It’s easy to understand why Faswall performs so well for builders interested in energy efficient, green homes. One look at our insulated concrete forms, which are made with a blend of all-natural materials, and you see where they get their high thermal mass, strength and breathability.
It’s also easy to understand why Faswall is such an effective product for DIY home builders. After some training and hands-on experience, building with the cinderblock-like forms can feel as straightforward as stacking sets of blocks.
One thing that isn’t so easy to understand is how to design a house with Faswall. Most people are used to thinking about home design in terms of features, square footage and desired rooms. They aren’t used to thinking in two-foot by one-foot sections.
Craig Nielson, an architect, permaculturalist and owner of Green Edge Design in Colorado, has developed a real knack for thinking by the block. Craig has a long history of taking on creative projects. He worked in the affordable housing industry for many years, designing homes for seniors, veterans and working families, and was an early adopter of many green building principles, including passive solar design. His commitment to creating eco-friendly, energy efficient buildings is one of the things that first attracted him to Faswall.
“Faswall had a booth at the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs,” he says. “I went because I was interested in tiny houses, but the coolest thing there was the Faswall display.
“I call it the holy grail of materials,” he says by way of explanation. “I love the thermal performance. The blocks are very ingeniously designed, with the insulation panel on the outside of the thermal mass, where it should be for optimal performance Think of a down jacket, which is placed as an outer layer on insulation to keep you warm. You end up with an amazing thermal envelope. Faswall exceeds every energy code in the country in terms of its thermal performance. It’s a no-brainer for meeting energy codes.”
Craig recently began helping a design client and friend build a home with Faswall (pictured above and at right), and that experience reinforced his initial impression that the blocks are easy to use and save builders time and money. “Generally I’d say a home is 40 percent materials and 60 percent labor costs,” he reports. “If you can knock that labor portion down, that’s where you can get some real savings.”
Craig has also helped several homeowners design their dream Faswall homes. Based on his experience with the product, he has several tips for making that process easier.
1. Think in Faswall-sized increments
“Normally I’d do all my footprint dimensions on an even foot, but with Faswall you’re designing the footprint on an odd measurement,” Craig says. That’s because each Faswall block wall run calculates to the odd number dimension, thereby saving the labor of having to do more block cuts.
Craig thinks of the blocks as same-sized puzzle pieces that must fit together to create a pleasing whole. Once you get the hang of working with that modular design, assembling the puzzle becomes much easier.
The trickiest pieces, no surprise, aren’t the corners but those middle sections that must be configured to accommodate doors and windows. But there’s a formula for success there. Windows need to fall where there are natural vertical interruptions in the blocks, which break on one- and two-foot increments, and horizontally, where breaks lie on 8-inch increments matching the height of the blocks. External doors must also be placed where there are natural stops in the blocks.
Passive solar design allows a house to absorb the sun’s thermal heat energy during the cold season and block the sun during hotter parts of the year. Overhangs that allow or block the sun when it’s at different positions in the sky; windows of a specific size, glazing and position; and floors and walls with significant thermal mass are just a few aspects of passive solar design.
Given Faswall’s unrivaled thermal mass and insulation, it only makes sense to include passive solar as part of the design process. Work with a designer who understands these principles and incorporates them in whatever ways possible. It will make your home sunny and comfortable. It will also save you money over the life of the house.
3. Consider the site
Craig has a very integrated approach to designing homes, which is one of the things that sets him apart from other designers.
“I’m very interested in what’s happening with the site and the landscape and how the building fits into it,” he says. “I want to know about how the homeowner really lives, for example; whether they will be gardening or entertaining. I want to know about solar access and how water and drainage works on the site, and which neighbors need screening. Every site is different, and I want to fully integrate my design into the site.”
Any homeowner should follow a similar philosophy. Building a home that fits your lot will allow you to make better use of the outdoors spaces. Understanding and respecting the water and other elements that will coexist with your home can lead to lower maintenance costs over time. Good design will integrate any passive solar, energy efficiency, green or high-performance goals that are important to you.
4. Hire the right (and right type) of designer
This tip isn’t specific to Faswall, but rather for anyone looking to participate in designing their own home. Most people think they need an architect to produce their construction drawings for them, but that’s not always the case.
“Most people have a sketch on a napkin or a sketch out of a book,” Craig says. “Then some people have a very detailed idea of what they want because they’ve been thinking about their dream house for 20 years. A designer is someone who takes your ideas and creates the best possible design for your vision. If a person knows exactly what they want, I usually send them to a draftsperson.” Identifying the right type of designer upfront will save you time and money.
Whenever he considers taking on a design client, Craig doesn’t accept the job until he’s had a detailed conversation with them. “I like to sit down and see if it’s a good match personality-wise and in values,” he says.
Homeowners should plan to similarly interview any designer, draftsperson or other professional who will be a major part of their home building process. Crafting a house from scratch is time-consuming and stressful. Working with a person whose values and interests don’t match yours – or who you simply don’t like – will only make the process more difficult.
If concerns about designing a home with Faswall have prevented you from seriously considering the product, we hope these tips will help. If you want more details about the advantages of using Faswall for a DIY or contactor-built home, please contact us today. If you want more details about designing your dream home, contact Craig at Green Edge Design.
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.
We make a point to visit many of the Faswall ICF block-built-homes across the US and Canada in our travels. (Click to watch video)
At times this is for providing on-site installation support during construction phase. At other times it’s to follow up on building performance issues. This includes monitoring energy use and keeping abreast of the new materials being used in association with exterior and interior finishing of buildings (i.e. stucco and plaster products, building wraps, windows, and etc.).
We continue to hear from customers long after their homes are built. The stories are positive and our customers almost always have a comment about the “feel” of their indoor environment. We have been able to identify at least three things going on in a dwelling that contribute to this “feel” that people refer to:
- The way that a “mass wall” manages air infiltration and moisture:
We receive blower door test results from builders and homeowners that are consistently excellent. Part of that credit goes to the installation crews who are vigilant in putting the walls together. Part of this is also that the walls, when filled and capped (either stucco or building wrap) properly, create a good tight-seal envelope.
Vapor permeability is likely the most unique attribute of wood-fiber cement wall systems. It’s a little difficult to understand, and for that reason “breathability” is often used to describe what goes on in the walls.
How it works:
Moisture in the form of vapor is constantly moving in all walls. Indoor humidity levels rise and fall due to what’s happening indoors as well as what is happening outdoors. The constant variations in weather, temperature, and etc. mean that vapor is constantly migrating in and out of your walls. The permeability of the “skins” on our homes either enhances or inhibits this movement of moisture.
In a wood fiber-cement wall system, the walls are free draining (ie; they cannot hold moisture). This can best be understood by holding a block under a flowing faucet; the water will flow out immediately from the block. This is why all our Faswall ICF homes utilize vapor permeable wall systems (or, a “breathable walls”). It means that water in the form of vapor cannot be held in the walls, and it means rot and fungal growth cannot happen in a Faswall ICF wall system. This migration of moisture in and out of the breathable wall construction allows for a relative indoor humidity that is constant.
People often talk of how their Faswall built home has a “feel”. This “feel” is largely due to the constant relative humidity levels. High mass, vapor permeable walls act different that conventionally-built stick framed walls.
Stucco and plaster with high permeability are ideal forms of sealing Faswall ICF walls. Building wraps with high permeability are excellent at preventing wind-driven penetrating rain; they allow moisture in and out according to the “push-pull” of surrounding high/low pressure that continually cycles around us.
- The acoustical performance attributes of wood fiber cement walls
Faswall ICF walls are often used as a way of mitigating sound. A number of customers along rail and highway corridors choose to build with Faswall ICF’s. The walls provide substantial protection against unwanted noise. There is also a sound absorptive property of the wood fiber-cement composite material. The high-mass Faswall wall system has an ideal combination of sound absorption and sound transmission properties. STC ratings for Faswall wall systems can range between 52 and 68, while the exposed surface of the Faswall ICF wall forms can provide an exceptional noise reduction coefficient.
- The toxic-free organic matter of the Faswall wood fiber block
We receive a growing number of inquiries from chemically sensitive customers needing a source of building materials that are toxic-free. More attention is being paid to the many chemicals in conventionally built dwellings. When a Homeowner has Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), there is a clear shift of priorities regarding how they want to build their new home or commercial building. “MCS, as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2003, is a physical condition whereby the affected person reports sensitivity or intolerance to a variety of common chemicals, both natural and synthetic, at very low levels.” Click for Source
We often send out block samples and insulation samples to help customers become familiar with the materials used to build the Faswall block. This often leads them to choose to build with Faswall block. Another movement which brings us into contact with customers is Baubiologie. As defined by the Institute for Baubiologie: “Homes or dwellings can be seen as an organism. The term third skin accurately describes the intimate relationship between humans and their living space. It illustrates vividly how closely we are interrelated with our living environment and also in how many ways we are dependent on it. Building biology is defined as the study of the holistic interrelationships between humans and their living environment.” Click for Source
If this is an area of interest you wish to pursue in your search for toxic free building materials please contact us for referrals.
We continue to learn about ways to more efficiently install the block. This results in not only a faster build time but a reduction in the final cost. Much of this means being available for conversations with a customer’s designer, architect, and builder on the upfront side before building begins. Often we are in communication with our customer’s engineer, and their building department officials too. It takes a team to build a home.
Occasionally our staff steps in and becomes the quarterback of the overall process. Our goal is to serve our customers at the point where things need support in order to make it as easy as possible to use the Faswall ICF block wall system.
We keep in communication with many of the Faswall ICF homeowners and many of them are willing to provide input on how their home-building experience went and what they have learned about their home’s livability. If you want to consider using the Faswall ICF block for the walls of your new home, addition, or commercial building, we have builders, homeowners, engineers and designers willing to testify about their experience working with our company, the support we offer, and what it is like to build with wood fiber-cement block. We have a great network of professionals across North America to draw upon to provide services.
Give us a call.