History of RAFI-USA’s Green Buildings


How Our Building Project Got Started

In 1997, RAFI-USA purchased a beautiful 2.8 acre lot in Pittsboro, NC. On it stood a 3,389 sf house dating from 1830. We enlisted the office of Giles Blunden Architect of Carrboro, NC to lead a design charrette. The charrette brought together design and construction professionals, local authorities and members of the community to brainstorm ideas and achieve consensus on how to best develop the property in an environmentally sound way.

Old House Drawing

A report with recommendations from the charrette became the basis for the program for the building. In 1998, we contracted the services of architect Alicia Ravetto of Carrboro, NC who began the work of designing a building that preserved the natural beauty of the site, employed day lighting, solar and other energy efficient technologies, and incorporated the use of natural, locally available and recycled materials.

We considered renovating the house for offices but were advised that it would be too costly and would not yield the energy-efficient, low-maintenance building we desired. The house was in poor condition and had been so extensively renovated that few original features remained. Through Preservation North Carolina, we advertised the house to be moved off site but had no takers. Failing to preserve the house intact, we chose to give it a new life by deconstructing it and reusing materials in new construction.


RAFI-USA had the good fortune to be introduced to Pete and Robin Hendricks at the March 1998 Southeastern Green Building Conference where Pete had been named Recycler of the Year. Experts in deconstruction, the process of taking down old buildings so that materials can be reused and recycled instead of being disposed in landfills, Pete and Robin agreed to undertake the deconstruction project.

We assembled a crew of six to work under the supervision of the Hendricks. In reverse order of construction, they took the house apart and carried, stacked and stored materials for later use on site. Deconstruction cost no more than demolition and may have cost less. It avoided the use of heavy machinery and equipment, minimizing impacts on the land and environment.

We estimate that 70-80% of the materials from the house were recovered, recycled and stored for future use. Habitat for Humanity of Wake County stripped the house of appliances and fixtures; Chatham County Waste Management hauled and ground into mulch 15 tons of wood; and scrap haulers recycled an estimated 6,400-8,400 lbs of tin, steel, iron, aluminum and electrical conduit. RAFI-USA stockpiled broken brick, block and stone for use as rubble and fill in new construction; foundation stones for landscaping and retaining walls; 2,500 cleaned bricks (handmade) from the original chimneys; and lumber and flooring, much of it heart pine and most of it recovered from the original part of the house.

“Green” Design

Architect Alicia Ravetto and landscape architect David Swanson of Chapel Hill, NC sited RAFI-USA’s office building on the same ground where the house had stood. Care was taken in locating the building to preserve the many hardwood trees, while still allowing ample direct sun to the building in the wintertime and shade during the summer months.

Proper siting and orientation of a building are key issues when designing a passive solar, daylit building. RAFI-USA’s office building is one-story elongated east to west. One of the design goals was to provide all offices and meeting rooms with daylighting so that natural lighting would replace artificial lighting most of the time during the year.

Daylighting is not the simple use of windows but the adequate amount and orientation of glazing so that there is enough natural light to displace the use of artificial lighting without adding unwanted heat and glare. In the RAFI-USA building, this was accomplished by providing south facing windows in all workspaces facing south and clerestories on the offices facing north. A patio was created between two wings of the building in order to accommodate solar and daylighting in a compact floor design.

The design of RAFI-USA’s office complex included various energy conserving measures such as high levels of insulation, use of radiant barrier on the green metal roof and mastic-sealed duct-work. The main source of heating is passive solar combined with adequate amounts of thermal mass provided by the colored concrete slab floor that modulates the temperature inside the building. The backup heating system is electric. To satisfy the different comfort levels of the occupants of the building, offices have individual thermostat controls. All offices and meeting rooms have windows for natural ventilation.

Construction of the 3,400 SF office building began in the fall of 1999 and we moved into our new space one year later. Work commenced on the adjoining conference center and was completed in the fall of 2001. In addition to the day lighting, solar and energy conservation features described above, RAFI-USA’s office building and conference center showcase the use of salvaged materials including vintage heart-pine flooring and trim, and walls fabricated from the old handmade bricks.

Green Building Links

  • EPA report about the RAFI-USA building, winner of EPA’s Energy Star award
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