4 Tips for Designing a Faswall Home

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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.

2. Consider passive solar design

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.

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.

Buddhist Temple in Texas Showcases Faswall’s Versatility

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Buddhist organization in Dallas building a temple, cafeteria and dormitoryWhen a Buddhist community in Dallas started making plans for a new temple, cafeteria and dormitory, they wanted to create the healthiest and most ecological buildings possible. Inspired by the work of EcoNest® Company, they decided a mixture of straw and clay would be their primary building material.

While this combination is ideal for shaping and insulating walls, they also needed a product that would create a strong, durable and dry foundation (and, for the two-story dorms, strong bearing walls). They selected Faswall, a versatile ICF wall form that’s ideal for many types of projects. While Faswall’s easy-to-use blocks can be used to create DIY or contractor-built homes, office buildings, warehouses, outbuildings and other structures, they also make great foundations and basements for buildings crafted from other materials.

The leadership team in the Buddhist community liked Faswall because the concrete and wood blocks are made of 100 percent organic materials. Eighty-five percent of the wood in each Faswall block is clean, recycled pallet wood. It’s combined with virgin wood and Portland cement to create a product that will not off-gas chemicals into buildings.

“Many of our customers are interested in using the Faswall block to create healthy living environmeWorking on a Buddhist temple in Dallas, Texasnts,” says ShelterWorks co-owner Paul Wood. “They want indoor air quality that’s exceptional. Faswall creates an excellent vapor-permeable membrane that allows indoor air quality to be a natural part of the building and living experience.”

The vapor-permeable nature of the blocks is important when it comes to other factors that affect indoor air quality. Because of Faswall’s porous hygroscopic nature (i.e. the walls store and release water vapor through diffusion), the blocks keep relatively humidity levels low enough that mold spores don’t grow in the walls. That keeps potentially toxic mold out of your building.

Faswall’s ability to regulate relative humidity also keeps the structure more comfortable and livable. Most of the time, humidity is higher inside a home due to activities such as showering, cooking, even breathing. When a home has walls that don’t breathe, and therefore relies on mechanical ventilation to vacate moisture, the indoor air can become denser than the desired 30 to 40 percent humidity level. That leads to the heavy-feeling air we often experience in basements.

Faswall’s porosity allows excess indoor humidity to diffuse through the walls. With proper waterproofing, they don’t allow water to seep into structures. That’s why they’re great for foundations.Building a Buddhist community center in Dallas

The other reason is that their mineralized wood composition makes them strong and durable. Faswall gives people building with straw bale, timber frame or clay/straw slipform a good base wall system to support upper walls.

The Dallas project isn’t the only time Faswall has been used to build a Buddhist temple. Check out this story and video of the Sravasti Abbey in Washington to see their beautiful structure, which is built entirely with Faswall blocks. Other religious congregations have also selected Faswall as their building material of choice.

Perhaps that’s not surprising. Faith helps comfort us in times of despair, celebrate in times of joy, slow down and reflect on the things thaOne of the buildings at a Buddhist community in Dallas, Texast are important to us. Just as a belief system is a versatile tool for living, Faswall is a versatile tool for creating the places that nurture and protect us.

No matter what type of structure you’re thinking about building – and no matter what type of material you’re thinking about using – Faswall can play a role in your next project. Contact us today to learn more about using Faswall building blocks for churches, temples, foundations, homes, offices, commercial buildings, outbuildings and more.

Home Exemplifies High Performance Building With Faswall

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Jack Clark high performance home ColoradoOur last blog post discussed the theory behind designing and building high performance homes. For this post, we’d like to discuss the practice of building high performance homes with Faswall ICF wall forms.

Jack and Carolyn Clark’s 3,200 square foot home in Ft. Collins, Colorado exemplifies many components of high performance building. The home is very energy efficient, thanks in part to Faswall’s extremely high thermal mass. It’s built to last for at least 300 years, so it’s quite durable. High-quality materials such as 3-0 windows and a propane/heat pump HVAC system ensure excellent life-cycle performance. Since both Jack and Carolyn have allergies, they used building materials designed to ensure good indoor air quality and occupant productivity.

The Clark residence sits on an acre of land Jack’s parents bought in 1972. Their 750-square-foot house overlooked Horsetooth Reservoir and was intended to be a summer home. But his parents made it their permanent residence until they passed away.

Jack wanted to stay on the property, but he had a different vision for his forever home. He wanted more space and a house that could be passed down to future generations of his family. Jack had his parents’ old home deconstructed in 2012, then started looking into suitable building materials for a new structure.Jack Clark high performance home Colorado

“Carolyn and I wanted to incorporate as many progressive products and techniques as possible for the build,” Jack says. “I was looking for a unique, thermally-efficient, cost-effective approach. We met [ShelterWorks co-owner] Paul Wood at a home and garden show in Denver and became very interested in his building method right away because the Faswall system allowed for well-insulated, high internal thermal mass wall construction.” Local Faswall representative Mark Maricle was also a great resource throughout the building process.

Faswall was also a good fit with some of Jack and Carolyn’s architectural requirements. They both grew up in a section of New Jersey with many Dutch Colonial style homes. They liked the deep window wells found on those structures, which is an added bonus of using Faswall’s one foot by two foot blocks. They wanted to finish the interior walls with smooth plaster and the exterior with lap siding, which meant using a building material flexible enough to accept any type of finish.

Once he selected Faswall, Jack went in search of a builder. He wanted someone willing to work with a non-traditional material. He also needed someone with enough attention to detail to build a high-quality home capable of lasting for 300 years.

Jack Clark high performance home ColoradoHe found both in Matt Doner of Traditional Roots Joinery & Construction in Ft. Collins. Matt is primarily a timber frame builder, but he was excited to combine his carpentry skills with the easy-to-use Faswall blocks.

The home that evolved incorporated the best of both. Jack says one of his favorite features in his Faswall home is the beams crossing the vaulted ceilings. They’re made with Northwest fir and locally-sourced Ft. Collins walnut. Jack also likes the elevator, which makes moving people and furniture around the space much easier; the highly efficient windows and sliding glass doors, all of which were manufactured by a Colorado company; and those deep window wells. The home has the exact same orientation as his parent’s house, which gives the family views of the reservoir.

Function dictated design for the house, Jack says, and the layout is a great fit with the family’s needs. An open floor plan upstairs makes entertaining more enjoyable. A mud room/laundry room/bathroom accommodates muddy dogs and gardeners, as well as sopping boots on snowy days. The Clarks hope to eventually add a wrap-around porch, much like the ones on the Dutch Colonial homes they remember so fondly.

Jack has tracked the home’s performance since he moved in and is very pleased with what he’s found. Their electricity comes from the rural cooperative, and the home has a propane/heat pump furnace for heating and cooling. “The rural electric bill averages $100 per month, and we use no more than 21 gallons of propane per month,” he says. “Our utilities (other than water) average $125 per month for a 3,200 square foot home with three adults living here full time.”

Thanks to the insulative value of the Faswall blocks, as well as strategically placed insulation, the home stays comfortable no matter how warm or cool it gets outside. “The thermal mass maintains the inside temperature better than convention builds,” he says. “Therefore the HVAC does not have to ‘catch up’ as much to maintain temperature. When we have 50 degree days and 20 degree nights, the house will lose no more than one to two degrees overnight.”Jack Clark high performance home Colorado

Jack has several pieces of advice for anyone building with Faswall. It’s important to look at the whole home when planning for energy efficiency. “Besides picking very efficient heating/cooling equipment, insulate the ground floor slab from the ground below it and the footers,” he says. “Consider using varied insulation types according to where the insulation is installed and the clearances required.

“Do not be stingy with glazing,” Jack continues. “Look closely at what the window and door frames are made of. Fiberglass is non-conductive and will not warp.  Consider how much sun and what type of sun should pass through the glazing. All heat and light can be controlled to the owner’s benefit. Choose a window and door supplier that understands this and can customize products to control the heat loss and gain.”

Jack Clark high performance home ColoradoAlthough Jack didn’t build his own home, he has this advice for do it yourself home builders: “It pays to get tricks from Paul or one of his representatives. It will make the job go smoothly.”

Would you like to learn more about how Faswall can help you build a high performance home? Whether you’re a builder or contractor, architect or engineer, or DIY home builder, we can help. We can also offer advice on using Faswall for high-efficient, high performance, eco-friendly office buildings, outbuildings, warehouses and much more. Please contact us today for more information. If you want more information about Faswall right away, check out our free technical manuals.

How Faswall Resists Fire and Wet Conditions

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Faswall is able to resist even extreme heatFaswall green building blocks are made with a special blend of wood and concrete. These 100% organic (and 60% recycled) materials make it an ideal building product for many reasons. Faswall creates homes, offices, warehouses and other buildings that are extremely energy efficient. Faswall green building blocks are a great place to begin if you want a home with superior indoor air quality. Their ability to resist mold and mildew make them ideal for wine storage, beer breweries and many other uses.

But there’s another reason building with Faswall green building blocks is a great idea. They make homes that are extremely durable. The blocks are very strong and create structures that can easily stand for hundreds of years. Termites, carpenter ants and other pests have a hard time eating into them because the cement outer layer completely impregnated the blocks with a mineralized coating.

Faswall is fire resistant

In the western United States and Canada, where much of the region is in a historic drought, we are very concerned about forest fires. John and Patti O’Connell, who were interested in building a Faswall home, were also concerned about the fire resistance of the blocks. So John did his own unscientific test, which you can see in this video.

Basically, John took a propane torch and held the flame directly against a Faswall block for two minutes. The direct heat burned a tiny hole in the block, and made the insulating insert in the block smoke a little bit, but it didn’t catch on fire. In fact, at the end of the test, John was able to lay his hand on top of the block because it had barely gotten warm.

“I don’t think you have to worry about forest fires,” he says. Especially since, as he says a moment later, “This is obviously a hell of a lot more heat than any forest fire is going to deliver.”

Faswall holds up great in wet climates

We hope some day it will begin to rain in the western states again. When it does, we expect we’ll see a lot of it. Those of you who live in southern states and occasionally fall victim to hurricanes, flooding and major storms may see even more.

Faswall green building blocks are also able to stand up to very wet conditions. Tom Bristol of Purple Flattop Architecture in Chewelah, Washington was dubious about just how much the wood/concrete IFC wall forms would be able to resist water. He decided to run a test of his own.

Tom took a Faswall block and dropped it in a bucket of water. And left it there for 10 years.

The result? The Faswall green building block has seen little to no deterioration over that time.

Now, we’re certainly not recommending you build your home by a flood plain, a beach frequently ravaged by hurricanes or tsunamis, or an area prone to forest fires. But should disaster strike – which is more likely as climate change continues and the world’s weather gets more unpredictable – Faswall green building blocks will give you more reassurance that your home will last and stay safe.

Are you interested in building a home with ultra-durable, ultra-green Faswall? How about an office, commercial space, house of worship, wine cellar, root cellar or another structure? Please contact us for more details.

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