Our 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.
“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.
He 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 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.”
Although 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.
For 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.
Increasing 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.
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.
Another 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.
Faswall 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:
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.
Coleman Pulsifer built his first home and helped several of his friends in rural Maine do the same. He enjoyed it so much he went on to work as a professional carpenter, building homes for others for many years.
When their first grandchild was born, Coleman and his wife Susan dropped everything to move to California and be closer to the little boy. They bought the parcel of land adjacent to their daughter and son-in-law’s property, and Coleman returned to his roots as a DIY homebuilder. His two-bedroom, one bathroom home in California’s Humboldt County was constructed with Faswall green building blocks, an ideal material for DIY home builders.
Coleman and Susan wanted a small home they could finance themselves, build themselves and keep completely off the grid. They acquired a small parcel of land that presented opportunities and challenges for building. It was a beautiful site with a large hill, which meant part of the home could be earth sheltered and the rest could be open to spectacular views.
However, winds in their area can reach up to 90 miles an hour. Temperatures top 100 degrees regularly in the summer. California is likely to experience a major earthquake at some point, and wildfires present a new challenge to anyone looking to build in the rural west. The Pulsifer’s new home needed to be durable enough to withstand everything nature threw at it.
Coleman first learned about Faswall green building blocks at Organic Grace, a northern California store that sells products for healthy and non-toxic living. “It was obviously well designed and easy for DIY builders to work with,” he says. “Its insulative value was appealing. A surface texture that allows you to stucco and plaster was wonderful.
“A lot of standard ICFs are made out of Styrofoam. When you want to stucco, you have to do a whole other procedure for preparing it. With Faswall, after you’ve poured the wall you can finish them. The surface texture is excellent for plastering. It saves some time and some steps.” Plus, he says, his old home in Maine had Styrofoam insulation that attracted ants.
Coleman was able to build nearly the entire home himself, with Susan and their son-in-law pitching in when needed. The finished building measures 33 feet by 35-feet, giving it about 1,100 square feet on the main floor. A lower level has a studio and storage space. A metal roof has a full rain catchment system that supplies an above-ground swimming pool for the Pulsifer’s grandson and a fire suppression system.
All the power in the home comes from a 200 watt solar panel. To keep their energy usage down, Coleman included a gravity-fed water system and a root cellar in the house. That, combined with ice chests, is enough to preserve all their food. “We haven’t had a fridge for four years,” he said.
The lack of power also means no air conditioning. That’s where Faswall’s superior thermal mass comes in handy on scorching summer days. “When you’re down in the studio, it can be 105 degrees outside and it can be 80 degrees inside,” Coleman says. “It’s exciting how well the building performs.”
“I liked the fact that you could work with it with carpentry tools,” he says. “You have flexibility to fine tune things if you need to. If you’re going along and decide to move a window, you have that opportunity. You don’t have to be rigidly locked to one-foot increment.”
“The amount of steel reinforcement we put in made me feel much more confident, especially since we’re in an earthquake zone,” he reports. The chambers within Faswall green building blocks make it easy to insert rebar vertically into buildings. Those pieces can be tied in with the horizontal rebar placed between the blocks to give the building extra strength.
Coleman has several pieces of advice for do it yourself home builders who want to build their own home with Faswall green building blocks. “Part of the reason Faswall works so well is that it’s permeable,” he says. “It survives out in the rain perfectly fine, but it does allow moisture to go through. I would counsel people to be very conscientious about perimeter drains.
“The drainage and grading work around the foundation is also very significant, especially in a place that get lots of rain,” Coleman says. “Pitch the finished grade so that surface water flows away from the house. Do careful backfilling. Don’t slack off on it.” Faswall’s experienced construction consultants can help you include these features so that you home stays safe and moisture-free.
For anyone building their own home and trying to live in it at same time, Coleman offers a word of caution. “Fifty percent of couples break up during building projects. You’re living in a place that’s full of dust and insulation, that’s incomplete but also full of dreams and anticipation.”
He and Susan lived in a military surplus tent while they completed the downstairs. They stayed in the studio while they finished the upper level. They found it vitally important to keep the upstairs a worksite.
“If you have to clean up every day, you lose a lot of time,” he explains. It’s tiring, frustrating and means living in a construction zone that much longer. Instead, he and Susan taped up plastic sheeting and took other steps to contain the dust and debris littering the upstairs portion of the building.
Now that the home is finished, Coleman and Susan couldn’t be happier with it. They have no debt, and they have a low cost, low maintenance home they love.
Are you interested in building your own home? Would you like that home to be net zero energy or have zero debt? Faswall green building blocks may be the solution you’ve been seeking. We love working with DIY home builders and people seeking all kinds of green building features. Contact us today to learn more about building with Faswall.
Faswall 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.