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Building a Better Mousetrap: The Development of ThermalBuck

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.”

Cordell Burton, Pella, as quoted in Musings of an Energy Nerd, Green Building Advisor, May 2011 

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:

An early attempt at ThermalBuck, EPS without the waterproof coating.
An early attempt at ThermalBuck, EPS without the waterproof coating.
    • 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
    • Install easily
    • 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.

The rest, as they say, is building history.

 

Follow ThermalBuck’s path in the media here.


Want to learn more? We recommend these excellent building science resources: Heat Rises… and Falls – Stack Effect, Air Movement and Heat Flow, Allison Bales, Energy Vanguard. How it Works: Vapor Drive, Rob Yagid, Fine Homebuilding. Plan Ahead to Save Energy – Martin Holladay, Fine Homebuilding. 

 

 

ThermalBuck to Exhibit at Humid Climate Conference

ThermalBuck joins our high performance partners from Alpen windows to exhibit at the 2018 Humid Climate Conference in Austin, TX, on May 21st – 22nd. We will showcase our joint PHIUS Verified Psi-Installation, featuring the Alpen 925 Zenith Nail Fin window with 2.5″ ThermalBuck.

Hot, humid climates are not what usually comes to mind when talking about passive design. Historically, the focus has been on buildings with heavy heating needs, not cooling. Everything changed with the release of the PHIUS+ 2015 building standard, which forced the building industry to reconsider passive house design as an economically viable option for humid climates.

The Austin, Texas chapter of the PHIUS is a major advocate for building science education and training in humid climates. They recognized the need for an annual event to broaden the reach of their work, and bring together professionals in similar climates for a shared exchange of ideas and learning. The first Humid Climate Conference was held in 2016, and is rapidly becoming a notable event in the building industry.

“Our mission is to advocate for the adoption of the PHIUS+ 2015 standard in the greater Austin, TX area through education, governmental petition, and targeted industry efforts.”

– Passive House Austin (PHAUS), as quoted on passivehouseaustin.org 

 

2018 Humid Climate Conference

This year’s event will be held at the A&T Conference Center in Austin, Texas, and provides the opportunity to earn 8 hours of CEUs, with an impressive lineup of speakers and invaluable networking.

Monday begins with one of the most recognizable names in building science, Joseph Lstiburek, presenting, “Water Molecule & 4th State Moisture, Materials, Enclosure” at 10 am. It ends with sought-after media personality and building science promotor Matt Risinger of Risinger & Co., presenting “Lessons Learned in the Evolution of High Performance Enclosures”.

Tuesday’s lineup features a full day of speakers, and wraps up with an after-party at 5:30 pm. The two-day event features a number of sponsors and exhibiting companies, such as the increasingly popular Building Science Podcast, an outreach of Positive Energy, a residential engineering firm in Austin. For a full list of event sponsors, click here.  

 

ThermalBuck + Alpen HPP

Alpen 925 series fiberglass window with 2.5" ThermalBuck window buck ThermalBuck and Alpen are an ideal fit for architects and builders looking for the optimal way to install high performance nail flange windows with continuous insulation.

Alpen is a pioneer in the glazing industry, known for super-high performance insulated glass and award-winning fiberglass windows. Alpen designs and builds some of the most energy efficient window and door products in the world out of their Niwot, Colorado headquarters. They are the first North American manufacturer of passive house certified windows and doors, and offer superior technical support for their customers. Learn more at visit thinkalpen.com.

Take a look below at this quick Q&A with Alpen behind-the-scenes at one of our first Alpen + ThermalBuck installations, in Orderville, Utah.  

 

For more behind the scenes videos from this Alpen window installation, visit thermalbuck.com.

 


For additional information about the Humid Climate Conference and to register for this year’s event, visit humidclimateconference.org. You can also follow the conference updates on instagram. To learn more about Passive House Austin, click here

 

You Could Win the Most Energy Efficient House in VT!

Ready for a major life change? Then this contest is definitely worth a look. Green Mountain Power is giving away the most energy-efficient house in Vermont. Sharpen up your keyboard, and submit a 500 word essay detailing why you want to live in the Rutland Innovation House, and how you would contribute to the vibrant Rutland community – and you have the opportunity to win.

 

The GMP Rutland Innovation Home Contest

The GMP Innovation Home provides a unique opportunity to promote energy-efficient building, and to showcase the beautiful town of Rutland, Vermont. Rutland County is experiencing significant growth, and needs to attract talented people to enhance this vibrant community to fill the demands for a skilled workforce. It’s a beautiful area of Vermont, with great schools, a strong local business sector, vibrant downtown and a strong creative community.

“We’re giving folks all around the country the opportunity to submit a reason why they should be the ones to live in this amazing house.”
-Mary Powell, CEO, Green Mountain Power 

 

 

The House & Building Materials

Green Mountain Power, Naylor & Breen Builders, NBF Architects, and the United Way of Rutland County, developed this unique contest to give away a brand new, fossil fuel-free home to promote the latest in technology and green building. This impressive collaboration features more than 60 local businesses and national building material suppliers, like ThermalBuck, working together to promote the future of green building.

“I look forward to welcoming into the neighborhood whoever is lucky enough to move into that house.”
-Carol Tashie, Rutland Vermont resident, via GMP 

 

The house itself, is a 1,500 sq. foot traditional New England farmhouse featuring the latest in smart-home technology, and the high-performance building materials needed to conserve energy. Building material supplier R.K. Miles will be installing their trademarked R-Wall System, featuring The Henry Company Blueskin WRB, Rockwool Comfortboard mineral wool exterior insulation, 3.0″ ThermalBuck insulating window buck, and Marvin Windows & Doors.

ThermalBuck is proud to be a part of this project, and will be documenting the installation to share via our social media sites. To keep up with the progress each week, follow us on your preferred account:

  ThermalBuck.BRINC          thermalbuck_windowbuck            @ThermalBuck           ThermalBuck 

 


Contest Details

Not only will could you win this energy-efficient house, but the people of Rutland want to help you build your life here. You’ll be connected with a local “concierge” to provide assistance with job searches, a warm welcome from business and personal contacts,  and free co-working space at GMP’s Energy Innovation Center in downtown Rutland. Free house, new job, new community, new life. Why not?

Curious to learn more about life in Rutland? There are plenty of great resources around  – let’s get started!

 

Ready for change? Get your entry in before the deadline May 25, 2018. Contest details & official rules available at greenmountainpower.com.

 


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 people use less energy and save money, while at the same time, continuing to meet the existing energy needs of their customers by generating clean, affordable energy. GMP was recently named a Top 10 Innovative Company in Energy. Read more here