While on vacation in Colorado, Caldwell’s Roofing owner Brad Caldwell had the chance to stop by the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. It’s a place where fossilized tree stumps are plentiful, still standing where they once grew. The visitor center for the monument, though, was also quite intriguing – it had been built with several “sustainability” or “smart design” features.
A Run-Down of the Sustainable Design Features at Florissant Fossil Beds Center
- Photovoltaic Solar Arrays – Provide Electricity
- Solar-Thermal Solar Array – Provide for Radiant Heat System in Concrete Floor
- Solar Wall Furnace – Preheat Air Before Entering Building
- Skylights & Solar Tubes – Allow Sunlight Directly In
- Efficient, Triple-Pane Windows – Minimize Energy Loss
- Structurally Insulated Panels On Roof and Walls – Minimize Energy Loss
- Air-Tight Construction – Minimize Energy Loss
- Fluorescent and LED Automatic Bulbs – Reduce Energy Use
- Standing-Seam Metal Roof with No Exposed Penetrations – Extend Life of Roof, Solar Arrays, and Building
This visitor center has a lot of sustainable design features to commend itself for. Looking at the photo above, you can also see that the building was constructed in a very thoughtful, precise way. Everything looks clean and crisp. The truth is, you can incorporate most of these sustainable design features in your own residence, if you plan before you build. Some features can even be done as a retrofit.
1. Sustainable Design Feature #1: Photovoltaic Solar Arrays
When PV (or, “Photo-Voltaic,” meaning “creating electricity from light”) panels first came out, they were quite cost-prohibitive. Nowadays, you can get solar panels installed for around $4-$6/kW, and after the federal government’s 30% rebate (set to expire at the end of 2016 as of now), and the sometimes-offered utility rebates for extra created electricity that you don’t use, photovoltaic panels can make sense financially.
It’s important for a high-cost, long-life system like a PV solar array to be installed on a long-life roof system. If it’s not, you’ll end up having to take the panels off to replace the roof before the end of the array’s life. This can damage the array, not to mention the huge unnecessary cost of removing and replacing a PV solar array! In the picture above, somebody planned and made sure to have a long-lasting, quality roof system under the PV array. Note the use of the green, standing-seam metal roof. There are no exposed fasteners, and even the solar panels are attached with friction-fit (as opposed to thru-fastened) connectors. See how the connectors simply sit on (and grip tightly) the vertical ribs of the standing-seam metal roof? That’s what you call good, sustainable design! There are more panels on another section of the roof at Florissant, but the whole array together provides some 13 KW of power.
2. Sustainable Design Feature #2: Solar-Thermal Solar Array
A second kind of solar array is what’s called “solar-thermal.” What this means, broadly, is that heat from the sun is used or concentrated to provide some use, whether to heat potable water (water heaters), to heat a liquid for use in a radiant floor heating system, or even to run a power plant. On homes, solar-thermal panels are usually bigger and bulkier than photovoltaic panels. Interestingly enough, Caldwell’s Roofing owner Brad Caldwell’s grandmother has solar-thermal panels on her home, for use with water heaters. In the picture below, the Florissant Fossil Beds Center uses 11 solar-thermal panels to heat and store 700 gallons of a glycol-liquid solution that is piped through the concrete floors to provide radiant heat in the winter as it is needed and where it is needed. Their solar-thermal array provides some 275,000 BTUs of heat per day!
Whereas PV panels look crisp and clean, solar-thermal panels tend to look a little “dirty” or “weathered,” as in the picture above.
3. Sustainable Design Feature #3: Solar Wall Furnace
The concept of a solar wall furnace was new even to roofer Brad Caldwell. According to the Florissant Fossil Beds Center, their solar wall furnace is able to preheat air entering the building by as much as 90°.
4. Sustainable Design Feature #4: Skylights and Solar Tubes
Skylights and solar tubes are a great way to let natural light come into a facility. When installed correctly by a professional roofer, they won’t leak. Additionally, newer models can be quite energy efficient. The Florissant Fossil Beds Visitor Center uses both of these to reduce their need for electricity.
5. Sustainable Design Feature #5: Efficient, Triple-Pane Windows
The Florissant Fossil Beds Visitor Center uses superbly-efficient windows and skylights. They use quadruple-pane glass with fiberglass insulated frames. To use their words, this enables the windows to “fill the building with daylight but minimize heat loss and prevent over-heating from the sun.”
Note also the LEED symbol on the glass. With all the sustainable design features of the Florissant Fossil Beds Visitor Center, they were able to attain LEED‘s “Gold-certified” status.
6. Sustainable Design Feature #6: Structurally Insulated Panels on Roof and Walls
Although you can’t see it in the pictures, structurally insulated panels were used on the entire building surface, include both walls and roof surfaces. According to Wikipedia, structurally insulated panels (“SIPs”) are “most commonly made of OSB panels sandwiched around a foam core made of polystyrene.” Unaltered photo below used by permission of CC license, and credit given to D. Fitzwell.
7. Sustainable Design Feature #7: Air-Tight Construction
A small hole will allow a lot more humidity through than a whole wall that lacks much vapor barrier. Therefore, Allison Bailes recommends sealing air leakage pathways. In that article, she argues, along with Joe Lstiburek, that modern housewrap, while good as a second rain-diverting layer for houses, really doesn’t do much for creating an air-barrier, even when seams are taped. There are just too many places where discontinuities and corner-cutting occurs. How do you seal air leakage pathways? According to the US Department of Energy, windows and doors are a large area of air-leakage. Other areas include around light fixtures, fans, electrical switches, and power outlets.
8. Sustainable Design Feature #8: Fluorescent and LED Automatic Bulbs
There are features on the interior of a building that can help with sustainable design, such as light bulb choices, automatic on/off sensors, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and efficient water heaters and appliances. The Florissant Fossil Beds Visitor Center makes use of many of these design features to reduce energy usage.
9. Sustainable Design Feature #9: Standing-Seam Metal Roof with No Exposed Fasteners
Although the Florissant Fossil Beds Visitor Center didn’t mention this one, as a roofer, I couldn’t help but notice that their choice of a standing-seam metal roof was a smart one. Standing-seam has no exposed fasteners, and is a true “lifetime” roof. It’s incorporation into the roof is yet another sustainable design feature of the Visitor Center. At the end of its useful life, it can even be recycled and reused. If you’re new to roofing, the photo below will show a few common roofing materials – good, better, and best – asphalt, Ag-profile metal, and standing-seam metal.
This article has sought to illustrate some of the smart or sustainable design features of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Visitor Center, and perhaps in the process, you have seen an idea or two that you’d like to incorporate into your own home. If the project is in their sphere of competence, Caldwell’s Roofing (334.332.7799) would love to get you a quote on your fix-it-up ideas. And since this post was about the Florissant (pronounced similar to “fluorescent,” except the accent is on the last syllable) Fossil Beds, why not close with a picture of a real, fossilized stump?