Planning a New Green Office and Shop

It is a daunting job to design and build a new manufacturing facility or beamery with the necessary features to work well. Our business, Cabin Creek Timber Frames, had been in business since 1996. It was 2005 and we had been renting a 6000 square foot metal building in Franklin for the past two years. We wanted to build our own building for a number of reasons. Problems with the rented building and its location were rent, less than adequate heating and insulation, nauseous gases from propane tank businesses on two sides, obscure location, size of office and shop, limited parking and truck access, limited storage space for timbers.We began looking for acceptable property. Criteria included, in approximate order, affordability, easy large truck access, space for building and storage, three phase power, and a relatively level property. We expected that given these features, we could make the other factors a reality.

We found two acres with excellent road access, level, on US 441, a major highway from Atlanta to the WNC area, a heavily traveled tourist route. The placement on US 441 cost significantly more, but brought many advantages, mostly exposure, and some problems, mostly noise. Before committing to the purchase, I checked on restrictions (none), power (available with upfront $6000), water (none- have to drill well), septic-two possibilities. One, a 5 bedroom equivalent septic tank and drain field was present unused partially on this tract and on the adjoining Little Tennessee Land Trust property. I offered $8000 to them to use this existing unused system. They refused. There was no way to place a drain field on our property. So I had little choice other than go with the second option, which came with the right to purchase a hook up (for $3500) to the private sewer treatment plant across US 441 and to pay a monthly fee for this privilege, and we proceeded with the purchase.

We planned a timber frame office with 1750 square feet to provide office space, meeting rooms, storage, a break/lunch room, and toilets. The shop or manufacturing area was to be a steel building-50×120 ft. It would include tool storage, wood storage, and work area.

After the shop was partially built, a recent change in the building code forced us to either install a sprinkler system (very expensive) to handle the fire danger from wet sawdust from green timbers at 70% moisture content or to build a separate building, less than 2500 square feet, to house the band saw, radial arm saw and planer. Apparently no fire danger from green sawdust exists in smaller buildings. So we built a smaller machine shop, 30×50 ft., to house the machine tools.

We wished to have certain features in the office and others in the shops. We had begun to accumulate a good bit of waste wood from cut offs in our manufacturing process. Disposing of this waste meant hauling it to the county landfill (haul bill and dump fee), selling it (unlikely), or giving it away (unlikely). We elected to keep it for fuel and accomplish two things. First, there would be no haul and dump bill, and no fuel bills (hopefully). After much thought the choice was made to purchase a detached furnace to reduce fire danger, and use it to heat hot water to be pumped to the three buildings for a radiant heat floor system for heat in the entire complex, 9256 square feet. The water pipe for this system is buried in concrete-a 6″polished slab in the shops (smooth and easy to clean), and a 3″ lightweight slab with slate tiles above a crawlspace in the office. Programmable thermostats control various zones to adjust temperature.

The radiant heat system works as follows. One full furnace load lasts a cold night, and another the following day lasts until evening. Thermostats keep the office at 72 degrees, and the shop at 55-60. This is ideal for vigorous work in the shop, and our men are usually down to t-shirts by 10 am. There is a heat pump backup for the office, but it rarely engages. The warm floor acts as a large heat sink and keeps feet and legs warm. This is particularly welcome to those of us with some age and accompanying arthritis. This is much more comfortable than overhead blower units, and no space is required for the equipment. Even when doors are opened and cold air enters, the floor remains warm, and the air above quickly rewarms when the doors are closed.

The metal buildings had halogen lamps overhead, later replaced by cob LEDs, but often these are not needed due to the sidelights interspersed along the upper walls of the building. The sidelights are translucent fiberglass panels which supply very adequate light on bright days. We elected to use sidelights rather than overhead skylights for two reasons. One, there would be less chance of roof leakage, and there would be no condensation and subsequent dripping of water on tools and machinery. The metal buildings have fiberglass roll insulation on walls and ceiling. To protect the walls, plywood sheets were mounted on the lower 8 feet of the walls around the entire building to avoid timber and forklift damage or blight. The 24′ wide doors of the shop can be easily rolled up by one man. They are wide so that 30’or longer timbers can be brought in by forklift with some maneuvering. The metal roll up doors came with no insulation, but we decided to insulate them with ¾” pink foam board for warmth and décor. Even this lightweight covering changed the weight on the springs of these massive 20×24′ doors, and the spring tension had to be adjusted. The results were good. The shop was noticeably warmer early on cold mornings.

The office is insulated with structural insulated panels or SIPS, with R-17 walls and an R-38 roof. It is tightly sealed between panels and between walls and roof. This system is almost twice as efficient as an equally R-rated fiberglass/studwall system. It costs more initially, but usually pays for the increased cost over 5-6 years. Outside walls are painted board and batten, yellow pine.

Timber frame buildings go back many centuries, and as a tribute to our past, a 12th century timber frame design was used for the office frame. It is similar to a Wealden Hall built in Southeastern England in the 12th-14th centuries. The frame is white pine.

A recent engineering study compared our complex, using energy use data over the past two years, with an imaginary complex, same size, minimum code requirements, using an all electric heating system. The results show our actual complex using 43% of the energy used by the standard building. The other 57% is not being spent on Middle Eastern Oil. This translates to a yearly savings of $9000.

Written by: Joseph O. Bell, III
Copyright © 2018, Joseph O. Bell, III
All Rights Reserved

CABIN CREEK TIMBER FRAMES
828-369-5899
6624 Georgia Road Franklin, NC 28734
www.cabincreektimberframes.com 
jbell@cabincreektimberframes.com
Sips.org
www.thermocore.com
Hers or Home Energy Rating System www.energy.ca.gov/HERS/index.html
www.healthybuilthomes.org
Energy Star www.energystar.gov
LEED www.usgbc.org

Leed and Healthy Built Homes

Building green can save you money. The word green is often abused and over used by entities which have no plausible claim to do so. The most honest definition of the new word green in buildings includes efficiency, durability, and sustainability.

LEED and HERS are two competing national certification programs for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. Both programs look at the plans for a building on paper before the building process and rate them accordingly. Both require third party observation during the building process, have an extensive check list for the third party to observe and check off such as use of Energy Star appliances, low flow plumbing fixtures, and blower tests after construction to test air “leakiness” of the building and duct work. Both concentrate on building efficient, durable, and sustainable structures.

Currently many manufacturers of various materials call themselves green because perhaps a part of the producing plant recycles trash. Others assume the title arbitrarily because their product is bamboo flooring and bamboo is sustainable or reproducible. Or the factory has recently switched to fluorescent lighting, cutting electric bills, but has done nothing about its inadequate insulation or its antiquated heating system. These examples are called greenwashing, and they are ubiquitous.

The carbon footprint of an item is the amount of CO2 (from burned fossil fuel) produced in the manufacture, delivery, use over its lifetime, and safe disposal of that item. This becomes quite complicated to determine accurately for a single item, and overwhelming for the number of products making up an entire house. If something must be shipped around the world, much more energy is required than if it is locally produced. (Look at bamboo flooring from Indonesia and granite countertops from India). Also, one must consider the waste in the manufacturing process, toxic byproducts, cost to reproduce and replace after its useful lifetime, costs of disposal, and its contribution to maintaining landfills.

This brings us to employing common sense. Ideally, we should look at the totality of products which make up a building, their beneficial and harmful qualities, their sustainability (are we using them up, or can we reproduce them at a regular interval at an acceptable cost?), their durability ( how long will the building and components last?), and the efficiency (what will it cost over the life of the building to heat, cool, and power it?).

LEED and HERS are both directed at producing buildings which utilize these three criteria.

Timber frame buildings with Structural Insulated Panels or SIPS are inherently efficient from the beginning. They commonly cost one half as much to heat and cool as equally R-rated stick built structures with fiberglass batts between studs. SIPS have been used for some eighty years in the food refrigeration industry. The SIPS we use are made from Styrofoam (approved for food containers by the FDA) or urethane foam, and oriented strand board, made with formaldehyde free glue. Sips do cost more initially, but usually pay for the difference in 5-6 years in reduced heating and cooling costs.

Rather than just give lip service to these goals, we at Cabin Creek Timber Frames actually put our money into it. Unfortunately, no provision was made in LEED or HERS for buildings built before the programs’ inception. We have been building extremely efficient buildings since 1996. We have kept records of energy cost for a house we built in Western North Carolina in 2005 which enjoys timber frame and SIPS. It is 2800 square feet, and to heat, cool and power cost $85 per month until incandescent bulbs were replaced with fluorescent bulbs, bringing the cost down to $75 per month. Although we are unable it get it certified due to government burocracy, the blower tests and actual cost of energy placed its efficiency or energy usage at 59% of the projected reference house.

A recent engineering study compared our complex, both office (SIPS and timber frame) and beamery (metal building), 9250 square feet, using energy use data over the past two years, with an imaginary complex, same size, minimum code requirements, using an all electric heating system. We heat the entire complex with a detached wood burning boiler using waste wood from our operation to heat hot water for our radiant floor system. The results show our actual complex uses 43% of the energy used by the standard building. The other 57% or approximately $9000 saving is not being spent on Middle Eastern Oil. Waste wood is carbon neutral as it would become CO2 whether it burns or decays in a landfill.

From a practical standpoint, it makes good financial sense to spend the extra money initially required to build a more efficient building in light of the decreased costs of operating and the rising costs of energy.

Cabin Creek Timber Frames can work with the homeowner, the general contractor, and either LEED or HERS to build your efficient, durable and sustainable home, get it certified, and obtain federal, state, and sometimes municipal tax credits for even more savings.

Written by: Joseph O. Bell, III
Copyright © 2008, Joseph O. Bell, III
All Rights Reserved

CABIN CREEK TIMBER FRAMES
828-369-5899
6624 Georgia Road Franklin, NC 28734
www.cabincreektimberframes.com 
jbell@cabincreektimberframes.com
Links:
Sips.org
WWW.Thermocore.com
Hers or Home Energy Rating System: www.energy.ca.gov/HERS/index.html
www.healthybuilthomes.org 
Energy Star www.energystar.gov
LEED www.usgbc.org