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.
When 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.
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.
“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.
Oregon Home magazine featured a Faswall-built home in a recent blog post.
This Hood River home demonstrates many of the best things about Faswall. The blocks’ thermal mass keeps the structure warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The owner’s opted to use a green roof, which also helps with internal temperature control. Contractor Tom Reid with Green Home Design + Build in Hood River says it was easy to apply stucco inside and out. And the resulting home looks wonderful – something many people believe isn’t possible when you’re building a “green” building.
The article also mentions the fact that Faswall blocks are made with recycled wood and non-toxic cement. The recycled content of our blocks, coupled with the fact that they’re made of organic materials that will not off-gas into the home, makes them an even more eco-friendly building product.
The theme of Oregon Home’s most recent print magazine was “The Future of Housing.” It focused on new building technologies that are changing the way houses are built and maintained. We think Faswall is a great fit with this theme.
Thanks Oregon Home for thinking of us. If you’re interested in building a green, net zero or eco-friendly home, please contact us to learn why Faswall is right for you.
If you’re a DIY builder thinking about building your own home, you don’t have to take our word that Faswall green building blocks are perfect for do it yourself homebuilders. Many of our customers have provided excellent feedback over the years.
Dick and Kathy Hartman used Faswall green building blocks to build their own home in rural New Mexico. The gorgeous stucco structure has stone details, a metal roof and wide window wells on the inside. (All the photos in the post come from Dick and Kathy.)
Here’s what Kathy has to say about Faswall:
“We LOVE our home. We were able to do the floor plan and build the way we wanted. We worked together to build our outside walls. This saved us a bundle in labor and it was fun watching the walls go up.
“Now that we are living in our new home, the heating and cooling is very efficient! I’ve had my air on 74 degrees all summer (and we have been in the low 100’s). Our house has been very comfortable! Now that it is getting cooler I have not changed the air temperature, but we are heating very little with a pellet stove or our wood stove.
“The house is absolutely beautiful. Everyone who comes is in awe! Thanks for such a great product!”
Rob Story of Washington also had a great DIY homebuilding experience with Faswall green building blocks. His 1,200 square foot house with a 1,000 square foot office also has a metal roof, stucco exterior and many features he and his wife love.
Rob built his own home when he lived in Hawaii, but he definitely didn’t consider himself an expert builder. Still, he says, he found his experience with Faswall “excellent, exciting, fulfilling and rewarding.
“As my wife and I considered what type of home to build, we also had to decide what to build with,” he says. “Our number one requirement was warmth. We also had deep interests in low environmental impact, longevity of structural integrity, energy efficiency, ease of building and aesthetics. I had firm wants with the materials I was going to use: no drywall, no foam, no plastic vapor barrier, no crawl space and no glass insulation with formaldehyde.”
A friend told him about Faswall and he was intrigued. “I called ShelterWorks and started asking questions,” Rob says. “They took ample time with me and answered my questions. As it became clear to me that Faswall was the way I wanted to go, my wife and I scrapped our design and did our last re-design using Shelter Works suggestions. That helped lessen the materials we needed and saved some money. We placed our order and away we went.
“Everything went great. Our blocks came right on schedule, block counts were accurate, telephone support was available and the material quality was very consistent. I was very surprised how fast the structures went up. Once the slabs were poured, we began stacking blocks. It took four of us two weeks to stack, brace, plumb and pour both structures.
“Heat retention in the winter has been great. We sit inside as the Northwest winds howl and feel cozy and safe in our strong and sturdy home. People come by and marvel at our place. I’m happy to tell them about it because I really feel that we made the right decision to build with Faswall. There is not another material that would serve us better in the long run.”
Can we help you write your own DIY homebuilding success story? Even if you’re just considering what it would be like to build your own home, please contact us today. We enjoy talking with DIY home builders about how they can feel the pride and get the cost savings of building their own home.
As you read about the advantages of building a home with Faswall green building blocks, you’ll notice we give a lot of attention to the product’s superior thermal mass. What is thermal mass? And why is thermal mass an important thing to consider when building an energy efficient, environmentally friendly home?
Your Home, a green home building website developed by the Australian government, defines thermal mass as “the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy.” If a material takes a lot of energy to heat up and cool off (like bricks and other types of masonry), it is said to have high thermal mass. On the other hand, if a material does not require much energy to go from hot to cold (like wood), it has low thermal mass.
If done correctly, thermal mass is an important principle in green building because it can help you increase your home’s energy efficiency and lower your energy bills. Products with high thermal mass absorb and release heat slowly, which is actually to your advantage. On cold days, you have a steady supply of warmth radiating into your home over a long period of time. On hot days, the building heats up really slowly and gradually dissipates that heat once it begins to cool off outdoors.
Faswall green building blocks are made with a mineralized wood product, which gives it a high thermal mass. Each block comes with an insulating insert, and once stacked, builders pour a pea gravel concrete aggregate mix down two cores in the center of each block. This makes the building’s thermal mass even higher. The end result is a home, office, or commercial center that will keep you cozy warm in the winter and nice and cool in the summer. The fact that Faswall green building blocks are made with 60 percent recycled materials is an added benefit for people interested in green, environmentally friendly homes.
Ben Turner, a retired nurse practitioner and do it yourself home builder, can attest to the benefits of high thermal mass. He used Faswall green building blocks to construct a one-story home with a daylight basement in southwest Washington. “This house weighs about 600,000 pounds,” Ben says. “When it gets warm it stays warm. In the summertime, if it gets hot it stays cool on the inside. It’s an amazing place to live.”
“I just don’t have to worry about heating,” he adds. “If I don’t want to build a fire on a day like this, where it’s 40 degrees out, it still won’t get cold inside. It holds the heat that much because again, the house is so heavy. There’s so much thermal mass in there.” (Ben shares more of his story in the video below.)
In addition to using the Faswall green building blocks, Ben put in lots of south-facing windows to allow in light and solar gain. He uses a masonry stove in the center of the house to provide radiant heat in the living space and pre-heat water for the hydronic floors in the basement. The combination of this heating system, the home’s passive solar design, and Faswall’s great thermal mass means he is spending around $100 a month on his electric bill.
Ben notes that he was first attracted to Faswall green building blocks not because they create extremely energy efficient homes, but because they are exceptionally durability. Ben remodeled and worked on all the other homes he’d lived it. When it came time to build the home he would enjoy in retirement, Ben says, “I just wanted to … build it and it would be done and I wouldn’t have to maintain it. So that’s what we did here.”
Since Faswall is made with a combination of recycled wood and cement, it does an exceptional job of standing up to the elements, pests, and other things that can damage a home. Ben used lime plaster, also called loam plaster, for the outside of the structure. The product is made with a combination of sand and limestone, Ben notes, and “it’s been used for thousands of years. The wonderful thing about it is it lasts forever. It just gets harder over the centuries. Like a limestone cave, if it cracks or water runs in it, it just heals up the cracks, so it’s a very low-maintenance exterior.”
Another feature that makes the home so easy to care for is that it doesn’t require painting. To achieve the attractive reddish-brown color on the outside, Ben sprayed the lime plaster with ferrous sulfate, the main ingredient in many brands of moss killer. “It was a very fun process and very easy to do,” he says. Best of all, it cost about $5 to coat the entire exterior.
Would you like to learn more about Faswall’s thermal mass, energy efficiency, durability and other great features? Please contact us today for more information.