Better Living Mill Shop: Common sense construction

Better Living Mill shop

“We strongly believe that sustainable design is simply doing our jobs to the best of our abilities,” explained Charles Hendricks, AIA, CSI, CDT, LEED AP, of The Gaines Group PLC, Harrisonburg, Va. “Designing buildings that are energy efficient, durable, low maintenance and long lasting gives our clients the best value for their investment.”

The Gaines Group delivered this value as architect for The Better Living Mill Shop in Troy, Va. Better Living is a lumber and furniture supplier with locations around Virginia. The company wanted to expand with a 26,000-square-foot mill shop. The specifications from the building owner were to create a durable, low maintenance and attractive building. Better Living got so much more than that with the creation of its award-winning, LEED certified mill shop using InSpire wall panels from ATAS International, Inc., Allentown, Pa.

The mill shop is a one-story structure constructed from a pre-fabricated metal building. The shop portion takes up 24,000 square feet, and an office inhabits about 2,000 square feet. Construction began in late summer 2008 and was completed in June 2009. The builder was Mathers Construction Team, Waynesboro, Va., and the commissioning engineer was F7 Engineers, Charlottesville.

Better Living Mill shop side viewWhen The Gaines Group was looking for energy-efficient systems to offer to Better Living, it discovered InSpire. The Gaines Group liked the InSpire transpired solar collector system, because it matched the established metal look already created with the prefab structure and tied into the mechanical demands of the building.

“The shop has a high demand for make-up air due to the dust extraction system used for the milling of lumber,” Hendricks said. “The InSpire wall offered a perfect solution for introducing preheated make-up air into the facility, allowing for a tremendous reduction in energy usage.”

InSpire consists of transpired solar collector metal wall panels mounted a few inches from the building’s outer wall. The perforations in the wall panels allow outside air to travel through the face of the panels. Solar heated air at the surface of the panels is then drawn through the perforations where it rises between the two walls and enters the building’s ventilation system. In the summer, InSpire helps to keep the building more comfortable by preventing normal solar radiation from striking the building’s main wall. Hot air is thermally siphoned up the wall and vented through holes at the top of the system, leaving the main wall cooler. In the summer, by-pass dampers allow cool fresh air to be drawn into the building at night, maintaining indoor air quality and temperature.

InSpire was installed on the southern wall of the building to maximize solar air heating. The southern wall collects solar heat for use inside the facility, reducing the use of the traditional HVAC system. The building features 2,240 square feet of InSpire—0.032-aluminum panels in a highly absorptive Classic Bronze color. The panels are coated with fluoropolymer (PVDF) to allow absorption of the sun’s energy to preheat surface and cavity air.

Other benefits of InSpire include:
♣    Heats fresh air
♣    Lowers heating costs by $3 to $5 per square foot of panel per year
♣    Contributes to LEED credits
♣    Destratifies indoor air
♣    Payback within four to seven years
♣    Tax incentives
♣    Reduces incoming drafts
♣    Reduces sick building syndrome
♣    Converts up to 80 percent of solar energy
♣    Recaptures heat loss through walls
♣    Helps to cool in summer

Better Mill Shop side view 2“The bottom line is InSpire utilizes free solar energy to reduce a building’s energy consumption,” said Jim Bush, vice president of sales for ATAS. “Better Living has seen a 47 percent reduction in energy use according to energy models, and that is due in part to InSpire.”

Coupled with Inspire, the mill shop’s energy-efficient lighting, efficient HVAC system and high-performance insulation also contribute to the reduced energy consumption. Other sustainable features include: water-efficient fixtures, recycled content materials and an 80,000-gallon rain water collection system. This water is used for landscape irrigation and vehicle wash stations.

Hendricks believes these behind-the-scenes materials are what truly add to the sustainability of any building. He noted: “The best investment that can be made on any green building project is investing in knowledge of available solutions for your particular project. As architects, it is our job to best determine the systems that will provide the best value for our clients, not simply to be focused on aesthetic decisions. Often the systems that you never see in the building are the most important to the success of any project.”

Common Sense Design
Common sense for Hendricks and those at The Gaines Group is designing buildings that are the best investment for their customers. Those buildings are indeed energy efficient, but Hendricks pointed out that they don’t design to be green per se—they strive to lower energy use and related utility bills, reduce waste and conserve natural resources. When working on a rural project, similar to the mill shop, Hendricks noted this common sense “green” design seems almost second nature.

“Everyone should be looking for ways to reduce resource consumption while maintaining a comfortable way of life,” Hendricks said. “Rural communities have always known that you have to take care of your resources to be successful. So I actually feel like they are leading the way in the sustainability movement. They just did not have a need to name it (green).”

The Better Living Mill Shop received LEED certification, in the LEED New Construction Green Rating System. The project was also awarded the 2009 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award—the Silver Medal Winner in the Environmental Project Category—by the state of Virginia.

“The Better Living Mill Shop inspires me in a different way than other sustainable projects with ATAS products,” Bush said. “You have this one-story, metal clad structure that frankly doesn’t appear to be anything special. But dig a little deeper and you discover a building owner who demanded quality products—as they all should—and an architect who delivered with energy-efficient, common sense design. It is rewarding for everyone at ATAS to know that InSpire played a role in this successful project and is a common sense product.”

Kate Gawlik is a marketing consultant for ATAS International Inc., Allentown, Pa., She is based in Woodridge, Ill., and can be reached at

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