a friend of the fire-struck family and of course offered help. After the first meeting with another family friend and architect Craig Lee, AIA, it struck Ric that this would be the perfect project for the Hamptons Green Alliance. The owner agreed, a meeting was scheduled, and a project involving all major trades, the architects, owners, and even the insurance adjusters was born. It was not hard for Ric to convince the team that the LEED for Homes program would be appropriate for this project and soon the team began meeting once a week to focus on goals, discuss strategy, and learn about the requirements of the LEED for Homes system.
By default, it was an “Integrated Project Delivery” (IPD). All the team members were in play from the beginning, the budget was fixed at what the insurance claim paid, plus the owners’ out-of-pocket expense to add a family room and bedroom. The commitment was made by the HGA members to work for no profit, which allowed the family to make the additions and improvements.
At weekly meetings, the team decided to pursue LEED Platinum status, to incorporate all renewable technologies that were economically feasible, but first and foremost we would incorporate high performance building science as our basic energy conservation methodology. Besides aiming for LEED Platinum status, the team also established the goal to rebuild this project as carbon neutral.
A major decision had to be made with respect to the existing structure. To demolish the house or salvage the frame was a dilemma. Building from scratch would be easier, faster, and probably cheaper, but was it the most sustainable? Does saving the remains of a charred wood frame add or subtract from the overall carbon footprint? Certainly, bringing the framing and sheathing to the landfill is not a carbon friendly concept. The family was concerned that if we saved the structure, it would retain the smoky smell and wanted a guarantee that no odors would be perceived, even on the hottest summer days. We contacted a number of fire renovation companies and they all agreed that full encapsulation would have to be performed on the structure after we cleared the burned and structurally compromised framing away. The majority of the frame was structurally sound and it would be difficult to recycle it, so the decision was made to re-use the frame and most of the exterior sheathing including a good portion of the existing cedar shingles.