Monday, December 29, 2008

Sustainable Living Template

In collaborating with effortlessdesign I am fascinated by the number of interconnections and overlap of common goals between sustainable community development and sustainable buildings. The mind-map below illustrates how design choices that strengthen the community are also good choices for our environment.

effortlessdesign is working to implement the planning objectives of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay ( and the New Bedford Economic Development Council (, and they look forward to future collaborations of strengthening the community with a range of local organizations. Think globally, act locally, and decide to prosper in the New Year!

effortlessdesign is striving to strengthen the Brock Ave neighborhood while practicing green planning principles. Green construction techniques have been implemented, and thinking on a regional scale means that this urban-infill project makes use of mass transit and increases density in an exiting neighborhood with existing infrastructure. Mixed-use planning expands housing stock and improves the quality of commercial space available on Brock Avenue.

Fresh property development revitalizes the community.  This section of New Bedford has solid traditional housing stock. The spacious, modern residential units being added above the existing commercial spaces offer a new alternative choice in the charming neighborhood. This project is more than an average infill project, it has the potential to put this block of Brock Ave on the map. New Bedford natives who know what their city offers after living in New York, Providence or Boston will appreciate the edgy design of the residential condos that lend flare and sex appeal to living here.

On one hand this project embodies a humble ambition to strengthen an existing building in a neighborhood that is still up and coming, and yet it creates high design for the rest of us. Making good design accessible to everyone is a core value for effortlessdesign where they use opportunity and efficiency as their guides. 

Here at Brock Ave, Carol Fisher and Antonio Pina have not only made good design accessible in a modest community, they have chosen to invest in New Bedford and source building materials from local suppliers to strengthen community and keep revenue in the community.  They kept the Quick Mart open to the neighborhood during construction. effortlessdesign is committed to the growth and development of New Bedford and approaches the Brock Avenue project as a model for other SmartGrowth projects in New Bedford. 

The new commercial spaces will become a center for the local community and your suggestions for types of tenants for the commercial spaces will help in starting new business. Please vote on the side bar!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

SIPs - Installing Structural Insulated Panels

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are one of the green cornerstones of this SmartGrowth project on Brock Avenue.

So what are SIPs and what makes using them a green choice?

SIPs or Structural Insulated Panels, are made from wood and plastic foam.

Like Oreo (tm) cookies SIPs have two rigid panels with a thick light center. The outside faces of the panels are wood sheathing, typically Oriented Strand Board (OSB) or plywood panels with a core of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) in between the the OSB panels. EPS sounds exotic, but it's as common as the packing peanuts used to protect fragile items during shipping. The same EPS beads used to make the peanuts are used to make the SIPs highly insulating core.

Because using SIPs means assembling precut panels rapidly on the jobsite like Legos (tm), the panels must be carefully planned by the designer. Selecting SIPs required the architect to develop the wall construction details with rigorous discipline to ensure that the walls translate easily and efficiently into a panelized system. Before the first panel could be cut at the manufacturer's shop, preliminary assembly drawings, known as shop drawings,  were prepared by Branch River (SIPs manufacturer) and approved by effortlessdesign (the architects). Each panel was carefully planned, cut and numbered for ease of assembly.

SIPs are a green choice for this project because shop-building them means less construction waste on the jobsite from cutting down longer pieces of wood used in conventional wood framing. SIPs are also extremely strong eliminating the need for diagonal bracing. Plus there is no need for wall studs at 16 inches on center. So we are talking about one strong wall with less construction material and waste, making for a smart, green choice.

SIPs also improve the thermal performance of the building's walls because the EPS core stops heat from escaping in the winter either by thermal conductance or cold air that typically infiltrates through typical wood-framed construction. The EPS runs the full height and width of the panel and won't let any moisture through the wall and adding a caulked seal at the joint between panels does the job of a traditional air and vapor barriers - two other building materials that can be eliminated just by using SIPs. Insulation doesn't need to be added to the inside or outside of the wall, the walls can be thinner and the floors inside can be bigger and every extra square foot counts on an urban-infill project like this one.

The bottom line? SIPs save time, money and materials and decrease construction waste on the jobsite. Our panels were sourced from a regional supplier and local products require less energy to transport than those building products shipped from far away. The panels will continue to be a green choice for the life of the building because they will dramatically reduce the amount of energy used to heat and cool the building.

Using SIPs is a smart, green choice because it drastically reduces the embodied energy required to make the building and cuts amount of energy the building will consume for heating and cooling. Reducing embodied energy and the energy required for occupant comfort are key LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) principles that are part of the SmartGrowth logic that make this project environmentally sustainable.

Watch how SIPs save time and labor, snapping together like legos in this video: Flight of the SIPs!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Posting to this Blog

Always remember it is fun to learn new things, even if it takes a couple tries. If you would like to post on this blog, send an email to If you are connected to the New Bedford Smart Growth Community, you'll be sent an invitation to post. Otherwise feel free to leave comments. Stay tuned for the survey we will be launching soon.

I am glad I could help my Mom. I let her test this out on my email account, but do not expect me to hang around for long.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Project Background

The South New Bedford neighborhood is a unique urban environment with expansive views, ample recreation, a vibrant diverse population, and mild temperatures. As the area waits for the commuter train to activate service (tracks & facilities are in place), it remains unrecognized as a beachfront village with friendly bungalows and well-kept triple deckers.

Our project on Brock Avenue is testing a number of concepts namely the creation of a neighborhood “hot spot” that improves the economic prospects of small business located there, and funding the rehab of a deteriorated commercial building with the development of two efficient yet spirited residences above.

It is our experience that developing older buildings can bolster the local economy providing good jobs to people not drawn to more professional sectors. We believe that developing construction skills and craft keeps an important knowledge base alive. Since 2001 we have consistently invested in our employees training them in range of construction techniques. Renovating buildings creates wealth, and design/planning is critical in achieving that possibility.

Our demonstration project involves current Urban Redevelopment design values known as Smart Growth. The site is located on a bus route to downtown, with an oceanfront park across the street. The new residential component increases density at the neighborhood scale and re-invigorates an existing commercial block. Our interest in this project began when curating the Boston Architectural College’s Shelter & Beyond Exhibit. Infill of underutilized urban areas, particularly in a culturally and enviromentally rich community like New Bedford, is a desirable alternative to sprawl. With the promise of commuter rail to the south coast, we focused on commercial redevelopment with efficient housing.

During the rehabilitation phase all of the construction debris was sorted, and engineered wood products are used consistently throughout. The existing Quik Mart stayed open every single day during construction. Construction of the second phase meets the requirements of LEED certification. Structural Insulated Panels with an Insulated Exterior Finishing System (EIFS) completely stops air infiltration and provides a building envelope 10% more efficient than required by the current Massachusetts energy code. Shear wall design and coastal windows meet the 110 mph wind speed. Domestic hot water will be provided using solar panels, and energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling are planned.

Clearly there is a lot happening on Brock Avenue, and the goal of this blog is to provide more details to the background description given in this first entry.

Before and After Photos

The banner of this blog shows the planned development for a mixed-use smart growth on Brock Avenue.

Photo from 2005.

Phase I Improvements