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.
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.
Sam Blasco is a woodworker in central Texas who’s building his new home single-handedly using Faswall block.
When we asked him why he chose Faswall, he said,
“I was looking for efficiency, thermal mass. I want to build as close to a zero energy home as possible…So I wanted a material that was very efficient. I also wanted a material that I didn’t have to go back and put expensive poisons around the perimeter for termites…I wanted less maintenance…I just wanted something that when I’m done with it, I’m done with it. I don’t want to have to be bothered with it other than maybe a pressure wash every ten years.”
Not only does Faswall give you all these benefits, but it’s also incredibly simple to build with, particularly for do-it-yourselfers. As Sam says,
“It’s pretty simple stuff. If you’ve ever built with a set of Lego’s®, you pretty much can use this.”
If you’re wondering if you really can build with Faswall, consider this: Over 50 percent of our customers last year were DIY builder owners. They controlled the pace and the quality of their own projects.
Building with Faswall ICF can be almost as direct and straightforward as building with Lego® blocks, if you take the time to get your design right.
This means that the distances from the corners of your home to the window and door openings is designed on one- foot-increments. You also want distance from each window to the next window (or door) to be on one-foot-increments.
The ideal for do-it-yourself builders is to be able to take the block and never have to cut it. Your layout on the foot increment system makes installing Faswall block like doing Legos®. It’s that simple.
Our DIY builders across the USA and Canada love building with the block especially when they do not have to do anything but slightly trim the block as they place it into the wall they are building.
A number of our DIY customers take stock of their building capabilities (and their health!) and they realize they are wiser to hire a crew to come in and help with the lifting and the installation. But they remain actively involved in the day-to-day building of their own homes by being on the crew and installing the block.
So what if you decide you need a builder, but you can’t find one who is confident working with Faswall ICF?
Simply call us. We have relationships with good quality builders who like to install Faswall walls, and will travel to sites around the U.S. and Canada.
We we often work with a homeowner’s builder for several days to help get things going and train the crew. Sometimes we’ll even stay until the shell is raised.
You really can do this! Just ask Sam Blasco:
For the 12th year in a row, the Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair will take over downtown Fredericksburg.
This weekend, Austin Community College student Adrian Lopez showed kids how the sun can be used to provide energy. He’s also learning a few things himself.
“Hopefully a new perspective of where things are going, where things need to go, and how I can contribute,” he said.
The fair is a place to get hands-on experience with the latest green and sustainable technology.
“It’s a great ‘do it yourself’ material,” Paul Wood with ShelterWorks said of his product on display. “There’s no other wall system to build a home or a commercial building for the do-it-yourselfers as easy as this. It’s like big LEGO blocks.”
Those blocks are an example of alternative construction materials that are good for the earth and cut energy consumption.
“It provides a great insulation value to the home, it captures thermal mass and homes are able to save money on heating and cooling expenses,” Wood said.
For Lopez, this weekend’s fair is a chance to be inspired.
“I’m studying environmental science and eventually I want to be an inventor in energy production,” he said.
The renewable Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair is this Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, in Fredericksburg.
In the early 1990s, Beatrice Dohrn was studying for the bar exam in New York City when she bought 5 acres of land upstate, parked a 1956 trailer on it and built a cabin from a kit. That’s when the do-it-yourself bug bit her, reports Tracy Miller in the Register Guard.
But how would she build a home herself? According to the article:
“When a green-building listserv connected Dohrn to a new local company making a sustainable interlocking building block system, Dohrn had two problems solved at once: how to build her house with sustainability in mind and how a 53-year-old woman weighing 136 pounds was going to accomplish it.
“I locked into it pretty quickly,” Dohrn says.
What Dohrn found was ShelterWorks, a Philomath-based company licensed to produce a product called Faswall block. The “new” material was actually based on a post-WWII technique for molding waste wood into hollow bricks that weigh less than 30 pounds each.
At ShelterWorks, Tom Van Denend and his crew use clean, shredded and recycled wood fiber, mostly from discarded wooden pallets, that is mineral coated to neutralize the sugars that cause decay and then mixed with a small amount of cement to bind it. Wool mineral insulation is fitted to one side of the cavity inside the 1-foot-deep, 2-foot-long blocks.
For Dohrn, the blocks proved perfect. She had investigated aerated autoclaved blocks made of all-natural materials, but they were unwieldy, at 60 pounds per block. And Dohrn was unimpressed by foam-insulated blocks that were softer than the Faswall blocks and did not breathe. The natural insulation of Faswall is on only one side, versus both sides of foam blocks.
Dohrn says the Faswall blocks breathe and draw some energy from the outside, lightening her heating load and giving the air in the house a pleasant, natural feel. The finished walls breathe in other ways, as Dohrn applied a nontoxic, mold-resistant natural lime plaster on the mudded walls that helps regulate indoor humidity.
“The more I studied Faswall, the more I found that they were the thing that was going to help me build the house I wanted,” Dohrn says….
Read the complete article here.