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Texas Builder’s Passion for Passive House Comes to Life

Most people would assume it makes zero sense to build a passive house in a hot 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.


Helpful Links & More Info:

Mark Larson Instagram
Built Green Custom Homes, Austin Texas
Passive House Alliance – US

* homebuilder estimates from personal research

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.  

Energy Efficiency is a Necessity for Habitat

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.

8-1-18-window-detail

 

“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.

 

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

 

 

John Brooks, President, BRINC BuildingProducts, Inc

ThermalBuck Innovator Named “HIVE 50 Honoree” by Builder Magazine

John Brooks, president of BRINC Building Products, Inc., was recognized by Builder Magazine as a HIVE 50 honoree in the category of Building Technology for his development of ThermalBuck.

ThermalBuck, a high-performance window buck, is a simple solution for the challenges of mounting nail flange windows with exterior insulation.

It’s unique L-shaped design goes inside the rough openings for windows and doors, 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. It also simplifies flashing, and creates an additional air & water barrier in the building envelope.

To learn more about ThermalBuck, take a look at our media coverage and recognition here


HIVE – “Transforming the Conversation around Housing”

The HIVE Conference was initiated in 2016 by Hanley Wood, a premier marketing and media company in the residential and commercial construction industry. The two-day event takes place in California, and provides a unique opportunity to bring together a diverse group of talents to address the challenges in housing. Attendees include architects, builders, land developers, community planners, dealers and distributors, developers, manufacturers, policy makers, and more.

“The second annual HIVE Conference is shaping up to be our most ambitious and energizing event yet.”

-Peter Goldstone, CEO, Hanley Wood

The 2017 conference took place December 6th & 7th in downtown Los Angeles, at the Intercontinental hotel. It featured speakers such as Chip Conley, head of global hospitality and strategy, Airbnb, and Steve Case, chairman and CEO, Revolution LLC; co-founder, America Online; and author The Third Wave.

We appreciate the nomination of John Brooks for his development of ThermalBuck, and the recognition of how impactful this new building material technology is to the residential construction industry.

 

HIVE 50

The HIVE 50 are considered the top people, products, and processes that are influencing innovation and high performance technology in the housing industry.

The HIVE 50 nominees and winners are featured in the December 2017 issue of Builder Magazine, ten nominees in each of five categories: Building Technology, Capital, Design, and Strategy.

Fellow nominees that share the Building Technology with John Brooks, include notable building science veteran Joe Lstiburek, Founding Principal of Building Science Corporation, and CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk.

For a complete listing of all nominees for the HIVE 50 in each of the five categories, please visit builderonline.com.

 


Hanley Wood  has focuses it’s business in three main areas: research, media, and marketing. It’s most recognizable media brands include Builder magazine, Architect magazine, and Remodeling magazine. In the conference realm, Greenbuild, ProSales, and JLC Live are just a few of their well known and respected events in the industry. To maintain the conversation with the HIVE community year-round, visit hiveforhousing.com.

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


 

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.