Monthly Archives: January 2013

Healthy Homes

Indoor-air quality is a topic of discussion that many builders choose to avoid and rightfully so.
When new, innovative building materials and techniques started being introduced in the 1980’s, most builders jumped on the band wagon and started incorporating some of these products and techniques  into their home building projects.
Building science wasn’t a term that most builders were familiar with and no one fully understood how these products and techniques would impact the performance of the homes they were building or of the consequences.

Before long, the problems linked to our lack of understanding came home to roost and we had a mold epidemic on our hands.
And then, the litigation began. Hugh sums of money were being awarded home owners with mold issues.
Mold remediation became big business and we started hearing the term, “mold is gold.”
Next, came the insurance industries answer to the problem.
Insurance companies would no longer cover builders for mold claims filed against them.
Back then and today, the word “mold” carries the same weight as “the plague” for those working in the building industry and should be avoided at all costs.

Mold can have a big impact on indoor-air quality, so it’s easy to understand why builders might shy away from even the mention of indoor-air quality.
If they don’t understand the principles of  building science, they don’t know where to begin.

Mold is a fungi, a living organism that requires food, water and certain conditions in order to survive and thrive.

Green building professionals understand how the laws of nature interact with the interior and exterior of the homes they build and know how to deprive mold of what it needs most to survive. Water. Moisture is the main culprit when it comes to mold growth.
Of course, mold needs food and a friendly environment, but water is key.

Two of the three key components to averting mold issues are found at the exterior and interior of the home.
A continuous drainage plane (house wrap) and proper flashing details at the exterior, combined with rain-screens that allow vapor and wind-driven moisture to drain and dry behind exterior siding ensures that moisture will be diverted away from the structure and won’t find its’ way in.

Mold & Rot Caused by Lack of Drainage Plane

Mold & Rot Caused by Lack of Drainage Plane

A building envelope that is built tight won’t allow interior moisture vapor into wall cavities and roof assemblies, where mold can thrive.
The third component to avoiding mold issues is proper ventilation.
Proper ventilation is achieved by using quality bath fans that are  properly installed. In some instances, whole house ventilation systems are installed.
Air exchangers, knows as Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) or Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV)  allow the homeowner to control the humidity level in the home while using the stale heated air that is expelled to temper fresh, incoming air. The result is a complete change of air in the home, about every 4 hours on average.

Heat Recovery Ventilator

Heat Recovery Ventilator

In cold climates, these units are meant to be run during the heating season.
The colder it is outdoors, the stronger the vapor drive inside the home.
Warm moisture vapor is drawn to air leaks in the building envelope and cold surfaces, such as windows, where it will condense back to bulk water form and start to promote rot and mold growth.

Mold growth is just one contributing factor to indoor-air quality and an important one to know how to avoid.
There are other risks associated with indoor-air quality, such as Radon gas and off-gassing from building products, such as cabinetry, carpeting and fossil fuel appliances.

We’ll address how best to manage these risks in upcoming posts, so please, stay tuned.

If you’re interested in building a high-performance home that will provide a safe, healthy indoor environment or would like to learn more about indoor-air quality, contact Great Lakes Carpentry today.

 

Raising the Bar

When we built the very first full-log home in the State of Wisconsin to be Wisconsin Energy Star Rated and Green-Built Certified, we were very proud of ourselves.
As far as we knew, no other builder in Wisconsin had even attempted to meet these performance standards for a full-log home at that time.
Great Lakes Carpentry, Inc. provided project management and executed all carpentry aspects of the project, in partnership with our now defunct sister company, Timberlog Works, LLC.
We “raised the bar” for performance and efficiency of full-log homes and we expected the field to become crowded with other full-log home builders, striving to achieve the same, if not higher levels of efficiency. Sadly, it didn’t.

We began this project in 2006.

High Performance Log

High Performance Log

The pride and sense of purpose that this project fostered was phenomenal.
We realized that we could do so much more than build beautiful full-log and timber frame homes. We found that we could bring much more added value to our clients by implementing building science principles and best practices into the design and build phases of our new home projects and in doing so, we were helping our clients to realize meaningful savings on their energy costs, providing them with durable structures that have a healthy indoor environment, all while helping to reduce their carbon footprint.
This really “raised the bar” on our mission and purpose.

It was during this period that we discovered and adopted the Kaizen philosophy of continuous incremental improvement and applied these concepts to our home building operation.
Thanks, to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the Japanese adopted this philosophy during the post World War II era of re-construction and the Japanese used it to become highly competitive in the auto and electronics industries.

We’ve been in competition with ourselves ever since. Striving to make each house more air-tight and energy-efficient than the previous.
By enrolling our homes in the Focus on Energy New Homes Program, we use science to test each of our projects, in order to discover any deficiencies and to define the level of air-tightness and efficiency we’ve achieved.  This gives us a baseline and benchmark for making the next project more efficient than the previous.

To date, we’ve certified more full-log homes than any other builder in our State and we’re proud of this accomplishment.

Another Energy Star Log Home

Another Energy Star Log Home

Attention to detail and spray foam insulation had a lot to do with our log home success.
During this same period we started building Timberpeg timber frame homes and for our first outing we used multiple layers of high-performance foam sheathing on the exterior and quickly determined that using Structural Insulate Panels (SIP’s) was a better approach.

Heart of Timber Frame

Heart of Timber Frame

Timber Frame InteriorLog Sided Exterior

Timber Frame Interior
Log Sided Exterior

We’ve tested and certified all of our timber frame homes to date and in the process came to the conclusion that we needed to offer this type of performance to those that might not be in the market for a full-log or timber frame home.

We did our home work and discovered what we believe to be the best SIP panels on the market. As independent dealers and factory trained installation specialists for Enercept SIP’s, we offer some of the strongest, most durable, air-tight and energy-efficient homes on the market.
We consider SIP’s to be the building envelope system of the future.
We refer to our most recent SIP home project as “The Energy Sipper”, because it does exactly that. It sparingly sips energy.

The Energy Sipper

The Energy Sipper

We’ve “raised the bar” considerably, with this project by achieving Passive House air-tightness standard and a HERS score of 37.

Energy Sipper MPG

Energy Sipper MPG

This is the chart that we received from Focus on Energy, depicting the level of efficiency we achieved for the Energy Sipper, in comparison with an existing home and a typical new home.. This is similar to MPG for your vehicle.
We consider a SIP structure to be super-insulated, but there is a flaw in this concept. Typical dual pane windows offer no more than a R-3 of insulating value.
Typical brand name windows account for 25%-30% of the heat loss in homes.
We thought it foolish to build a super-insulated structure, only to install windows that would hemorrhage heat loss at ever opening, so…. it was time to “raise the bar”.

We became Alpen High Performance Products window dealers during 2009 (formerly Serious Windows).
We installed Alpen 725 Series Fiberglass windows in the Energy Sipper and they were a huge contributor to the level of performance for this home.
On average, the Alpen windows have a full-frame R-Value of R-5.9, with a U-Factor of 0.17. We’re talking about something other window manufacturers don’t mention.
They want to talk about the U-Factors only and when R-values are mentioned, they are calculated at the center of glass (COG), because this is the most efficient area of any window.
The 725 Series windows we installed in the Energy Sipper are rated at R-9.1 with U-Factors of 0.11 at the center of glass (COG).
These windows help to close the gap for building envelope efficiency, not to mention adding to the comfort level for occupants and in reducing the likely hood of window condensation, a big problem for many homeowners in cold climates, such as ours.

We believe that our mission of saving our clients money on their energy costs, while helping them to reduce their carbon emissions is one of real purpose.
Our field and office staff have a purposeful step to their stride and look forward to the opportunity of taking home building to the next level.

Follow us, as we continue to “raise the bar.”
We look forward to the opportunity of building our first Net-Zero Energy home and to achieving our first Passive House Certification.
All it will take is people with a sense of social and environmental responsibility and the awareness that this is simply the right thing to do, for all of us, for our planet and for generations to come.

If you’re interested in “raising the bar” and building a high-performance full-log, timber frame or SIP home in Northern Wisconsin, contact us at www.greatlakescarpentry.com