The Illinois Green Alliance has announced that its 2020 GreenBuilt Home Tour is going virtual – and we’re a part of it!
This year’s event features four unique online sessions that focus on 12 different green home projects across Illinois. Each online event has a theme: passive house design, all-electric homes, deep energy retrofits, and homeowner-driven sustainability projects.
BRINC Building Products is proud to recognize two of our building envelope materials featured in the July 15th Deep Energy Retrofit event – part of the high-performance home of Jamie Carr, Project Manager of Eco Achievers consulting firm.
“ThermalBucks were a great alternative to wood bucks. They were fast and simple to install.”
– —Jamie Carr, Project Manager, Eco Achievers & Net Zero Energy Homeowner
The Carr family loved the location of this Glen Ellyn home, but wanted to update it to be both beautiful, and highly practical. Healthy and comfortable, yet affordable to renovate.
For this all-electric, net zero energy home, Jamie chose a 10 kw solar array, energy recovery ventilator (ERV), heat pump for heating and cooling, and a split-system heat pump for hot water and radiant floor heating. For the building envelope, he installed high-performance Alpen windows in ThermalBuck, and was an early adopter of our new ThermalTight™ System, which features a Neopor ®GPS rigid insulation panel with a self-gasketing, vapor permeable WRB laminated to the exterior. For more information and photos about the Glen Ellyn (net zero) Deep Energy Retrofit, visit greenbuilthometour.org.
GreenBuilt Home Tour Sessions
All-Electric Homes – July 8th – 3:30-5pm CT
Deep Energy Retrofits – July 15th – 3:30-5pm CT
Passive House Showcase – July 22nd – 3:30 – 5pm CT
Wellness + High Performance – July 29th – 3:30 – 5pm CT
The first part of each session will be presented by experts in the high-performance homebuilding industry. The last half “happy” hour is the perfect chance to ask questions, get advice, and connect with these industry professionals.
Join any individual session for only $5, or purchase a ticket to all four tours for a discount at $15. Purchase tickets here.
We look forward to Jamie’s tour, and sharing more details (and hopefully HERS ratings) of this beautiful home on July 15th. Please consider joining any or all of these sessions, and supporting the work of Illinois Green, a USGB community.
BRINC Building Products, Inc. has expanded ThermalBuck distribution in the Northwestern U.S and Canada through a partnership with Small Planet Supply, a well-known regional high-performance building material supplier for over 10 years.
Small Planet Workshop (the original company name) emerged from a division of West Coast Associates to support the growing demand for net-zero and passive house education and training in North America. The “workshop” side of high-performance building soon developed into a burgeoning business as a trusted building material supplier, specializing in materials designed for super-insulated, airtight structures.
“Adding exterior insulation is a no-brainer for most projects, and ThermalBuck eliminates the challenge that goes into detailing critical areas – like windows and doors,” said Kieran Lavelle, Sales Manager, Small Planet Supply. “This makes it a vital piece of the puzzle towards energy-efficiency and we’re proud to offer ThermalBuck alongside our other high-performance building products,” said Lavelle.
“Adding exterior insulation is a no-brainer for most projects, and ThermalBuck eliminates the challenge that goes into detailing critical areas – like windows and doors.”
– Kieran Lavelle, Sales Manager, Small Planet Supply
While Small Planet Supply has grown the materials side of the business, they’ve maintained their reputation as an excellent resource for building science knowledge and installation expertise. Year-round training and workshops remain a priority – both in the U.S and Canada. Based in Vancouver, BC in Canada, and Tumwater, WA in the US, Small Planet Supply services customers in WA, OR, CA, ID, NV, and parts of MT, UT, and AZ.
ThermalBuck on the West Coast
The building community on the west coast has initiated the highest standards in the country for energy-efficient and sustainable design for years – California in particular, setting the bar for other regions to follow.
ThermalBuck was first introduced out West in 2016, as part of the Wise Workforce Instructions for Standards and Efficiency program (WISE), a combined effort of ConSol, the State of California Energy Commission (CEC) , and the California Homebuilding Foundation (CHF).
The WISE program was designed to advance the education and implementation of high performance building solutions for building professionals in preparation for Title 24. It allows industry experts to share best practices and real-world solutions to building code and efficiency standards with California builders. BRINC Building Products, Inc. was selected as a participating manufacturer, and ThermalBuck is referenced in the 2017 CASE Initiative High Performance Walls Report.
In 2017, BRINC Building Products President and developer of ThermalBuck, John Brooks, was invited to present in San Diego at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, the largest homebuilding trade show on the West Coast.
By the year’s end, John Brooks was named Hive Top 50 Honoree by Builder Magazine, and honored at their annual awards celebration in Los Angeles.
Small Planet – Big Opportunity
Until now, all ThermalBuck sales were handled by long-term national distributor of ThermalBuck, Alpen HPP – shipping out of their Niwot, Colorado warehouse.
“Alpen does a fantastic job working with passive house customers all over the US, but we’ve been looking to expand out distribution network with a physical footprint on the West coast. Education and a desire to promote sustainability drives the mission of Small Planet Supply – that really matters to us when choosing distributors”, said John Brooks. “Developing the right network to service the needs of our customers is a challenge – and a priority. We’re proud the team at Small Planet has chosen ThermalBuck to complement their line of high-performance building materials,” said Brooks, President of BRINC Building Products, Inc. “We look forward to a future of exceeding the expectations of the high-performance building community.”
Alpen HPP remains a national distributor for ThermalBuck, focusing on the passive house market. Canada is now serviced by both Performance Haus, Inc., and Small Planet Supply.
“We know that education and a desire to promote sustainability drives the mission of Small Planet Supply – that really matters to us when choosing distributors.”
– John Brooks, President, BRINC Building Products, Inc.
Small Planet Supply distributes a wide range of building materials in the categories of air barriers, insulation, and mechanical systems. They also have their own building material success story – Thermacork.
This 100% natural cork insulation made from the outer bark of the Oak tree, was developed and launched by Small Planet Supply, and has a multitude of applications – including roofing, flooring, ceilings, exterior and interior walls. walls.
ThermalBuck joins a respected line of high performance building products at Small Planet Supply, which includes:
Small Planet is offering 3 workshops to demonstrate installation techniques for multiple building envelope applications. Join ThermalBuck creator John Brooks July 9th in Vancouver, BC; July 11th in Tumwater, WA; or July 12th in Portland, OR. These workshops are free, and open to any interested homeowners or members of the local building communities. For more information and to receive notice regarding future workshops, please visit smallplanetsupply.com.
For purchasing information through Small Planet Supply, please contact one of their 2 distribution centers, or contact Steve Lamburg at the sales office in Eugene, Oregon at (541) 521-6270
Tumwater, Washington 1-855-367-7442
Vancouver, BC 1-855-367-7442.
Most people would assume it makes zero sense to build a passive house in a hot, humid climate. The indoor/outdoor temperate differences aren’t as extreme as they tend to be in other climate zones.
But a passive house still offers a huge performance increase from traditional building methods, and a great improvement in the indoor air quality – a major attraction to homeowners. Not to mention the reduction in energy bills. In a cold climate, a passive house is projected to reduce energy expenses by 90%. In a hot climate, more like 70%*. Still a signifiant savings, and worth the investment in additional time and materials up front.
Choosing Investment vs. Expense
From the financial side, the theory is that you’re spending more money on performance, then that money gets divided over the life of your mortgage. If you can spend $30 more a month on a mortgage, while achieving $100 savings a month in utilities – you’re at a major advantage.
Not only does it make a lot of sense, it’s something energy efficient builder Mark Larson, CPHC, Built Green Texas, can readily convey to his clients as a professional builder and consultant.
“When you allocate your money this way, you’re choosing to invest in the value of your home, not the expense of living in it.“
-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner
Performance Metrics Make the Difference
Mark Larson started his career in corporate real estate. He decided to make the leap into building because he loved that side of the business. If he was going to completely change careers and build houses, he wanted them to be the best ones on the market.
That’s how he discovered passive house design. It’s the most stringent building metric in the world, but also the only one that is performance based. It’s not prescriptive like LEED, meaning certified to operate a certain way in theory. Passive houses MUST perform as they are designed, or they don’t achieve passive house certification. They have to hit certain metrics for air tightness, measured with a “blower door test”.The fact that the performance is completely measurable was much of the appeal.
“I’m a huge fan of performance based metrics – which is exactly what passive house offers. I knew my family would live and breathe in the highest indoor air quality. It really matters.”
-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner
Blower Door Testing
IAQ Texas conducted the initial blower door testing. But Mark didn’t get the results he was hoping
for, so he employed his own blower door contraption to help find leaks. Mark used a 2500 cfm construction ventilation fan and taped roof underlayment around the door opening.
He found some opportunities for better air sealing between the top plates, and at plate boards butted together. The attic hatch was also a source of leaks. Zip tape was sealed into a 90 degree corner, but air leaked out the ends of the length of tape. Some random nail holes and a few casements windows needed slight adjustments to better seal when closed.
Once those changes were made, Mark’s passive house rater from ATS Engineering did another blower door test before adding interior insulation. These results surpassed Mark’s expectations, and made it below the Passive House metric of .6ACH, and hit .57ACH. (via instagram, Feb 1, 2019). This figure is expected to drop even lower once interior insulation and drywall are added.
The Building Envelope
Mark spent a significant amount of time researching the materials he wanted to use for his home. For the building envelope, he used 2″ x 6″ studs, 16″ on center, Zip sheathing, Rockwool ComfortBoard exterior insulation, and Alpen windows. He had discovered ThermalBuck years prior, and was excited about finally having the chance to use it on his own home.
“ThermalBuck simplifies the water, air, and thermal control layers of window and door installation. It solves a specific problem of how and were to flash windows within continuous insulation. ThermalBuck will always be a tool in my design toolbox to solve the complexities of “outies” in CI,” said Larson.
“It solves a specific problem of how and were to flash windows within continuous insulation.”
-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner
Passive House Austin
Mark is part of a dedicated group of building industry professionals working to make passive design well-known in the Texas market. Passive House Austin promotes the principles of passive design through events, podcasts, workshops, and most notably, the Humid Climate Conference. Held annually in Austin, the Humid Climate Conference recently featured Joe Lstiburek, widely recognized as the leading building science expert in the industry. It draws building professionals from all over the South, to focus on issues specifically related to their climate – offering a huge benefit over national or international events.
To learn more about Passive House Austin, and view more photos from the recent Huber sponsored happy-hour event at Mark Larson’s passive house build with IAQ Texas and Positive Energy, click here.
People often look at ThermalBuck and ask, “How did you come up with this idea?”
Like any good idea, it starts with figuring out you’ve got a problem in the first place. And that’s exactly how this whole process began. John Brooks, developer of ThermalBuck, built his family an extremely energy-efficient, well-insulated house. And he was surprised with how frustrating and difficult it was to install the windows.
So you’ve added exterior insulation to a building, and the depth of the insulation extends past the rough opening, where the windows are installed. The question of “What do we do about the windows?” becomes an important consideration – and a real challenge to overcome.
Rough openings have always presented concerns for air & water sealing on any building, and changing the mounting point for the windows makes them even more vulnerable to moisture damage.
High-performance architects and builders have used exterior insulation for years, recognizing the importance of eliminating thermal bridges in the building envelope. Traditionally, most U.S. builders have insulated between the studs, if they decided to use insulation at all.
But the building practices of the past are giving way to innovation.
“If you see a failure on a building, you can pretty much bet that it started with water.”
John Brooks, president, BRINC Building Products, developer of ThermalBuck
More states are adopting IECC energy codes that require continuous insulation, and builders are striving to understand how building science impacts the energy efficiency and quality of their work. Use of exterior insulation in both new construction and renovations is growing significantly, so solving this challenge has become a priority.
Mounting Windows Directly Over Foam
Often builders choose to mount windows and doors right over the exterior insulation, particularly for depths in the .5″ and 1.0″ range. But the nail flange compresses the insulation, creating gaps for air and water to enter. There is also a lack of good support for wide, heavy windows, which can affect the long-term operation of the window. Martin Holliday of Green Building Advisor spoke with Cordell Burton, an installation engineer at Pella Windows, about the issue in 2011.
“You can’t screw through foam sheathing – the foam will compress. You have to have something solid to attach the window to.”
For insulation depths over 1.5″, builders generally built “wood bucks”, made of plywood or dimensional lumber, to extend the mounting point of the window.
The Traditional Wood Buck
While wood solves the problem of extending the mounting point, it creates some new problems of its own in that it often will warp, rot, and shrink.
Wood is a poor insulator, so wood bucks allow air to transfer around each window and door through the rough opening. Cold air is denser than warm air, so in the winter the heated indoor air heads outside, and in the summer, the hot, humid air outdoors moves into the cool air-conditioned interior. This transfer of energy is called thermal bridging, which is what continuous insulation is designed to eliminate in the first place.
The Problem with Thermal Bridging
Thermal bridging isn’t just about wasted energy – although a home that’s more expensive to heat and cool and isn’t comfortable is a legitimate problem. But it’s really about water. Builders know if bulk water isn’t managed properly, it can cause extensive damage to a building. But the moisture that forms from condensation also causes issues over time.
“Another hidden concern is condensation, which can be a consequence of thermal bridging. When warm air comes into contact with a cold spot on the floor or wall, water vapor in the air cools and collects as droplets on the colder surface. This can result in durability problems, as well as poor indoor air quality,” said Joanna Grab, Senior Sustainability Consultant, Steven Winter Associates.
The more we insulate our buildings, the more important it becomes to reduce the potential for condensation to form – good building sense in any climate.
“Another hidden concern is condensation, which can be a consequence of thermal bridging. This can result in durability problems, as well as poor indoor air quality.“
-Joanna Grab, Senior Sustainability Consultant, Steven Winter Associates, as written by Kate Danielsen, High Performance Walls on swinter.com, January 2017
Building a Better Mousetrap: The Process
John Brooks was very familiar with the problems associated with wood bucks. After losing his home in a fire, John built a new home for his family with his own hands. They settled in to make a new start, only to watch as condensation and mold formed around the new windows. Not only did the wood bucks he built cause condensation issues, the flashing process was so difficult that the whole installation process amounted to an exercise in frustration. He began to think there had to be a better way to install windows.
Using his background in construction and his experience in the insulation industry, John began to make prototypes for a product that would be better than a wood buck. It needed to solve multiple problems and still be cost-effective. Here’s the wishlist John had for his new product:
Extend the mounting point
Prevent the compression of exterior insulation
Insulate the rough opening
Protect the rough opening from moisture damage
Support the window
Handle shear & wind loads
Provide durability, strength & flexibility
Simplify flashing & integrate with the WRB
Maintain the long-term operation of the window.
Anyone who has ever come up with a great idea for a new product will agree that the “eureka” moment doesn’t happen without a long period of not-so-great ideas, that take you back to the drawing board time and time again, testing both your patience – and your determination.
This was no different for John, who spent all of his spare time and most of his money on this project, often struggling not to give up. A chance meeting with some strangers at a restaurant, the desire to build a strong business to help sustain their community, and shared Christian beliefs poured new life into his research. After 4 years of prototypes, trial & error, third-party testing, and an unwavering personal faith, John realized his vision for ThermalBuck as it exists today.
The Innovation: ThermalBuck
ThermalBuck is an L-shaped window buck that goes inside the rough opening, and extends outward to create a flush plane with exterior insulation and/or rainscreens.
ThermalBuck is made of a type XIV high-density EPS, and coated in a waterproof resin. Not only does it have the compressive and shear strength to handle the weight of large, high-performance windows, but it also insulates the rough opening with an R-value of 4.4 per inch to limit thermal bridging around the rough opening.
The High-Performance Future of Building
In 2016, Scott Gibson of Green Building Advisor presented ThermalBuck as “An Alternative to Wood Bucks”, and the building industry took notice.ThermalBuck began to receive widespread media recognition, and garnered a lot of attention at conferences and trade shows, because there was nothing like it – it’s simple to use, and solves a common problem.
“This is an impressive product. Once you see it, you really understand the problem this solves for builders like me.”
-Matt Risinger, Risinger Construction, The Build Show
John met Matt Risinger at the EEBA conference in Dallas, Texas, in 2016. Based in Austin but originally a Pittsburgh native, Matt had a western Pennsylvania connection with John.
Matt is a highly respected builder, educator, and self-proclaimed “building science geek” with over 300,000 followers on his popular YouTube channel, Build with Matt Risinger.
He’s well known for sharing solutions and new products to his thousands of followers – and appreciated for his candor. Risinger took home our tabletop displays to share with his building community and gave ThermalBuck great feedback. John was fortunate to film some videos with Risinger & Co. in Austin, and the building community took notice.
BRINC Building Products, Inc. is proud to announce that the BASF Corporation will feature ThermalBuck as a continuous insulation solution in their 2019 exhibit at the International Builders Show on February 19-21st in Las Vegas, Nevada.
High-performance builders have consistently used a combination of interior and exterior insulation to achieve desired R-values for their wall assemblies. With the rapid adoption of advanced energy codes across the U.S., and increasing demand by consumers for energy-efficient homes, use of continuous insulation is becoming the standard for most builders. As this practice grows, more building professionals, insulation manufacturers, and window manufacturers are becoming familiar with the challenge this presents for window and door installation.
“BASF has always been an industry leader in building material technology. We appreciate the opportunity to work with them to share best-practice installation details with the building community at IBS.”
-John Brooks, president, BRINC Building Products, Inc., manufacturer of ThermalBuck
The Innovations of BASF
BASF is a company well known for its commitment to technological advancements in the building industry. Their Neopor® graphite polystyrene (GPS) rigid foam insulation provides architects and builders with maximum efficiency, cost-effectiveness and sustainability for exterior insulation on construction projects.
Easily recognized for its steel-grey color, Neopor® GPS is comprised of many small pockets of air within a polymer matrix containing graphite. The graphite reflects radiant heat energy like a mirror, increasing the material’s resistance to the flow of heat, or R-value. Most polymer-based foams exhibit a greater ability to slow the movement of heat as the temperature decreases. Neopor® GPS is in a unique class because it increases in R-value as outdoor temperatures drop (neopor.basf.us).
When it comes to insulating value, Neopor®consistently outperforms traditional EPS, XPS, polyiso, and mineral wool insulation. But like these others, it creates some challenges for window installation. Commonly used in Europe for decades, GPS insulation is now experiencing solid growth in the U.S., and BASF has found ThermalBuck to be an effective solution.
ThermalBuck Continuous Insulation
“Builders have been so receptive to ThermalBuck because it’s such a simple, effective solution to the problems they face when installing windows with foam,” said BRINC President, John Brooks. “When insulation is added to the exterior of any structure, the rough opening remains set back at the sheathing. This can present problems with cladding attachment and trim, and the thicker the insulation – the bigger the problem,” said Brooks.
The traditional way builders dealt with the different planes was to build a wood buck to match the depth of insulation, install the window, then flash the window and wood buck. But wood is a poor insulator, and creates potential for moisture damage at each rough opening. Not to mention it creates a thermal bridge – a conduit for energy to pass through the rough opening around each window and door. When you’re adding insulation to a building, creating thermal bridges at all of the penetrations is really working against the goal of insulating.
“Builders have been so receptive to ThermalBuck because it’s such a simple, effective solution to the problems they face when installing windows with foam.”
-John Brooks, president, BRINC
ThermalBuck is a proven solution to the challenges architects and builders face with installing windows with exterior foam. It’s unique “L” shape goes inside the rough opening, and extends outward to match the continuous insulation and/or rainscreen depth, creating a flush plane for cladding.
With an r-value of 4.4 per inch, ThermalBuck insulates the rough opening to prevent thermal bridging. It supports the window and allows structural attachment, transferring shear and wind loads to the framing. Made of a high-density EPS with a waterproof coating, ThermalBuck is installed with high-quality window & door sealants, that allow it to act as an additional air & water barrier at the rough opening, simplifying flashing with exterior insulation. Lightweight, flexible, and durable, ThermalBuck comes in 8′ lengths and is cut to fit on site. It’s ideal for both residential and multi-family residential retrofits and new construction.
We look forward to sharing the stage with BASF in Las Vegas at the 2019 International Builder’s Show in Booth PB2, as part of the Professional Builder’s Show Village. Look to BRINC Building Products for more building envelope solutions in the future.
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.
Building an Affordable, Energy-Efficient Home with Habitat for Humanity & Efficiency Vermont
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.”
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, RockwoolCOMFORTBATT 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.
Habitat for Humanity’s vision is simple: A world where everyone has a decent place to live. It’s achieving it that’s the complex part. The team at the Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity (CVHFH) is working hard towards that goal, and an even loftier one – building one of the highest performing Habitat for Humanity homes to date, in Randolph, VT.
Energy Efficiency: an Essential Need
Building to higher energy-efficient standards is an important consideration for any building project. But the impact on personal health and well-being can be even more significant when making ends meet is a struggle.
“The fluctuating price of energy goes beyond what our families can afford”, says Bruce Landry, Affiliate Building Chair, Volunteer and Weatherization Technician, CVHFH. “The families we partner with start out with very tight budgets and every dollar counts. An energy-efficient home gives stability in heating costs and utility payments.”
“An energy-efficient home gives stability in heating costs and utility payments.”
– Bruce Landry, Affiliate Building Chair, Central VT Habitat for Humanity
Not Their First High Performance Rodeo
The home build in Randolph was designed by architect Neil Husher, of Vermont Architects Collaborative. Neil brought three original designs to the table for consideration, which he modified to suit this specific plot of land, and fine-tuned the energy-efficient features for maximum impact.
Although the CVHFH chapter had completed a passive home build in the past, it wasn’t an option for the Randolph home. For instance, there wasn’t enough southern exposure to provide sufficient solar gain. Differences in the wall construction also make this design a bit simpler – building to passive is more detailed, and takes more time. It wasn’t that the volunteer building crew couldn’t handle the technical details and complexity of a passive house, it just wasn’t the right fit for this project.
The High Performance Building Components
The two-story house features 2′ x 8′ wall construction, and an impressive list of high performance building materials including: Rockwool Safe ‘n Sound batt insulation, Partel VeraPlus smart membrane, Advantech sheathing, 2.0″ Dow Blue Board Styrofoam XPS insulation, Typar WRB, ThermalBuck high performance window bucks, Pella 350 Series windows, Stego Wrap Vapor Barrier, and an Amvic ICF Foundation.
2.5″ ThermalBuck was selected to extend the mounting point for the windows and doors, insulate the rough openings, and prevent moisture at the rough openings – traditionally a difficult detail of any building envelope. ThermalBuck helps simplify the challenge of mounting the windows with the exterior insulation, and integrating the WRB.
“ThermalBuck makes it easier to do the high performance seals.”
– Anne Walker, Project Manager, Central VT Habitat for Humanity
Employees of BRINC Building Products, Inc., manufacturer of ThermalBuck, will be volunteering to help the CVHFH chapter with their ThermalBuck installation in September, 2018. Keep informed on the next steps of this high performance home by following ThermalBuck on social media:
Energy Efficiency in Vermont: More Accessible than Ever
One of the reasons this build was possible? Because it was in Vermont. Efficiency Vermont, founded in 2000 as the nation’s first energy-efficient utility, provides Vermonters with technical and financial support to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, businesses, and communities.
For Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity, this meant not only a significant refund for achieving an established list of standards, but also personalized help in the support of a consultant, Jennifer Severidt. Jennifer was assigned to the project, and provided not just a few answers, but guidance throughout the entire project, answering specific questions like “What specific heat pump would work best?”
“We wouldn’t have been able to attempt this without Efficiency Vermont.”
– Debbie Goodwin, Executive Director, Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity
Follow this helpful link to view more information about how to work with Efficiency Vermont to receive energy consultation and eligibility for certification, rebates, and third-party testing at efficiencyvermont.com.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat’s mission Is based on the premise that affordable housing plays an integral role in building abundant, strong, and stable communities. Habitat for Humanity is one of the most recognizable efforts to support sustainable housing not only in the U.S, but internationally. To learn more about the efforts of Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity, and how to find local chapters in your area, follow these links:
Habitat for Humanity is not a giveaway program. They offer partner families a no-interest mortgage for their home. In addition to a down payment and monthly mortgage payments, the homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor (sweat equity) into building their new home. Families selected are those who need simple, decent housing, but who are unable to get a loan through any conventional means. Read more about how a family can apply and be selected here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Deep Energy Retrofits are a whole-building approach to maximizing energy efficiency.
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. That’s how we found Bill McKnight, CEO, Energy Conservation Specialists.
With over 20 years in the field of deep energy retrofits, Bill 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. To learn more about the historic renovation project we worked on with Energy Conservation Specialists, and see how ThermalBuck was used to create a thermally efficient building envelope, read the full installation story here.
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.
Improving the energy-efficiency of new and existing construction has long been a focus of the building industry. When it comes to insulation, exterior is the choice of many architects and builders, because it eliminates the thermal bridging through the studs.
However, continuous insulation presents its own unique challenges with installing windows and flashing the rough openings. The mounting point is no longer flush with the sheathing, it must be extended out to meet the exterior insulation depth. Rough openings are always a weak spot for potential water infiltration – and extending the mounting point for windows compounds the problem.
Until ThermalBuck hit the market, there really wasn’t a good way to insulate and create a thermal break around the mounting points of windows & doors. The traditional method to bump out windows was to build a wood window buck. Wood does extend the mounting point, but it doesn’t hold up well to moisture, and it has a low insulating value. With an r-value range of 4.4 per inch, ThermalBuck is a better insulator than wood. But how much? We performed some third-party testing to find out.
Thermal Transfer Performance: ThermalBuck vs. Wood Buck
Using thermal imaging, we recorded the performance of ThermalBuck against a traditional wood buck in a controlled environment. In the two mock-ups below, three temperature sensors were placed on both the ThermalBuck installation (l) and the wood buck installation (r). The temperature condition on the exterior of the structure was -6.67 ºF, and the indoor of the structure 72.76 ºF.
These photos show two window installations side by side. (l) ThermalBuck (r) traditional wood buck.
54% More Heat Transfer with Wood vs. ThermalBuck
On the exterior of the structure (point A) the wood buck looses 7.88 ºF, or 14.55 ºF total degrees from the outside temperature. ThermalBuck only loses .11 ºF , or 6.78 total degrees from the outside temperature. The wood window buck allows twice as much energy to escape, while the window installation with ThermalBuck is effectively limiting thermal bridging.
ThermalBuck High-Performance window buck creates a significant thermal break at the mounting points of windows & doors. Using ThermalBuck as part of your continuous insulation solution is an effective way to limit the amount of thermal bridging that occurs through your building envelope.
To learn more about thermal bridging, see what the experts have to say at greenbuildingadvisor.com
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in July 2018. The testing results and thermal images were not changed.