Location: Portland, Maine
Principals: Phil Kaplan, AIA; Jesse Thompson, AIA
Size: 8 principals
Little-known fact: We are so eco-conscious that we only have one fork in the office. His name is Frank.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from the Ranch Revival project?
Jesse Kaplan: We have gotten quite good at low-energy new construction techniques in our studio, but this project taught us how to viably renovate a typical 1960s home into a comfortable, low-energy, economical, and stylish home ready for our new century. Our country is covered in millions of examples of this type of construction, and tearing them all down isn't going to be the pathway out of our building energy problem.
What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
Economical high-performance buildings are possible to build in any situation, but they are only possible when design professionals develop a strong technical knowledge about mechanical systems, including their capacities and costs. You need to design your building skin with a specific system cost and performance in mind and not just strive for "x% better than code." The Passivhaus Building Energy Standard has been incredibly effective at focusing our efforts on specific damage limits for our projects.
What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design?
We strive for every project to be beautiful, sustainable, and attainable. Any one of these principles is difficult enough to accomplish as a designer, but our most successful projects have endeavored to integrate all three of these principles equally.
What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
Our firm has a baseline building material toxicity specification "red list" for our projects. We adopted the Architecture 2030 Challenge as a firm,and we have multiple Passivhaus Certified Consultants and LEED-APs on our staff. We perform energy models in house for every project as standard services, whether requested by our clients or not.
What are the top energy-saving features you put in your projects?
We have been specifying thick walls, above-code insulation levels, and high-performance windows on projects for years, but the most significant change for our office has been to document and detail a continuous, tough structural air barrier on every project. It has affected every area of design and detailing and turned many of our typical practices on their head. We also concentrate on building ventilation from the inception of a project instead of leaving it as an afterthought for the mechanical installer to take care of.
How do you think these types of innovative green solutions, products, and strategies, might become standard?
It may seem odd, but one of the most effective tools we have is to harness competition among design professionals with a race to be the first in "green." A race to gain an innovative certification, win awards, or other friendly competition among professionals is tremendously effective in moving the field along. We need awards for great thermal bridge free details, innovative air barrier techniques and other technical aspects of our profession. Beyond this we need much tougher codes, especially in the area of site verified air tightness standards to push up the floor from the bottom, and we need all of us to sign on to continuing education to percolate innovative ideas down from the top.
Read more about Kaplan Thompson's Ranch Revival in EcoHome's case study.