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:
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.