Coleman Pulsifer built his first home and helped several of his friends in rural Maine do the same. He enjoyed it so much he went on to work as a professional carpenter, building homes for others for many years.
When their first grandchild was born, Coleman and his wife Susan dropped everything to move to California and be closer to the little boy. They bought the parcel of land adjacent to their daughter and son-in-law’s property, and Coleman returned to his roots as a DIY homebuilder. His two-bedroom, one bathroom home in California’s Humboldt County was constructed with Faswall green building blocks, an ideal material for DIY home builders.
Coleman and Susan wanted a small home they could finance themselves, build themselves and keep completely off the grid. They acquired a small parcel of land that presented opportunities and challenges for building. It was a beautiful site with a large hill, which meant part of the home could be earth sheltered and the rest could be open to spectacular views.
However, winds in their area can reach up to 90 miles an hour. Temperatures top 100 degrees regularly in the summer. California is likely to experience a major earthquake at some point, and wildfires present a new challenge to anyone looking to build in the rural west. The Pulsifer’s new home needed to be durable enough to withstand everything nature threw at it.
Coleman first learned about Faswall green building blocks at Organic Grace, a northern California store that sells products for healthy and non-toxic living. “It was obviously well designed and easy for DIY builders to work with,” he says. “Its insulative value was appealing. A surface texture that allows you to stucco and plaster was wonderful.
“A lot of standard ICFs are made out of Styrofoam. When you want to stucco, you have to do a whole other procedure for preparing it. With Faswall, after you’ve poured the wall you can finish them. The surface texture is excellent for plastering. It saves some time and some steps.” Plus, he says, his old home in Maine had Styrofoam insulation that attracted ants.
Coleman was able to build nearly the entire home himself, with Susan and their son-in-law pitching in when needed. The finished building measures 33 feet by 35-feet, giving it about 1,100 square feet on the main floor. A lower level has a studio and storage space. A metal roof has a full rain catchment system that supplies an above-ground swimming pool for the Pulsifer’s grandson and a fire suppression system.
All the power in the home comes from a 200 watt solar panel. To keep their energy usage down, Coleman included a gravity-fed water system and a root cellar in the house. That, combined with ice chests, is enough to preserve all their food. “We haven’t had a fridge for four years,” he said.
The lack of power also means no air conditioning. That’s where Faswall’s superior thermal mass comes in handy on scorching summer days. “When you’re down in the studio, it can be 105 degrees outside and it can be 80 degrees inside,” Coleman says. “It’s exciting how well the building performs.”
“I liked the fact that you could work with it with carpentry tools,” he says. “You have flexibility to fine tune things if you need to. If you’re going along and decide to move a window, you have that opportunity. You don’t have to be rigidly locked to one-foot increment.”
“The amount of steel reinforcement we put in made me feel much more confident, especially since we’re in an earthquake zone,” he reports. The chambers within Faswall green building blocks make it easy to insert rebar vertically into buildings. Those pieces can be tied in with the horizontal rebar placed between the blocks to give the building extra strength.
Coleman has several pieces of advice for do it yourself home builders who want to build their own home with Faswall green building blocks. “Part of the reason Faswall works so well is that it’s permeable,” he says. “It survives out in the rain perfectly fine, but it does allow moisture to go through. I would counsel people to be very conscientious about perimeter drains.
“The drainage and grading work around the foundation is also very significant, especially in a place that get lots of rain,” Coleman says. “Pitch the finished grade so that surface water flows away from the house. Do careful backfilling. Don’t slack off on it.” Faswall’s experienced construction consultants can help you include these features so that you home stays safe and moisture-free.
For anyone building their own home and trying to live in it at same time, Coleman offers a word of caution. “Fifty percent of couples break up during building projects. You’re living in a place that’s full of dust and insulation, that’s incomplete but also full of dreams and anticipation.”
He and Susan lived in a military surplus tent while they completed the downstairs. They stayed in the studio while they finished the upper level. They found it vitally important to keep the upstairs a worksite.
“If you have to clean up every day, you lose a lot of time,” he explains. It’s tiring, frustrating and means living in a construction zone that much longer. Instead, he and Susan taped up plastic sheeting and took other steps to contain the dust and debris littering the upstairs portion of the building.
Now that the home is finished, Coleman and Susan couldn’t be happier with it. They have no debt, and they have a low cost, low maintenance home they love.
Are you interested in building your own home? Would you like that home to be net zero energy or have zero debt? Faswall green building blocks may be the solution you’ve been seeking. We love working with DIY home builders and people seeking all kinds of green building features. Contact us today to learn more about building with Faswall.
Faswall green building blocks are perfect for homes, outbuildings, commercial centers and many other types of structures. But if you already have the perfect building material in mind, or have a beautiful home that simply needs a new foundation, we can help.
Several properties make Faswall green building blocks ideal for foundations. They are made with a blend of concrete and wood, which means they are strong, long-lasting and will not rot. Their mineralized wood construction means they resist mold, mildew and pests such as termites and carpenter ants. If you plan to finish a basement in the home, you can rest assured knowing that Faswall makes warm spaces with superior indoor air quality.
EcoNest in Ashland, Oregon uses Faswall green building blocks in many of their homes’ foundations. They are a perfect example of why the product creates a long-lasting, stable and sustainable base for your home.
EcoNest was founded by Robert Laporte and Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA in 1996. The company specializes in helping professional and DIY home builders create homes with straw-clay walls, timber framing, earthen walls and other natural materials. Their motto reads, “Why leave nature behind when you go through your front door?”
Paula started exploring natural, non-toxic building materials out of necessity. She developed extreme chemical sensitivity after working as an architect for many years. “I thought, ‘If it’s making me sick, it’s probably not good for anyone,’” she says.
That led her to explore building biology, or the art and science of building natural, ecological, healthy homes. “It’s about human health in the built environment,” she says. “It’s not just about using non-toxic materials, but looking at things that will really help people thrive.”
According to the International Institute for Building-Biology and Ecology, this philosophy also encourages people to do things like use natural cleaning products, create nurturing places to sleep and incorporate health-supporting color schemes into their homes.
A carpenter by training, Robert found out early in his career that most building materials were made from “really nasty, toxic ingredients.” He started researching natural building materials and discovered the clay-straw blend in the 1990s. It was an ideal complement to timber-frame construction he loved. He made building with those materials and teaching others to use them his life’s work.
If Robert could, he would build with nothing but timber, clay and straw. But all of them would rot if placed directly in or on the ground. That’s where Faswall green building blocks come in. For nearly all his buildings, Robert begins by pouring a concrete foundation. He then uses Faswall for the foundation’s stem wall. Three to five rows of block are dry-stacked, depending on site conditions and grades. Once in place the hollow cores are filled with concrete and rebar as required. Just like that, the stem wall is finished.
“Right away I really enjoyed working with Faswall,” Robert says. Since he was trained as a carpenter, the blocks’ high wood content made them seem familiar. The fact that they can be cut with normal wood saws and drilled with normal wood bits is a definite plus.
Faswall green building blocks fit right in with EcoNest’s philosophy of using non-toxic ingredients that provide great indoor air quality. Faswall’s wood-concrete mix is completely inert and will not off-gas into the home.
That’s one of the many things Paula appreciates about Faswall. They’re vapor-open, which means they do not allow moisture to build up in the home. They’re made with 60 percent recycled wood, which makes them more eco-friendly.
“It’s a sublimely simple system,” she says. “I feel comfortable recommending it in different parts of the country where I don’t know if there are skilled professionals in different fields” such as masonry work.
Paula and Robert’s own 1,710-square-foot EcoNest is an example of all their recommended building techniques. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom structure has timber-framed walls, straw-clay insulation and a Faswall foundation. Walking through the front door, the first thing you notice is a picture window with an inviting window seat on the far wall of the living area. Next to it is a small kitchen with a deck and a path that leads to the garden.
Paula’s office is located near the front of the house. She’s grateful to do her design, consulting and writing from home, especially since it’s such a comforting environment. Her favorite features include a masonry heater and earthen walls. “They give the house a very peaceful, settling feeling,” she says.
EcoNest homes, just like many other homes built with Faswall, follow the trend toward homes that are better for the planet, but better for people as well. “There’s no price for health,” Robert says. “You can talk about cost per square foot all day long, but what’s the cost per square foot for your health?”
Would you like to discuss using Faswall for your foundation, basement, or even your whole home? Please contact us.
One of the benefits of Faswall green building blocks is that they are easy to use and quick to install, even for home builders will little experience in construction or do-it-yourself home builders. Our customers often find that one of the most time-consuming tasks is applying waterproofing to the blocks during construction or stucco to the structure after it has been built. Until recently there was no way to get around doing all that work by hand.
That’s why we’re happy to share information about ToolCrete, a new product that greatly reduces the time it takes to apply stucco, plaster, mortar and other materials to buildings. The easy-to-use sprayers are faster than using a hawk and trowel, penetrates porous surfaces better than applying material by hand, and is less expensive than renting a stucco pump. ToolCrete was invented by an entrepreneur in Eugene, Oregon, which is only 40 miles from our home base in Philomath.
Check out these videos below for more information about how ToolCrete works, or visit their website.
Designing your own home can be a fun and rewarding task. After all, who wouldn’t want to own a home that was optimized to fit all of their personal preferences, a home that had all the nice little touches you’ve been wishing for? With advances in modern technology doing the design work yourself, with help and guidance from an experienced professional, can be fun and an amazing process. Enjoy the quick video below with Jonathan sharing about the design and building of his home.
With all the concern lately over the state of the environment and various related concerns, like global warming for example, many people are turning to environmentally friendly building materials and healthy home construction. Healthy home construction involves using green materials that will stand up to the test of time without harming the environment or your health. Designing your own home? Here’s why you should consider healthy home construction when the time comes:
- In many cases, less energy is used to manufacture sustainable building materials, like Faswall, making them more environmentally friendly.
- Many environmentally friendly homes that utilize healthy home construction can help save on energy bills. In a world where prices keep on rising, saving a good chunk of money every month is a great reason to build and design a green home.
- Healthy home construction is a very much sought after feature in a home. This can help increase home value should you ever decide to sell the home you design.
- Lastly, many people experience overall better health when making the switch to these materials. Due to toxins, mold and other harmful substances in conventional building materials, many people suffer from respiratory problems, headaches, asthma and other illnesses. Healthy home construction can help minimize, or even banish, these ailments.
Designing your own home can be exciting, but there are many things to take into account during the process. You’ll need to receive help from a contractor or other professional, and you’ll need to decide if your home will have any special touches, like green or specialty building materials. In the end, enjoy the process and your new home!
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and give us a call. We have worked with hundreds contractors and architects across the country.
When Rich Marshall, an environmentally-conscious homeowner in Seattle, moved a recycled home, he needed a basement foundation to set it on.
He initially thought he’d have to use conventionally-poured concrete for his foundation.
That is, until he discovered Faswall and was thrilled about the following benefits of a Faswall-block basement:
1. Vapor Permeability
Faswall ICF eliminates the damp/dank smell and feel of a traditional basement.
Wood fiber cement is vapor permeable and provides an air quality that is fresh, a temperature that is moderated, and a relative humidity that is constant. The indoor environment does not support fungal growth and spores.
2. Easy Interior Finishing Options
Faswall blocks create a finished wall surface in the inside which does not need to be firred out and insulated (unlike a poured concrete basement).
The Faswall ICF surface can be left as is and finish trimmed if desired, thereby creating an attractive surface (see this video as an example).
Or, the surface can be plastered to directly, or dry-walled directly if desired.
Another beautiful option is to order Faswall block whereby the interior surface of the block is surface-trimmed to expose the wood fiber chips (see this video).
With conventional concrete, you have no other option other than to frame, insulate, and drywall it, which adds to the cost, time, and hassle of building.
And let’s not forget that do-it-yourselfers can stack Faswall block with ease in the initial construction process!
One of Rich’s main concerns was building in an environmentally-friendly fashion. He was pleased to learn that Faswall block is one of the greenest building products on the market.
Not only would he get the solid foundation he needed, he would be doing good for the environment as well.
4. Competitive Pricing
A Faswal ICF-built basement will cost approximately the same as building a poured concrete wall basement, assuming that interior wall was to be finished (ie. firred out and insulated).
Faswall ICF is no more expensive than erecting and striping concrete forms, and then going through all the stages of stick framing against that concrete wall and insulating it to the level of insulation already available by building with the Faswall ICF.
Check out what Rich said about his experience building his Faswall block basement: