SustainABLE for ME Design Awards – Honor Award


SustainABLE for ME.001

363HOUSE and john gordon | architect are proud recipients of an Honor Award for design as bestowed by the SustainABLE for ME Maine Design Awards 2015, co-sponsored by Alpha One and AIA Maine. We are deeply honored for 363HOUSE to be recognized as a vanguard of accessible residential design. Jury comments include, “Love this one, done very well and elegantly, superlative, favorite” and “Totally blew me away” and “Entry door threshold: brilliant” and “Epitome of great design”!  The following gallery of images depicts accessible features and building design (click on any image to enlarge and enter gallery view mode).

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bright stair 2

one of the more distinctive interior features is the steel stair with a somewhat unorthodoxed galvanized finish – very industrial with its diamond-plate treads and cable railings.  the fabricator and i spent a lot of time exploring the possibilities of how to put this thing together.  the first round of detailing included separate components to be assembled on-site.  however, the resulting aesthetic would be more “clunky” due to the tread to stringer attachment details.  after some coaxing from the architect, chris (the fabricator) concluded that he could indeed weld-up the main carriage in one piece, transport to massachusetts for it’s galvanizing bath then deliver and install (insert!) into it’s final resting place in the house.  indeed, it did happen and it looks great!  here’s a series of photos chronicling the stair journey and installation:

i hope to have photos of completed stair next week.

stair fabricated by Stillwater Metalworks of Bangor.  Chris Higgins, proprietor.

green eggs. no ham.


WHAT: U.S. Green Building Council – Maine Chapter. Green Eggs (a monthly breakfast forum featuring a speaker and topic relevant to green buildings).

WHEN: Wednesday, June 5 at 7:30 a.m.

WHERE: Maine Audubon, Gilsland Farm Education Center, 20 Gilsland Farm Rd, Falmouth, ME.

I will be presenting a case study entitled Universal Design and LEED.  The presentation will share insights re: design and construction of 363HOUSE.

A house tour will be conducted on Friday, June 7 from 4 -6 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

Learn more at


VPL – vertical platform lift


This gallery contains 12 photos.

VPL (Vertical Platform Lift) also/formerly known as wheelchair lift.  quite the piece of machinery.  photo gallery below documents how the 13’+ tall tower was inserted into the shaft.  i was skeptical  but, kevin (the installer) kept saying “yeah, we’ll git … Continue reading

accessible door sill detail

one lesson-learned from a new house we built for jessica in 2004 was the impact of exterior door sills.  finding the proper balance of “flushness” (minimizing the “bump” at the door) and weather control (keeping the elements outside where they belong) is the ongoing battle, especially when accommodating a wheelchair.  we thought we had adequately addressed the issue in 2004, but we were wrong. those doors have a very robust weather-resistant sill assembly.  unfortunately, that equated into a robust wheelchair barrier, as well.  we were able to mitigate to some extent by installing small aluminum “ramps” at each door, but the solution remains a basic “fail”.  so, in this house we’ve been determined not to repeat that mistake (we’ll just create some new ones!).  the following documents our low-impact door sill detail.

section detail showing basic components and dimensions.  note: dimensions are specific to the drewexim profile and dimensions.

section detail showing basic components and dimensions. resulting “bump” at interior door sill is about 3/8″ – an easy roll-over for jessica.  one reason we liked the drewexim doors was the availability of this low-profile sill.  the biggest challenge in this detail is providing a suitable thermal break between the edge of the floor slab and the granite.

photo showing recess in foundation wall for lowered sill assembly.

photo showing recess in foundation wall for lowered sill assembly.

here it is at rough install stage.  when backfilled/paved, the granite sill will mostly disappear.  granite seems like a somewhat "precious" material to bury, but these sill pieces only cost about $60 each.  a small price to pay for the durability of granite in this harsh environment.

here it is at rough install stage. when backfilled/paved, the granite sill will mostly disappear. granite seems like a somewhat “precious” material to bury, but these sill pieces only cost about $60 each. a small price to pay for the durability of granite in this harsh environment.

here's what it looks like from exterior.

here’s what it looks like from exterior.

we look forward to exterior paving and jessica’s first “test drive”!



metal siding

early morning sun making the corrugated galvalume metal glimmer.  love it!  installation = SLOW (kinda like the metal roof).  but, once it's in/on, it will last a long time with virtually no maintenance.  it has high-recycled content value and it's 100% recyclable.  what's not to love????

early morning sun making the corrugated galvalume metal siding glimmer. love it! installation = SLOW (kinda like the metal roof). but, once it’s on, it will last a long time with no maintenance. it has high-recycled content value and it’s 100% recyclable. what’s not to love????

solar thermal

solar thermal collectors at top left corner of roof.

solar thermal collectors at top left corner of roof.  read below for system description.  let the sun shine!

Major System Components Based on an evaluation of anticipated domestic hot water demand, the proposed closed loop antifreeze solar hot water system consists of:

  • (2) Wagner EURO C20 AR flat plate solar thermal collectors with Sunarc solar glass.
  • (1) Caleffi 119G solar storage tank with electric element backup
  • (1) Flowstar solar pump station by Stiebel Eltron; includes temp. gauge, flow meter, and PRV
  • (1) Stiebel Eltron SOM 6 plus Delta T controller with variable speed pump control

The system is designed for primary solar domestic water heating with seamless automatic backup from the electric element in the tank.

System Operation Whenever the rooftop collectors are warmer than the water in the bottom of the storage tank, a differential temperature sensor automatically activates a solar circulating pump. Sun-heated antifreeze pumps up to the collectors, then down through a heat exchange coil located in the bottom of the storage tank. In the spring, summer and fall, the system will provide a significant fraction of the household’s domestic hot water for showering, laundering, dishwashing, etc.

This is a closed-loop system, meaning that the non-toxic propylene glycol antifreeze never comes in contact with the domestic water supply. In case of unusually high hot water demand, or an extended period of cloudy weather when there isn’t enough sun to heat the top of the tank to its set point, the back up electric element will take over. The integration of the solar hot water system and the backup element will ensure that you always have an ample supply of hot water.

System Overheat Protection Under certain conditions solar hot water collectors can reach temperatures of 350 degrees F or more. Glass, copper and aluminum live comfortably at these high temps, but the propylene glycol heat transfer fluid in the system needs to be kept below 250 degrees to prevent acidification.

ReVision Energy incorporates ‘steamback overheat protection’ into every solar hot water system to protect the heat transfer fluid from a ‘stagnation event’ which can occur during power outages or during long stretches when hot water is not being used (i.e. you are away on vacation) and the solar circulating pump shuts down to prevent overheating the storage tank. Steamback is a robust, well-proven strategy developed in western Europe and widely accepted as the best industry standard (rather than building a separate heat dump zone).

Steamback is simple and elegant: when the solar pump has stopped and the collectors reach approximately 250 degrees F, a small amount of the water in the water/glycol mix begins to boil. As the water boils and turns to steam it expands to several thousand times its liquid volume, thereby forcing all of the propylene glycol out of the collector and into a specially sized expansion tank where the fluid stays cool and happy until the collectors fall back below the boiling point. At this point the water condenses, contracts and the system will self-recover as soon as the solar pump starts running again.

You can learn more about this important system design feature at

System Performance This solar hot water system is expected to:

  • Produce roughly 11,592,000 Btu’s of clean, renewable heat energy annually
  • Offset roughly 4,906 lbs of C02 emissions from fossil-based energy sources

Incentives This system qualifies for the following state and federal rebates:

  • The solar system is eligible for a 30% federal tax credit. This credit (not deduction) is subtracted directly from an existing tax liability. Please consult with your accountant or tax professional to ensure that you will be eligible for the tax credit.
  • This system is eligible for an Efficiency Maine Solar Thermal Rebate. Incentives are based on projected annual energy production and must be cost effective to be eligible.

solar PV

solar thermal (hot water) collectors at upper left.  remainder of panels are PV (photovoltaic for electricity).

solar thermal (hot water) collectors at upper left. remainder of panels are PV (photovoltaic for electricity).

our solar contractor is Revision Energy. here’s a detailed description (excerpted from Revision’s system design/proposal) of the PV (photovoltaic) system.

Economic & Environmental Return on Investment – This solar energy system uses a clean, renewable ‘fuel’ called sunshine. Because it displaces finite, polluting and increasingly expensive fossil fuel, the solar energy system is guaranteed to pay for itself through avoided costs. After you get all of your initial solar investment back, the system will continue to deliver a valuable household revenue stream for years to come. Every time energy costs go up, your financial return on investment improves proportionally.  Plus, the system will be eliminating thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions each year, delivering a powerful environmental benefit for you, your community and future generations.

PV (photovoltaic) Major System Components  Based on an evaluation of available roofspace, site configuration, and energy demand, ReVision Energy proposes a roof-mounted photovoltaic array of 7.20 kilowatts (nominal).

The system features these major components: (30) 240 watt Monosilicon Canadian Solar photovoltaic panels; CS6P-240M or equivalent ( and (1) SMA Sunny Boy 7000 US grid-tied solar electric inverter (

Whenever sun shines on the solar electric panels, they will generate direct current (DC) electricity. That DC electricity is transmitted to an inverter, which then converts it into AC electricity which can be used in your home. Any electric loads (TV, dryer, electronics, etc.) operating while the sun is shining will use available solar electricity. Any excess will flow out to the grid and you will receive a credit for the production.

Whenever the sun is not out, you will continue to purchase grid electricity as you do now. The local utility company will install record electricity you feed into the grid. If at the end of the month your generation is greater than your consumption, you will earn a credit on your next bill. You can bank your surplus from month to month for up to a year.

System Performance  The proposed 7.20 kilowatt system is expected to generate roughly 8,830 kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually and offset roughly 11,479 lbs. of CO2 emissions annually

These predictions are based on weather data specific to location and adjusted based on conditions at the site. Snow accumulation and shading of the array will effect system production.  Production will vary from year to year. Data estimates based on that of NREL PVWatts:

Incentives  This system qualifies for the following state and federal rebates:

  • The solar system is eligible for a 30% federal tax credit. This credit (not deduction) is subtracted directly from an existing tax liability.
  • This system is eligible for a Solar Electric Program rebate from Efficiency Maine. This rebate offers an incentive of $500 per 1,000 kWh of annual projected production up to a maximum of $2,000 for residential installations.

a post describing the solar thermal (hot water) system will follow in a few days.

building shell blower door test

as previously discussed, a BIG performance component of this house is tightness.  most (all?) design and constructability decisions have been founded upon the principals of building shell tightness.  these include walls/roof (SIPs), windows, doors, foundation details, etc.  the basic idea is to build the house as tight as possible to keep that precious (costly!) heated air INSIDE.  of course, in so doing,  we must also be cognizant of occupant health.  if it’s too tight, then we can induce indoor air quality problems (moisture, pollutants, etc.).  the catch phrase is “build it tight, ventilate it right”.  what follows is some info on the “build it tight” part.  more to come on the “ventilate it right” part….

in addition to design and attention to detail during construction, we must test ourselves.  that’s where the blower door comes into play.  basically, a blower door is a door that blows air out of the house thereby creating a negative pressure inside (it can also blow air into the house, thus creating a positive pressure, used mostly as a diagnostic method).  WARNING: what follows will go some distance down the “building science” road, but NOT all the way down that road – three reasons.  1) i’m an architect, not a scientist!  2) the purpose of this blog is to present a wholistic presentation of the design and construction of 363HOUSE.  3) due to #’s 1 & 2, i’m trying to keep the information mostly accessible to the non-greengeeks amongst us!

blower door.  basically, a fabric door with a big fan.  the little gray box near upper left corner is the manometer.

blower door – basically, a fabric door with a big fan. the little black box with keypad near upper left corner is the manometer.

the blower door is equipped with a computerized manometer to measure air pressure.  the industry standard is 50 Paschals (50Pa) – a Paschal is a unit of measure like inches of water column.  it’s been described to me as the equivalent of a 20mph wind blowing on all exterior surfaces (roof, walls, floor/foundation) of the building simultaneously.  the manometer reading is rendered in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM).   the lower the number, the better.  that CFM number is factored to obtain so many Air Changes per Hour (ACH).  again, lower is better.  so, basically, the resultant calculation tells us how many complete air changes will occur in 60 minutes at 50Pa.  so, that’s interesting, huh?  if you’re still reading this, then you might be wondering, “well, how many (or, few) is good?”.  here’s a VERY brief primer….a reasonably, well-constructed home of “conventional/non-airtight” construction might be 15ACH@50 or more;  under the 2009 International Residential Code, ≤7ACH@50 is required; an EnergyStar 3 house, ≤4@ACH is required; PassivHaus, the uber-standard for TIGHT construction, ≤0.6ACH@50 is required!

our energy model (see “energy” posted WAY back on 13 june 2012!) is based upon 1.5ACH@50Pa.  we chose this target based upon previous experience and knowing that this project has many goals and a budget.  so, the thinking was let’s not over-reach on every goal.  nonetheless, we have been OBSESSIVELY attentive to tightness with every intention of smashing our energy model goal!

so, how’d we do????

on friday, the manometer told us we did pretty good - 355CFM.  this translates into 0.95ACH@50.

on friday, the manometer told us we did pretty good – 355CFM. this translates into 0.95ACH@50.

frankly, we did NOT smash our goal.  yes, we did better than 1.5 by a little more than a third.  and, this is only the building shell blower door test (we can work toward improvement before the final blower door test at completion).  so, i’m satisfied with our work, but not ecstatic – no chest-pounding!  of course, the shell blower door should be considered a diagnostic tool – a learning opportunity.  yeah, so, what did we learn????

well, our uber-tight entry doors aren’t so uber!  the good thing about the uber doors is the hinges are nearly infinitely adjustable and we think we can tighten up the door seals through hinge adjustments.  we also found a few small breaches in the SIPs shell incurred by some electrical wiring (MORE spray foam!).  and, we have a few very minor leaks at window installation clips. the uber windows are indeed uber – no air leaks there!

BTW, leaks are discovered through the use of a smoke pencil. it’s just what it’s called, a “pencil” that emits smoke.  if the smoke leaks out of the building, then that means air is going out, too!  pretty cool, VERY effective, LOW-tech device!

diane milliken of horizon maine (project green rater) conducting the blower door test. NICE BOOTS! :-)

diane milliken of horizon maine (project green rater) conducting the blower door test. LOVE the boots!

one final thought.  i’ve always found the best way to think of this whole air leakage thing is in terms of “how big of a hole does this ACH@50 number equal?”.  think of it like this….if we added up the area of ALL the holes in the building shell (shell area = 5667 square feet), then the total would equal a 6″ diameter hole.

we plan to re-test in the next week, or so, after the above listed remedies have been employed.  i will report any improvements worth noting.

now, if i can just GET THE ROOFER TO SHOW UP!!!!

ps: here are the calcs, for those number freaks amongst us….

363HOUSE blower door shell


a rain screen is an airspace behind the exterior siding.  it allows any water the might find its way behind the siding to drain.  thus, the building structure is better protected against water infiltration and the siding is more durable.  nothing new here – “rain screens” can be found in buildings that are hundreds of years old (it’s a major reason these buildings have lasted so long).  however, in our miserly quest to build cheaply (so the wall street /thieves bankers can pocket the dollars!), we’ve lost our way a bit.  the introduction of a rain screen into a wall assembly is relatively simple – but, it does add some costs.  historically, those costs have not been supported in the post-war building boom.  to satisfy the money guys, we only need to build houses that last 25-30 years (typical mortgage period).  so, that’s what we have been doing.  its time we change that.

this “in-process” photo shows the major components MINUS flashing and a few “odds & ends”.
1) “TYPAR” = house wrap/drainage plane.
2) vertical wood strips = 1×3 strapping to create 3/4″ thick air space.
3) black horizontal bands top & bottom wall and window = venting with insect screen.

the rain screen employed at 363HOUSE is VERY simple.  basically, it consists of three components:  1) house wrap as the drainage plane.  this protects the exterior surface of the structural wall (SIPs) from water.  house wrap also allows any trapped moisture behind to escape via vapor diffusion.  2) air space – we are using 1×3 strapping to create a 3/4″ air space between backside of clapboard siding and face of structural sheathing (SIPs).  the air space is of sufficient depth to allow water to drain and provide air flow to promote drying and pressure equalization.  3) flash and vent – the only “tricky” detail with a rain screen is paying close attention to flashing details.  basically, the flashing must bridge the air space – so, it spans from the house wrap outbound to the exterior surface of siding.  this is necessary for any water that might be draining down the drainage plane (house wrap) to find its way out above wall penetrations (doors, windows, lights, vents, etc.).  venting is important to allow any water to drain and air to flow.  so, we are using 3/4″ thick corrugated plastic vents with insect screen at the bottom and the top of the 1×3 strapping.

so, when all is detailed AND installed properly, the rain screen will protect our structure and siding from the potential damages of water/moisture.  this will result in long-term durability and lower maintenance.  all of this for a few thousand dollars, labor and material.

siding and trim installation starts this coming week!