To some, the word “sustainability” is a buzz word, a term tossed about frequently in today’s ever-growing trend towards greener living. To Pickering Associates, it’s common sense.
“Sustainable design is necessary in our industry today because we have reached a point where we, as building owners and users, rarely have future interests beyond a “5-year plan,” explains Nick Arnold, Architectural Designer and 3D Modeler at Pickering Associates, a local Architecture, Engineering and Surveying firm that serves the Mid-Ohio Valley. “Let’s make it easier for the next generation to build on our momentum. Even minor design tweaks that increase efficiency can yield immeasurable environmental and emotional return on investment, not to mention financial payback.”
Pickering Associates has had a long-standing relationship with sustainability. Company founder and co-owner Dr. Charles “Chip” Pickering has had his finger on the pulse of the sustainability market as long as he can remember. When the firm first considered growing into a new office in the late 90s, they looked at high-efficiency building components and recycled materials, resulting in an innovative reuse of a recycled barn skeleton. Site conditions were also taken into consideration, utilizing natural lighting and passive heat gain through strategically placed windows and building orientation. While the immediate goals may be perceived as self-serving, the firm also wanted to cultivate an employee culture aimed at spreading awareness of simple, cost effective design elements that can be incorporated into nearly every design or renovation project.
I really believe that there is great potential to improve our local energy landscape and I take great joy in finding design options that can make a real impact.
Since moving to their new campus on Emerson Avenue, Pickering Associates has completed several LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified projects and installed an impressive solar array with the help of Chip’s new company, Pickering Energy Solutions. “I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with several LEED projects in the past and am currently pursuing a LEED AP accreditation, in addition to becoming more involved with PES,” Nick says. “I really believe that there is great potential to improve our local energy landscape and I take great joy in finding design options that can make a real impact. Pickering Associates and Pickering Energy Solutions are both great examples of how we need to start with a look at ourselves first before we move onto helping others, once we’ve learned to ‘walk the walk,’ so to speak.”
Chip is certainly walking the walk. In 2010, the firm completed the design and construction of the first LEED Certified home in West Virginia – Chip’s own homestead in Williamstown, WV. The house (#12 Faith Meadows) began as the idea to construct something on a residential scale that embodied all of the sustainable aspects of a building applicable to our local climate and culture while still showcasing affordable components for the average home-owner to consider for their next project. “The concept in its simplest form was, ‘Design me a house that’s close to my community, uses local materials, is built of sustainably-harvested lumber, has high-efficiency lighting and appliances, incorporates some recycled content, captures reflected light from the sun in the summer and direct light for heat in the winter, and substantially lowers my utility bills. Oh, and make it fun to talk about so I can go spread the word to our community!,’” Nick laughs.
Not only did Faith Meadows receive LEED certification, it was off the charts–surpassing the requirements for Platinum certification before the green roof was in place and prior to adding a second array of solar panels. Chip uses every opportunity to share his house with the community, leading tours and talking to local students and residents about what it means to live sustainably. Through PES’s website, it’s even possible to watch a live feed of the energy produced by the PV array. In 2014, Chip presented Faith Meadows at the Building Conference Expo and was awarded a Placemaker Award of Excellence in the category of Green Building Projects.
Not wanting to stop there, Chip and the firm wanted to make a statement at their main campus. Installing the solar-panel carports in their parking lot, Pickering Associates hoped to increase awareness of alternative energy in addition to cutting their electric bill in half. The innovative PV array shades the paving, protecting employee vehicles from harmful UV rays while also decreasing the temperature of the parking lot and reducing the ‘heat island effect.’ Throughout the year the canopies allow employees to keep rain, snow and sun off of their cars while at the same time offsetting nearly 80% of the electricity consumed by one building.
Looking to the future, the firm is considering a new building to accommodate their growing company. Nick Arnold and Sarah Arnold were asked to develop a design: “The concept was to create a living, breathing example of what a responsible, sustainable commercial building could achieve. We wanted to design a facility that took full advantage of the environmental surroundings, local resources and culture,” Nick explains. “Basically, we wanted a building that showcased our true sustainable design potential as a multi-disciplinary firm and demonstrate that it can be accomplished by working with our local contractors and work force.”
The key drivers of the design are user interaction, HVAC optimization, natural lighting and views, space efficiency, an efficient building shell, water use reduction, on-site renewable energy, storm water management, and ensuring the end product was enjoyable for our employees and visitors. Their design was also awarded a Placemaker Award, this time in Innovation for Leadership of Place.
By educating others about ways to increase their efficiency and by actively trying to reduce our dependence on natural resources, we can begin to build a more economically and environmentally sustainable framework for our communities to grow.
Chip, Nick and other designers at Pickering Associates continue to reach out to local schools and community events to talk about energy and sustainability concepts. “It’s important to educate community members, especially children, on sustainable practices because they’re going to be the driving force in protecting our natural resources and advancing our technology,” Nick says. “By educating others about ways to increase their efficiency and by actively trying to reduce our dependence on natural resources, we can begin to build a more economically and environmentally sustainable framework for our communities to grow.”
Nick recently spent a morning with sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Hamilton Middle School demonstrating the power and potential of solar energy. After watching a brief presentation explaining sustainability basics, students had the opportunity to take an active role in designing hypothetical solar panel arrays for various schools in Wood County. They also calculated how many watts of power their panels generated and how long a day’s worth of sun would power household items, such as a cell phone.
At the end of the day, the students are excited to get involved and take what they’ve learned home. “If there’s just one thing that we like people to take away from our discussions, it’s for them to go home knowing that every little bit helps, no matter how small.”