This Old (High-Tech) House

HUGE corporations and shopping-mall developers may not be eager to hire Mary Otis Stevens, an architect who champions environmentally responsible or ``sustainable'' design. But the Woods Hole (Mass.) Research Center, a nonprofit group that studies global warming and rain-forest depletion, jumped at the chance. The center has completed the first phase of a building project designed by Mrs. Stevens and her firm.

``We wanted to make a statement in the building that would correspond to our research in environmental and global issues,'' says Katharine Woodwell, an associate at the center.

The plan called for renovating a sea captain's house built around 1800. Stevens and her Design Guild team have now made the home energy efficient, while restoring its original, Federal-style characteristics.

Changes include thicker walls, high-tech windows, motion-sensor lights (they go on when someone walks into the hall), and a tiny (one foot by three feet) ``cold-start'' natural-gas boiler that operates at 90 to 95 percent efficiency (most newer furnaces are 70 to 80 percent efficient). The boiler cost $1,700, as opposed to $900 for a conventional one, but will pay for itself in about 10 years, says energy engineer Drew Gillett.

A brand-new wing of office space is yet to be added and will include rain-water cisterns, solar panels, and a greenhouse. The research center considered proposals from other architects, but ``Stevens appealed to us because she did more work in thinking about what needed to be done than anyone else did,'' says center director George Woodwell. The center will need to raise about $2 million to fund the project.

``It's more expensive, there's no question,'' says Mr. Woodwell. ``We realize that all these things are experimental, but that's what our organization is - we're experimentalists. We do research.''

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