When members of Camden Friends Meeting House decided to renovate their house of worship, they had more than their building’s 200-year history on their minds. They were also thinking about sustainability. “Quakers believe in simplicity and not using more of the earth’s resources than you need,” explains Mike Richards, clerk of the Meeting House buildings and grounds committee.
“They wanted an environmentally conscious meeting house,” says Gary Munch, president of Boss Enterprises, Inc. of Wilmington, whose company accepted the challenge. Working in coordination with Revision Architecture of Manayunk, Pa., a leader in sustainable design, Munch’s company was responsible for tearing down the Meeting House’s annex and restoring the main building. The project required sensitivity to the building’s history and architectural integrity. Built in 1805, the Meeting House played a key role in the anti-slavery movement and provided safe houses for the Underground Railroad.
“We are the only architectural firm in the region that is one hundred percent committed to sustainable design,” says Mike Cronomiz of Revision Architecture, project manager of the Meeting House renovation. “We believe that every building should be energy efficient and we reject projects that don’t fit our core mission.”
Cronomiz is passionate about preservation, conservation, and lowering every structure’s energy profile. “The Meeting House Annex, built in the 1950s, had incandescent light bulbs that generate 90 percent heat and only 10 percent light. By replacing them with compact florescent bulbs, which produce 95 percent light and only five percent heat, we reduced energy consumption by 75 percent while producing the same amount of light.” Another problem with older buildings is the lack of insulation. “We replaced the old windows with new insulated ones but had them manufactured to look exactly like the original design—but with 300 percent improved performance.”
“We’re preservationists at heart. We’ve been recycling for a long time, reclaiming fieldstone from old barns in Chester County, reclaiming timbers for framing new construction. We like all things old,” says Munch, who is a third-generation builder. Being eco-friendly is not new for Boss Enterprises, Inc., which integrates green products and processes into its projects whenever possible.
“We recycled 96 percent of the building we tore down, melting down every nail, crushing the bricks and using it for ground fill around the foundation. We tried to use the same materials they had access to when the Meeting House was first built. We rebuilt the floor with timbers from an 80-year old warehouse in Wilmington.”
The Meeting House’s nonfunctioning, wood-burning stove was preserved while a geothermal heating and cooling system was installed. Wells were drilled to maintain a 56-degree temperature in the system year-round. So it will take less energy to cool the Meeting House on a hot summer day and less energy to warm it when it’s freezing outside. “Geothermal systems are 400 percent more efficient than a normal electric heating and cooling system,” remarks Cronomiz.
“The members of the Meeting House really care about the environment; it was a fantastic experience for us to work with them,” says Munch, whose work earned Camden Friends Meeting House the “Gold”—the Gold LEED Certification, the highest level of Leadership in Environmental Energy & Design.
“I was raised to save things and reuse them, recalls Meeting House member Mike Richards. “When our 1959 annex was torn down, all the materials were recycled. Nothing was carted off to a landfill. A kitchen sink went to an African American church. The old kitchen counter is now a work bench in my basement.”
If you think your historic farmhouse or barn is too old to make the leap into energy efficiency, think again. Revision Architecture is currently bringing a Chester County barn into the 21st century. “When we analyze energy usage in older structures, the first thing we look at is how the building is located on the site. Most older homes were built on an East/West axis with the front of the house facing south to take advantage of the light. Then we bring in an energy auditor who does a ‘blower door test” to see where there are air leaks in the structure. (Older buildings tend to be drafty.) We spray foam to seal up the drafts, rather than ripping down walls,” explains Cronomiz.
The goal is to create a house that uses Net Zero Energy, meaning it uses the same amount of energy it generates at no cost to the owner. Sound like a fantasy? Revision Architects” modular home design in Chestnut Hill for Woodward properties was awarded LEED Platinum Certification in 2009. That means that the new owners can expect to shred their utility bills into confetti.