A Conversation With David Quillin

by Dave Wilson

If you are interested in environmentally friendly building practices you will want to check out this story when naturalist Dave Wilson shares his conversation with Leed certified architect David Quillin.

Dave Wilson: My guest today is David Quillin, the principal of David Quillin Architecture of Berlin, MD. The firm designs both residential and commercial green building as well as standard buildings.

From my work here on the shore, I can tell you that David does an enormous amount of work for non-profits, including work for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Habitat for Humanity, and Diakonia to name a few. The firm actually had the first Energy Star-Certified Habitat for Humanity home on Delmarva and did the first LEED certified animal shelter east of the Mississippi. I know firsthand that he is a really talented drummer and surfer too.

David obtained his Masters of Architecture degree from the Catholic University of America in 1993 and did most of his interning work in San Francisco. David lives outside of Berlin with his wife and two daughters who are the fourth generation of his family to grow up on the property. Today we’re going to discuss green building, what it is, and how folks might go about doing it. Dave, good morning.

David Quillin:
Good morning Dave. Thanks for having me.

Dave Wilson:
First, tell our listeners a little bit about green building. What is it or is there a standard by which it’s defined?

David Quillin:
Green building, which is also known as sustainable design, is really just that: it's trying to build a home that's sustainable so that our buildings don't end up degrading the planet. The way we’re building currently is not sustainable. Our buildings are contributing quite a lot to climate change and resource depletion. A lot of people don't realize that almost half the energy we use as a society are consumed by buildings both in creating the buildings, construction, operating them and in demolition. There's a lot of talk about miles per gallon for cars but the single biggest sector we need to address, if you want to address our energy usage, is in the building sector.

Green building actually looks at a number of different issues like where should development go, toxicity, of materials, but what is the major focus of green building is to reduce energy consumption. And green architecture, focused on green design, looks at energy consumption in a building in three different stages of the building: both at its birth, its life, and even at the end of its useful life. So during the birth or construction of the building that can you use 30 to 50% of all of the energy that building consumes over its lifetime. And it's not so much assembling the materials where the energy is, it's in what's called embodied energy of the materials themselves.

So the energy that it took to extract material to process it, to refine it, even before it shows up on the job site, that's all known as embodied energy. It's really important for green architects to try to specify materials that have low embodied energy. Those materials are things like wood, gypsum, cement, and bricks. Recycled materials almost always have lower embodied energy and also local materials have lower embodied energy.

You could imagine if you specify stone that comes in from Oregon, by the time it got to the job site it's quite a lot of energy consumption that's already going into that so generally it's the materials that have undergone less processing in their lifetime. Materials that have a very high embodied energy, that it's better to try to avoid, are things like plastics, vinyls, metals, fiberglass--materials that take quite a long time to process even before they show up on a job site.

So that's during the birth of the building and there's other things you can look at. During the day-to-day operation of the building, people are generally more familiar with that and what an energy efficient building means. I like to think of it by looking at three different areas on how to reduce the energy consumption of a building and its operation. The first one is to use site design to moderate the loads that are going to get to the building itself. Frank Lloyd Wright had a quote--that most people find a piece of land and they find the most sacred spot on that piece of land then they ruin it by putting the building there. So don't put your building on top of the hill. Don't put your building right at the edge of the water. Use the site to really buffer the loads that are going to get to it.

Obvious and easy ways to do that are plant evergreen trees to the northwest of your building. If you're here in the Mid-Atlantic area, we have prevailing cold northwest wind in the winter. Put deciduous trees to the south and to the west of your building and it will shade your building in the summer and keep some of that cooling load from getting to the building.

Some climate loads are going to get to the shell of your building so the second step is to make it tight and super insulated as well as you possibly can to keep those loads from transmitting through the building envelope into the occupants. You want an envelope that's as airtight as possible and a typical house has up to five air changes an hour, meaning all of the air in the house is leaking out through a thousand little gaps five times an hour. That's the area you are paying to heat and cool so make that airtight. Anything below one air change per hour is considered quite tight so there's huge energy savings right there. And also, like I mentioned, make the building as thermally resistant as possible, meaning super insulate. Adding insulation usually has a very low pay back period.

Finally, some loads are going to get into the interior of the building so the last step you want to take is use the highest efficiency equipment possible in order to deal with those loads. For a typical house right now still a geothermal heat pump is about the most efficient system although there's another system called ductless mini splits coming out that are getting very good and are comparable. And then finally the third area is the death of the building. You want a design so that you can prolong the death of the building as much as possible. You want to make the building durable.

It could be the most energy efficient building possible but if it only lasts 20 years that's a huge loss of energy consumption, so it's got to be durable. Part of that is it has to be adaptable. Buildings are designed for a very specific function, and if overtime that function changes, the building is no longer useful. It won't be maintained. It will get torn down. And finally, one that is truly big to me is it's got to be lovable. Buildings take maintenance and people only do maintenance if they love the building and they're willing to invest that time.

A lot of people are familiar with some of the homes in the seventies that are super green but they were ugly as a dog. Nobody wanted to keep them up so they ended up being there for 15 or 20 years and torn down so they ended up not being green at all.

Dave Wilson:
Are there any good web resources that are available to find out more about green building?

David Quillin:
Well you can go to my website which has some information on it and also the US Department of Energy has a home section that has quite a lot of good information on it. The EPA also has a very good section on building green.

And finally one resource that I use a lot is called Green Building Advisor. It's got a good website and has extremely good information. It does require a fee to access some of the information so you might want to take a look and see what you can get on there for free first.