Growing Food Year-Round with a Faswall Greenhouse

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Greenhouse, Faswall, cold climate greenhouse, four-season greenhouse, Gunnison, ColoradoWhen Susan Wyman of Gunnison Gardens in Colorado contacted us last year about building a greenhouse with Faswall’s highly insulated block forms, we could immediately see the benefit of using our eco ICFs for the project. Greenhouses work by enhancing solar gain. Add the heat-retaining thermal mass and Faswall’s insulating blocks, and it seemed likely that this greenhouse would work better than most.

Susan lives in a part of the world where heat retention is particularly important. Gunnison, Colorado is one of the five coldest cities in the United States. “When we got frost on the 14th of July, I didn’t know if that was the first frost or last frost,” she says.

Because of that, Gunnison might seem like an unlikely place to garden year-round. But that’s what Gunnison Gardens is doing. The farm is in its third year of growing plants, vegetables and cold-hardy vegetables for local residents. (We’re also delighted that they’re a dealer for Durable GreenBed, our raised gardening bed kits.) They hope to eventually become a source of sustainably-grown food for the region.

“The U.S. is headed toward a low-energy future,” Susan says. “Since I think we’re going to be concerned about food security in the future as well, we have to look at how we’re going to feed our communities throughout the winter without having to rely on fossil fuel energy.”

That’s why a greenhouse was so important to Susan. But she didn’t want to build one that require fossil fuels to operate. “I was looking to build a cold climate greenhouse or four-season greenhouse,” she says. “A lot of folks have built these structures in Colorado and Minnesota and other places. They’re often done with poured concrete. I was looking for a more environmentally-friendly DIY project.”

Susan researched cold climate and four-season greenhouses online and by reading books such as The Forest Garden Greenhouse (which she highly recommends). Then she designed a structure that fit Gunnison Gardens’ needs.

Next she searched for the right materials to build the greenhouse with. When she found Faswall, an eco ICF wall form, she was impressed by the blocks’ very high thermal mass and recycled material content. The fact that the product was easy to use was also a plus; Gunnison Gardens employees were going to build the greenhouse, and most of them had little to no construction experience.Greenhouse, Faswall, cold climate greenhouse, four-season greenhouse, Gunnison, Colorado

One of the first and most important steps in creating the greenhouse was building a climate battery. Also known as a subterranean heating and cooling system, a climate battery is basically a net zero energy heating system. To build the climate battery, Susan and her staff dug five feet into the ground and laid tubes made from perforated and corrugated HDPE. A fan would force warm air from the greenhouse into the ground, where it would warm the soil and create a good growing environment for plants. At night, any warm air stored in the earth could be pushed back into the greenhouse to keep the structure warm.

“A lot of our plants are growing in the soil in the floor of the greenhouse,” Susan says. “So keeping that soil warm is critical for plant health.”

To capture the solar energy needed to provide that warmth, the team at Gunnison Gardens built a wall with three layers of polycarbonate plastic on the south-facing side. The remaining walls were constructed from Faswall. The greenhouse was finished with spray-in insulation on the north side of the metal roof.

“The block itself is very easy to understand,” Susan says of Faswall. After one day of coaching from Faswall construction expert Mark Maricle, her staff was able to put up the remaining walls with little assistance.

The finished structure is around 30 feet wide, 80 feet long and 19 feet tall. “So far it’s gotten to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside and it’s never frozen inside the greenhouse,” Susan reports. “It stays above 40 degrees.

Greenhouse, Faswall, cold climate greenhouse, four-season greenhouse, Gunnison, Colorado“The structure works in part because Colorado is really sunny,” Susan continues. “The solar gain in phenomenal.” In addition, “the mass of that thermal wall is amazing in terms of maintaining heat storage and release during the night.”

2016 was the first year Gunnison Gardens used the new greenhouse. Susan was able to grow warm weather crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and melons into the fall. The strawberries are still going. This year she’ll start seedlings in March and cultivate foods such as broccoli, cauliflower and sweet potatoes later in the year.

For farmers, garden center, homesteaders or homeowners thinking about building a greenhouse, Susan has this advice: “Do your homework up front, build it to last, and crunch your numbers. Make sure it makes financial sense.”

Following those steps created a positive result for Gunnison Gardens. “I’m really pleased with the outcome,” Susan says. “It was a big undertaking for us, but I’m convinced this is what we need for the long term.”

If you’d like more information about using Faswall for a greenhouse, storage building, home, office or a project of your own design, please contact us.

High Performance Homes Will Define The Future of Building

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High performance, green builidng, ICF wall form, FaswallFor years homeowners, contractors, architects and material manufacturers have focused on “green building,” or constructing homes and businesses that have less of an impact on the planet. But more and more, they’re moving away from the term green building in favor of “high performance building.” Industry experts believe this phrase does a better job of explaining the myriad goals they hope to meet, including lowering a home’s carbon footprint, saving the owner money on energy bills, and creating a structure that will last for a long time.

Since the term high performance building is so new, there’s still a lot of confusion about it. What does high performance building mean? Why is high performance building better than green building? How do you build a high performance home, office, warehouse or other structure? We’ll explore these questions in more depth.

The National Institute of Building Science defines high performance building as creating structures that “integrate and optimize all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance and occupant productivity.”

That’s a bit of a mouthful. Let’s break it down.

Energy efficiency is one of the most important parts of high performance building. Decreasing your home’s energy usage is important for many reasons. In the United States, electricity production is the largest contributor to climate change, creating 31% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Forty-one percent of all the energy Americans produce is consumed by residential and commercial buildings. If people can significantly lower the amount of energy needed to power their homes, they can make a big difference in the fight against climate change.

high performance, green building, ICF wall form, FaswallIncreasing your home’s energy efficiency can help you save money on your utility bills, and get you closer to the goal of living partially or completely off the grid. For people interested in homes that utilize net zero, Passive House or passive solar principles, building an energy efficient structure is a must.

Durability is another important component to a high performance home. When you construct a building that will  last for a long time, all the energy and materials that went into making it remain there. From an environmental perspective, saving the embodied energy of the home is vital because it keeps materials out of landfills and decreases the amount of new materials that have to be harvested, mined and processed. The longer a home stands, the longer you can retain that embodied energy.

The average high performance home is designed to last for up to 200 years. Because it’s built to such high standards and with such quality materials, it’s better able to withstand natural and man-made hazards such as severe weather (hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, etc.) and wildfires. If you’ve ever dreamed of having a house you can pass down to your children and grandchildren, building a high performance home will help you fulfill that dream.

high performance, green builidng, ICF wall form, FaswallLife-cycle performance is similar to durability. It takes into account how well the building performs over its long life.

Having good life-cycle performance means the home meets all the owner’s goals (no or low utility bills, lower maintenance costs, good indoor air quality, etc.). It does that now and into the future. A high performance building should be built well enough and smart enough that it doesn’t require a lot of time or money to maintain. Not only is it made with high quality materials, it utilizes the best in building science to reduce mold, rot and other problems. Some examples of smart building science include looking at a building’s envelope, thermal mass, materials, heating and ventilation systems, and defense against rain and the natural elements.

We believe occupant productivity comes down to the health and comfort of the people who live and work in the building. One of the biggest considerations for a healthy home is good indoor air quality. In older homes, air and moisture have many places to enter the house, but few places to escape. As a result, the air is full of dust mites, mold, bacteria, pollen and other allergens. It’s estimated that the air quality inside a typical home is two to five times worse than the air quality outside. That’s concerning because Americans spend 90% of their time indoors.

In high performance homes, the interior air is continually exchanged with outside air that has been filtered and tempered. That means mold is less likely to form inside the walls, allergens and pollutants don’t enter the home, and you and your family have a healthy, pleasant living environment. High performance homes are also built with non-toxic materials that will not off-gas formaldehyde, phthalates, VOCs, flame retardants and other harmful substances into the house.

high performance, green builidng, ICF wall form, FaswallAnother way high performance homes increase occupant productivity is by providing a high level of comfort. All the building science involved in creating high performance homes means structures have a consistent interior temperature, no drafts and very little noise. They are clean, full of light and smell good.

In addition to the four attributes described above, we would like to add that high performance homes are built with what we’ve come to know as green building materials. Green building materials contain recycled materials, are easy to recycle at the end of their lifecycle, have a minimal negative impact on the planet when they’re harvested and manufactured, and/or don’t contribute to bad indoor air quality.

High performance buildings should also be aesthetically pleasing and functional for the homeowner. If a building meets all its goals in terms of energy efficiency and occupant productivity, but it’s ugly or has a bad floor plan, no one will want to live there. It increases the likelihood that the building will be torn down at some point.

If you’re looking for the perfect building material for your high performance home or office, Faswall is an excellent choice. Faswall ICF wall forms create structures that are extremely energy efficient thanks to their high thermal mass.

high performance, green builidng, ICF wall form, FaswallFaswall is made with a blend of recycled wood and concrete, which makes the blocks extremely durable. Homes can last for well over 200 years. The mineralized wood composition ensures Faswall resists pests and will not mold or rot. Wood and concrete are completely organic materials that will not off-gas into the house.

The interior and exterior of a Faswall home, office, church, outbuilding or other structure can be finished any way you want. As you can see from the photographs, the structures look beautiful when they’re done. Faswall blocks are easy to work with, whether you’re an experienced contractor or a DIY home builder.

If you’d like to learn more about building a high performance home with Faswall, please contact us today. If you’d like to learn more about high performance homes in general, here are some resources:

High Performance Building Council

Whole Building Design Guide

High Performing Buildings magazine

American High-Performance Buildings Coalition

Tibetan Buddhist Monastery Chooses Faswall

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We’re honored that the nuns at Sravasti Abbey, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Newport, Washington, chose to construct their newest building with Faswall green building blocks. Chenrezig Hall provides a dining hall, commercial kitchen, administrative offices, and temporary residences for visiting nuns and monks. (Watch the video below to learn more about the project.)

Project contractors Alpha & Omega Construction from Oldtown, Idaho recommended Faswall green building blocks because they offers several beneficial characteristics that were important to Sravasti Abbey’s residents. Faswall blocks create incredibly strong, durable structures that will last for generations. They are made with a blend of wood and concrete, which means they resist damage from pests – a plus since the abbey is surrounded by forestland.

Abbey entry Chenrezig HallFaswall is a made from 60 percent recycled materials, which is only one of the things that makes it an outstanding green building material. The blocks have unrivaled thermal mass, which means they create warm, comfortable buildings. No cold air seeping through cracks in this building! Structures built with Faswall green building blocks are also extremely energy efficient, which helps keep utility bills low.

The word “Chenrezig” means “The Buddha of Compassion,” and we have no doubt that all who enter this sacred center will feel compassion and love from its residents.

Chenrezig Hall is a great example of how Faswall green building blocks can be used for commercial buildings. Can we help you build an office, medical or dental center, shopping plaza, industrial building, or your own place of compassion? Please contact us today for more information.

 

ShelterWorks Receives Commercialization Grant from Oregon BEST

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Bennett Hall, a reporter for the Corvallis Gazette-Times, recently published an article about us entitled “ShelterWorks Has Something to Prove.”

The article announces that we were recently awarded a commercialization grant from Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center, known as Oregon BEST.

We’ve been pursuing a grant for a couple years, as it will open doors that have been inhibiting our growth.

We’ll use the money for testing to establish the structural properties of our Faswall® building blocks.

As Hall’s article explains, we’ve “won a following among do-it-yourselfers but have been slow to catch on with commercial contractors.”

As Tom Van Denend says,

“At that level, people want more of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. The takeaway of the testing will be what we’re calling an engineering bulletin that we can hand to project engineers.”

The article continues,

The company recently landed its first big commercial project, a two-story business technology center in Bismarck, N.D. Van Denend is hoping the test results will persuade other contractors to follow suit.

The testing will be carried out early next year at Portland State University’s Infrastructure Testing & Applied Research Lab, a research facility for Oregon BEST. Experiments will provide third-party data on the strength of a wall built with Faswall.

Based on preliminary testing, Van Denend believes his company’s wood-based product will prove substantially more shock-resistant than other insulated concrete forms, known as ICFs in the construction trade.

“The vast majority of ICFs are made of foam,” he said. “There’s no (structural) value for the foam — it’s weak. Our blocks have value structurally.”

Hall explains that about 90 percent of our building projects are residential, as we’ve had a difficult time making inroads into commercial construction.

If the PSU lab validates our claims, however, it could open doors for commercial construction.

Getting into the commercial market should actually double our sales within a few years.

We’re thrilled for the prospects afforded by the grant, and we appreciate David Kenney’s kind words announced in a press release about the grant:

“We’re pleased that another of our commercialization program grants will help an Oregon company advance a unique green building product that will ultimately create green jobs and advance Oregon’s reputation as a cleantech innovator.”

Read the full article for more details here.

Look to Faswall® for future commercial projects!

 

 

Green Addition to Ananda’s Campus: An Interview with Architect J.T. Heater

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The Union newspaper, serving Western Nevada County, California, reports:

“We needed to have a space for artists, as well as a main space that’s acoustically good.” -J.T. Heater, architect of the Ananda Village Faswall Building, nearing completion in Nevada City, CA.

Read more about this 5,075 square foot performance center.

Youtube Video with Architect J.T. Heater

Building architect J.T. Heater talks about the materials used to build the new Ananda Living Wisdom center:

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