Category Archives: Home Performance

SIP’s and Why We Love Them

Our first experience with using foam on the exterior of a structure, besides using it to insulate our poured concrete foundations, was during 2005, when we built our first Timberpeg, Post & Beam home.

Timberpeg Frame

Timberpeg Frame

We had the choice of implementing one of two different methods. The first method is what’s referred to as “wrap and strap”. This method relies on the use of multiple layers of 4’x8′  foil-faced, isocyanurate foam panels, 4’x8′ sheets of plywood and 1×4 pine strapping.
This method provides an excellent thermal boundary, while leaving the beauty of the timber-frame joinery fully exposed at the interior of the home.
The “wrap and strap” method helps to hold down materials costs, but due to the fact that it requires multiple trips around the structure, in order to install each layer, it requires more labor than the second method of using SIP panels to enclose the frame.

Wrap & Strap

Wrap & Strap Method

We choose the “wrap and strap” method, because of the material cost savings, but after taking those multiple “trips” around the house, we vowed to try the SIP option on our next Timberpeg post & beam project and we did just that.

Heart & Soul of Beauty & Strength

Heart & Soul of Beauty & Strength

SIP Roof Panels on Timberpeg Frame

SIP Roof Panels on Timberpeg Frame

Our experience has shown that the SIP panels speed the process and provide higher levels of air-tightness and strength.

It was obvious to us that SIP panels were the perfect way to create a strong, air-tight, robust thermal boundary for our Timberpeg projects, but we realized that some of our clients might not be interested in a timber frames structure to go along with the SIP’s.
We immediately became interested it bringing this building envelope system to our all of our clients. Folks that might not be interested in a beautiful post & beam frame, but wanted a home that was safe, durable and energy-efficient.

We did our homework and researched the different SIP panel companies. We were looking for a company that had the best system, had a great reputation for customer satisfaction and wasn’t too far from our home range.
We found Enercept to be the best of the  SIP panel companies.
Their commitment to quality and service is second to none. It is a real pleasure to work with people who share our values and our commitment to helping people save energy and our environment. At that time Enercept had been in business for over 25 years and had a great track record.

In our previous post, we talked about the challenges we face in educating consumers and SIP’s fall under the category of the unknowns.

According to  the Structural Insulated Panel Association, (SIPA)
SIP panels were invented at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in the mid 1930’s.
Some of the earliest examples of SIP construction can be found in the Usonian homes, designed by visionary architect and early adopter,  Frank Lloyd Wright.
It was one of Wright’s student’s, Alden B. Dow, son of Dow Chemical founder, that was the first to use foam between the panel skins.
That was in 1951. Now, you know.

SIP’s have been around for quite a while, but public awareness of this killer-app building envelope technology has gone almost unheard of… Until now.

First Panel for Energy Sipper

First Panel for Energy Sipper

Think about that last scolding hot coffee or chocolate that came in a styrofoam cup. You had 1/8 of an inch of foam, between your hand and the hot liquid.
Now, think about a wall system with 5-1/2″ or 7-1/2″ of foam in your walls and 9-1/2″ or 12″ of foam in your roof system. Are you catching on?
SIP homes are very energy-efficient. They are also very air-tight.
Did I mention quiet? SIP homes are also very quiet. The sound deadening properties of SIP panels are excellent.

Another benefit of building with SIP’s is the construction time line. We’re able to get projects under-roof in record time. The last two SIP homes that we built were in the 1800 square foot range and each was under-roof within 4 days.

SIP homes are also very strong, due to the nature of the construction of a SIP panel and the shear strength inherent with its design. SIP homes are 2-1/2 times stronger than typically built homes. There are many reports of SIP homes surviving earth quakes and tornadoes, worldwide.

As you can see, there are huge benefits to building with SIP’s.
We at Great Lakes Carpentry believe that using SIP panels for our building envelopes makes perfect. We consider them to be the wave of the future.
The small amount of extra costs to build using SIP’s is recovered very early on, after which our clients realize very meaningful savings on the costs to operate their homes, for the life of the home.

One would think that cutting edge home building technology like this would be part of the conversation, when considering a new home. This is not the case.
We continue to encounter folks that don’t  have a clue about this great way to build. Our biggest hurdle lies in educating the customer.
In most cases, once we show our prospects this system, they have a eureka moment. They get it! Because it’s so obvious.
Who wouldn’t want to save 40% to 60% on their energy costs?

We refer to our most recent SIP home as “The Energy Sipper”, because of the fact that is sparingly “SIP’s” energy.
We used Alpen High Performance windows, as they are the perfect fit for this type of building envelope.
We are very proud of the fact that we achieved stellar performance levels for the home. We achieved Passive House air-tightness standards, which are the most stringent energy design criteria in the building industry and we achieved a HERS score (home energy rating system) of 37. The HERS rating is fast becoming the industry standard for calculating the efficiency of new homes. Similar to miles per gallon. We strive to reach the lowest number possible.
Net-zero energy homes are on the horizon and we’re anxious to get the opportunity to build our first in the near future.

The Energy Sipper

The Energy Sipper

Great Lakes Carpentry specializes in building what we refer to as “Future Proof” homes. SIP’s are a big part of our strategy.
As always, our goal is to help educate the public about the benefits to building energy-efficient new homes and remodeling projects.
If you find this post educational and you believe in building homes that are part of the solution and not the problem, forward this post to a fiend.
Together, we can help drive the paradigm shift to building responsibly.

We love to talk about energy efficiency and building science. If you have any questions or are interested in building a future-proof home, contact us today.
www.greatlakescarpentry.com

Focus on Energy/Focus on Education

The year of 2006 marked a milestone year of change for Great Lakes Carpentry. That was the year that we fully embraced the concept of building  sustainable, energy-efficient homes.

We were very proud and excited that we had made the leap from the old paradigm of home building, which primarily focuses on the visual aspects of the exterior and interior of the home and broadened our focus to include the performance aspects of the homes we build. We enrolled and tested our homes through the Wisconsin Energy Star New Homes Program and certified them “Green” through Wisconsin Environmental Initiative’s “Green Built Homes” program.

For us at Great Lakes Carpentry the paradigm shift made perfect sense. The “Green” movement was gaining traction and it seemed that everyone would be climbing on board. We anticipated that the “Green” home building field would become full, as our competitors rushed to join the movement.
I’m sad to say that in our area the “rush” to enter this market segment has yet to come.

That didn’t stop us. We jumped in, with both feet.
We studied Building Science and came to realize the benefits of taking a “holistic approach” to the design/build process and in implementing  “building science best practices” into all of the homes we build.
We immediately understood that energy efficiency is the cornerstone of green building practices. We focused on energy and honed our skills at making our building envelopes as well insulated and air-tight as we possibly could.

Our understanding fostered a sense of responsibility and we knew that there was no turning back. No longer could we recommend building run of the mill homes.
We couldn’t recommend using old technology , materials and methods that lead to wasted energy, poor indoor-air quality and degradation of the structure with a clear conscience.

Since 2006, we’ve earned our Certified Green Building Professional designation, through the National Association of Home Builder’s, National Green Building Standard program and we’ve become Trade Allies of Focus on Energy New Homes program. We’ve carved ourselves a niche, as the only Certified Green Building Professional designation holder, for miles around.
CGP Logo

We’ve evolved into a group of, “happy people, building sustainable, energy-efficient homes.” Our field and office staff have a purposeful step to their stride.
They hold their heads high and take pride in their extraordinary skill sets, the meaningful work that they do and in our commitment as a team to this “Mission with Purpose.”

Each new home offers the opportunity to hone our skills and to improve upon the performance data gathered while testing our previous projects.
Our team takes pleasure in rising to the challenge to do better at every opportunity.
We think that this is a win, win, win scenario.
The customer wins, by getting a home that is safe, durable, energy-efficient and  costs much less to operate than the typical home. Our environment wins, because we’ve reduced the amount of green-house gas generated for operating the home and our staff wins, because of the sense of accomplishment and pride taken from doing the right thing for our client and our environment.

We focus on energy and how to reduce the amount of energy required to operate the homes we build and we focus on educating  our staff, our trade partners and our vendors, so that we can work as a team to produce what we like to call, “Future Proof Homes.”

Focus on Energy  New Homes Program

Focus on Energy
New Homes Program

If you’d like to learn more about our Focus on Energy and Education, visit our website. www.greatlakescarpentry.com

Believe it our not. This was the easy part.
Our biggest challenge lies in education consumers.

Stay tuned.
We’ll talk more about this challenge in our next post.

Tools of the Trade IV

In our last post, we talked about using the Duct Blaster, for testing the duct work in our high-performance homes.

Duct Blaster

Duct Blaster

In this post, we’ll focus on the importance of providing proper mechanical ventilation in all homes and how we use “Tools of the Trade” to test the performance of ventilation systems in the new homes we build and in our remodeling work.

The Balometer is one of the “Tools of the Trade” that we use to test the performance of the mechanical ventilation equipment that we install in our high-performance homes.
tsi-alnor-ebt731-balometer-capture-hood

Balometer® instrument directly reads average air flow rate, either intake or outflow, at ceiling, wall or floor diffusers.

In use, air to be measured is directed past a manifold which senses flow at multiple points spread across a carefully sized area. The manifold is designed so that the air volume is sensed at either supply or return diffusers with equal accuracy.

In our quest to build increasingly tighter homes, we came to realize how critical it is that we take an active role in managing moisture vapor in our homes.

Heat recovery ventilators (HRV), bath fans and range hoods are key components used to help manage indoor-air quality by expelling moist, stale air.
Moisture is the cause of over 90% of building and building material failures. (ASHRAE)

Through our study of building science, we’ve come to realize that in the cold climate where we build, a one inch hole in the building envelope will attract 30 quarts of moisture during the course of one heating season.
When I first heard of this phenomena, I was shocked and thought that this couldn’t be true, but when you consider the fact that each occupant contributes 4 pints of moisture, per day, through breathing and perspiration, you start to get a clue.
When you take into account the moisture that your pets, plants and non-vented combustion appliances add to the equation, you get a sense of how this can have an impact.
Now, consider the additional 4 pints of moisture that each occupant contributes each day, by cooking and bathing and you can see how it’s easy to reach the 30 quart mark for a heating season.

Simply installing properly sized mechanical ventilation equipment isn’t good enough.

Balometer

Testing Bath Fan Flow Rate

We use the Balometer to test and verify the performance of each system installed.

We’ve seen far too many bath fans, in particular, that did not perform as specified. The builder may not have understood how to calculate the drop in flow rate that some ducting options contribute to. The distance from the fan and where exhaust exits the structure might not have been taken into consideration. The installer might have missed the fact that there was a screw holding the damper shut for shipping purposes and neglected to remove it.
The duct work could have too many turns or was crushed during the course of insulation work being performed. There are many factors that contribute to the performance of mechanical exhaust equipment.

At Great Lakes Carpentry, we don’t simply install any type of mechanical ventilation equipment and walk away.
We take mechanical exhaust ventilation into consideration during the design phase. We plan our path and calculate distance to where exhaust will terminate. We consider size of room, length and configuration of duct run and duct material and size, in order to properly size the exhaust equipment.

Testing Trumps Talk.

With so many ways for an installation to go wrong, testing is crucial.
By using “Tools of the Trade” to verify that all mechanical exhaust ventilation is properly installed and functioning as it should, we provide our clients with  added value and peace of mind in knowing that everything is operating and functioning as it should.

The final link in the chain is perhaps the weakest.
Too often, we’ve heard of complaints from homeowners about moisture problems in the bathroom and have come to find that the occupants aren’t turning the fans on when they enter the bathroom.We’ve worked to resolve this problem by providing our client’s with a homeowners operating manual.
We educate our clients on the necessity of using exhaust ventilation and in some instances we’ll install a delayed timer switch or linked the fan with the light switch, so it comes on by default when the light is switched on.

State building codes are legal minimums. Performance standards are mediocre and there is no testing required.

Great Lakes Carpentry is building next generation, homes for the future, now.
Now that you have a choice, the question becomes; Do you want your home to be built to minimums, with no accountability from your builder and no clue as to how efficient your building envelope, combustion appliances and ventilation equipment performs,  or would you prefer to build to higher standards of performance and accountability? The choice is yours.

If you’d like to learn more about home performance testing, exhaust ventilation, high-performance home building or building science, contact us. We love to talk about this stuff!

Please stay tuned for our next post, where we’ll talk about the Psychometric Calculator, how we use it to determine the dew point and how that relates to you and your home.

Great Lakes Carpentry is “Building Today for a Greener Tomorrow”

Tools of the Trade Part III

Our previous post focused on the infrared thermal imaging scanner that we use to detect air infiltration into new and existing homes.

Infrared Scanner

Infrared Scanner

In this post we’ll focus on another of the diagnostic tools of the trade that we use to verify supply and return-air efficiencies in forced-air heating/cooling systems.

We use the Minneapolis Duct Blaster to perform a “Total Leakage Test” of the duct system.

Duct Blaster

Duct Blaster

The Duct Blaster is a device that uses pressure testing to find the amount and location of air leakage in a duct system.
To do the test, we seal all outlets except for one on the return side of the system. This is the side that returns stale air to the furnace to be reconditioned. The Duct Blaster is connected to this return-air opening and then turned on to blow air into the ducts. The air goes through the return ducts to the air handler and then through the supply ducts. If the duct system is very tight, it doesn’t take much airflow through the fan to pressurize the ducts. If you have a big leak, like a disconnected plenum or duct, it will be next to impossible to pressurize the ducts adequately.  This would be like trying to pump air into a tire that has a big hole in it.

The process yields quantitative results because testing requires two pressure measurements: one inside the ducts and the other inside the fan. The first allows the tester to compare results from different systems by always pressurizing to the same level. The second measures the airflow in the fan when that level is reached. As mentioned above, tight ducts means low airflow, and leaky ducts require lots of airflow.

Pressurizing only the ducts determines the total leakage. That includes the air that escapes into the conditioned space and the air that leaks to the outside of the building envelope (i.e., the attic or crawl space). The latter is the most important part because you derive no benefit from it. To separate it from the total leakage, we pressurize the house to the same level as the ducts by using the Blower Door. Then, when the Duct Blaster brings the ducts up to the required pressure, none will leak to the inside of the house because it’s at the same pressure as the ducts. The fan only has to blow enough air in to make up for the leakage to the outside, and that’s the amount that’s important.

This is a picture of the blower door ready for use.

This is a picture of the blower door ready for use.

In a tight air distribution system, the leakage to the outside (in cubic feet per minute, or cfm) will be 5% or less of the square footage of the home. Most new installations start at about 15% to 20%, and go downhill from there. At those rates, a third of the heating and cooling bills could be a direct result of duct leakage.

After performing a Duct Blaster test to determine the amount and locations of air and duct leakage, we seal up the leaks that we find. Upon completion the house and/or duct system will perform better, and your heating and cooing bill will be lower.

You can follow this link to a you tube video part 1 of 4 videos.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk-A08zsguE

As they say at Focus on Energy, “Testing Trumps Talk” and we couldn’t agree more.
By testing and  verifying the tightness of the building envelope and the duct systems in our high-performance homes, we are able to identify any deficiencies and take corrective measures.

Lower operating costs, greater comfort, safety, durability and higher resale values are just a few of the benefits realized by implementing building science principles and best practices into the homes that we build.

By testing, inspecting, and documenting the quality of work, we bring a higher level of added value and peace of mind for our clients.

The Duct Blaster is another diagnostic tool of the trade that helps us in delivering the added value that is built-in to our high-performance homes and remodel projects.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can provide added value to your new home or remodel, please visit our website and contact us.
http://www.greatlakescarpentry.com

In our next post, we’ll talk about mechanical ventilation, exhaust equipment and the diagnostic tools of the trade that we use to verify performance and efficiency of this critical component of the high-performance homes we build.

Great Lakes Carpentry is “Building Today for a Greener Tomorrow.”

 

Tools of the Trade Part II

In our previous “Tools of the Trade”post we focused on the “Blower Door.”
The blower door is the device that we use to simulate a 20 mph wind coming at the home from all directions, simultaneously.

This is a picture of the blower door ready for use.

This is a picture of the blower door ready for use.

We talked about the blower door being a peripheral of the laptop computer that is used, the software and the pressure and flow gauge that help us in gathering the data that tells us how air-tight the home is.
We showed you one of the low-tech tools used to locate specific areas of air-infiltration, the smoke stick.

This week we want to show you the high-tech version of this “Tool of the Trade” that we use to locate specific areas of air-infiltration, the Infrared Scanner/Camera.

Infrared Scanner/Camera

Infrared Scanner/Camera

In the hands of someone that’s been trained in the science of infrared imaging (Thermography), such as our Home Performance Professional, this is a very powerful tool of the trade.

Once we’ve depressurized the home to 50 pascal by running the blower door, we use the IR scanner to locate any air-infiltration, by scanning all of the “usual suspects” for air-infiltration.
We scan all exterior walls, window and doors, roof assemblies and where the roof assembly meets the exterior wall.

Scanning for Air-Infiltration

Scanning for Air-Infiltration

We are able to take pictures of the images that the IR scanner produces and attach the images to the reports that we generate for review by our carpentry crew, our insulation trade contractors and by our clients.

When we enroll an existing home in the Home Performance with Energy Star program, we refer to this testing process as a “Whole-House Energy Assessment”
We use this information to determine deficiencies in the existing homes that we test, so we can define the scope of our work for taking corrective measures.
We refer to this initial test as “Testing In.”
The homeowner is provided with the performance data compiled during the initial test and with a “Prescriptive Path to Remedy” any existing deficiencies.

Once the owner of an existing home approves the scope of work necessary to correct deficiencies, we perform the corrective work and then we “Test Out.”
By doing so, we provide the homeowner with improved performance data and documentation that they’ve done due diligence in improving the efficiency and performance of their home.
This leads to more than a lower energy bills, greater comfort and a healthier indoor environment. It leads to higher re-sale values.

We use these same tools of the trade and methods to test our new homes as well.
Here in Northern Wisconsin, we enroll the new homes that we build in the “Focus on Energy New Homes Program.
The performance data that we gather by testing verifies that we’ve met and in most cases, exceeded program standards for certification.
As the folks at Focus on Energy say, “Testing Trumps Talk.”
We don’t expect our clients to simply take our word on how efficient their homes are.
We put science to work and third independent testing services to verify the efficiency of the homes that we build.
At Great Lakes Carpentry, we believe that by building to higher performance levels and testing our projects, we provide. much more than just added value.  We provide peace of mind by using science to prove that what we’ve done was done right.

What we’ve shown so far are just a few of the “Tools of the Trade” that we use for testing our high-performance new homes and energy remodeling work that we perform.

We’ll showcase some of the other tools of the trade in our next post.

Not Your Little House On The Prairie

A lot of times the thought of a log cabin conjures images of a primitive rustic log home nestled in the woods complete with a wood burning stove and outhouse. However, log homes have come a long way from their meager beginnings.

Another Energy Star Log Home

Energy Star Rated Log Home

Great Lakes Carpentry boasts beautiful homes offering all the traditional comforts of home while protecting the environment as well. From custom designed homes unique to your sense to style and desires to remodels improving the comfort and energy efficiency of your already existing home, as a Certified Green Professional (CGP), Great Lakes Carpentry integrates energy and cost saving elements into your new home or remodel without driving up the cost of construction.

This is a finished Strongwood log home, built in Northern Wis.

Front Porch Elevation

A company cannot become a CGP by merely adding sustainable concepts to a house. In order to be certified, a company must:

1. Complete a curriculum of two required courses
2. Have a minimum of two years of building industry experience
3. Submit an application
4. Adhere to the CGP Code of Ethics

Because technology is constantly changing, education is an important key to being up to date on current trends and emerging techniques. In order to maintain our Certified Green Professional certification, we must complete 12 hours of continuing education every three years.Logo_CGP_2C

Great Lakes Carpentry pioneered building Wisconsin’s first Energy Star Rated and Green-Built Certified Full Log Homes. We strive to provide you with the most energy efficient and athletically pleasing log cabin offered. We know you’ll love your new Great Lakes Carpentry built log home. Welcome home!

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.