Monthly Archives: October 2012

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The Skills Gap and Continuing Education

Advancements in technology have changed the building industry and will continue the change it, which is why it is important to keep up with industry trends. Builders have a responsibility to expand and spread their knowledge to younger generations and get young people interested in the building industry.  Right now, our society is experiencing a skills gap, especially in labor intensive fields as plumbing, electric, and yes, even the building trades.

You may know Mike Rowe from the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.” Aside from getting dirty and doing jobs that “make civilized life possible for the rest of us,” he developed the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to address the skills gap problem. Here is a short clip of Mike Rowe himself explaining the crisis.

So, what does this mean for Great Lakes Carpentry?  We try the best we can to stay up to date with changes in the building industry, help educate other builders, and our children about the building industry.

In a previous post, we touched on what it means to be a Certified Green Building Professional.  Under that certification, you must complete 12 hours of continuing education every 3 years from building industry- related educational activities.  For example, I just attended an educational building session here in the Northwoods last week.  The seminar was about building science best practices and was held at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River Wis.  The seminar was hosted by the Headwaters Builders Association, where I currently serve as President, and sponsored by Focus on Energy, New Homes Program.

Aside from being part of the Headwaters Builders Association, I serve on the Carpentry Advisory Committee at Nicolet Technical College.  The goal the committee is to provide direction to the educational trades department by getting input from professionals in the building trades industry.

If you are a contractor I hope you are doing your part in order to promote continuing education in the building trades. If not, I encourage you to do your part, get involved in the nearest building association to you.

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Looking Through the Glass

Winter is just around the corner, and I’m sure at some point you have told your kids, “we are not paying to heat the outside, so keep the window closed!” Unfortunately, 25-30% of heat loss goes right out of a typical brand name window which means you could be paying to heat the outside even if your windows and doors are shut tight!

Serious Windows = Alpen High Performance Products

In a previous post we talked all about the benefits of Serious Windows, however, there has been some changes in the company.  A press release  indicated Serious Windows was recently purchased by Alpen HPP, LLC.  The great thing about the transition is that only the name has changed, all the information is still the same and you are still getting a great energy efficient window. Alpen High Performance Products will continue to manufacture the same highly energy efficient fiberglass window and architectural glass products for residential and commercial applications

Advantages to Fiberglass Windows

What makes Alpen’s windows so energy efficient is the fact that they are made of fiberglass.  Fiberglass windows are more energy efficient, durable, stronger, aesthetically appealing and environmentally friendly compared to typical wood, aluminum or vinyl window. Fiberglass is also made with silica sand, an abundant natural resource that is readily available almost everywhere.  A few of the most important benefits include:

  1. High condensation resistance which helps keep humidity within a proper range and limits the growth of mold and mildew.
  2. Performs well in humidity extremes and hot and cold environments.
  3. Tight seals maintain the resistance to air leakage and water penetration.
  4. Does not rot or warp.
  5. Easy to install

Fiberglass windows are a smart choice for green building for several reasons. First, they have high R-Values and low U-factors which will save energy for decades. When shopping for windows, you want one with a high R-Value and a low U-factor. Other window companies rarely mention the R-Value of their windows, and when they do, they use the R-Value taken at the center of the glass, which is the most efficient part of the window.  Alpen advertises the full frame R-Value of their windows.

Second, Alpen’s windows uses suspended film technology. Suspended film windows are much more energy efficient then the typical dual pane windows. Suspended film combines both thin film and glass-based coatings to create a lightweight, multi-chamber insulating glass unity that reflects heat and harmful UV radiation while maximizing light transmission and superior insulating performance.

Tuned Glazing Package

Alpen glass technologies offers the ability to provide a “Tuned Glazing” window package which are suspended film windows equipped with coatings technology that uses the sun to its advantage depending on the orientation of the home. For example, a window that has a low solar heat gain can be put on the south facing wall of the home. This will help heat the home in the winter months. This can also improve the use of natural daylight and views. High solar heat gain windows would be beneficial on other elevations of the home, especially the west, because they are more energy efficient overall and help keep heat out of the home during the summer months.

Alpen’s windows has a full lifetime warranty for as long as you own and reside in your home, which is one of the strongest warranties in the industry.

Great Lakes Carpentry specializes in high performance home building. We strive to build super-insulated building envelopes and Alpen windows are the perfect window in helping us achieve these goals.

To learn more about Alpen High Performance Products or energy efficient home building contact us at Also, check out Great Lakes Carpentry else where on the web: Facebook, Twitter, and our Website.

Top 10 Reasons Why Green Building is Important

What is Green Building?

The goal of green building is to build the best, most sustainable, and practical homes for people and the environment.  Green building incorporates environmental considerations and resource efficiency into every step of the land development and home building process to minimize the environmental impact of the home. Green building requires intentional decisions that positively impact energy and resource efficiency as well as indoor environmental quality

1. Ensures your home is built right the first time.
Building a home that is energy efficient means going further to make sure your home is done right to help prevent major repairs later.

2. Lowers your energy consumption.
Just one Energy Start Rated or Focus on Energy new home can keep 4,500 pounds of greenhouse gases out of our air each year.

3. You will have better indoor air quality.
A home that is air tight allows you to have complete control over the air that is circulating in your home.

4. Durability.
A Green-Built, energy efficient home will be more durable and able to stand up to climate changes without consuming more energy. Over 90% of damage to homes is caused by moisture. A contractor who understands building science will implement building science principals and best practices for moisture management during the course of construction.

5. Resource and energy efficient.
When building a home a green builder understands that it’s important to consider where the materials for the home are coming from. Are the materials coming from in state or out of state? Can you get some of the materials locally? Were the material manufactured with the environment in mind?

6. Take advantage of the Sun when building.
A very energy efficient way to heat a home is to take advantage of the sun.  The ideal situation  would be to have the house oriented east-west with the longest wall facing south. This way the sun can shine into the windows creating natural heat.

7. A home as a System.
Green builders take the holistic approach to home building. Green builders understand that a home works as a system.  One part of the home cannot operate correctly without another. Changes to one component can dramatically change how other components perform.

8. Job Creation.
A political theme of the past few years has been job creation.  Well, here is an industry that could capitalize on to create more jobs, would help the environment and help people reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs. For example, the Green Retrofit Program was designed in 2010 to create thousands of green jobs as workers retrofit older federally assisted multifamily apartments with energy efficient technology.

9. Outdated homes.
We have only added 1% to 2% new homes to the housing stock even in the strongest market years.  As a result a majority of existing homes don’t even meet the bare minimum energy requirement of the current building code. This illustrates the need for sustainable homes and the need to upgrade existing homes.

10. Lower Energy Costs.
A properly built energy efficient home can save you 40% to 60% on your energy bills.

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Passive House


Super energy efficient homes are not a thing of the future, but rather a blast from the past.  The Passive House standard was developed in Germany by a physicist Wolfgang Feist in 1996. His inspiration came from the super insulated homes that were being build in the 1970s in the United States and Canada. Now, upwards of 20,000 Passive Houses have been built in Europe while the U.S has built less than two dozen.  A few reasons why this idea did not catch on 40 years ago was because the technology for high performance windows, doors, and ventilation systems were not quite there yet. Politics is also another factor, and still is an important factor when talking about energy efficient building practices. If politicians don’t understand or believe energy efficient building standards are important than its hard to make any progress in the building industry.

Main Goal

The goal of a Passive House is to maximize solar gain. This is achieved through a virtually airtight building envelope, mechanical ventilation, triple-pane windows, and eliminating thermal bridging. The three requirements that a Passive House needs to meet include: Air Infiltration, Btu consumption, and Energy usage.  If these requirements are not met or there is a slight mistake, the home will not acheive the title of Passive House.

Main Advantages

Passive House performance based building standard can result in a home that consumes as little as 10% of the total heating and cooling energy.

Doesn’t fall into the trap that electricity production is better done on the roof.

A Passive House is planned even before the contractor breaks ground. Contractors and the home owner know exactly how much energy the home is going to consume once it is built, and how much it is going to cost of operate.

One of our most recent projects (pictured above) which we refer to as the “Energy Sipper” achieved Passive House air-tightness standard and a HERS score of 37. To learn more about how we can help you get into a super-energy efficient home visit the  Great Lakes Carpentry website. Like us on Facebook, also follow us on Twitter!

If you missed our article last week Net Zero: The Next Frontier check it out. You can also compare and contrast the differences between Passive House and a Net- Zero energy home by visiting Green Building Adviser. If you would like more information about Passive House, check out this PDF.