Spokane Journal of Business

Cd'A architecture firm aims to take green beyond LEED

Patano+Hafermann looks to roll out passive homes, high-performance design

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Patano+Hafermann LLC, an architecture firm with offices in Coeur d'Alene and Seattle, is on a mission to push environmentally-friendly architectural design in the Northwest beyond conventional standards.

Christopher Patano and Laura Hafermann, co-owners of the firm, have designed public facilities, commercial buildings, and homes that they say use dramatically less energy to operate than conventional construction.

They call their work high-performance design, which Patano contends is going to improve upon the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the widely adopted certification program started by the U.S. Green Building Council. He says a client will pay 1 percent to 2 percent more for a high-performance design, because it involves a larger design team. Actual construction costs are equivalent, or up to 10 percent more, than conventional construction, he says.

LEED standards focus on a variety of environmentally-sustainable design elements, such as use of recycled building materials, reduction of energy and water use, and access and parking for alternative transportation. Patano claims high-performance design incorporates and goes beyond those elements.

"LEED has become widely accepted in the industry. We think it's a good start, but we're trying to push the envelope well beyond LEED," Patano says.

For example, one project the firm has designed is called a "net-zero energy" building. The building, which will house the Sustainable Engineering and Transportation Laboratory for the University of Idaho's engineering department, is designed to produce all the energy it uses on-site. The university hired the firm to design a building that would complement the program, in which engineering students design and build vehicles and equipment that use alternative fuel sources.

Patano+Hafermann's design would incorporate glass walls for passive solar heating, as well as wood, brick, and terra cotta tile walls that allow the building to breathe. The building also would be kept warm during winter months by excess heat from the university's power plant next door. The design incorporates coils in the plant's stack, which heat up as steam rises past them. Fluid in the coils would be piped underground to the new engineering building, and then would travel through pipes in the building's floors, creating radiant heat.

When the firm began the design process, it says there were only 10 net-zero energy buildings in the U.S., but Patano says that number is rising and now exceeds 35.

Designing such a project requires input from mechanical, electrical, and structural engineers and even landscape architects from the beginning.

"That was a fantastic pre-design process we went through," says Hafermann, who lives in Seattle and oversees that office, but collaborates with Patano, who now lives in Coeur d'Alene, on every design. "The design team was involved (with the contractors and university representatives) from the first day. That's the key to having buildings that are environmentally sustainable—it's a holistic approach where all the involved entities are at the table right from the get-go."

Hafermann says the pre-design phase of that project is complete, and the university now is raising money to construct the 23,000-square-foot, $8.5 million building.

Last fall, Doma Coffee Roasting Co., of Post Falls, hired Patano+Hafermann to design a new coffee roasting facility, which it hopes to build later this year. The firm produced a plan for a LEED-certified building that will use excess heat from the coffee roaster to heat the entire 5,000-square-foot structure.

Doma Coffee promotes itself as a conscientious, environmentally-friendly company. Co-owner Rebecca Patano, who is Christopher Patano's aunt, says the building plan "closes the circle for us—being a sustainable business, and being housed in a building that follows our own company policies and ethics."

In addition to its public facilities and commercial work, Patano+Hafermann is looking to change the future of new-home design by introducing what's known as passive-house design to the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area.

Patano says passive-house design began in Germany, where the climate is similar to that in the Inland Northwest. The solar-heated, super-insulated homes don't need a furnace, he contends.

"You can heat it with the lights on inside the house. Literally, you could heat the house with a hairdryer," Patano asserts.

An air exchanger built into the structure allows the house to breathe, and produces better air quality than what's usually found in most homes, he says. The exchanger also takes heat out of exhaust air and infuses it into fresh air coming inside, he says.

"There's going to be an explosion of passive houses in the next five years," Patano predicts.

The Passive House Institute US, of Urbana, Ill., says passive homes require only 10 percent of the energy needed to heat a traditional home. The heat needed for a 2,000-square-foot passive house can come from a 9,000 Btu heating unit, such as a baseboard heater, a heat pump, or a system that pumps hot water from a water heater through the ventilation system, it says.

The organization's website says more than 15,000 European structures have been built to passive-house standards.

Besides the possibility of improving the environment by reducing the use of energy consumption, Patano says high-efficiency design can produce considerable utility-cost savings.

A school building designed by Patano+Hafermann for a planned charter school in Caldwell, Idaho, and that incorporates such energy-saving design features, could save the school as much as $44,000 a year, Patano says.

"With that cost savings, they can hire an extra teacher," he says.

Patano+Hafermann opened its Coeur d'Alene office a year ago, and Patano, who grew up there, moved back to his home town to run the office. The business partners had been talking about it for years, but Hafermann says they were so busy with work in Seattle that there wasn't time to make it happen. Then, when the recession hit and their work load decreased, they decided it was time for them to move forward with the expansion.

After 16 years in Seattle, Patano says he's glad to be back in North Idaho, where most of his family still lives. His father, Mike Patano, founded Architects West PA in Coeur d'Alene in the 1970s and sold it a decade ago. He now is semi-retired, and Christopher Patano says he enjoys consulting with his father.

Hafermann says she and Patano continue the close collaboration on each project. Patano will travel to Seattle to work on a project, but he says he's working at his Coeur d'Alene office about 75 percent of the time. The firm has four employees in Seattle and three in Coeur d'Alene, besides Patano and Hafermann.

As funding becomes available for new construction and retrofitting of existing structures, Patano says he hopes the firm's message of the benefits of high-performance design will become more widely accepted.

"Architectural expression is still a really important element of what we do, but it's based on performance. A bicycle looks how it looks, because that's how it works," he says. "Why build an obsolete building? Some people are getting that."

  • Kim Frlan

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