When 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 environments,” 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.
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 that 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.
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:
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.
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.