Mountain Challenge continues to pursue LEED certification

Aug. 23, 2012
Christine Flood, Communications Assistant; Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications

With this week’s installation of a new solar hot water system on property near Maryville College’s Crawford House, the Mountain Challenge program and the College are continuing their pursuit of Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification for the 136-year-old farmhouse.

According to Bruce Guillaume ’76, director of Mountain Challenge, Crawford House is “in the midst of what LEED calls a performing stage.” During this time, energy usage is being monitored in addition to other outputs, in order to make sure they fulfill the prerequisites for certification.

LEED measures areas that the organization has determined as key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. A certificate is then issued to those buildings, homes, or communities that are found to have achieved a high level of performance in these areas.

Prior to seeking LEED certification, Crawford House had already undergone numerous improvements to boost energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. These included volatile organic compound (VOC)-free paint, dual-flush toilets, energy efficient light bulbs and the use of rain barrels to collect water for the garden.

“A connection to the environment has been important to us for a long time,” Guillaume explained.

But knowing the high standards the LEED program has for certification, Guillaume was certain that more would have to be done – so much more that his dream for Crawford House would never be realized.

“I was quite prepared for them to laugh in my general direction,” he said, adding that assessments in 2009 by environmental engineering and energy management company Strata-G did reveal several major changes that were needed. However, Strata-G LEED-accredited professional Janna McCall Nash ’93, a Maryville College alumna, assured him that the changes could be made.

And with funding from a generous grant for environmental studies awarded by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation of Minnesota, they have been, and continue to be made.

Process begins with benchmarking energy efficiency

To benchmark conditions and energy consumption inside Crawford House, one of the first things Strata-G did was to conduct a “blow door test” to determine how well it retained the heated and cooled air indoors.

Guillaume described the process “like a spray skirt on a kayak except in the middle, there’s a fan.” The fan on the door blows air out to create a pressure difference; the pressure difference is then measured to determine how airtight the structure is. What they discovered was not a surprise to Guillaume: air was quickly and easily leaving Crawford House through the windows, vents and chimney.

The next concern for Strata-G was the heating and air conditioning units. Two units – one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs – had been in place since the mid-1980s. Also considered was the structure’s insulation. The original attempt to insulate the house encompassed the entire building. This meant that both the attic and the basement, which has a dirt floor, were included in the insulated areas.

Maintaining historic integrity important

Crawford House is one of 13 structures on the Maryville College campus that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built to be the home of Gideon Stebbins White Crawford, an alumnus of Maryville College and professor of mathematics and registrar. His son, Dr. Samuel Earle Crawford, lived in the home until the mid 1980s.

Because of the home’s history, was important to Guillaume and the College that the historic character of the building be maintained while also making it more environmentally friendly.

“There’s an old historic demonstration house in Knoxville that went green, but they tore it all apart,” Guillaume explained. “I said, ‘We’re not going to do that.’ I did not want to be a demonstration that if you want to go green, you have to make crazy adjustments.”

Windows, which are original to the building, were a concern at first. Guillaume pointed out the waves in the glass and how loosely the windows are set in their frames as indicators of their authenticity. This also means they are highly energy inefficient.

Guillaume said the businesses brought out to the Crawford House to work on the windows told them to replace them; however, he did not believe this was an option since they are a historic aspect of the house. Instead, Guillaume came up with the idea of custom-built storm windows, which still allow the windows to be opened and allow airflow through the house on nice days.

Another issue for the Crawford House was air quality. LEED requires that structures have a certain amount of fresh air exchanges. Because the air in East Tennessee has many pollutants and allergens, a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter was installed.

In addition to the installation of the storm windows, all of the ducts were resealed and a balloon was used to seal the chimney. Once inflated, the balloon goes the width of the chimney and prevents air from escaping that way. The next step was to reinsulate the house.

The idea of insulation, Guillaume says, is for it to be the “envelope of the house.” Because the idea is to insulate only what you want to be heated and air-conditioned, the attic and basement are no longer insulated. A soy-based foam insulation was sprayed directly underneath the flooring and right above the ceiling on the second floor. Additionally, new heating and air conditioning units were bought.

Improvements point to real energy savings

Tightening up Crawford House, insulating it better and in a more efficient way and replacing old HVAC units have reduced energy consumption 40 percent.

“And of the remaining 60 percent, 40 percent or more has been provided by solar energy,” Guillaume pointed out, referencing the new solar array installed near Crawford House in January with funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission in partnership with the city of Maryville.

“A prerequisite for LEED is that, in terms of energy efficiency, we have to operate among the top 20 percent of all office buildings in the country,” he said. “We’ve achieved that. For a 19th-century farmhouse, that’s a big deal.”

LEED requires data on numerous fronts

LEED is not limited to examining the energy consumption of Crawford House, though; it also looks into purchases by the Mountain Challenge program. Guillaume says he and his staff are “documenting their recycle and throw away” (since a percentage of their purchases have to be sustainable), and they need to try to buy local products. By volume, less than 30 percent of Crawford House/Mountain Challenge garbage is allowed go to a landfill.

Decisions such as which materials to use for a new kitchen floor have to be made with LEED standards in mind. Guillaume said they discussed purchasing flooring made of bamboo and even cork, but decided that this was ill-suited to their needs. Luckily, it was realized that linoleum is made from linseed oil, and therefore an environmentally friendly flooring option.

Another issue was the old equipment from Mountain Challenge; it was difficult to find ways to recycle old climbing ropes and harnesses. Some of the retired climbing ropes are now being used at the physical plant and at Penrose Farm. Guillaume also has a colorful rug in his office floor that was made from old climbing ropes. The harnesses, however, are proving to be more difficult to repurpose.

LEED requires a green cleaning program, but little to no changes were needed there; Maryville College had already implemented a green housekeeping program campus-wide.

The standards LEED sets for buildings apply not only to the inside of the house and the purchases made by the business, but to the outside as well.

“The good news is we are surrounded by a lot of green; the bad news is, it’s maintained with a lawnmower,” Guillaume said, adding that even the paved round driveway needs to be 80 percent shaded. (It is, due to the large trees around it. A fruit orchard planted adjacent Crawford House will soon provide more shade.)

Crawford House already has a vegetable garden, which is watered with rainwater collected in barrels. In the future, they also plan to work with a local landscaper who will help them improve their outdoor environment, with special attention paid to things such as rainwater runoff and erosion control.

Data will be submitted this academic year

With the installation of the new solar hot water system, most of the big-ticket facility improvements for LEED certification have been completed. The new system, located in the old chicken coop, will enable Mountain Challenge staff members to better clean and maintain their gear. It’s the first time the structure will have easy water access.

Local firms and businesses have been hired to do the vast majority of the recent improvements at Crawford House. Four businesses were involved in the solar hot water system installation: AEG Energy Solutions and Atkins & Atkins Plumbing, Inc., both of Maryville; Potter Sunderland Construction of Louisville; and CaraSol Energy of Knoxville.

Guillaume said all of the data required by LEED should be submitted during this 2012-2013 academic year. He is unsure of when Mountain Challenge and the College will be notified of the decision.

Regardless of the outcome, he says the pursuit of LEED certification has really opened his eyes, and he’s pleased that Crawford House will serve as an example to others.

“Going green does not mean you have to make crazy adjustments,” he said. “We did all these changes at once, but homeowners or businesses don’t have to do that.”

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.