Sunday, June 28, 2009

Open House...July 11th, 3-8pm!

Please join us for our upcoming Open House Party!

Montrose Green: Open House Party
Saturday, July 11th, 3-8pm
1536 Montrose Street
Philly, PA 19146

We'll be leading tours of the Montrose Green project throughout the afternoon and welcome anyone who is interested to stop by and see the finished project in person. The SoLibs team will be on-site all afternoon and will be joined by our realtor, David Krupp, as well as several members of the design & construction crew to mark the completion of the project. It's been a crazy year and we want you to come help us celebrate!

We'll have a variety of local food & beverages on hand to share and to top off the event, there will be live music on the back patio. Should be a fun time for all...Please let our realtor know if you can make it. RSVP requested to:

Hope to see you on the 11th!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Caesarstone countertops installed

Below you can see the Caesarstone countertops arriving by truck. Our friends at K Group coordinated the process...overseeing the template, fabrication, and installation. (They partner with Master Countertops who actually fabricate and install the material). The second image shows the guys grinding the material after they scribed it on site so it will fit tight to our floors. This piece is for one of the 'turndowns' (where the end of the countertops turn and continue down to the floor) in the kitchen.

Below are a couple of shots of the countertops installed in the kitchen, a detail of the 'turndown' at the dishwasher, and a shot of the master bathroom sink and faucet. The install went off without a hitch and everything looks great. We were most concerned with the seam in the material at the ends of the counter where we decided to turn it and run it down to the floor. They did a great job at putting it all together. Our original plan was to mitre the corners but it was not feasible with this particular line of Caesarstone due to the fact that it contains glass and it began to chip and pop out after a few tests in the shop. We ultimately went with a 'butt joint' detail which still came out nice after they polished it up.

One important green strategy we developed in regards to the Caesarstone (outside of the material itself- read more about that in a previous post) was the maximization of the slab dimensions. We actually designed the width of our two kitchen countertops and all of bathroom vanities to coordinate with the manufactured width and length of the Caesarstone slab. By carefully mapping out all of our counters to fit within the slab dimensions, we determined that we would only need to purchase two slabs for the whole project. After some shifting around and coordination at the fabricators, we were able to successfully provide countertops for the entire kitchen (including 'turndowns') and all three bathrooms...all within two slabs with virtually no waste factor.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Custom stair railings installed

Last Friday, Bill Curran came to install the steel handrails at our stairwells, just in time for the DVGBC Green Home tour on Saturday, 6/20. We had a great turnout of about 35 people who stopped by to see the house- our project was the 2nd stop on a tour that also included Bancroft Green, Thin Flats, and Market Flats. Nearly everyone braved the rain to climb up our timber ladder to the green roof for a glimpse of the skyline and the sedum plants in full bloom. Click here for a slideshow compiled by one of the tour-goers. (Thanks, Brandon for sharing your photos!)

Below are some shots of the steel guys working out the details and then clamping and site welding the rails in place. The tolerances that these guys work to is pretty amazing. They site measure and then cut almost all the steel in their shop and are usually within a 1/16" when they come to put it all together on site.

Below you can see the how the stair rail turns and connects to the guard rail at the second floor. Bill and I went over a number of different ways to execute this and worked out the details in his shop. We think it came out pretty nice.

Here are a couple of shots of the stair and railing from the first floor. We pulled back the protective cardboard on the floor temporarily so you can see how the cherry floors and the exposed brick look against the black steel rails and reclaimed timber treads. The treads you see here are temporary (made from old pine timbers found in the alleyway behind the house), but look very similar to the final reclaimed oak timbers which still need to be planed down and cleaned up before being installed.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A modern rain barrel!

Wanted to take a step back to explain more about the conceptual/big picture reasons for integrating a rainwater harvesting system in the Montrose Green we mentioned before, the idea is to capture water in order to reuse it for plant irrigation while also reducing the volume and the speed of stormwater run off so that it can naturally percolate back into the ground, replenishing the groundwater.

The green roof already does a tremendous service in respect to slowing down stormwater. Excess water that is not absorbed by the plants or given back through evapotranspiration, slowly drains to a screened scupper box at the low point of the roof where it enters into a downspout, then drips down into the rear yard where it has time to be reabsorbed into the ground. Our proposed rainwater harvesting and rain garden system handle this excess water and continue to slow its speed. These simple strategies ensure that little to no run off will end up in the City's sewer system, which is already overtaxed and undersized.

In the event of a huge storm, one in which the green roof gets totally saturated and the rainwater collector and the rain garden both fill up... the excess water will next flow over the planter wall and into the rear yard, which will be comprised of permeable pavers that will allow for the water to percolate through. If there is still excess runoff, which is unlikely, the water will flow into an emergency overflow drain which runs to the City sewer system (this is why I say we are "essentially" disconnected).

Have you ever spend hours trolling the internet trying to find a decent looking rain barrel, let alone a simple, modern one? To the left is a detail shot of our prototype, commercial-grade, stainless steel rainwater collector, custom designed by Philly firm, Shift_Design, and locally fabricated. A movable panel on top allows it to be closed off for the winter without detaching the entire system. Additional detail images follow.

We are in the process of installing the whole system this week... so stay tuned for more updates.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rainwater harvesting system update

We've recently found a unique opportunity to team up with two friends of ours, Mario Gentile & Gavin Riggall, who have started a new design studio that specializes in "exterior architectural systems". Their firm, Shift_Design, will be designing & fabricating a custom rainwater harvesting system for the rear yard at Montrose Green. We've always had an idea of what we wanted to do (check out an earlier post here), but have not had the time to hash out all the details or schedule in the construction.

So a couple of weeks ago, Mario and I were talking about the progress of Montrose Green and other on goings. As he began to tell me what he & Gavin had planned for their design firm, the wheels began turning in my head. I quickly realized that this would be the perfect collaboration. After sending them the conceptual plan for our rear yard and discussing what our ultimate goals would be, they went to work. About a week later they came back to us with the design shown below...pretty nice, huh!

The design is still in the development stages, but essentially here's what you're looking at:

The wall that this system works off of is the concrete block dividing wall between our rear yard and the neighbors to the east of us. On the upper left of the rendering, you can see our downspout connecting directly into a custom designed and locally fabricated stainless steel rain water collector. The collector (or holding tank) is elevated above the ground about 20" and has a screen along the top as well as three outlets - one at the top and two at the bottom. The outlet at the top is an overflow outlet which connects to a long stainless steel trough with a horizontal line of holes punched along the front side. Vertical steel rods hang from these holes and extend down into the rain garden (in this case, an elevated planter box filled with wet tolerant plants). When the trough fills up with water, the water will slowly trickle down the metal rods into the planter area. In addition to providing a simple path for excess water to flow downward, the rods also provide a structured framework for vines to grow upward.

One of the outlets at the bottom of the holding tank will be a spigot (for filling watering cans and such) and the other will provide a fixed connection hose, with a shutoff valve, that feeds directly into the rain garden. The intention here is to allow for a way to bypass the trough system and direct water directly into the rain garden. This hose will also allow the holding tank to be drained seasonally.

The design also incorporates a bench that cantilevers off the top of the low planter wall- this will likely be made of wood. A horizontal slat system on the wall provides an area to hang planter boxes and potted plants which can be organized numerous ways and rearranged throughout the year.

The ultimate idea here is two-fold and fairly simple:
1) to harvest rainwater for irrigation in the rear yard and
2) to slow down stormwater runoff and allow it to sink in and recharge the groundwater below our building.

We are very excited to be collaborating with other local architects and installing a system that will be fabricated right here in Philly. As this design continues to evolve, we'll post more updates. Shift_Design is in the early stages of developing their product line, but expect to have both off-the-shelf & customizable packages available later this summer. If you're interested in working with them, please contact Mario Gentile directly: mgentile[at]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

DVGBC Green Home Tour

Montrose Green will be featured on the upcoming Delaware Valley Green Building Council's (DVGBC) Green Homes Tour on June 20th. We will be one of four stops on the tour which includes nearby Bancroft Green and two projects by Onion Flats in Northern Liberties. Please check out the website for more information about registering for the tour. Hope to see you at the house!

Green Home Tour - Sustainable City - green strategies for urban living

Join the Delaware Valley Green Building Council Residential Circle to examine three very different answers to building Green in the City. Thin Flats in Northern Liberties - the first LEED Platinum Duplex in the country. Bancroft Green, just south of South Street, are new energy efficient townhomes; Montrose Green, on nearby Montrose Street, aims for LEED Platinum status and is an innovative re-working of a Philadelphia rowhome. We will also visit New Market, LEED gold pending.

Tour Date: Saturday June 20, 2009
Time: 10am – 1pm +/-

Price: DVGBC Members-$15, Non-Members-$20, DVGBC Students-$10, Student Non-Members-$15