It’s easy to understand why Faswall performs so well for builders interested in energy efficient, green homes. One look at our insulated concrete forms, which are made with a blend of all-natural materials, and you see where they get their high thermal mass, strength and breathability.
It’s also easy to understand why Faswall is such an effective product for DIY home builders. After some training and hands-on experience, building with the cinderblock-like forms can feel as straightforward as stacking sets of blocks.
One thing that isn’t so easy to understand is how to design a house with Faswall. Most people are used to thinking about home design in terms of features, square footage and desired rooms. They aren’t used to thinking in two-foot by one-foot sections.
Craig Nielson, an architect, permaculturalist and owner of Green Edge Design in Colorado, has developed a real knack for thinking by the block. Craig has a long history of taking on creative projects. He worked in the affordable housing industry for many years, designing homes for seniors, veterans and working families, and was an early adopter of many green building principles, including passive solar design. His commitment to creating eco-friendly, energy efficient buildings is one of the things that first attracted him to Faswall.
“Faswall had a booth at the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs,” he says. “I went because I was interested in tiny houses, but the coolest thing there was the Faswall display.
“I call it the holy grail of materials,” he says by way of explanation. “I love the thermal performance. The blocks are very ingeniously designed, with the insulation panel on the outside of the thermal mass, where it should be for optimal performance Think of a down jacket, which is placed as an outer layer on insulation to keep you warm. You end up with an amazing thermal envelope. Faswall exceeds every energy code in the country in terms of its thermal performance. It’s a no-brainer for meeting energy codes.”
Craig recently began helping a design client and friend build a home with Faswall (pictured above and at right), and that experience reinforced his initial impression that the blocks are easy to use and save builders time and money. “Generally I’d say a home is 40 percent materials and 60 percent labor costs,” he reports. “If you can knock that labor portion down, that’s where you can get some real savings.”
Craig has also helped several homeowners design their dream Faswall homes. Based on his experience with the product, he has several tips for making that process easier.
1. Think in Faswall-sized increments
“Normally I’d do all my footprint dimensions on an even foot, but with Faswall you’re designing the footprint on an odd measurement,” Craig says. That’s because each Faswall block wall run calculates to the odd number dimension, thereby saving the labor of having to do more block cuts.
Craig thinks of the blocks as same-sized puzzle pieces that must fit together to create a pleasing whole. Once you get the hang of working with that modular design, assembling the puzzle becomes much easier.
The trickiest pieces, no surprise, aren’t the corners but those middle sections that must be configured to accommodate doors and windows. But there’s a formula for success there. Windows need to fall where there are natural vertical interruptions in the blocks, which break on one- and two-foot increments, and horizontally, where breaks lie on 8-inch increments matching the height of the blocks. External doors must also be placed where there are natural stops in the blocks.
Passive solar design allows a house to absorb the sun’s thermal heat energy during the cold season and block the sun during hotter parts of the year. Overhangs that allow or block the sun when it’s at different positions in the sky; windows of a specific size, glazing and position; and floors and walls with significant thermal mass are just a few aspects of passive solar design.
Given Faswall’s unrivaled thermal mass and insulation, it only makes sense to include passive solar as part of the design process. Work with a designer who understands these principles and incorporates them in whatever ways possible. It will make your home sunny and comfortable. It will also save you money over the life of the house.
3. Consider the site
Craig has a very integrated approach to designing homes, which is one of the things that sets him apart from other designers.
“I’m very interested in what’s happening with the site and the landscape and how the building fits into it,” he says. “I want to know about how the homeowner really lives, for example; whether they will be gardening or entertaining. I want to know about solar access and how water and drainage works on the site, and which neighbors need screening. Every site is different, and I want to fully integrate my design into the site.”
Any homeowner should follow a similar philosophy. Building a home that fits your lot will allow you to make better use of the outdoors spaces. Understanding and respecting the water and other elements that will coexist with your home can lead to lower maintenance costs over time. Good design will integrate any passive solar, energy efficiency, green or high-performance goals that are important to you.
4. Hire the right (and right type) of designer
This tip isn’t specific to Faswall, but rather for anyone looking to participate in designing their own home. Most people think they need an architect to produce their construction drawings for them, but that’s not always the case.
“Most people have a sketch on a napkin or a sketch out of a book,” Craig says. “Then some people have a very detailed idea of what they want because they’ve been thinking about their dream house for 20 years. A designer is someone who takes your ideas and creates the best possible design for your vision. If a person knows exactly what they want, I usually send them to a draftsperson.” Identifying the right type of designer upfront will save you time and money.
Whenever he considers taking on a design client, Craig doesn’t accept the job until he’s had a detailed conversation with them. “I like to sit down and see if it’s a good match personality-wise and in values,” he says.
Homeowners should plan to similarly interview any designer, draftsperson or other professional who will be a major part of their home building process. Crafting a house from scratch is time-consuming and stressful. Working with a person whose values and interests don’t match yours – or who you simply don’t like – will only make the process more difficult.
If concerns about designing a home with Faswall have prevented you from seriously considering the product, we hope these tips will help. If you want more details about the advantages of using Faswall for a DIY or contactor-built home, please contact us today. If you want more details about designing your dream home, contact Craig at Green Edge Design.
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.
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.
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.