The Big Picture

Repurposing with a Purpose

October 30, 2012
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For builders, it’s often more economical to tear down a structure than invest resources into repurposing it. With a number of old box stores, shopping centers and strip malls sitting vacant, it’s impressive to learn about one such abandoned facility whose fate was revived. Once an auto repair shop that sat vacant for a quarter century, the 30,000-square foot new home of Rice Fergus Miller (RFM) architects in Bremerton, Wash., sits atop a parking garage and feels like “a cross between a warehouse, a nightclub and an office,” said Steve Rice, partner, architect and LEED AP.

As a growing and contemporary architecture and design firm, RFM took the opportunity to test its own energy efficiency theories when conceptualizing the new office space. R30 walls and an R50 roof, as well as windows with a U-factor of 0.25, were all employed in the building envelope. The extra-thick insulated jacket slows down the rate at which the building sheds heat in the winter and gains heat in the summer. Large diameter, low speed fans and a variable speed double heat pump system replaced the need to run ductwork through the building. With requiring 25,000 square feet of ductwork at a cost of $3.50 per square foot, the total cost would’ve ended up being $87,500. Using Big Ass Fans removed the need for ductwork, and helped the company avoid the incurring $87,500 in additional material costs for ductwork.

Taking advantage of the year-round mild climate, RFM created a workplace that’s four times as efficient as a benchmark building in Seattle. However, converting a “wreck” of a building into a vibrant studio required significant innovation.

“We’ve added solar on the roof and our energy model now says we should be able to operate at 19 kbtu/square feet/year,” said Rice. “The average temperature in Seattle is 78 F which gives you some idea of where we are.”

At the heart of the project – a three-story alcove – RFM produced a chimney effect by cutting a sizable hole in the floor and instituting a passive ventilation system with clerestory windows. Moderate outdoor temperatures and a thick shell of insulation prevent extreme temperature swings within the space, ensuring thermal comfort for employees and visitors. But when temperatures fall outside of a 15 degree “passive zone,” the HVAC system provides conditioned air. To avoid running ducts throughout the space, the designers integrated variable speed heat pumps in localized places and installed ceiling fans to mix the air. While smaller fans sufficed in the low-ceilinged conference rooms and work pods, a larger fan was needed to mix the air in the main space and provide a heat recirculation and ventilation to supplement the design.

The architects turned to Big Ass Fans and installed a 14-foot diameter, silent Element fan to provide year-round air circulation. Installed 20 feet up at the studio level, the fan is about 32 feet from the floor and circulates at no more than 50 percent of its maximum speed. In the summer, Element provides a cooling effect to ensure thermal comfort, and in the colder months, it redistributes hot air that rises to the top of the three-story alcove. Whether the HVAC system is in active or passive mode, the fan supplements the ventilation system.

In addition to the energy-efficient fan, solar paneling and significant R factors, RFM implemented a variety of green building technologies including recycled building materials, rainwater collection and reuse of an existing structure. Thanks to inventive design strategies and a unique adaptation of existing space, RFM’s Bremerton office received LEED Platinum certification through the USGBC with the following credits attributed to the fans: EQc7.1, Thermal Comfort Design, EAcr1, Optimized Energy Performance, and EQcr6.2, Controllability of Systems.

Contributed by Big Ass Fans

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