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Building an Affordable, High-Performance Home

Working for Habitat for Humanity is a life-changing experience. We knew going into the high-performance home build in Randolph, Vermont, that the work was important. Affordable housing is one of the most critical issues in communities all over the world – and Vermont is no exception.

But what we didn’t know, was that we would be most impacted by the people.

Join us as we work with the team of volunteers in Central Vermont, and you’ll witness the true spirit of giving back – building up your own community through hard work, patience, and laughter.

 

 

Affordable Housing in Vermont

To better understand the challenge that low-income families face, it’s important to understand the term “housing wage.” It’s the amount a full-time worker needs to earn to afford a modest apartment – while spending no more than 30% of his or her income on rent and utilities. National Low Income Housing Coalition – nlihc.org

Vermont has a housing wage of $22.40 — ranking the 13th highest in the U.S. But the gap between the average hourly wage renters make, $12.85, and housing wage ranks even higher, at fifth in the country, making affordable housing out of reach for many Vermonters. Vermont Digger – vtdigger.org

 

The High-Performance Habitat Home

The Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity (CVHH) is familiar with high-performance building. They’ve got a passive home under their belts, and considered the same for the build in Randolph.

Architect Neil Husher, Vermont Architects Collaborative, designed the home in Randolph to maximize energy-efficiency, and the focus was on tightly air-sealing the entire building envelope.

“We couldn’t do a passive house here because we didn’t have any sunshine, but we could do high-performance, so that was our target to shoot for.”

– Neil Husher, Architect, Volunteer, Vermont Architects Collaborative

 

“With all of the details, it was a learning curve for me. This is framed differently than I’ve ever framed before, it’s actually balloon framed, even up to the rafters,” said Husher. “We also attached the ledger boards for the decking on the inside of the ICF, so there are no rim joist insulation problems, which you normally have on houses.”


Efficiency Vermont

Vermont is a progressive state in regards to energy efficiency, and much of the growth has to do with Efficiency Vermont.

Founded in 2000 as the nation’s first energy-efficient utility, Efficiency Vermont provides technical and financial support to improve the energy efficiency of homes, businesses, and communities.

“Efficiency Vermont is really keen on helping with the social responsibility of living in Vermont.“

– Jennifer Severidt, Energy Consultant – Residential, Efficiency Vermont 

 

For the folks at Habitat, this meant not only a significant refund for achieving an established list of standards, but also personalized help in the support of a Residential Energy Consultant, Jennifer Severidt. Detailed air sealing and continuous insulation were essential components in this build, and Jennifer was not only on hand to explain and review installation details, she worked right along with the rest of the volunteers to install the building materials herself.


The High-Performance Building Materials

To maximize energy-efficiency, Rockwool COMFORTBATT insulation was used in the interior wall cavities, and Dow Styrofoam Blue Board continuous insulation was used on top of the sheathing, to limit thermal bridging through the studs.

“But when we started to look at putting insulation on the exterior walls,” said Severidt, “We thought – What are we going to do about the windows?”

They chose ThermalBuck, which extended the mounting point to create a flush plane with the Blue Board, and insulated the rough openings, to limit thermal bridging in the building envelope.

“ThermalBuck takes care of that problem, of how to create a thermal break at the window, and still have things line up.“

– Jennifer Severidt, Energy Consultant – Residential, Efficiency Vermont

ThermalBuck, the high-performance window buck, is made up of an extremely dense EPS, insulating 4 -times greater than wood window bucks. Coated with a waterproof resin and installed with DAP Dynaflex 800 Sealant and nails, it makes for a complete air and water barrier at the rough openings.

 


The Right Fit for the Build

The team of volunteers in Vermont is led by Project Lead Anne Walker, a former engineer with extensive knowledge of architecture and building.

Crew leaders Glen Seifert and Ken Stevens provided the ideal balance of work skills and people skills, keeping the crew moving along and enjoying the process.

The skill level for the majority of Habitat volunteers is best described as “do-it-yourselfers,” the materials used need to have simple installation methods, easily replicated by a revolving door of people. Not an easy task.

“With wood bucks, you need to have each piece at the right depth. It’s a lot fussier. ThermalBuck is much more precise, and much more forgiving.“

– Anne Walker, Project Lead, Volunteer, Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity 

 

ThermalBuck was an ideal fit, its unique “L” shape makes installing it at the right depth simple.

“ThermalBuck turned out to be a much easier approach to seal our windows, and gave us the added benefit of the thermal break,” said Anne. “With plywood, you’re creating a thermal conduit. But with ThermalBuck, it’s rigid, it’s structural, it’s much easier and faster than having to go around and manually build out the plywood bucking to get these windows aligned with our foam. It was really the perfect product.”


Just last year, The Washington Post reported statistics issued by Freddie Mac, which revealed that between 2010 and 2016, the number of apartments considered affordable for very low-income families across the United States decreased by more than 60 percent. To learn more about planning this high-performance home and the work of Habitat for Humanity, click here.  

Training Day: GMP Rutland Innovation Home

We’re proud ThermalBuck is an important component of the most energy-efficient house in Vermont, the Green Mountain Power Rutland Innovation Home.

It’s a one-of-a-kind project: a contest created by a utility company, giving away a brand new home to the winning entry of an essay competition. They’re looking for the right person who can contribute their talents and energy to help revitalize the beautiful town of Rutland, Vermont. And they’ll get to do it while living in a brand new, energy-efficient, mortgage free home. We call that a win-win.

The GMP Rutland Innovation Home Contest serves a dual purpose. One, to highlight the strong job market and redevelopment efforts of this beautiful region in Vermont. And two, to showcase the future of building by using the latest building material technology to build an incredibly energy-efficient house, easily replicated in other regions.

 

“It’s not only just a house that we’re giving away. It’s also a benchmark for what we’re hoping to strive for in the future for how we build homes.”

– Nick Stone, R.K. Miles Building Material Supplier, VT

 

The Home

NBF Architects designed this 1,500 sq. foot traditional New England farmhouse featuring the latest in smart-home technology. High-performance building materials were used to make the home as energy-efficient as possible. Building material supplier R.K. Miles installed their high-performance wall system, the VOAT-Wall (Vapor Open, Air Tight), featuring The Henry Company Blueskin WRB, Rockwool ComfortBoard mineral wool exterior insulation, 3.0″ ThermalBuck insulating window buck, and Marvin Windows & Doors.


The Team

Green Mountain Power, NBF Architects, Naylor & Breen Builders, and the United Way of Rutland County, organized the collaboration. It was made possible with the generous support of R.K.Miles Building Materials Supplier, and nearly 60 manufacturers such as Henry, Rockwool, Tesla, and ThermalBuck, who donated their high-performance materials. The talented crew from Naylor & Breen Builders volunteered their time and manpower to make the house come to life.


The Video – Training Day

Join us as we take you through training the team from Naylor & Breen Builders on the ThermalBuck installation in Rutland, and you’ll learn some tricks and tips to simplify your installation. Then get moving on that contest entry. The deadline is June 18th.

 

 


You can take a video walk through of the house in its final stages by checking out the media coverage it’s received by news networks in Vermont. Follow ThermalBuck on your preferred social media account to follow the progress, and find out who the lucky winner is.

ThermalBuck.BRINC        thermalbuck_windowbuck       @ThermalBuckThermalBuck 


Green Mountain Power is described as an “energy transformation company” providing power and innovative products and services to most of Vermont. Their focus is to help customers use less energy and save money, while meeting their existing energy needs by generating clean, affordable energy. GMP was recently named a Top 10 Innovative Company in Energy. Read more here

 

 

Net Zero Energy Retrofit in Vermont - Ready for Roxul

Perfecting an Energy-Efficient Haven in Vermont

It’s a pleasure to work with architects to solve the challenges of retrofitting existing structures. When they specify ThermalBuck for their own personal projects, it becomes a real privilege.

Alan Benoit, Principal Architect, Sustainable Design of Vermont, chose ThermalBuck to mount his energy efficient windows for his net-zero energy office space, and we jumped at the chance to work with him personally on the installation.

 

A Passion for Sustainability

Alan & Nancy Benoit are an incredibly talented team. Alan is an award-winning certified Passive House Consultant & Architect, Nancy is a skillful designer of everything from footwear to furniture.

Together they focus on utilizing reclaimed and repurposed materials for their personal passion project: the inviting home, garden, workspace, and guesthouse they’ve created together on their remarkable homestead in Vermont.

“Be patient. Never settle if it’s not right.”
– Nancy Benoit, as quoted in Vermont Magazine

There is a reason their work stands out, and you can see why in the philosophy that guides them. Everything is built with respect and consideration for preserving and stimulating the natural environment, promoting a harmonious lifestyle in an inspiring setting.

Vermont Magazine recently featured their beautiful spaces in their Sept/Oct 2017 issue – you’ll love seeing the details and reading in-depth about their design process.

 

Sustainable Design of Vermont

 

We could get used to sustainable living.
We could get used to sustainable living.

Sustainable design is the focus of their work, whether new construction or a simple addition to an existing structure.

In addition to running their own businesses, Alan is extremely active in the Vermont green building community, and volunteers his time and knowledge through his Sustainable Living Series.

When you work with people who live & breath sustainability, even lunch is a treasured experience, with homegrown tomato sandwiches fresh from the garden.

 

Net-Zero Energy Retrofit

Local architects, builders & craftsman watch the ThermalBuck installation in Manchester Center, VT.

In 2017, Alan & Nancy decided to relocate their growing business to the beautiful barn they had build a decade ago on their property.

It was time to plan a full blown net-zero energy redesign, capable of meeting their needs year round. 

They planned to insulate the interior and exterior walls, insulate the roof, and install new energy efficient windows, mounted with ThermalBuck. Complete air & water sealing for a tight building envelope is essential in achieving net-zero energy.

Working in conjunction with building materials supplier RK Miles, Alan arranged a demonstration of ThermalBuck for local architects, builders, and fellow green-building enthusiasts. We couldn’t have asked for more when Alan gave us his feedback on using ThermalBuck to mount windows with exterior insulation.

“We are now specifying it on all future projects.
What a time/labor/material savings it is!”
– Alan Benoit, Architect, Sustainable Design of VT 

Materials 

  • 2.5″ ThermalBuck high performance window buck
  • 2″ Roxul Comfortboard
  • Henry Blueskin WRB & Flashing system
  • 5-1/2″ dense packed cellulose on interior walls
  • 2″ foil-faced polyiso for the roof slope, 3″ for ceiling flat
  • 1″ closed cell spray foam for the roof
  • 9″ dense packed cellulose on the remaining roof slope & flat ceiling cavity
  • Marvin Integrity casement windows

 

Details Make the Difference

2.5″ ThermalBuck prevents compression of the Roxul, and insulates the rough opening.

Knowledge of building science is especially important on retrofits, as installation details often require modification based on the uniqueness of the project.

Alan & Nancy wanted to reuse their vertical cedar siding, which meant running the rainscreen horizontally. Drainage would not be an issue, as Alan planned gaps every 2′ for ventilation, and has a screen at the bottom, and vented space at the top of the walls.

Roxul permits water to drain through it as well, allowing the horizontal strapping to properly dry out. The building will have a HRV system, and the Benoit’s have planned to utilize a community solar project in order to achieve net-zero energy.

The barn renovation is projected to be complete in December, 2017. It was inspiring to work with Sustainable Design of Vermont, and we look forward to following Alan & Nancy on the rest of their net-zero journey.

 

ThermalBuck Installation Gallery

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Sustainable Design of Vermont is presenting their next Sustainable Living Series on November 16th, at 6:30 pm at the Manchester Center Vermont Public Library. Alan will explain the major elements of “Building Science”, in hopes of helping homeowners avoid common mistakes with renovations. To learn more, visit sustainabledesignofvt.com.

 

Planning is Key to Net Zero Deep Energy Retrofit

You’d have to live under a rock (completely sustainable housing) if you didn’t realize that climate change, and rapidly increasing energy prices are a hot topic in today’s world. But why is the focus on the building industry?

Buildings consume nearly half of all the energy produced in the United States.

Globally, the percentages are even higher. Which explains why much of Europe is paving the way in both commercial and residential energy-efficient building.

WATCH:  Net Zero Deep Energy Retrofit with ECS and ThermalBuck  

It’s important to understand that energy-efficient building is about more than energy-efficient materials. A great deal of planning is needed to ensure the proper integration of materials and design, to achieve the best possible outcome.


Energy-Efficient Building

Passive Design, and Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB) are the two primary concepts for energy-efficient building. Passive Design uses a combination of climate-based passive and active design strategies to minimize the usage of energy, materials, and water.

Passive homes focus on the absolute minimal amount of energy use possible to heat and cool the building.

In 2015, the Passive House Institute of the US released the only passive building standard based upon climate-specific comfort and performance. The goal was to find the right balance between the up-front investment in a passive build, and the long-term payback, to achieve the most comfortable and cost effective building possible. Learn more at phius.org.

The basic premise of a Net Zero Energy Building is that they generate as much energy as they consume.

Designed to minimize the amount of energy they need to operate, and with renewable energy systems that meet their energy needs. Solar, wind, and geothermal are examples of renewable energy systems.  Design considerations to achieve net zero energy include passive solar design, triple pane or triple glazed windows, and high performance building envelopes.

The US Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home program has been working to promote Net Zero building since 2008. Learn more at energy.gov.

Both Passive Home and Net Zero Energy Home certifications are generally based on the HERS Home Energy Rating Score, and certified by third parties, such as the Living Building Challenge.  To learn more about the certification process, click here.


The Deep Energy Retrofit

Most of the discussion about passive or net zero design centers around new construction.  It just makes good sense to plan ahead for the future. However, considering that the majority of the building inventory in the US was built prior to 1990, there is even more opportunity for energy savings in renovating and retrofitting existing buildings.

Deep-energy retrofits can reduce household energy use up to 90%.

As the experts at Green Building Advisor explain, the process usually begins with a home energy audit and building analysis. Energy usage reductions are achieved through a whole-building approach, including insulation, heating and cooling systems, lighting, appliances, and water usage. A typical simple energy retrofit focuses only on individual upgrades, like heating and cooling.

The key to success in a deep energy retrofit, is utilizing skilled building science professionals who have the experience planning the integration of these systems into existing structures. Look to organizations such as the Building Performance Institute to direct you to certified professionals in the industry.


Energy Conservation Specialists, NY

Photograph of the Port Ewen House in 1850

ThermalBuck had the opportunity to work with Bill McKnight, CEO of Energy Conservation Specialists, on a recent net zero deep energy retrofit of a building from 1850 that will soon become their headquarters.

Bill and his wife, Melinda Terpening McKnight, are passionate about history, their community, and energy efficient building.  With over 20 years in the field of deep energy retrofits, he has achieved both BPI Accreditation and Energy Star Certification, teaches building science at Ulster University in NY, and has been featured in Home Energy Magazine.

A signature of deep energy retrofits is both interior and exterior insulation on the walls and roof, completely eliminating the thermal bridge through the building envelope. Thorough air sealing is crucial.

Exterior insulation always provides a challenge with window installation.

In the past, ECS built wood bucks to extend the mounting point of windows to the same depth as the insulation and/or rainscreen. Bill never mounted windows directly over the insulation, as it would compress the insulation, and compromise it’s performance.

Bill recognized the value in using ThermalBuck to install his energy-efficient Earthwise windows, as it extends and insulates the mounting point, acts as an air and water barrier, and completes the continuous insulation of the building envelope.

Learn more about this historic renovation, and see how ThermalBuck was used to create a thermally efficient building envelope.

WATCH:  Net Zero Deep Energy Retrofit with ECS and ThermalBuck  


The Poplar Network features a clear-cut piece by Rob Freeman that explains the difference between Passive and Net Zero.   For a more detailed reference, an excellent resource is Net Zero Energy Buildings, by Steven Winters Associates, Inc., a respected authority on building science and efficiency.  It was featured in 2016 in the The Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences which focuses on the latest technology and “whole building” design techniques. Data was also sourced from architecture2030, whose mission is to address climate change problems with design solutions of the built environment.      

The Griffiths Home, Orderville, Utah

The Do-It-Yourself, Energy-Efficient Dream Home

When a customer calls and tells you that the energy-efficient home they are building happens to be in one of the most beautiful settings in the Western U.S., you ask them if you might tag along and do some filming.

Located at the crossroads of climate zone 3, 4, and 5, resting at an elevation well over 5,000 feet, this unique region provides more than beauty. It presents the opportunity to truly challenge ThermalBuck, on an energy-efficient window installation with high-performance window manufacturer Alpen HPP.

 

The Griffiths Family, Orderville, Utah

The view from the living room of the Griffith's family residence
The view from the living room of the Griffith’s family residence

Thomas and Melissa Griffiths are not your average do-it-yourself homebuilders. Thomas is an engineer, and Melissa a successful blogger and homemaker, raising a busy family of 5 children not far from the beautiful Zion National Park.

 

Land isn’t easy to find in this part of the U.S., with 90% of it owned by the federal government, and devoted to national parks. They have been planning their dream home for years, finally buying a beautiful piece of land that Thomas used to take care of when he was a young man, right next door to where he grew up.

 


Planning the Energy-Efficient Window Installation

The Griffiths broke ground in 2015, after years of researching building materials, and creating the architectural drawings themselves. Thomas knew he wanted to build the most energy-efficient home he could afford, and ensure year-round comfort and good indoor air quality for his family.

 

“I just wanted to have as thermally-efficient a home as I could afford. I wanted to stop all of the thermal bridging that I could.”

-Thomas Griffiths, Homeowner, Engineer, Hardware Store Owner 

 

Doing most of the work themselves, the Griffiths wanted to invest that savings into large, high-performance windows, to bring the beauty of the setting into the home. They selected Alpen triple pane windows, utilizing suspended coated film technology. These insulated fiberglass frame windows offer an R-6 thermal performance, advanced framing, and customized technology for the glazing of each individual window, based on its exact exposure and placement in the home. 

 

 


Step-by-Step ThermalBuck Installation: Polyiso Continuous Insulation as the WRB

Thomas knew he needed to insulate both the interior and exterior of the building envelope. Taking the climate into consideration, he decided to use  2″ Atlas Energy Shield polyiso on the exterior as both the WRB and insulation.

Researching energy-efficient homebuilding, Thomas came across ThermalBuck, and recognized it as the ideal solution to mount his high-performance windows, and prevent compression of the rigid foam. The 2.5″ ThermalBuck has an R-value of 11, is extremely durable and will provide a long-lasting window installation to match the lifetime Alpen window warranty. Thomas wanted to utilize ThermalBuck to support the weight of the windows, insulate the mounting point, and maintain the quality of the window installation.  

 


High-Performance Window Q&A with Alpen HPP

If you’re lucky enough to have an installation expert like Nate Maybon, of Alpen High-Performance Products on hand during your build, you take advantage and ask questions. Watch this short Q&A with Alpen video, and you’ll learn what makes up a high-performance window – from the insulated fiberglass frames to suspended film technology. Nate also talks about common causes of window failures. You’ll quickly understand why high-performance windows are an investment that will pay you back in more ways than energy-savings.

 

 

“I definitely like the ease of use. I’m surprised at how durable it is. But the performance is what we’re after.”

Alpen Certified Installer attaching window into ThermalBuck
Fasteners must penetrate through ThermalBuck into the structure min 1-1/4″.

-Nate Maybon, Alpen HPP Window Installation Specialist 

Alpen High Performance Products  is a national distributor for ThermalBuck, located in Niwot, Colorado. They were the first window manufacturer in North America to achieve PHIUS certification for their windows, and are widely recognized as passive house experts.

Alpen HPP & ThermalBuck offer a PHIUS-Verififed Window Installation Detail featuring 2.5″ ThermalBuck, and the Alpen 925 Series Fiberglass window. Contact Alpen HPP, our high-performance partners at www.thinkalpen.com 

 

 


Behind the Scenes in Orderville

If you’d like to keep up with the Griffiths, visit Melissa’s blog, blessthismessplease.com. You’ll see why we loved our time with this inspiring family.

 

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