Archive for June, 2009

Tom Branch – LEED AP

When we started the process of becoming LEED certified, we learned that we need a LEED accredited professional to oversee the process.  In our region, that is Mr. Tom Branch.  Tom is a one man company with 15 years experience in HVAC design, is a LEED accredited professional by the US Green Building Council, and his Energy Star home energy certification is pending.  He is also a certified building analyst through the Building Performance Institute.

Mr. Branch is working with us so we can achieve LEED certification, and he is over-seeing the HVAC design and implementation on the Bingham Street Condo Project.  He has promised that, through his help, our project will be Energy Star rated.

Tom Branch

His thoughts on the project thus far,

“I’m impressed with the zeal everyone is approaching the project with.”

When asked, “What is different about this project then other LEED projects that you have worked on?”

He quickly replied, “It differs because everyone on the project is familiar with LEED and everyone working on it is familiar with the effort it takes.”  In the past, and as LEED has developed, projects were generally left in the hand of the LEED representatives.  That is changing.  We’re trying to understand the entire project and be part of every step.

Concerning Energy Star, the Energy Star Program is changing, coming in 2011, and is concerned about creating better structures.  It’s all part of the evolving process of bettering design and the design process.

This week Tom Branch worked on the Durability checklist and Preliminary rating, which has to be sent into the LEED provider.  The Durability checklist is a project list for parts of the project that may challenge the buildings durability. Examples include possible areas of water leakage, penetration, and thermal breaks.  Next week he is planning a visit to the site where he plans to look into the water reclamation project and roof irrigation.

More Photos on Flickr

We have a Flickr account!!  Go here to see more images of our projects!

Howe Street Project



This is the Howe Street Renovation Project of the 100 year old Victorian Home in Shadyside Pittsburgh, Pa. We gave the owner a chance to help with the demolition.

Below you can see the finished project and the owner has moved in. -Nicole Santella

The Finished Project

The Finished Project

Grace – VIA at the Southside Works.

Nicole Santella and I had to oppurtunity to help our friend Sharone design his new boutique at the Southside Works.  It opened directly across from the Cheesecake Factory.  It’s a great location!

We spent time helping them pick colors and finishes.  Nicole “sketch” painted figures in the dressing rooms which would later be accessorized with wire.  It has a nice look to it.   The space is a mix of earth, glam, and modern.  It’s unique.  Plus, I really like the furniture they picked out.

On Saturday I sat down and spent a little time with the LEED checklist for the Bingham Street Condo Project.  I completed the Locations and Linkages section.  It’s a fun easy part of the certification project.  This section is important because it proves that the building is within reasonable (walking) distance to neccessities such as banks, stores, medical facilities, food, etc.  Being within walking (or biking!) distances to these places is important for sustainable design and good urban design.  It’s easier for residents, and it is

more efficient than having to drive everywhere.  Being on the Southside, residents will have an abundance of options.  (Personally,  I’ll be happy the day that cars are considered “alternate transportation” and buses and bikes will be the norm.)

Thank you Google maps!  I was able to go online and look up the address of the condos and map the distances to all local businesses, parks, neccessaties and bus routes.  I’m a big fan of public transportation, so I was happy to show all the options a Condo resident may have only a block from their home!

Dawn Marie – 6.11.09


South Side Condos

What a huge undertaking.  This is a brick building, over 100 years olds with lots of structural issues from age and water damage.

MANY changes almost every few days.  We contact the architects for approval to modify after the client asks for “just a small change”. We have the engineer on site to approve the adjustments. 

The client wanted us to lower the floors, so there could be higher ceilings on the second floor.  It ended up being a lot of maneuvering.  The roof had to come off because there were so many layers on it that the load was making it too hard to jack up the ceilings for the installation of the 800 lb steel beams.  

Every wall was removed. A complete gut of the property has been done, including joist removal. An elevator was even removed by hand, one brick at a time.  The dumpster weighed 14 tons!  Wow, that’s a lot of bricks. 

We are putting new TJI joists in the ceiling of the top floor.  Installing new paralam beams and preparing for the cabana on the roof. 

This project is going to be LEED certified when completed.  Several unique things are planned.  Reclamation of water in basement.  Roof garden on cabana.  All LEED wood  being used.  Wood that was removed is being reused.


Dawn Marie – 6.10.09

Working on several properties at one time.

Walnut Street has been going on for a while.  We just got approval to start the second phase.

The first phase was demo.  We had to remove all of the old horsehair plaster. What a giant mess that is. The dirt and dust was incredible.

The house is over 100 hundred years old and has its issues.  We had to be very careful removing the plaster on the exterior walls.  The siding was popping off if we did not handle it carefully.  The plumber and electrician had to rearrange lots of stuff to fit the plans.

Now we need to reframe the exterior openings to accommodate new doors and window sizes.  The owner wants a cool contemporary look.  We are very excited to do this job.

We will be using some cool concrete counters and fireplace surrounds.

Today we start the final demo for the window and door framing.

Phil Martino – Week 6.11.09

This week Phil is working on:

Heritage Box, Co is a current project Phil is working on.  It is a manufacturing company that builds wooden crates for shipping large items over seas.  This is also a design build project, and Harry Levine is the architect on the project.

The building is Located in Center Township.  They are about 1 month into the porject, and this week the foundations and block footings are being done.  It’s been raining a lot lately, which is usual for Pittsburgh, so weather will determine whether the foundation is finished this week.  If it rains, the concrete footings will need to be cleaned, which adds time and man-power.

Phil feels good about the project right now.  He works with good people.

Phil Martino

A little history about Phil:

Phil has been in the construction business for 45 years, and has his own company, since 1985.  He is experienced in Masonry, Concrete, and Steel.  He Graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and was a student of civil engineering and majored in structural design.

In 2006, Dwell Magazine featured a house he built and helped design, on Copeland Street, in Pittsburgh.  It is the first metal building/residential house in Shadyside.  The metal used for the home is from Nucor, which is recycled Steel, and Concrete Block was used.  The pre-existing home was torn down and part of the foundation was re-used in the re-building, probably 2/3 of it.

This project combined residential interior with a commercial structure and exterior.  The cabinets were hand built, they built the recycled steel railings up the stairs and around the loft, and the floors are concrete.

Phil has recently been working with Concrete Zen in making concrete counter tops.  Chatham University’s Bathroom sinks and VIA’s cash counter were done last week.  Both projects were pretty standard designs, and turned out great.

Bingham Street Condos

Last week, on Thursday, we had our Design Charrette.

The Design Charrette is a meeting with all people involved with the LEED project of the building.  I’m excited to be on the project.  LEED for Homes is new, and the LEED process is new for me though I’m familiar with LEED.  I’m learning a lot.  I hope to absorb as much as possible.

We discussed the project, the project goals, roles of the sub-contractors, and what we need to do.

On Saturday Brian and I went through the LEED for Homes checklist.  There is a lot of information required and a lot to consider for certification, but I think we’ll definitely get the certification.  Going through the list, again, makes the process clearer.  There are a lot of points and I’m starting to understand them.  I’m glad to be working with Tom Branch and Lab8 who know a lot about this.