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Our Summer Vacation – An Inspiration for Green Building

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Rainbow Falls – Gorges State Park

On our summer vacation with family this month, we spent time Southwest of Asheville, NC in an area of the mountains near the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

The Blue Ridge Escarpment is the steep transition area between the mountains and the Piedmont.  The severe elevations changes, combined with heavy rainfall in this region, qualify the area as a temperate rain forest featuring numerous waterfalls, river gorges, and rare plant and animal species.

20 plus years ago I was introduced to a specific region around the Horsepasture River by a very good friend while we both were attending school not far away in South Carolina.  My friend grew up in this part of North Carolina and knew the best places to go and visit.   The waterfalls along the Horsepasture are one of those places.

In college, we visited these waterfalls as frequently as our schedules allowed, especially in the milder months when we could swim or slide down one of the waterfalls.  Unfortunately, after graduating from college, I heard that you couldn’t access this area any longer.   I was very disappointed to hear that such a wonderful place was not open to the public, and that I wouldn’t be able to share this area with my son and daughter.  However, earlier this summer we were excited to find out that North Carolina had created a new State Park in 1999 featuring a trail that provides access to these same waterfalls.

As we planned our vacation, a visit to this new Gorges State Park, was high on the list of priorities.    The weather was beautiful during our vacation and so one morning we set out with our swimsuits, snacks, water, and cameras.  We arrived at the parks visitor center,  newly opened in 2012, purchased a map, secured additional directions from the park staff and promptly set out on a reasonable 1.5 mile hike down to waterfalls.   We passed the creek and spot where my friends and I used to camp, hiked past Rainbow Fall, and then onto Turtleback Falls.   It was an incredible experience sharing this area with my son and daughter.  Now, 14 and 16 years old, they were now old enough to enjoy sliding down Turtleback Falls.

During this incredible adventure in the outdoors, I was also reminded of the responsibility we have as building professionals to the world we have been given and the impact of what we design and build.

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Visitor’s Center – Gorges State Park

When we arrived at the visitor’s center I discovered a thoughtfully designed site and building.   I was not surprised to find out that the Gorges State Park 7,100 square foot visitor’s center was designed to national green building standards and includes many sustainable building features.

In 2013 the project was awarded LEED Gold certification.   Like the park, the building and associated site development is special and includes elements in the design, such as a waterfall feature, which make it fit well into this special mountain setting.   Other site and building features include solar energy systems, geothermal systems, rainwater collection, water saving fixtures, local materials, and beautiful water efficient natural landscaping.  The building also has museum-quality exhibits, some which educate visitors on the green features of the building and site, in addition to letting visitors explore the natural and cultural history of the area.

After visiting Gorges State Park I can’t wait to go back!  If you are traveling in this region or if you are planning a trip, I highly recommend visiting this area and visiting Gorges State Park, DuPont State Forest and other surrounding natural areas that are breathtakingly beautiful and wonderfully unique.

If you are like me, you will be inspired by your visit.

Travis Layman

LEED AP, HCI Preconstruction Team Member

Travis Layman

Travis Layman

Green Light on Green Building

Green Building LogoI’ll have to admit, I wasn’t always a fan of green building.  Early reviews of green systems and their associated payback periods weren’t adding up to substantial value for most clients.  For this reason Harman did not pursue green building much in the early years unless asked.

However, today technologies are improving and making things like solar panels, LED lighting and skylights a more viable and affordable option for some of our clients.

In the last few years HCI have undertaken a number of large solar panel projects and have been able to include “day-lighting” into some of our industrial projects through the use of skylights.  If you are in Harrisonburg, VA stop by and check out Weaver’s Flooring America.  We added onto their warehouse space in 2014 where we were able to incorporate skylights throughout.  As a result during the day when you walk through the warehouse it’s easy to believe the lights are on, when in reality they are not.

“Pretty cool” is what I often hear after showing the skylights off.  Through the use of prismatic skylights, the light is dispersed evenly and hot spots are eliminated.  We incorporated the same system up at Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative’s (SVEC) distribution center in Mt. Jackson, VA.  Over the years day-lighting has become more and more popular and a efficient means to saving on a company’s overhead cost.

Over the last six years, Harman Construction has ramped up our efforts toward green building and becoming a leader in sustainable construction.  We are excited to have been a part of eight Green projects with six of these projects being LEED Certified jobs.  These projects have ranged from a metal building warehouse/office for SVEC to dormitories for Eastern Mennonite University.  Our latest green project is for a six story Hilton Garden Inn hotel in Northern VA.

Green projects can demand much more attention in their planning and delivery, but with a seasoned team here at Harman we are more than willing to step up to the plate and deliver.  As part of our commitment to building green we currently have three certified LEED AP’s on staff here at Harman.

Technology advancements in the green building envelope and green building systems analysis are making it easier to find the best solutions for each project.  Today there are tools that can measure multiple systems quickly, which can help us make smart, informed decisions.

Each project is unique, so finding the best solution for one project is not always the best solution for the next.  Today’s tools can help us optimize efficiency and give owners the biggest bang for their buck.

Our team is excited about what the future holds for green building and we will continue to be on the leading edge of delivering smart solutions for our clients.  If you want to talk to someone about your next building project, please give us a call.  We’d love to hear from you!

-Ryan Strite

Business Development Manager