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VOL. 126 | NO. 85 | Monday, May 2, 2011



Memphis Engineers Make Green Progress

JEFF IRELAND

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Environmentally speaking, Memphis engineers are making progress. Two years ago, Davis Patrikios Criswell Inc., a Memphis-based engineering firm, was in charge of the construction of the TERRA House, a structure that was built through the cooperative efforts of the University of Memphis and the United States Department of Architecture.

The 1,800-square-foot house on North Main Street in Downtown includes, among other eco-friendly features, a tankless hot water heater and a utility bill that averages just $30 a month.

The TERRA (Technologically + Environmentally Responsive Residential Architecture) House is the only structure in Memphis certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system that provides third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in energy savings, water efficiency and other generally accepted green benchmarks.

“The last couple of years, before the economy sort of wrecked, we were starting to see more of it (customers seeking eco-friendly designs),” said David Bray, project manager of the Bray-Davis Firm LLC, a Bartlett-based engineering firm. “Probably 30 to 40 percent of the subdivisions we were doing were trying to incorporate large trees and large common open space and keep those instead of clearing and putting more lots. Cities were working with us, saving acres for green space. That was becoming much more prevalent.”

Walter Nelms, president of Engineered Comfort, a Memphis-based engineering firm that specializes in green concepts, has also seen the need for eco-friendly engineering increase recently.

His company specializes in custom homes, a niche that, by its nature, leans toward green ideas.

According to Nelms, when it comes to heating and air conditioning systems, the general requirement is a one-ton unit per 400- to 500-square-feet of home space.

“We’ve got one house that is one ton for every 1,100 square feet,” Nelms said. “We’re using 40 to 60 percent of the A/C capacity to heat and cool homes, and we’re using less energy by doing that. … When people are building a house they want to stay in for a while, they want to save the money on utilities.”

A big reason why Nelms’ company is able to save energy is the utilization of the geothermal heat pump.

Engineered Comfort regularly utilizes the device, which uses the Earth as a heat source in the winter. The geothermal heat pump takes advantage of the moderate temperatures in the ground to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems.

While progress is being made, Memphis is stall lagging behind when it comes to eco-friendly engineering.

“Memphis is behind by a great margin,” Nelms said. “We’re doing three (eco-friendly projects) in Nashville right now. They’re ahead of us right now. They’re not at the forefront, but they’re further along than we are. Memphis has historically lagged behind in progressive energy efficiency.”

That’s not to say Memphis isn’t trying to catch up.

Davis Patrikios Criswell Inc. regularly takes on engineering projects that are environmentally friendly.

Eric Criswell, vice president of DPC, regularly takes on eco-friendly projects, most of which are commercial. The principles can be applied to residential projects as well.

He points to five things that are environmentally conscious and, at the same time, economical: heating and air with green principles, tankless hot-water heaters, secure doors and windows, eco-friendly insulation and air-tight structures.

“The idea is that, if you can take care of the shell of your structure, the building envelope, as it is most commonly referred to, you’ll be in good shape,” Criswell said. “At the end of the day, your structure is going to perform better so you’re going to save money.”

Criswell has noticed a trend among his customers. Some are happy to try and forget about the almighty dollar, at least to a certain degree, and think about the environment.

“We, as consumers in America, have this aesthetic mentality when we’re building structures to spend $2,000 toward granite countertops or nice plumbing structures,” Criswell said. “How about putting that money toward (eco-friendly) insulation? That money would pay itself back in a very short time. … People are starting to be more aware and cognizant of that – to not only think of themselves, but think about their consumption of resources.”

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