By George Harvey
It is important to start with the fundamentals. Before any work is done on installing heat pumps, solar hot water, solar PVs, or anything else to get or use energy, the first step is to make sure that a building is efficient in using energy. That means insulation, air sealing, and ventilation – elements relating to the building envelope – have to be considered before anything else.
In some ways, the building envelope is the most difficult challenge in green building. While this is true of new construction, it is even truer of retrofits. The problem is that if the work is done wrong, issues ranging from mold growth to rot can be the result. This problem is aggravated by the fact that there is no single, perfect solution. Dealing with a building envelope starts with careful design work for new buildings and masterful detective work for old. It requires people with a lot of expertise, based on extensive experience.
Wright Construction has a lot of experience with building envelopes. They have worked on many new residential and commercial buildings over their history. Equally important, but perhaps more illustrative of the company’s expertise, are retrofits of older buildings.
Carl Lavallee, the company vice-president, says, “It is important to understand the dynamics of how a building will respond to the changes in the seasons. You have to make sure that all of the various, and sometimes hidden, details are considered. A lot of it gets you scratching your head, for sure, but finding the signposts to defective details can give you clues about where to look for the sources of problems.”
The company did an extensive retrofit of the Calvin Coolidge Visitor’s center in Plymouth, Vermont. The job originally started with simple extensions of the building, but when work started, it was found that the structure, which dated from the 1970s, suffered from the fact that its stone veneer was installed directly in contact with the exterior sheathing which prevented any water that would penetrate the stone veneer from draining properly. In fact, the wood framed and sheathed exterior walls were almost completely rotted out, and required massive work.
An excellent example of their residential work is a residence in Belmont, Vermont. The home is a renovation and deep energy retrofit that began humbly with questions about the possibility of replacing a couple of dining room windows that were showing their age. In the end, Wright Construction was able bring the home to a point more in keeping with the owner’s vision of how it should be, with a complete redesign to take advantage of its spectacular view and to have a more functional interior layout. Design work was by Dewey & Associates, Architects and Planners. The house envelope was redone with insulation and proper air sealing. Master Plumbing and Heating added a ground-source heat pump, and HB Energy Solutions and Net Zero Renewable Resources, LLC installed a solar PV system.
Wright Construction has dealt with buildings having special needs because of the people who use them. Included among these are medical facilities and schools. The Flood Brook Union School, in Londonderry, Vermont, is an example. A new roof with skylights, insulation in all outside walls, and sound-attenuating materials for the gymnasium were all part of the job. There was one point that was important, and that was that the work be done on schedule over the summer, so that the building was ready for students on the day school started. Other organizations working on the Flood Brook Union School include the project architect, Dewey & Associates, and the project engineer, WV Engineering Associates of Keene, New Hampshire.
Wright Construction is deeply interested in green construction. As Lavallee puts it, “We are just one among the pioneers in a green movement that will continue to grow. Others will join in the future as the best methods of today become standard for the future.”
Wright Construction is located in Mount Holly, Vermont. They can be reached at 802-259-2094. You can learn more at wrightconstruction.com .