Tag Archives: Green building

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.

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.

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Thinking Like a Raindrop

Water is a vital resource to our existence.  We cannot survive without it, but there are some places we don’t want water. Over 90% of all damage to building components in structures is from water, which is why we implement building science best practices for all flashing details, drainage planes and rain screens, in order to help manage moisture.

Using proper building paper behind the siding is essential to keeping moisture out of the home. This is something your contractor should be aware of, but not all contractors are looking out for your best interest. Skimping out on building paper between the building envelope can cause some major water damage over time.

This is a direct result of vapor diffusion, or the transport of liquid through a solid. AKA: Water getting under the siding.

Great Lakes Carpentry understands the phenomena that wind and vapor driven moisture will find its way behind any cladding that we install, so we insure that we have a drainage plan beneath any siding that we install.  We take it to the next level by installing a rain screen on top of the drainage plane (house wrap) in order to create a slight air gap that will allow this driven moisture to drain and then dry. We also make sure all flashing’s are installed in a fashion that will provide a drainage path away from any building components that could be compromised by moisture.

Proper ventilation in areas where there is high moisture, such as in the bathroom is crucial to expelling moisture out of the home. Water vapor in the air can cause just as much damage to wall assemblies. In cold climates, humidity in the home will find its way into wall cavities through unsealed openings, such as electrical outlets. As a result moisture builds inside the wall, where it can saturate exterior wall sheathing on the inside where mold can form contaminating the air. This water vapor can soak framing members and cause rot. Wet wood also attracts termites and carpenter ants, as they need wood to be moist for digestion.
Air-sealing the home is every bit as critical as exterior moisture management.

This is what happens when building paper is not installed between wall sheathing and cladding.

As a green building expert, Great Lakes Carpentry understands and implements building science principals in all that we do. By installing these building practices, we increase durability of all exterior components to framing, sheathing, and siding to exterior coatings of paint or stain.

If you have any questions about how to prevent moisture in your home or need some moisture damage repaired, don’t hesitate to contact us! Visit our website, find us Facebook, or find us Twitter!

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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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.



Focus on Energy: New Homes Program

Last week we did a brief over view of Focus on Energy. (If you didn’t get a chance to see it, click HERE.) This week we are going to explain a little more in depth,  how to get your new home up to  Focus on Energy energy efficiency standards and why this is important through the program.

There is a 5 step process to get your home running efficiently through the New Homes Program. View PDF.

Step 1: Consultant Accreditation.
Program consultants must be Residential Energy Services Network certified.  Ask your contractor to help you find someone who has this certification.

Step 2: Partnering with a Builder.
Consultants must establish a partnership with a builder by signing a Program Ally Application completed by the partner builder.  Great Lakes Carpentry is an ally and member of the Focus on Energy New Homes Program and is ready to help you plan your next energy-efficient home.

Step 3: Computer Modeling.
Consultants must use REM/Rate® software to calculate the homes estimated energy efficiency.  This software is used to calculate air tightness and can be used for energy modeling.

Step 4: Site Visit Protocol.
This is where a third party consultant comes and tests the home for energy efficiency. A minimum of two site visits are required for all certified homes.

– The first visit will review the insulation installation per Program requirements and review the framing for potential air bypasses.

– The second visit is done after the home is built and will test the air tightness of the home, ventilation capacity, and verify program standards.

Step 5: Program Standards.
There are 14 program requirements that are required for certification. To view them click HERE.

Why this is important for you and your home:

1. The average Wis. household spends approximately $1,400 each year on utility bills.  A Focus New Home is at least 10 percent more efficient than homes merely built to code.

2. When building a new home, you want to do it right the first time. By enrolling the home in the Focus on Energy New Homes Program your insured that it’s done right due to the fact that its been inspected and tested upon completion.

3. Program requirements help to ensure your home is safe and protected from carbon monoxide, the likelihood of mold, window condensation and peeling paint.

4. You will have peace of mind at every stage to ensure your dream home is a sound investment.

5. A Focus New Home provides indisputable proof that your home meets strict standards for energy efficiency, air tightness, insulation, ventilation, and safety.

6. Focus New Home owners who sold their homes reported that prospective buyers had energy-efficiency on their wish lists.

Next week we will break down the equipment used in order to test your home for energy efficiency.