Tag Archives: Great Lakes Carpentry

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.

Energy Efficient Mortagages

All of us at Great Lakes Carpentry are excited and encouraged to see that high performance homes are starting to get the recognition they deserve, from a growing number of lenders.

Have you heard the term “Energy Efficient Mortgage“? (EEM)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development now offers an Energy Efficient Mortgage for qualified home buyers.
HUD realizes that the money saved on each month’s utility bill can be put toward affording a more comfortable, energy-efficient home.

Last year, as a member of the Focus on Energy New Homes Program, we received a press release, regarding an Unprecedented New Home Financing Model;
North Shore Bank of Wisconsin will now offer home mortgage loans at low rates for Wisconsin residents who build a new home that is enrolled in the Focus on Energy New Homes Program.
“North Shore Bank recognizes the financial savings that energy efficiency brings,” said Rovinski. “That’s why we created a special package to allow higher debt to income ratios for those who have Focus on Energy certified homes. We want this program to succeed and for our customers to love their new efficient homes.”
North Shore Bank is demonstrating its leadership on this important front by accepting low down payment options and not selling the loans. In addition, it also has over 45 office locations throughout Wisconsin, helping increase exposure to the Focus on Energy New Homes Program. North Shore Bank’s value-added services offer the convenience and motivation for home-buyers to build a Focus on Energy New Home.

Focus on Energy New Homes Program Advantages;
Focus on Energy New Homes are at least 10 percent more energy-efficient than homes built to Wisconsin’s Uniform Dwelling Code. Moreover, buyers of a Focus on Energy New Home can expect the following: Peace of mind—At every stage, Focus on Energy works with builders to help new homes meet the highest standards for energy efficiency. Lower energy bills—Home-buyers receive a homeowners manual to help them maximize the energy-efficient features of a Focus on Energy New Home. Proof positive—A third-party energy consultant certifies all Focus on Energy New Homes to verify they meet strict standards for energy efficiency, air tightness, insulation, ventilation, and safety. Resale differentiator—Focus on Energy New Home owners who sold their homes reported that energy efficiency was a differentiator for their prospective buyers.
“If you’re in the market to build a new home, an energy-efficient home is a smart investment. You’ll save money, enjoy better air quality, and have a more durable home,” said Carter Dedolph, Focus on Energy Senior Programs Manager. “And, now Focus on Energy New Homes are even more appealing because of loan rates that are less than the national average.”

As more people demand that their new homes and remodel projects be built to higher energy efficiency design standards, more and more lenders will realize that they will need to offer this type of home loan, in order to be competitive.

Those of us at Great Lakes Carpentry firmly believe that the demand for high-performance new homes and remodeling projects, along with financial products that take energy efficiency into account, will grow to the point that both will be looked upon as the “New Normal” for the home building and lending industries.

To learn more about building a high-performance home or remodeling project, contact Great Lakes Carpentry.

The Holistic Approach to Home Building

Understanding the science behind building a home is what the holistic approach is all about. Green builders understand that a home works as a system.  One part of the home cannot operate correctly without working in unison with another. Changes to one component can dramatically change how other components perform. Hiring a contractor that understand these concepts, like Great Lakes Carpentry, has many benefits ranging from durability, to safety, healthy indoor-air quality, to energy saving.

The kind of air we breathe in every day directly affects our health. Controlling the air quality inside the home is a key component to the holistic building approach. Having exhaust fans in  rooms where there is more moisture, such as the bathroom, will hinder mold growth which can pollute the air.  Also, having range hood ventilation in the kitchen is important to controlling combustion gases, moisture, cooking odors and the air quality in the home. Drawing the right amount of air out of the home is important to air quality.  If too much is drawn out, back drafting can occur which might pull hazardous flames and combustion gas back into the home. Good indoor air quality will make your living environment more comfortable and healthy for your family.

Understanding that the home works as a system will help reduce your energy costs.  Having a contractor who instills the holistic approach can help ensure all your appliances work together to save you money. Since your appliances will be working efficiently, they will also last longer.

Try as we might, there are things we cannot control such as the weather. Applying the holistic approach to home building can make your home more durable and less susceptible to weathering. It is important to take into consideration what climate zone you are in when building your home.  If you live in a very warm climate zone, you want to use the outside temperature to your advantage when heating your home. Like wise, if you live in a very cold climate zone, you may want more insulation and use the sun to your advantage to save on heating costs.  Make sure your contractor is aware of these details when buying products such as insulation and windows for your home.

Great Lakes Carpentry always applies the holistic approach when building  new or remodeling a home. Building a new home is a huge investment. We want to make sure your home is built right the first time and will last you for generations to come.

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and if you would like to contact us, go to our website.

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.

Visit our Facebook page, website, and follow us on Twitter!


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 info@greatlakescarpentry.com. Also, check out Great Lakes Carpentry else where on the web: Facebook, Twitter, and our Website.

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.



Home Performance Testing

It is hard to tell what is wrong with a home or how much energy its using just by looking at it.  The only way to tell how energy-efficient a home is, is by running numerous tests using various diagnostic tools.   This is where we put science to work to tell us exactly what is going on in your home.  Whether you are building a new home or are remodeling, we recommend bringing in a third-party to test the home.  If you are building a new home, this ensures your home is built right from the start; or if you are remodeling, will tell you where your money is literally slipping through the cracks

Diagnostic Tools
To learn more about these tools click HERE.

Blower Door:A blower door is the tool used to specify how air tight the house is.

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

A blower door is a variable speed fan that pressurizes and depressurizes the house to measure air leakage. The blower door is placed in the front door of the home and will simulate a 20 mile per hour wind that is coming at the house from all directions. It will suck all the air out of the home and tell you exactly where air is leaking and will tell you how air tight the home is.  It takes about 15 minutes to set up a blower door and test a new home. Testing an existing home could take 30 minutes to an hour, because there would be more leaks to identify.  If you would like to watch a video about the blower door process click HERE.

Infrared Camera: An infrared camera is a thermal imaging tool that makes an

Rich Urban of E3 Home Performance scanning the home for air leaks.

image that shows surface heat variations that can be used to help detect heat losses and air leakage in buildings. It will show exactly where air is coming in and out of your home.  This is important in the building process so these holes can be properly sealed to prevent air leakage.  On an existing home, it will pin-point holes that need to be properly filled.

Manometer: This instrument measures the pressure differences between two locations. If you have an air tight home, this tool is very useful because it’s used to test combustion appliances such as a water heater.  We want to make sure these appliances draft properly to ensure harmful chemicals won’t leak into your home.

Duct Blaster: This is another variable speed fan that evaluates the leakiness of the duct system. This tool is used more in warmer geographic regions because those homes will use cooling systems more.

Flow Hood (balomeater):  This device tells us the amount of air flowing through a register. Tell you how much air is moving through, exhaust fans that would be located in your home. Ventilation is very important when building or maintaining an air tight home, because it will prevent mold from going in places you don’t want mold to be.

Why This Test is Important

1. It will ensure that you are building your home right the first time.  For an existing home, it will tell you exactly what you need to do to fix the problems.

2. It is proof that your home is energy-efficient and up to the highest building standards. This will make your home more valuable if you do decide to sell it.

3. After all is said and done, you will save money on your heating and cooling costs.

E3 Home Performance

Rich Urban is the president of E3 Home Performance.  He works with Great Lakes Carpentry along with 6 to 7 other contractors in the Northern Wisconsin area as a third party consultant to perform an “energy audit.”  He works with your contractor to help find and fix defects in your home.

If you would like more information about what he does or have any questions about the process you can contact him directly via email or telephone.
Email: richurban@charter.net
Phone: 715-369-7390