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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

 

Hands-On Building Science with Matt Risinger & ThermalBuck

December 4, 2017 – Risinger & Co. Headquarters – Austin, TX
Don’t Miss this Event!

Risinger & Co. will present “Hands-On Building Science with ThermalBuck,” to the Austin green building community. You’ll see how easy it is to integrate ThermalBuck into a high-performance wall, to simplify the installation of windows with exterior insulation. Join your fellow architects, builders, energy consultants and more for this informative Lunch & Learn – just RSVP to save your space by December 1st!

December 4, 2017 @ 12 pm – Risinger & Co. Austin Headquarters 
Window Installation with Exterior Insulation featuring ThermalBuck 

Lunch & Learn with the Austin Green Building Community
5126 Burnet Rd, Austin TX 78756

RSVP required. Space is limited.

RSVP for Hands-On Building Science 12.4.17 in Austin – you will be contacted for confirmation:

[contact-form to=”thermalbuck@brincbp.com ” subject=”RVSP Hands On Building Science 12.4.17″][contact-field label=”Name” type=”name” required=”1″][contact-field label=”Job Title” type=”text” required=”1″][contact-field label=”Email” type=”email” required=”1″][contact-field label=”Contact Phone” type=”text” required=”1″][contact-field label=”Company Name & Number of Attendees: Please list job title” type=”textarea” required=”1″][/contact-form]

Please contact us for more details, and follow us on social for specifics about the materials that will be part of this high-performance wall demonstration. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of this event for the Austin green building community!

Risinger & ThermalBuck: A High-Performance Duo

It was just about a year ago when Matt Risinger introduced ThermalBuck to his thousands of YouTube followers. We had recently met Matt in 2016 at the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) Conference in Dallas, TX, and he took home our tabletop displays to show to his loyal building science fans through a short video on Risinger Goes Rogue.

“Check out this brand-new product a builder in Pennsylvania invented – very cool.”

-Matt Risinger, Risinger & Co., The Build Show   

 

Matt recognized ThermalBuck as a smart, simple solution to the challenges builders face when installing windows with continuous insulation. He also taught us about the importance of using only high-performance products in the building envelope (bye-bye, junky housewrap).

A ROESE between two…Matt Risinger & John Brooks at the 2016 EEBA conference.

WATCH:  Risinger Goes Rogue featuring ThermalBuck 

Matt is well-known for his expertise in building science, and his comfortable way of teaching others how to use to become better builders. Now we’re teaming up with Risinger & Co. at their Austin headquarters for a ThermalBuck installation demo – and we’re inviting you to join us.  

 

Risinger & Co.

Matt’s company, Risinger & Co. is a sought-after Austin builder known for beautiful craftsmanship and attention to detail. But they’re also recognized for building some of the highest performing homes in Texas, and utilize a building science based approach to every project.

“Every project we take on includes our goal of delivering a home that provides for improved health, enhanced durability, increased efficiency and greater comfort than any home you’ve lived in before.”

-Matt Risinger, Risinger & Co., The Build Show

After many years of production homebuilding, and continually honing his skills and knowledge, Matt’s  outstanding reputation has led him to now work primarily on architect driven projects, many of them award-winning. Most recently, for their work on a Design Office by Alterstudio Architecture, LLP – awarded a 2017 AIA Austin Design Award.

For more information about all of the 2017 award winners, visit aiaaustin.org.

We appreciate Matt sharing ThermalBuck with his avid followers, and look forward to our demonstration in Austin with Risinger Homes. One thing we can be certain of, is that everyone (including us) will learn a thing, or two.


Risinger Homes (now Risinger & Co.) started building exclusively for architects in 2005. Matt’s building science expertise has been documented in Fine Homebuilding, The Journal of Light Construction, and Custom Home Magazine, to name a few. He is also an award winning blogger, the two-time winner of the JDR Best Blogger Award. Enjoy the beauty and craftsmanship of Matt’s work through his instagram account, twitter, or facebook. The Texas building statistics sourced for this post were found at investopedia.com. 

Austin builder Matt Risinger features ThermalBuck on an episode or Risinger Goes Rogue

ThermalBuck Goes Rogue with Austin Builder Matt Risinger

Texas has always been famous for cowboys, gunslingers, and rodeos (not to mention the best steaks and BBQ you’ll find anywhere). But you may not have realized that it’s also the home to one of the fastest growing construction industries in the U.S.

Led by multi-family housing starts, construction growth is fueled by an increasing population, a healthy housing market, and a strong environment for investment. Drive anywhere across this beautiful state and you’ll witness construction cranes, and rapid building progress in all shapes and sizes.

WATCH:  Risinger Goes Rogue featuring ThermalBuck   

Matt Risinger

Where construction is booming, you’ll find award-winning homebuilders.  At the recent Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) Conference in Dallas, TX, ThermalBuck had the good fortune to cross paths with the most famous builder to call the Lone Star State home, Matt Risinger. Not only a well-known builder, Matt is also a respected media personality in the building industry. Matt was the closing speaker for the 3 day event held at the end of September, 2016.  The close-knit and collaborative nature of this particular conference invites plenty of opportunities to interact with attendees, presenters and manufacturers alike.  Matt’s keen interest in emerging products and new technology brought him to ThermalBuck on the trade show floor, where he spent some time with our president, John Brooks.

Risinger Homes

To meet Matt in person, is to realize right away that he is the real deal. Smart, humble, hard-working and passionate about good building science, Matt has earned a considerable following of nearly 34,000 subscribers to his You Tube channel, Build with Matt Risinger.  Since it’s launch in 2008, Matt’s building videos have earned him nearly 10 million views. Pretty impressive for this full-time builder and owner of Risinger Homes, and part-time marketer.

Matt has earned his reputation for excellency the old-fashioned way, through years of hands-on construction work, and the innate desire to do things the right way.

“I build homes that are dramatically more energy efficient, durable, healthy, and comfortable than most new homes in America.”

Risinger Homes is doing just that – building some of the finest homes in Texas. Combining Matt’s work ethic with his passion for technology, easy manner and marketing savvy, Matt has crafted a great reputation as a building science expert.

Risinger Goes Rogue

Not only does Risinger Homes build multiple high-end homes a year, he also spends countless hours appearing at building events and trade shows, as well as creating videos for Risinger Goes Rogue. Matt maintains a strong presence on social media, building his audience through his natural presentation ability, straight-talk and credibility. His strong family values, faith, and outlook on life are a bonus to those who seek out his expertise. Followers of Matt’s social media accounts can watch day-to-day progress of the homes he is working on, and learn proper building techniques along the way.

matt-risinger-with-videographerRisinger Goes Rogue recently featured ThermalBuck, a smart, simple solution to the challenges builders face when installing windows with continuous insulation. 

We appreciate Matt sharing ThermalBuck with his avid followers, and look forward to collaborating with Risinger Homes in the future. One thing we can be certain of, is that we will learn a thing (or two).


Risinger Homes started building exclusively for architects in 2005.  Matt’s building science expertise has been documented in Fine Homebuilding, The Journal of Light Construction, and Custom Home Magazine, to name a few.  He is also an award winning blogger, the two-time winner of the JDR Best Blogger Award.  Enjoy the beauty and craftsmanship of Matt’s work through his instagram account, twitter, or facebook. The Texas building statistics sourced for this post were found at investopedia.com.  

ThermalBuck to Exhibit at EEBA in Dallas, Sept. 27th-29th

ThermalBuck will exhibit at the 2016 Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) Conference & Expo in Dallas, TX, on September 27th – 29th.

“Sustainable Building” may seem like a recent concept, but for over 30 years, EEBA has been a well-respected platform for collaboration and education across multiple fields in sustainable building.  EEBA members are committed to being “good stewards of the resources used in the construction of residential and light commercial buildings.”

The EEBA Conference & Expo isn’t a typical trade show, in that the expo hours are a small portion of the event.  Much like EEBA itself, the conference is truly all about collaboration, and education.  Over 90 presenters will offer informative sessions over three days, multiple networking opportunities, and because it’s Texas, a little bull-riding for good measure.

Notable presenters include Martin Holladay, Green Building Advisor, known for his weekly blog “Musings of an Energy Nerd”, and Achilles Karagiozis, Owens Corning, who developed some of the most advanced hygrothermal models worldwide – including WUFI.

The event wraps up with a closing presentation featuring well-known Texas builder Matt Risinger (originally a Pittsburgh native, extra points in our book). Matt is a nationally known and respected expert in building science for hot/humid climates.  With his successful blog “Build with Matt Risinger”, fast-growing You-Tube following, and marketing savvy, Matt truly emulates the ideal EEBA standard – a mix of responsible building practices in the design, marketing, and execution of the building process.

If you’re in the Dallas area next week, be sure and visit ThermalBuck at the EEBA show. For a schedule of the 2016 EEBA Conference program, click here.


Throughout the year, EEBA presents educational sessions across the U.S. Their courses often qualify for CEU credits for AIA, AIBD, BPI, RESNET, NAHB, and is approved by the USGBC for GBCI CE hours towards LEED credentialing.  To keep up-to-date with sessions in your area, visit eeba.org.