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.
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.
Faswall 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.
Terry Davenport with Natural Housebuilders in Montana is a new convert to Faswall green building blocks. Terry specializes in building highly energy efficient homes that use the sun for heat. He’s employed a number of solar passive and solar active techniques to create high-quality homes in the Bitterroot Valley and Missoula area.
ICF wall forms such as Faswall green building blocks were not really on Terry’s radar screen because he didn’t think they had a high enough R-value. He preferred to use foam blocks for their great insulation value.
But when a girlfriend asked Terry to build a house for her, he started looking into Faswall green building blocks and decided they might be a better fit. He liked that Faswall were made from 100% recycled pallets rather than petroleum like the foam blocks. He appreciated that company owners Paul Wood and Paul Van Denend were always honest and straightforward in working with him.
Terry also came to understand that Faswall’s superior thermal mass properties could help him get achieve the warmth and comfort he seeks to provide customers when he builds or remodels a home for them. On cold days, any heat from the sun or heaters is retained by the Faswall blocks and released into the home at night. On hot days, the heat is absorbed during the day and given off slowly at night, when temperatures are cooler. Those properties mean homes are extremely energy efficient and inexpensive to heat and cool.
The realization of how thermal mass could benefit homeowners was cemented when Terry was on a backpacking trip in Montana. “At the end of the day, you start looking around and that big rock is always warmer than anything else,” he says.
Terry’s girlfriend approved the use of Faswall blocks, and the two got to work building her 1,000 square foot home on the Flathead Indian Reservation. She took great pride in the fact that she hauled all the blocks to the building site in a wheelbarrow, and that she could help build her home herself. “I like the fact that the homeowner can work with me,” Terry says. “It’s pretty easy to stack thing together” – much easier than framing, where everyone involved has to understand things like correctly measuring window dimensions and the proper way of attaching boards together. The ease of using Faswall green building blocks means that they are perfect for even DIY home builders.
When you build a timber frame house, Terry says, you spend a lot of time hunched over as you construct the pieces that run along the ground. With Faswall green building blocks, Terry says he spent a lot more time standing straight up, which was much easier on his back. “When you get older you start thinking of ways to make things easier on your body,” he points out.
In addition to building one bedroom, a loft that doubles as a second bedroom and a massage room, and one bathroom, Terry added a greenhouse onto the side of his girlfriend’s home so she could keep a small garden. The home’s windows are made from post-manufacturing recycled materials, and the balusters on the staircase are made from recycled rebar left over from installing the cement floor.
Terry tacked 5¼” foam bead board on the side of the house, which helped it achieve an extremely high R-value of 41. Between Faswall’s superior thermal mass properties and the added insulation, the homeowner only needs one cord of wood to heat the entire home through a cold Montana winter.
The homeowner is thrilled with the house, as is Terry. His interest in finding new, innovative building materials dates to his early days as a motocross racer, he told Distinctly Montana magazine in a recent interview. He and his friends were always tinkering with their motorcycles to try and improve their performance. Over time he shifted his focus from motorcycles to houses.
“I still feel spoiled because I get to learn about the greatest new technology for homes,” he says. But of all the home building materials he’s found over time, Faswall green building blocks is one of the ones he plans to stick with. We look forward to working with Terry on many more projects.
ShelterWorks owners Thomas Van Denend and Paul Wood were profiled in July/August 2014 edition of 1859 Oregon’s Magazine, a lifestyle publications that covers everything Oregon. The article, part of a regular feature on Oregon startups, describes how the business got started, survived the Great Recession, and grew stronger as a result. Read the article online here or pick up a copy of the magazine at major retailers like Fred Meyer and Barnes & Noble.
ShelterWorks and Faswall green building blocks have also been featured in several other publications including Fine Homebuilding and The Oregonian newspaper. See more articles on our Faswall in the News page.