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.
When people start planning a green home, they often spend a lot of time thinking about things like renewable energy sources, passive solar and net zero energy usage. Faswall green building blocks work great with all these eco-friendly goals, but they can help accomplish other goals as well.
An environmentally friendly home is also a people friendly one, and that’s something many people overlook. One of the most important ways to protect your family – and do a good thing for the environment – is to ensure you build a home with good indoor air quality.
This blog post shares some frightening statistics about how poor indoor air quality can affect you and your children’s health:
- Indoor air quality is often two to five times worse than outdoor air quality.
- The average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors. If you have poor indoor air quality, you’re inhaling pollutants 21 hours a day.
- Poor indoor air quality is one of the main reasons for the increase in asthma and allergies among children.
If you’re planning to build a home from scratch, why not start with a building material made from 100% organic inputs that will not release poisons and toxins into your home? Faswall green building blocks are an ideal building material for people interested in creating homes with great indoor air quality. They’re manufactured from a combination of recycled wood and cement. That’s it – no glues, plastics, additives or other potentially harmful materials. A study by J.F. Straube, Ph.D. and J.P. deGraauw confirms that structures built with materials like Faswall do a great job of maintaining good indoor air quality.
Faswall green building blocks resemble giant cinder blocks. You dry stack them to make your walls, then pour pea gravel or concrete through the cores to hold the blocks in place. They take stucco, clay and other natural wall coverings without a lot of prep work.
If you want to use only natural, toxin-free materials to put together your home, Faswall makes it possible. And if you’re interested in building your own home, we’ve got you covered there too. Faswall green building blocks are ideal for DIY home builders because they are so easy to use.
Creating a home with good indoor air quality was extremely important to Kirstin Lynde and Michael Kolowich of Massachusetts. Kirstin was struggling with some health problems, and “I’m pretty convinced that air quality had something to do with it,” she says.
“It’s one thing to change your refrigerator content, but it’s another thing to change your house,” Michael says. Luckily he and Kirstin were already planning to build a new home, and stocking up on natural building materials was at the top of their priority list.
“We were trying to create what we thought was the healthiest house in New England,” Michael says. “I also wanted to prove you could have a home that was beautiful as well as healthy.”
As you can see from the pictures, Kirstin and Michael achieved their goal. Their 5,500 square foot home has 4 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, plus a guest cottage and a garage with a home office and TV room. Large windows let in plenty of light. A spacious kitchen and open living space provides plenty of space for entertaining. “This is a house that is very high functioning. There really are no compromises,” Michael says.
In addition to using Faswall blocks, Kirstin and Michael used wall boards made from all-natural materials, then applied American clay for a smooth finish. The materials will not off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals that can contribute to bad indoor air quality. Porcelain floors that look exactly like wood are another toxin-free material, and have the added benefit of reducing the risk of water damage if the floors get wet.
Cellulose insulation is considered lower in harmful chemicals than fiberglass, but it’s difficult to find one that won’t mold over time, Kirstin says. They compromised with foam insulation, which was applied in a thick layer under the roof and contributes to the home’s high R-value.
“In achieving energy efficiency you can sometimes sacrifice air quality,” Michael says. “There’s such thing as a house that’s too tight.” To ensure air could flow in and out of the house, they installed energy recovery ventilator (ERV) and heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) systems. The devices work together to move stale air out of the house and pull fresh air in – all while not losing any of the energy used to heat the home. The systems cycle air in and out of the house every three hours.
They heat the home with a combination of in-floor radiant heat and a masonry stove, avoiding ductwork that can harbor mold and degrade air quality. Firing up the stove for 3 hours heats the core of the house for up to 24 hours, Kirstin says. “We’ve cut our heating cost in half. I credit that to the superior insulation” provided by the one-foot-wide Faswall blocks. Even during Massachusetts’ extremely cold conditions in December 2014, their heating bill was only $100.
All their efforts paid off. Kirstin’s health problems have improved, and Michael no longer suffers from occasional sneezing fits. “The air inside the house smells really sweet,” he says. “People comment on it when they visit.”
Are you interested in building a home with great indoor air quality? What about an office building, warehouse, wine cellar or other commercial building? Faswall green building blocks work great for all types of structures. Please contact us for more information today.
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.