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Solution of the Month

Bourne Again: Sustainability gets sly in a repurposed textile mill.

May 2011

By David Sokol

In converting a neglected 1881 textile mill in Tiverton, Rhode Island, into mixed-income rental housing, its developer had two constituencies to satisfy. The first was the target consumer, Generation Y’ers gravitating toward stylish, sustainable products at market rates. The other comprised the state’s historic preservation office and the National Park Service, both of which demanded exercising extreme sensitivity with the building envelope in order to authorize tax credits for the project.

Textile mill in Tiverton, Rhode Island
Photo © Nat Rea
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“In a mill building, there tends to be less preservationist focus on the interior, since it was typically barebones,” says Michael Binette, vice president and principal of the Boston-area studio The Architectural Team, which had been working with this client on similar projects since 1971. “We had to preserve the building’s public presence.” To do so, original single-glazed fenestration was replaced with thermally broken aluminum-frame windows with high-performance glazing. Binette adds, “The windows really make this job sing. We had to get the glass area, brick profiles, and other elements as close to the original as possible.” The designers also preserved the wall depth in relation to the windows, furring out plaster-finished interior walls just enough to accept batt insulation without visually compromising the window splay and bullnose corners; they are finished in a plaster skim coat. (Foam insulation was sprayed on those granite surfaces that were never finished in plaster.) A retrofitted solar reflective roof with 6-inch-thick polystyrene insulation achieves an R-30 value, compared to the original R-4.

Common systems would have undermined the care paid to the exterior, as their large physical plant would have marred its appearance. So dual-purpose gas-fired water heaters equipped with dual stainless-steel heat exchangers produce domestic and space-heating water for Bourne Mill Apartments’ 165 units. They feature integrated on-demand hot water, which enhances fuel efficiency and diminishes overall water consumption. Equally important, the systems are suitable for long venting. A heater unit is installed in a 24-inch-deep closet located in each apartment, and a 3-inch-diameter flue extends above the roofline without penetrating the visible historic envelope. The closets are located in the deepest interior of each home, insuring the flues’ removal from the viewshed.

The Architectural Team’s solution also recognized market realities. Individual systems allow the owner to meter usage and to pass utility charges to tenants, rather than folding a common cost into the rent.

An energy recovery ventilator services Bourne Mill Apartments’ community space, which requires significant ventilation. Approximately 75 percent of energy leaving the HVAC system diverts to these assembly areas. Gas-fired condensing boilers producing hot water for the common heating systems are hidden in the basement, and the ERV is positioned equally inconspicuously in the ceiling of a storage closet adjacent to the laundry room: Supply enters through a louver above a door that connects to an interior courtyard, and, via gooseneck, exhaust travels through crawl space and out an abandoned window into the courtyard.

“We also engaged those systems in the design, to create a more industrial effect in the common areas,” Binette says. “Ductwork and grilles are exposed to reflect the nature of the building.”

The Architectural Team enjoyed yet another benefit from these strategies. In addition to respecting and evoking the 120-year-old building fabric, improvements to the envelope and mechanical systems work in tandem to optimize energy performance. Bourne Mill Apartments beats ASHRAE 90.1-2004 efficiency standards by 29 percent.


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