El Hispanic News
Woodburn, OR — The future of the design of small office buildings in the U.S. will likely be strongly influenced by the CAPACES Leadership Institute building now taking shape adjacent to the Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) headquarters on Young Street in Woodburn.
Combining virtually every advance in environmentally-friendly construction practices, the building will be a model for American architects to study. Three Portland firms — Green Hammer, Communitecture, and Conlee Engineers — combined talent and experience to design the building.
Gene Wixson, Green Hammer’s project manager, said that the CAPACES building is on track to be America’s first certified “passivhaus” office building. The one-story, 2,855 square-foot structure will contain three offices as well as four meeting rooms and a lounge. Passivhaus — German for Passive House — is the highest international standard for energy efficiency, Wixson said. While this concept is very popular in Europe, it is just beginning to appear in North America.
Wixson estimated that the building’s “ultra high performance” design will result in a “tiny energy bill” — about 10 percent of that required by a conventional structure.
Moreover, Wixson said, the air in the building will be recycling constantly through a heat recovery ventilator. This will help keep the interior fresh.
Other savings come by relying on volunteer help, including carpenters and 12 students from Lewis & Clark College in Portland.
While most college students were taking a weekend off, a dozen Lewis & Clark students decided to revive the spirit of a 19th-century American tradition — a barn raising party. Early settlers would gather to help neighbors construct barns, houses, or even a church.
Anna Daggett, a sophomore biology major from northern California, filled a key role for the Lewis & Clark group. She rented and drove the 12-passanger van from Portland to Woodburn.
After arriving, Daggett and the other students took up shovels to prepare a long trough for a future bio swale to retain water run-off.
Lewis & Clark helps students become acquainted with communities in Portland — and beyond. By helping community groups, the students are able to reinforce their classroom learning with practical experience.
Daggett, who is working on a minor in Latin American studies, had visited Woodburn last year to learn about PCUN’S activities. The school allowed her to assemble “a lot of classes from different departments” to forge her own minor program.
Last year she became well acquainted with a shovel and the sub soils of Woodburn. This year, with the building taking shape, Daggett called it “an incredible mix of environmental [planning]” and a center for “community engagement.”
Adrián Guerrero, a junior working on a major in history and a minor in ethnic studies, had been acquainted the Woodburn-based farm workers union. “I had heard about PCUN before and I really admired their positions — a mix of environmentalism and social problems.”
Taking a brief break from pushing a wheel barrow full of damp soil up a slippery grade, Guerrero said, “PCUN will be on the leading edge in the future. By bringing the middle-class Americans and immigrants together,” he said, “we can confront and solve environmental and ethnic problems.”
“You cannot be environmentally aware without [considering both] environmental and social conditions,” he added.
A model for the world
Wixson, an experienced construction manager, was impressed by the PCUN program. “The whole thing’s improbable — funds, labor, and a social mission coming together in three dimensions.”
The building will be totally debt free, Wixson says. Donations from hundreds of individuals and grants from dozens of foundations provided the need cash. In-kind donations from many businesses have helped. Hundreds of volunteer workers and carpenters are donating their services to keep the costs as low as possible.
Environmental-friendly buildings contain a mix of different techniques.
High grade insulation is the most commonly used. The efficiency of insulation is measured in R-values — R-35 or R- 45, for example. Oregon building codes call for numbers in the range of R-21 for walls and R-38 for ceilings. The CAPACES building will more than double those numbers, using R-45 for walls and R-120 for the ceiling.
The whole building is wrapped in eight inches of foam, even under the foundation and concrete slab. “The walls will be completely sealed,” Wixson says. The ceiling will be insulated with 32 inches of cellulose — mainly recycled newsprint.
On top of that comes a layer of plywood topped with four inches of soil.
Another basic technique is to use very few north-facing windows. These result in serious heat loss during the winter. The CAPACES Leadership Institute building will have mostly south-facing windows.
To prevent the south-facing windows from providing too much heat in the summer, designers calculated the optimum south-facing roof overhang. It will reduce solar heat when the sun is high in the sky, and allow the low winter sun to generate heat for the building during the winter.
Using hopper windows above doors and in walls, building occupants can tilt the windows inward on summer nights to let in the cool evening air. By rotating at their mid-point, a hopper window can let in twice as much air as double-hung windows. All windows will be triple pane, argon-filled models. This will provide added energy savings.
With the combination of designs and devices, Wixson expects that very little conventional cooling will be needed. A high efficiency mini-split heat pump will supply cooling. It can also provide the small amount of heating needed in winter.
Wixson retains a healthy respect for surprises. “High-performing buildings [vary] — some do not perform as designed.”
To deal with unexpected events, the building has some back-up systems. For example, all duct work is easily accessible, making it easy to revamp systems as needs change.
And what if someone forgets to open the windows to let cool air in during summer nights? “I can look at the internet-connected monitoring system to check temperatures and verify that they opened the windows at night,” Wixson says. If so, he can leave a reminder to building users.
The native grasses and sedums on the green roof will receive inspections twice a year to insure they are healthy.
Wixson notes that grapevines and hops will be planted on an arbor shading the west side of the building. Their leaves provide shade in the summer. When the leaves drop in late autumn, the building can absorb the sun’s heat.
When energy efficient buildings become more common, dependence on energy will be reduced. And that could have all sorts of benefits.
“In Woodburn,” Wixson says, “the social and community benefits are accruing before the environmental and power savings.”