You may or may not have seen that Bensonwood is rolling out a new division of their company called Tektoniks where they are combining their knowledge from Bensonwood and Unity homes to help supply the market with something it desperately needs: Better Homes with Panelized ConstructionPrefab, modular and panelized construction has gotten a bad name over the years. People often associate it with low quality housing, but that's not really the case. Look back to the start of kit housing and the Sears catalog and you'll see that they sold over 70,000 homes between 1902 and 1940. The kit of parts was delivered to the site and often raised in a "barn raising" type style. It supplied a need for housing in the country that was quick and affordable. And to be honest, pretty stylish.Somewhere along the lines we lost some of that stylish design, the adherence to quality, and the ability to move forward in the building industry building BETTER homes, not just cheaper homes.But I digress, what does panelized construction have to do with today's housing needs? As an architect working with zero energy and super insulated houses, I find panelized construction fascinating. We've been using it on one of our developments in Maine for the last several years.We started with a framer that builds the walls in a shop, delivers them to the site, and 3 days later we have a shell. Framing them in the shop cuts down on time, often taking a 9-12 month build down to 6 months. The quality control and material control can cut waste and job site debris down by almost 25%. And when you're building indoors, weather delays aren't an issue. So while the site is being prepped, framing is happening at the same time. But our framer, he's busy. I wish we had 2 or 3 more to help with construction right now.But how are they different? Why is this different than SIPS panels or modular construction? These are prototypes of zero energy homes. We spend hours in design development working out the systems to cut down on thermal bridging, orient the home the right direction, and provide really great spaces. We are very strict about the materials we use cutting out as much foams, plastics, and formaldehyde products. They are custom homes where we eliminate as much square footage as possible while still spending the time to make spacious areas and a spot for everything. More square footage isn't better, it's just more. In a world where we are seeing people going back to their roots, wanting less, spending more time outside of the home or in a community, this seems like the right answer. Minimizing the impact of building, the buildings impact on environment, and most importantly celebrating it's impact on the occupants. Our health and welfare can be directly linked to where we live.So why aren't we building better? Well the answer is, here at Mottram Architecture, we are.Stay tuned for updates on how the next Live Solar Maine house is going:
I am hoping to add a series of posts about things you should know before building a home. I am trying to keep a list of "things I don't know you don't know" I know that sounds silly, but when you've been doing this for awhile, you forget what other people know and what they don't. I have a current client who has been very helpful in tracking the things they "wished they would have known or understood" and making a list to help other homeowners through the process.Today I want to talk a little bit about land and the initial legwork when picking a place to build a house.
- Have a survey done on the property
- We always recommend having a property survey done. We love working with Main Land Development Consultants who have done everything from surveys, environmental testings and septic design. It is extremely helpful for the architect, builder, excavation, septic and concrete installer to understand what the topography of the site is. It is also important to call out featured items that you would like to keep or highlight on a property. In the inverse, some property lines are tight and it might be critical to understand the footprint of your lot, where your lot lines are, and exactly how much space you can cover. And it is absolutely critical when building on the water. Anything within 250 feet of a major water body is subject to different DEP rules. Most towns will not accept a building permit for a lot adjacent to a waterbody without careful consideration of the impervious areas, lot clearing, distance to the water body, and flood plane elevations.
- Always get title insurance
- Our friends over at Cumberland Title offer great videos for first time homebuyers on some of the pitfalls or information you'll run into when buying a house. Their recommendation to us, for owners looking to build, is to always get title insurance. It's their job to dig into the history of the property to make sure you are getting exactly what the property states. You don't want to find out, after you have built, that there is some kind of discrepancy or dispute on your property. It can be a very important step when someone is subdividing a property or purchasing a property that used to be part of a larger parcel. On lakefront properties we often find old deeded right of way access or septics on others properties. It's important to understand all the impacts on your property before moving forward with a sale agreement.
- Zoning: Just because you own it, doesn't mean you can do whatever you want on it
- This one can be tough to understand, but every town has rules about what you can do in certain areas of the town. For example, in the city where we live you can not build a house in the Ag zone unless you make 50% of your income from farming. Some zoning regulations like this one are set up to preserve land mass. In towns with lakes you can only build on a small percentage of your property in the shoreland zone to help prevent water runoff from contaminating the lake. In other areas, you may not be able to have certain types of business uses (like an auto body shop) no matter how large your piece of land is. In other zoning districts you may not be able to have an in-law apartment or multiple dwellings. And further still, in some towns or developments, you may be required to follow aesthetic regulations, energy criteria, or adhere to things that are not allowable (like modular homes) in your neighborhood.
- Orientation: How and Where the house is placed on the lot
- You might be thinking "what do you mean by orientation" so let me give you a few examples. First, the cheapest thing you can do to improve the efficiency of your home is to orient it the right direction. Back before we had so much technology, it was ingrained in our building senses to point ourselves towards the sun (namely South). But what happens if you decide to buy a piece of property on the lake that faces North? You end up with a very cold house, because you end up with too much glass on the wrong side of your home. But if you intend to use it year round, it can be a real drain on your energy and your finances to have so much North facing glass. Or you buy a piece of property in a neighborhood where all the houses face the street, but the front of your house should be one of the more attractive sides of your home. So if it faces north, you have the same issue I mentioned above, or maybe it's a busy street and you want to try and cut down some of the street noise. Sometimes we fail to consider the impacts of owning a lot and placing the house further off the road. Initially it sounds like a great idea for privacy or maybe to get to the view on the property. However, the further you are from the utilities the more the site work will cost. Two major factors are the cost of a long driveway and the cost to run electricity from the road (above ground with poles and wires) or (below ground with underground power). If you have a tight budget, what was a 10K site budget can grow to 40K in no time. I don't want to steer you away from those larger land properties, but just a thought or a reminder that there is cost savings to density. To get to the right location for the house to sit you end up having a really long driveway or having to clear too much of the lot. Orientation and placement on a lot can be very challenging. I have to laugh because one of my clients recently said to me "You and the builder couldn't have sited the house more perfectly, even though we were standing in the middle of the woods and couldn't see anything at the time" It was a challenging site, a triangle. But the owner had a clear vision of what they wanted and the builder and I had a pretty good idea of the land layout, even if you couldn't see the forest through the trees.
- Be sure you'll understand what your taxes will be
- And last, but certainly not least: Taxes. It's tax season, so this one is on our minds. It's critical you understand, before building or buying land, what your tax rates will be. You might find the perfect piece of property only to discover that the mill rate on taxing your home is very high. Some areas have desirable school systems or better community services. If this is something you plan to take part in, it might not matter to you. But it can drastically affect your monthly payments if your taxes are $1000/mo vs $150. This is something that many people fail to take into account. You may be able to build in the next town over for a much lower amount, but you may also be sacrificing services that you would like to have. It's something that I think should be factored into the financial decisions as you consider where you might build.
We hope that some of these tips will be helpful as you are out searching for land! Having a plan can make all the difference when building a home you love.
Do you want a more green and clean kitchen but don’t know where to start?Here are 15 ideas that will help you get started in transforming your kitchen into a more environmentally friendly space.1. Clear away clutterReduce, recycle and reuse. Less is more and you will save money if you reduce the amount of food, appliances, kitchen tools and other products you buy or use. A helpful tip from the Minimalists, it takes the dishwasher an hour or more to do a full cycle. But it will only take a few minutes for you to wash the cup, plate and silverware so that it's ready to use again at your next meal. I realize, with larger families, this may not be as feasible. However, it's an interesting mindset and it reduced the stress in our lives by quite a bit. Recycle or give away old appliances and tools. Clean out your pantry and reuse old glass jars and containers for storage.2. Ditch the paper towelsUse long lasting cloth towels instead of paper towels, one for wiping down surfaces, one for your hands and another for wiping down wet dishes.3. Use a compost and recycle stationIt’s definitely important to have a designated compost and recycling bin. You can have these in a pantry closet or underneath the kitchen sick. Reduce the amount of trash you tend to normally keep. Even if you don't garden or have a need for a compost bin, having an easily accessible recycling station will help everyone in the family to participate in recycling instead of throwing everything in the trash because it's too far to walk to the garage. Make things easy.4. Choose a convection ovenThis oven is more ideal for an environmentally friendly kitchen because it uses a fan to heat rapidly from source to food and cooks 25% faster than a conventional oven. As we build more zero energy homes, we find induction ranges and convections ovens are the way to go. They take less time and they eliminate carbon monoxide sources from tight homes.5. Use toxic free wall paintUse paint in low or free of volatile organic compounds. VOCs are gases, some of which can be toxic and are emitted from products such as wall paint.6. Natural flooringConsider natural material flooring like wood or cork, which are also lower and or free of toxins. And instead of cleaning your floors with toxic chemicals or using an old mop that leaves residue behind, consider using a reliable steam mop.7. Energy efficient appliancesIt is best to use energy efficient appliances throughout the kitchen. Appliances with an Energy Star label have met energy efficient guidelines set by the U.S department of Energy and Environmental protection. When you're building a home that is dependent on solar power, it's important to look at efficient appliances and LED lighting. New LED trims fit in standard junction boxes and no longer need recessed cans above the ceiling. This can be great for a kitchen renovation project.8. Use air purifying plantsMany indoor potted plants such as spider plants, peace lilies, aloe vera and snake plants act as natural air filters by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the air. Most indoor plants also help remove stagnant air pollutants like formaldehyde and ammonia which can be found in many things from building materials to furniture. Be careful you don't overdo it with plants. Plants also have moisture which can cause condensation if too much moisture is trapped in a tight home. Having a good ventilation system and a moderate amount of plants can have many positive impacts on your home.9. Eat more greensEating more fresh greens and veggies will definitely contribute to establishing a more eco friendly kitchen. Reducing the amount of pre-packaged foods you buy can keep you and your family healthier while also reducing your recycling and trash contributions.10. Eco friendly cleaning productsThere are now a wide range of natural cleaning companies that produce biodegradable, non-toxic, plant-based cleaners. You can also create your own multi purpose kitchen cleaner with essential oils, vinegar and baking soda. This is safe for you, your family and your pets.11. Use pressure cookersPressure cookers are another way to save more energy by reducing cooking time by up to 70 percent. In our busy world, this might be one kitchen appliance you shouldn't do without.12. Buy localIt’s always a better idea to shop for local food in your area. You support the small community by doing so and you get to take home fresh, clean food. Buying locally from area farm stands also cuts down on transportation waste and supports local farmers.13. Stop using plastic bagsPurchase some reusable shopping bags to use while grocery shopping and stop bringing home the plastic ones. You can also recycle the ones you may already have stored in your kitchen. Depending on your community, some areas of Maine make you pay per trash bag. This helps to reduce plastic garbage bags and encourage recycling. Some places also make you pay per plastic bag at the grocery store. But I also find that my re-usable bags are so much stronger. No more dropping groceries when the plastic bag splits open.14. Use glass containers to store foodInstead of plastic storage containers, opt for the glass. Plastic storage containers usually contain more chemicals and don’t last very long.15. VentilateLast but not least,keep your kitchen well ventilated. Indoor air may be more polluted than the air outside and we spend most of our time inside. Excess moisture from cooking can be a problem. We always encourage people to vent their ranges outside. It's not just to get rid of the smoke when you accidentally burn something. Venting excess moisture helps to reduce mold growth and toxins that have built up in your home from building materials, chemicals, and everyday items that we bring into our homes.
The temperatures in Maine have been below zero for more than a week. This is some of the strangest weather we've had since the blizzard of 98, 20 years ago tomorrow. And days like today remind me why we build the way we do. As you watch the news you see people running out of heating fuels and the threat of freezing is a real concern. But people like the Miller's at Live Solar Maine are watching the snow swirl around their house in today's blizzard while 1 or 2 sticks of wood in the wood stove will keep the house above 80 degrees even if they lose power. The solar panels on the roof will keep them from losing power for long periods, and the threat of freezing isn't a concern. They can sit and watch the snow swirl around the house as if they are inside of a snow globe.It takes a little bit longer to build super insulated structure. It takes a little bit more thought to put it all together. But winter days spent inside a home with no drafts, temperatures above 80, and the security of keeping your family warm on these cold cold days makes it well worth it. Not everything in a zero energy house costs money. The simple act of facing the house south can have a huge impact on the way it performs. Spending the time to seal all gaps, cracks, seams, and holes in the envelop is very cheap with an extremely quick return. And air sealing is something pretty much any homeowner can do. The best thing you can do when installing windows is seal around them after they are installed. Instead of stuffing fiberglass next to the windows, use a low expanding spray foam and make sure they are sealed in well. This is where most people see the savings on windows. Put in the best windows you can afford while building, and then seal them. The performance of a window will never equal the performance of an insulated wall. The Live Solar Maine homes have double pane, double hung windows. Although the comfort level of a triple pane window can be really wonderful, if it doesn't fit in your budget it doesn't keep you from building a zero energy ready home.So as you consider building a new home, think about the benefits of building a better home. Take into consideration the costs of building better and the costs of choosing not to on these winter days. It isn't just about the money, it's comfort, durability, and the safety of your family.Wishing you all happiness in 2018 and we hope you are enjoying your coffee inside your warm snow globe as the blizzard snow and wind whips around outside.
Click the link (solar1 maine mag) to see a copy of the write up in Maine Home + Design MagazineWe couldn't be more thrilled with seeing the first house represented in the Architecture Issue!What a great way to end 2017! Wishing you all the very merriest of holidays!Peace and love to you and yours from all of us here at Mottram Architecture!
I belong to a group forum filled with other architects. We bounce ideas, products, and share knowledge. One of the questions posted this week had to do with vapor barriers and insulation systems. Then, a few days later, I met up with another energy professional and we had a discussion about vapor barriers and wall systems. It made me think: Do owners, architects and builders know about moisture in their homes?It is important to understand moisture because trapped moisture can lead to mold, rot, and structural issues. All parts of your home "house as a system" must work together to keep moisture from causing damage and health hazards to the occupants, not to mention the fact that wet insulation just does not work. So let's talk about science.
In conclusion, moisture is a major factor in building. We need to know where it's coming from and how it's moving through the spaces. It's not as simple as it seems. As new products come on to the market and the ways we build change, it's very critical that we understand how to prevent health, safety, and durability issues.
"If you haven’t lived in an energy-efficient home, you don’t know what you’re missing."This is the opening line in an article written on October 1st for the Portland Press Herald by Marina Schauffler.I thought this article hit on a few high points and I thought that it should be shared. First, we love "The Pretty Good House". We are, of course, happy to help you achieve your dreams to make Net-Zero or Passiv Haus a reality, but what if you just want a house that performs better and doesn't come with a label.I loved how Marina put it in her article "Yankee thrift" it kind of makes you pause, but what everyone should know is that there are simple "hacks" that don't cost more money, but make a world of difference between building a standard code house, and building a pretty good house.
"These houses have sensible design features, orienting primary living areas on the home’s south side and placing spaces like pantries, mudrooms and mechanical areas to the north. Rather than having trendy, pricey building components, they rely on proven elements – like Energy Star kitchen appliances, a tankless water heater or an air-source heat pump."
Here at Mottram Architecture we put a lot of focus on orientation and "daylight planning" which takes into account how you use your house throughout the day and where those rooms land in the layout. We also try "hacks" like putting vintage windows between rooms to allow natural light into smaller rooms without adding windows the the building envelop. It adds character and reduces consumption and doesn't cost much.And I really loved the way she closed the article
"The year-in and year-out savings are welcome, but it’s not just the economics that make energy-efficient homes so appealing. A green-designated broker, Marc Chadbourne, recently asked a builder of highly efficient homes who buys them and what reasons they offer. The answer he received is one I would echo: “It’s a combination of everything.” Whether you value a healthier living space or reduced energy costs, a smaller environmental footprint or a higher resale value, the promise of greener houses is clear. We all desire and deserve a “pretty good” place to call home."
The savings, they are welcome. Who doesn't love to save the money. But aside from saving money, what I hear from my clients and the people who visit their homes is how awesome the space feels. "I could have sold this house 15 times in the first year. People would just stop in and say: That's so cool" said Patrice Miller of Live Solar Maine. So as we pursue our goal of bringing energy efficient homes to the market in a soulful and creative way we love hearing that others are doing the same and people are starting to ask for it, if not demand, pretty good homes.We hope you'll check out this article by Marina and read more about the Pretty Good Home
It's been a very busy year for us here at Mottram Architecture, but today I want to take a moment and highlight a project that we are really proud of.If you follow us, you may have already seen some posts we have shared about this project which kicked off in December of 2016. With the help of more than 15 organizations, 30 people and 22 students, this home became a reality for two very deserving people on July 1st 2017. With a lot of love and a few back breaking hours (mostly shoveling) what was a prototype we developed for home replacement with Western Maine Community Action became the first in what we hope is a series of home replacements that might happen across the state of Maine.We firmly believe that everyone should have access to a great place to live. And in Maine, that means having a warm, dry, and healthy home for what we consider "9 months of winter". Okay, I exaggerate, but with a lot of thought we were able to accomplish "less square footage with way more room" The students at Foster Tech were out building this home in the 20 degree weather all through the winter. They shoveled more snow here at the job site then they probably did at their own homes! Shovel the ground, shovel the roof!When I was in high school, my grandfather was a contractor, and together we participated in a number of community projects through our church where we helped to rehab homes. So when Bill, at Western Maine Community Action, asked if I would help them develop a prototype for a home replacement program, I jumped at the opportunity. It meant a lot to me that they wanted to provide the most efficient housing that they could and when I found out that they were partnering with the local trade high school I was even more excited to participate. The ways we build are constantly changing and it's so rewarding to see these students graduate with construction skills and additional knowledge on how to build better in cold climates.If you'd like to read more about this project and the people who were involved, check out the following articles that have been written (and maybe a few I missed) since we started construction in January.Sun Journal August 2017In July this project was shared nationally through the Community Action eNews:It all started two years ago when Pam and Joe, weary of putting out pans to catch the drips from the leaky roof and patching in new flooring where the soggy, particle-board underlayment had finally given way, showed up at Western Maine Community Action to ask about a low-interest loan to replace the roof.Read about how something wonderful happened, all because a community - in the broadest sense of the word - saw fit to help an aging couple stay put. It's a model Bill Crandall, who manages the Housing and Energy Program for Western Maine Community Action hopes to replicate all over Maine.Along with this article written by the Press Herald July 23rd 2017In March, the Maine Community Foundation shared the following article:A HousewarmingAnd below are the three articles written after the ground breaking in DecemberThe Daily BulldogThe Sun JournalThe Franklin JournalAnd if that isn't enough information, feel free to join us at the Maine Affordable Housing Conference on September 22nd, where WMCA, Foster Tech, and Mottram Architecture will be presenting more on this project.Maine Affordable Housing Conference September 22, 2017
We are thrilled to have another guest post by Matt Lee at AlluraGo Green With Your KitchenGreen building design continues to grow in popularity as more options become available to homeowners. With sustainability and lower energy costs on the lists of most people when it comes to their homes today, more companies are beginning to offer significantly more choices in green materials than ever before. Since the kitchen is one of the most frequently updated rooms in the home, as well as well one of the areas that gets the most use, it also makes sense for homeowners too look here for ways to incorporate green designs and materials into their homes. These green design options will help you achieve the kitchen design you want with the sustainable benefits you need.Bamboo Veneer CabinetsKitchen cabinets make up a large percentage of the space in the kitchen, both from a design standpoint and a practical one. So, it makes sense to start here when considering sustainable design options for the kitchen. While most cabinets are built of plywood, which is a more sustainable material than MDF or particleboard, you can take your green design to the next level by using bamboo veneer for your cabinet faces. While often treated like a hardwood, bamboo is actually a fast-growing species of grass. While it takes hardwoods an approximate 70 years of growth before harvest, bamboo can be harvested in as little as five years, which makes the product much more sustainable.Newer bamboo veneers and bamboo lumbers are available with a variety of colors and appearances. This can let you get the look that you want for the kitchen, while making an eco-conscious and sustainable choice at the same time.Reclaimed Stone FlooringWhile hardwood floors sure look good in your living area they have traditionally not been installed in kitchens due to moisture concerns. Natural stone floor is a great alternative for this area of the house. Stone flooring has a look and texture that’s hard to reproduce in any other material, and it’s durable enough to hold up to years of foot traffic in the kitchen. Best of all, stone floors can complement any style of kitchen from Country to Contemporary, letting you match your own personal aesthetic.Standard stone flooring isn’t eco-friendly, however, which can lead some people to try avoiding it. A good alternative, though, is reclaimed stone flooring. Reclaimed stone floors are actual tiles taken from centuries old farmhouses in France. The stone has a natural patina and a history that makes it a natural focal point for the room. Best of all, because this material already exists, no new manufacturing processes went into producing it. So, it’s better for the environment than using a new stone floor.Energy Saving AppliancesYou probably use the appliances in your kitchen more than any other in the house. Your refrigerator runs all day long, while the oven, stove, and dishwasher are often on standby until you need them, quietly using energy throughout the day and night.Newer, Energy Star rated appliances consume less energy when they’re in use, and when they’re merely standing by. This reduction in energy can save you as much as 13% on your energy bill compared to non-Energy Star rated appliances, according to EnergyStar.gov. While this may not seem like a lot each month, over time it can add up to a big savings, both for you and for the environments.Water Saving FaucetsAppliances aren’t the only way you can save energy and go green in the kitchen at the same time. Water saving faucets are also available that can save you thousands of gallons of water every year. Options range from low-flow faucets, which use fewer than 2 gallons of water per minute – compared to older faucets which used nearly twice as much – as well as faucets that use a toe-touch activator. You can operate the faucet even when your hands are full or dirty, so it doesn’t need to be left running as long, saving you water and money every time you use it.LED Light FixturesYour kitchen uses a lot of light. Chances are you not only have ambient, or overhead lighting, but also task lighting beneath your cabinetry and accent lighting, such as pendants above your island, peninsula, or table. All this light translates into a lot of energy use, since many kitchens get used early in the morning and late in the evening – two times of day when energy use is at its highest.LED light fixtures enable you to illuminate your kitchen, while using less energy than standard incandescent bulbs. LED light also comes in a wider range of light colors and choices than fluorescents do, letting you have the warm yellow or bright white light of your choice.Create a Greener KitchenWith the amount of use the kitchen gets, it makes sense to start here when making greener choices for the rest of the home. Whether you’re having a minor kitchen update or a full-scale remodeling project, there are many ways you can incorporate sustainable decisions into the room. Go green with your kitchen to reap all the benefits eco-friendly design can bring.
We are thrilled to announce that the Modern Solar Farmhouse is featured this spring in the Green and Healthy Homes Maine magazine! If you're local and would like a free copy, let me know. Supplies are limited. Or you can pick up a copy on local news stands now!Excerpt from the article: "Why we like it: With this project, Mottram and Live Solar Maine had a strong focus on delivering a highly energy-efficient house, in a simple approachable aesthetic, for a highly marketable price. It's not easy to find a net zero ready home for $205/sq ft. much less one with such comfortable New England charm. The home's simple structure are time tested vernacular forms and expertly combined with higher levels of insulation and tight construction."
When designing a new home, what qualifies as important to you? How about lots of natural light, well regulated heating & cooling for comfort? What if you had all of that plus reduced utility bills? When you're designing a home, wouldn't it be great if there was a way to evaluate how much it would cost to live in it after it was built? If you said yes, then you're on the right track. Here at Mottram Architecture we use energy modeling on all of our homes. This helps us to evaluate what the best options are for our clients budget now, and for the life of the home.With the exception of the solar panels you will see on a net zero home, at first glance you might not realize it is anything other than another beautiful home. What makes this type of home so special is often the unseen features. If you are planning to build a home anyway, why not make some early decisions that can make your home smarter, cheaper to live in and more comfortable. With energy modeling, we can evaluate trade off's. What we mean by trade off, for example, would be more insulation for less heating system. The savings for adding more insulation will not eliminate a heating system, but it can make the heating system smaller. So even though the insulation cost more to install, a smaller heating system will cost less, and as costs rise with the economy, a smaller heating system will cost less to operate. For this reason, a great building envelop with the right type and amount of insulation, typically pays for itself in no time.A common misconception is the average consumer cannot afford to build to the standards of net zero, however this is a feasible goal for anyone ready to build! It’s possible to keep costs comparable to conventional construction simply by planning ahead, and that’s what we do best here at Mottram Architecture.5 Reason Why Using Energy Modeling to Evaluate Home Performance is So Important:
- Using an energy model can help to evaluate the cost difference in using double pane vs triple pane windows. Although using triple pane windows has other advantages with thermal comfort and moisture mitigation, sometimes the increased costs associated with high performance windows can keep you from proceeding towards net zero.
- Energy modeling also allows evaluation of different wall systems. We always strive to get R-40 minimum in the walls and R-60 in the ceiling. However, there are a number of ways to get to that level of insulation. Different contractors and different sites make certain materials easier to work with or cheaper to install. Without reducing the overall effectiveness of the building envelop, energy modeling can take into account how everything works as a whole.
- When building an efficient home, there are several programs that you can take advantage one. One of the most valuable programs for a homeowner can be the Energy Efficient Mortgage. This allows a homebuyer to extend the amount of money they can borrow by offsetting the extra money in the mortgage payments with lower monthly bills. Using an energy modeling software allows Mottram Architecture to evaluate the cost of better building practices against the monthly savings to the homeowner.
- When building a net zero home, it's important to evaluate how you get to zero energy. There are a number of programs you can participate in, but energy modeling is the key to having a great design that will perform well once constructed. Energy modeling takes into account how the building uses energy and how much energy the building needs to produce to hit the zero energy target.
- Here at Mottram Architecture we believe in integrated design. That's one of the reasons we do an energy model on each home we design. We've learned a lot about high performance building over the years. Everything from indoor air quality to building construction techniques. The reason why energy modeling is so important to us, is it shows us where there is a weakness in our design. Are there too many windows on the wrong side of the house. Is there enough shading to prevent overheating. It may sound silly in a heating climate, but in the summer time it's just as important to stay cool inside your home. But maybe most importantly, what is it going to cost to operate this home and how can we make it better.
These are just a few reasons why we do energy modeling at Mottram Architecture. If you're thinking about building a home, it's always a wise idea to know what it's going to cost you to live in it after it is built. Let us help you make the right design decisions, so you not only love your new home, but so your comfortable living there for many years.
Article by Matt Lee with Allura USAWith every new year comes a whole host of new trends for the home improvement industry. Aimed at making your home even better than before, it pays to see what trends are emerging in the coming months so that you can capitalize on them right away. Already trends predictions for 2017 are beginning to pop up, with a big focus on sustainability and style that is sure to carry you well into the next decade. These 5 home improvement trends are the ones to watch as the new year draws closer.Insulate, Insulate, InsulateFor the last year, insulation has topped Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report with a whopping 110% ROI, and trend predictions for 2017 are pointing to more of the same. Nearly all homes are under insulated, which means that the money you spend to heat and cool your home is likely flying right out the door.In particular, the areas to insulate include your attic, your walls, and beneath your roof deck. Since many people are also taking the time to have new architectural asphalt shingles put on their homes, this makes a great time to insulate the roof deck. Doing so will not only make your home more comfortable, it will also protect your investment by helping to maintain your new shingles and extend their lifespan.Modern Home ExteriorsThe exterior of your home plays a huge role in how it’s perceived, which in turn impacts its value. Known as curb appeal, this first look at your home can really make or break how it comes across to others.For that reason, a lot of people are putting a bigger emphasis on exterior home designs, remodeling the exteriors give them a fresh new look that will have maximum viewing impact. To that end, the Mid-Century Modern home exterior is the one to watch these days. Colors, windows, porches, and landscaping are all taking their cues from this architectural style with very interesting and appealing results. Mid-Century Modern architecture doesn’t mesh with every home style, but for cottages, bungalows, ranches, and gambrels, adding a few modern touches to the exterior façade can really help elevate your home’s style, and value.Energy Efficient Smart HomesIn addition to insulating, many homeowners are also looking at their homes from an energy standpoint, and making improvements that are both smart and sustainable. This means looking for ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency, while also making your home more comfortable and more convenient for you.Things like programmable, smart thermostats that can adjust to whether you’re at home or not, and which give you remote use through your smartphone help you keep energy bills down. Smart light fixtures, which can sense when you’ve left a room and turn themselves off can also make a big impact on your energy bill. Best of all, these kinds of features help take some of the care and worry off your shoulders, so your home is more comfortable, while also being more efficient.New NeutralsFor the last several years, the neutral color to watch has been gray, with numerous shades popping up everywhere from interiors to exteriors. There’s been a recent, subtle shift back toward warmer finishes, however, with Sherwin Williams announcing their Color of the Year for 2017 to be Poised Taupe. Taupe balances perfectly between gray and beige, so it’s a versatile neutral that will work with nearly any color scheme, having a lot more mass appeal than either of these other two colors.Look for taupe to start appearing for walls, siding, countertops, furniture, and other areas of the home very soon. Already manufacturers of flooring and counters have begun to find materials and colors that will work well with this new neutral, making it a sure hit for the future.Cork FlooringFor a while, it looked as though concrete flooring was going to sweep the industry, but its day has passed as homeowners begin to look for a more resilient flooring choice. Cork, which is made from the bark of the cork tree, is a sustainable, natural flooring material that also happens to feel great underfoot.Cork floors have undergone a huge change in recent years, now available in several different sizes, colors, and patterns, so you can customize your flooring to match your décor. Cork is eco-friendly, natural water and bacteria resistant, and can help insulate while it covers your floors, walls, or even ceilings. Look for cork to become one of the it flooring choices for 2017 and beyond.Update Your Home in StyleMost of the trend predictions for 2017 and beyond focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, and livability for the home. Materials that are eco-friendly and easy to care for top most people’s lists, as well as materials and designs that are versatile and low-maintenance enough to fit a busy lifestyle. Check out these 5 trends for the coming year to help improve your home in style.
We were recently featured in the Insulation Institute's Quarterly Newsletter. Below is the story by Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd. For more information on the Insulation Institute, click HEREAre builders missing the mark by not offering upgrade options for HERS-Scored homes?Homebuyers like choices. Builders, ever eager to meet the desires of their buyers, typically offer a dizzying array of choices in products, finishes and designs to suit a wide variety of styles. Yet seemingly few builders offer consumers a choice in homes at varying energy efficiency targets. Is this a missed opportunity for builders in meeting the growing energy efficiency desires of buyers -- an increasing number of whom self-identify as sustainable consumers? Perhaps. Research from McGraw Hill Construction shows that 73 percent of home buyers are willing to pay more upfront for green home features, like energy efficiency. How much more? According to the Green Building Advisor, the most common estimates are 1 to 3 percent. In that HERS scores are the equivalent of a miles-per-gallon ranking for home performance – the lower the score the better -- a lower HERS score means reduced home energy costs for homeowners. Homebuyers might be willing to pay more if they thought they’d get more, in terms of energy savings. Take this as an example:
- HERS score of 65. This is often about level offered by builders as energy efficient. This could be the baseline or “good” efficiency package.
- HERS score of 40. A home at this level would likely be net zero energy ready, meaning it is super-efficient and can become net zero by integrating solar or other onsite renewables. This would be the “better” efficiency package.
- HERS score of 0. This is a net zero home. This would clearly be the “best” package a homebuyer could opt for.
Homebuyers are familiar with the package approach, though it remains to be seen how much they’d be willing to pay for HERS scores at different levels. What is indisputable is that the integration of good design and construction plays a major role in determining energy performance, something architects are increasingly advocating.Evaluating the Good, Better, Best ApproachEmily Mottram is the owner of Mottram Architecture, a full service architecture firm specializing in energy efficient design and Net Zero construction in New York, Pennsylvania and Maine. Her seven-year-old company also offers energy consulting, energy audits, HERS ratings and consultation on building envelope design. Mottram’s clients are typically driven by the dual desire for sustainability and energy efficiency but the option of offering a “good, better or best” performing home – reaching a specific performance target or HERS score at an incremental price increase that the buyer would be willing to bear, is in her opinion, a largely untested concept.“I’ve recently been discussing the idea of a ‘pretty good home’ with some building industry colleagues and there’s a definite awareness that a HERS 60 home, for example, could be an acceptable target for one buyer, while only a Net Zero home would work for another,” Mottram said. Offering homes in specific HERS target ranges could hold appeal for a certain segment of homebuyers willing to pay more upfront for more comfortable homes with lower utility costs. This could be a win-win for customers and builders who can offer more targeted options to meet customer needs. Regardless of the target, Mottram says that architects and builders can do a number of things that will increase home efficiency and help lower overall HERS scores and many are inexpensive or have relatively low incremental costs.Integrating Good Design, Construction Practices“One trick that literally costs nothing is the orientation of the house,” she said. “Using the sun for its heating potential and reducing North windows will ultimately save consumers money on energy costs.” Mottram notes that increasing the focus on the thermal envelope – particularly installing good air barriers, taping and sealing in the right locations, can dramatically improve the energy performance of a home. In addition, increased insulation -- R21-40 walls -- offers significantly higher energy performance. “Also, reducing the framing and having a tightly sealed envelope allows for more insulation and pays for itself in no time. “Simply maximizing the placement of windows -- these are all things that can boost energy efficiency,” she added.“By focusing on good design and construction practices, you can get a better performing home for reasonable incremental cost, but the design has to focus on proper construction and air sealing, which is why building science education, is so important,” she said, adding that regardless of the energy performance target, builders must increase their knowledge of building science and its impact on energy performance. “It does require a little more though from the builder to use less framing and increase insulation values. It takes more skill to follow through with contractors on the air sealing, air barriers and doing it all in the right locations, but this is ultimately how you maximize home energy performance, regardless of what the HERS score target might be.”Where Best Practices and Energy Upgrades IntersectBuilders will need to determine consumer willingness to pay for energy efficiency at various cost levels to determine if an “energy upgrade” approach makes sense. However, from a practical standpoint, builders would need some commonality, across upgrade options, to make the building process for homes of different efficiency levels feasible. The best way to do that is to have some energy efficient best practices that are undertaken on all builds, for example advanced framing, raised heel trusses, approaches to air barriers and sealing, things that impact the overall design and build process. Other items, like water heating and lighting efficiency, are more easily adjusted with less impact on the build process or other building systems. This would also help drive down the incremental costs for efficient building, improving the consumer return on investment. It is hard to say if energy upgrade packages are part of the future of housing, but if they are, they will be enabled by a broader, baseline level of energy efficient building practices.
I'm pleased to report that the Community Home Replacement Program's first project has started off extremely well given our late start into the building season!It was our pleasure to participate in this project and kick it off with a "Ground Breaking" ceremony held last week on December 7, 2016. There is so much local community support for this project all the way from residents though great companies like Hammond Lumber and Matthew's Brothers!But most of all, I'm thrilled that the kids at Foster Tech will be involved in this project. They will have hands on experience with green building technologies that will help them make better homes for the rest of their building careers!Absolutely everyone should have access to better homes, and we couldn't be more proud a part of this project!Below are the three known articles links if you're interested in learning more about the project:http://www.dailybulldog.com/db/features/wmca-led-collaboration-to-build-a-house/http://www.sunjournal.com/news/franklin/2016/12/12/new-chesterville-home-be-built-through-collaborative-effort/2044737http://thefranklinjournal.com/home-leisure-show-images/Since last Wednesday - the home is growing from the ground up and they now have a poured frost wall with the likelihood of the students beginning their work early next week.Wishing you all a great holiday season!!!With Love, Emily Mottram
Sorry for the lack of updated content over the last couple of weeks! I decided that it was finally time to take the Passive House Course. I've been teaching sustainable design for several years on top of practicing it here at Mottram Architecture. Although I knew the principles of passive house, and I have done blower door tests on a few local passive house homes, I had yet to take the certification course myself. Like all great programs, I needed continuing education credits for my HERS certification, so I decided to take the plunge, hence my long absence. The Certified Passive House Designer course "the German version" was only offered through New York Passive House Academy in NYC! It's a two week course that ends with a 3 hour exam. So I spent a considerable amount of time traveling back and forth between NYC and my office over the course of May. So thank you for your patience and here's some of what I learned.What passive house means to me is a lot of calculations, scientific data, cool but complicated construction details, and lots of integration to make sure all the parts work together. But what should passive house mean to you? Comfortable, durable, and healthy homes. Passive House, in an ideal scenario, would be able to heat a home with a small amount of electric heat added to the ventilation system. This may be possible in Germany, but unfortunately it's not quite possible here in New England. So some adjustments are made for longer, harsher winters, and higher humidity summers. I could list all the program requirements, but I think instead I'll give you the reasons why this is the direction we feel the building community should move.Targeting 70-80% reduction in energy demand in homes is great. It means building them tighter, smarter, with better insulation and fewer moving parts. We are trying to simplify the usability of the systems. I don't mean building smaller, in fact, in the passive house program, it's actually harder to achieve the standards with smaller homes. What I mean by simplify is the elimination of large and complicated heating systems. A better air quality system that doesn't account for fresh air being drawn in from any crack or crevice in the building envelop. And most importantly, understanding human comfort and keeping the system balanced to those comfort levels.Everyone can understand the value of a dollar + inflation, but the added benefit to reaching passive house targets is comfort. I recently sat down with someone who mentioned that a few years ago they built a new home. After moving in they discovered, that although it was beautiful, it had all the right finishes, it was terrible to live in. They felt somewhat jaded that they spent all this money to build a wonderful home and had to deal with drafty construction and discomfort in their home. Building a home will likely be the most expensive personal purchase you make in your lifetime. Getting it right the first time can be hard.
- Thick Insulation
- Prevention of moisture migration
- Optimize the window areas and sizes
- A reliable, steady supply of fresh air
Thick Insulation: I can't stress enough that when you build a home you should not skimp on the insulation. This is the most difficult thing to change after a home is finished. It also seems to be the first thing on the chopping block when budgets get tight. Resist the urge to change your insulation package. Not all insulation is created equal and changing the insulation package could be the difference between you loving your home and not being able to stand it. We have a range of temperature in which we are comfortable. When insulation is poorly installed, is used in the wrong application, or gets cut, the ability to keep the wall temperature warm in the winter and cool in the summer suffers. You can understand that radiators radiate heat into the space. Well the same is true in the opposite. If the wall is cold, you will radiate heat to the wall. Losing body heat makes you feel cooler and can often be confused with drafts. Our thermal comfort is directly affected by the surface temperatures around us. So poor insulation, or not enough insulation, causes us to feel uncomfortable in our homes. And on the plus side, the more insulation you have to reduce heat transfer, the less money you'll spend to keep your home warm.Air tightness: Houses do not need to breath. I repeat, houses do not need to breath. It is incredibly important to make sure that air moves through your home where you want and when you want. It's critically important to control moisture inside the house, along with other toxins that are often found in our building materials, the products we use, and the smells from what we cook. Outdoor air is necessary for healthy living, but people need to breath, not buildings. Drawing air though the building construction can lead to other more serious problems like the collection of moisture within walls. Air infiltration is also an extreme source of heat loss. Every time air leave your home, it's replaced by air from somewhere else (outside, the attic, walls, basement etc). In the wintertime, you have to re-heat every cubic volume of air that escapes. We seem to forget that the draft isn't just letting cold air in, it's letting warm air out, and that's costing you money.Prevention of moisture migration: As you can see, air tightness and moisture migration are tied very closely together. We will always have moisture within our homes. When we breath we respire moisture. When we cook we put moisture in the air. When we supply fresh air it comes with humidity from outside. Controlling the flow of that moisture, and exhausting it to the exterior, is important. When we have cold surfaces, the moisture in the air will deposit on the surface and can grow mold. When we have leaky buildings, the moisture in the air can be pushed into the wall cavities and create condensation and rot. When hot air rises and is able to escape into our attics it can condense on the inside and make us think we have roof leaks. When a hole is drilled for a chimney and not air sealed it can "rain" indoors. Controlling the moisture is so critically important.Optimum Windows: We no longer want to live like cavemen. We want bright airy beautiful windows that take advantage of the view, let in the sunlight for light and warmth, and allow us to feel like we are outdoors without the harsh conditions. But when it comes to windows, the public is sadly mis-informed and the US is lagging behind it's German friends. It's actually cheaper to buy a triple pane window in Germany than it is to buy a double pane window. They have understood that an additional layer of glass keeps the surface temperature high enough to reduce thermal discomfort and condensation. When achieving the passive house certification, it's still necessary to buy windows from Europe to meet the requirements. Tested for air infiltration (drafts), thermal bridging (component parts), and overall U-value, we are still waiting for US Manufacturers to meet all these standards. I'm not saying it's not possible, I'm simply stating that no US manufacturers are currently approved by the standard to meet all the requirements. However, when I say the public is misinformed I mean that doing a window replacement will not save you money in your home. It's not as simple as new windows, the true value and savings is in how they are installed. Passive house takes great care to monitor both the window itself and how it is installed. Most replacement window projects that see vast savings come from air sealing during the installation, not the window itself. The major difference in triple pane windows is the thermal comfort and reduction of condensation which cannot be attributed to performance, but can be counted in comfort.Fresh Air: I mentioned previously that houses do not need to breath, but people do, and this is critically important. When we first started tightening our homes to improve efficiency, we didn't know that fresh air was necessary. We created what many call "sick building syndrome". We had mold and contamination issues that gave building science a bad name. We have since discovered that there is a ratio of fresh air needed, per person, to have healthy indoor air. If you took note above, air isn't exactly "fresh" if you don't control where it comes from. Having leaky drafty buildings means high heat loss, but it also means the "fresh air" for the home may come from your wet basement, your dusty attic (and let's all admit we've seen a critter or two up there), or through dried out dirty cracks in our building envelope. With passive house, not only are you supplying fresh air from an intake that isn't positioned in the attic or next to the dumpster, but you're supplying it where you need it most. Most people work outside of the home, so when we are home we spend a majority of that time sleeping in our bedrooms. By providing fresh air to the bedrooms we can improve the quality of the space we live. We are also pre-heating the air so it is not introduced to the space at outdoor temperature. (Negative 15 in Maine in February) and capturing energy by not having to heat the incoming air. The ventilation system also extracts air from places that are high in moisture (kitchens & baths). In an ideal scenario, this will be the one piece of equipment you need in your home, and it should be simple to use and operate.If you're interested in the more detailed scientific data behind passive house, don't hesitate to reach out. If you're a passive house consultant, we'd love to connect with you! Here at MArch, we think the constant pursuit and sharing of knowledge is beneficial to everyone! We'd love to hear from you!
Cost-effective zero energy homes start with the design. Don't skimp on design if you want the performance without excessive cost. Nobody, I mean really, nobody, wants to live in a house that they spent hard-earned money building (or buying) and then shell out more money every year just to sit around in three sweatshirts because you refuse to turn the heat up. We want to sit in the warm sunshine, maybe drinking our coffee, reading the newspaper, and not worry about the dollars that are flying out the door. Did your mom ever yell "Do you live in a barn, close the door". Well we don't live in barns, and we don't want to live in drafty uncomfortable spaces either. We want to live in warm, cozy, happy, healthy homes. So how do we get there?One of the ways we do that is through energy modeling. During the design phase we always run our projects, especially net-zero bound projects, through our energy modeling software. I won't get into the weeds on all the data that goes into an energy model, but I will tell you what we use it for. Doing the energy modeling during the design phase allows us to evaluate different building techniques, heating systems, and performance data to come up with the best solution for your individual needs. The industry calls this technique, cost offsetting. If we can add more insulation to your walls, we can reduce the need for a central heating system. If we can reduce or eliminate the central heating system, the costs of construction go down. We like to use the term "house as a system" which means your house is a series of inter-related parts. When you change one part, if affects others. By using energy modeling software we can compare different construction techniques to come up with the best combination of different parts.Another cost offsetting technique that we love to use is orientation! So simple, and absolutely free. If we look at history, the ancient Romans knew which direction to face their buildings and how to use mass to absorb heat. Use the sun for passive solar gain, brilliant! Modern day building practices have almost completely ignored this one simple solution. In addition to orienting the house the right direction (south) we also take time to place windows to take advantage of the view while at the same time, eliminating windows where we don't need them. If we can cut down windows on the north side of the house, the performance of the home skyrocket. That doesn't mean we live with dark spaces. One of my favorite solutions to fewer windows is interior windows. A great way to add character and style to a house is to pick an old window and install it in an interior wall between a room with lots of natural light and one with low or no daylight. This is especially effective for lighting interior stairways without adding skylights to the roof. If you've been following my blog or know me in person, you've probably heard me say "windows never pay for themselves". So why pay a lot of money for a poor performing building material instead of spending time during the design process to pick and place the right window in the right location. Should you order triple pane windows from Poland? Maybe? Should you take the time to maximize windows in the best locations and eliminate them where not needed? Absolutely! Can you hit Net-Zero with builder grade double pane windows from a major window manufacturer? Yup! Are you starting to see the forest through the trees? Getting to 0 from 100 is all about design.To get all the way down to 0 though, you have to produce as much energy on your site as you use. We can super insulate the building, eliminate thermal bridging, reduce air infiltration, orient the house the correct way, but what we can't do is completely eliminate energy use. So we need to produce energy on site to offset the usage. If we oriented the house the correct direction, adding solar panels is usually the quickest and easiest on site power generator available. Some people, depending on location, may be able to harness wind power or hydro, but the average homeowner should be able to take advantage of PV. With the government subsidizing solar installations it's getting more cost-effective to add your own power generation to your home. Between off the grid battery banks and grid-tied net metering, there is a way to harness the power of the sun to produce electricity.If you're reading this article and thinking "but all these super efficient houses are ugly" you should go back and read one of my previous blog posts on selecting the right architect. We all have different taste, and if you select the right architect for your project it can be cost-effective, efficient, and beautiful. And here you thought building a house was simple, little did you know it's one of those giant jigsaw puzzles, that until you get all the parts lined up just right, you just have a pile of building materials that may or may not turn into a happy healthy home.There are lots of different ways to get to zero energy. So like I said at the very beginning, spend time during the design to get all the details right. You can simply monitor your actual energy usage for a year and prove that you made more energy then you used. Or you can take advantage of one of the certification programs out there for meeting the zero energy threshold. Here are a few:ProgramsLiving Future Institute: Zero Energy Building CertificationDepartment of Energy: Zero Energy Ready HomeNYSERDA Net Zero Energy Homes Low Rise New Construction ProgramLEED Zero Net Energy HomesIf you read this article and you're disappointed I didn't tell you exactly how to get to net-zero with all the tech trade industry specifics, feel free to reach out to me via email. I'm always happy to get into the weeds on how the technologies work and how they can be combined. All you need to do is run into one of my past students to know, I love to talk about this stuff! So reach out, leave me a comment, send me an email, start a discussion with me on Facebook. I promise, I'll respond!~ Emily Mottram, Mottram Architecture
Thanks for checking back in over the last couple of weeks to see the sneak peaks of this recently completed remodel! I told you last week that I would let you in on my favorite part of this whole renovation this last Friday in March! Well here it is: Insulation!!! I know, you were expecting something beautiful, fun, classy and wonderful. Don't be disappointed, this is absolutely our favorite part of this whole project. Of course we get excited about the beautiful things that we created here, but what we are most proud of, is that quiet comfort that is now found within this home. One of the reasons this homeowner reached out to us, was because of our specialty in energy efficient design. They loved their timber frame home, which already faces south, but there were challenges that just didn't work for their family. Functionality of space, the need to put wood in the wood stove, the questionable railing on the second floor and a particularly energetic 7 year old...the list goes on. But what they really wanted to know was, where are we losing energy? If we're going to do this renovation project, can we do some of these things to help improve the efficiency at the same time? And the answer of course is "We'd love for you to do that, let us show you how" Because this house is a timber frame, it had board ceilings. Although they are beautiful, the let the air leak right through the boards. And I'd love to say, that due to the age of the home, they had fiberglass insulation behind the boards, but the sad fact is, we still build this way today, and that's just not okay. So here, we took down the boards and salvaged them for the homeowner. Then we dense packed the rafter cavities with cellulose to improve the insulation and greatly cut down on air infiltration. We went back and forth but finally decided that sheet rocking the ceiling in the main space would brighten up the living area, so the boards were salvaged for a later project. (Replacing all the trim with flat stock casing, maybe a new bar in the sunroom, or if the 7 year old wins, a new ninja warrior course, oh the possibilities!!!). Now when you step into this home it is quiet. If they want to run the wood stove, they do, but they don't have to. The sun pours in the south windows and keeps the interior of the house warm all day long. Sometimes it's the simple things that you can't see that make a space truly wonderful.
What does it mean to build a super insulated home? I often get asked what my recommendation for insulation is. Both the type of insulation to use, and how much. But let me ask you a different question. What are you really looking for in your home? Comfort? Savings? Seriously I've never asked a group full of people if they'd like to spend less on utilities and had them say no! Maybe you're ready for retirement and you want to be able to shut it down for the winter and go south. Wouldn't it be great not to worry about frozen pipes or high heating costs when you're not there? But maybe you're the person who has to have beautiful granite countertops? Let me ask you, do you want to build a brand new dream home with all the interior bells and whistles and then sit around with three sweatshirts because it’s drafty or cold? If you answered, "Yes. I don't care how much it costs i'll just turn the heat up" then you should probably stop reading now. For us, we'd rather do the "hard to change" things right the first time, and come back and add the bells and whistles when we aren't using as much to operate our homes.There are so many components that go into a super insulated home. Simple things that have no cost like orienting your house the right direction. Or taking the time to think about where windows are positioned and how they are positioned. Our favorite thing to do isn't to spend thousands of dollars on windows, but to pick the right ones in the right locations, and minimize them everywhere else. These two things make a huge impact on the quality of the space within the home. If you've met me, you know I always say "Every house has an ugly side, let's make it the North side". Building a super insulated home may not be about the flashy and attractive things that people see when they walk into your house. Instead, it's about comfort. Super insulated homes are designed for the people inside. There are three things that affect our comfort levels: Temperature, Air Movement, and Humidity. Super insulated homes reduce air infiltration, heat loss, and control the interior moisture. They are specifically designed more maximum comfort. Reducing the unhappiness of the occupant significantly reduces the use of energy in the home. So let us tell you a little bit more about the “less beautiful” parts of your home that actually make your space so much more attractive.Tip number 1: Improving the insulation in your home is the hardest thing to do after it's built, and let's be honest, you'll never do it. So don't skimp on this part. Don't let this be the first thing you ask your builder to compromise on. If your budget is tight, let us tell you what things to do later that are super easy to replace or add. So let me give you my thoughts on insulation:
- All of my builders know not to utter the word “fiberglass insulation” in my presence unless we are talking about how to insulate a bedroom or bathroom for sound transmission. Fiberglass is cheap and cheerful and always installed by the guy who gets paid the least on the crew. It’s rarely installed correctly and it’s even more rarely installed in a vacuum (ie completely air tight cavity). Fiberglass insulation works by trapping air pockets in between all the fibers, however, building is rarely 100% air tight, so when air moves though the fiberglass fibers it eliminates the pockets of air and makes the fiberglass insulation more of a filter and less of an insulator. We’ve all seen dirty fiberglass, and that’s why.
- Cellulose, we love cellulose and use it almost exclusively in our projects. A properly dense packed wall will move and shift with the building as it drys out after construction. Dense packed cellulose insulation retards air infiltration making the house tighter and the insulation more effective. And it’s fire resistant. Yes, it can hold 130% of it’s weight in water if it gets wet. Although it’s not possible to make a completely air-tight structure, we are in the practice of making water tight structures, so we worry very little about moisture getting into our wall cavities. Does it mean it never happens, no, but we’ve had so few problems with it we would not hesitate to recommend it.
- Spray foam is probably the 3rd most popular insulation choice. Like all of the insulations it has good and bad properties. It air seals very well and can make extremely tight buildings. But it’s also a solid insulation, so when the building settles and dries out over the first couple of years, it can crack and pull away from the structure. It’s also pretty nasty, most foams are made of plastic and the agent that is used to make it liquid to install, cure, and dry is often toxic requiring specific equipment to install it and mandatory building evacuation for 24 hours or more. It’s not flame resistant and has to be covered by a 15 minute thermal barrier or sheetrock which can add expense and only gives you time to get out of the building. Once it starts burning it gives off toxic fumes that are extremely dangerous.
Here's the nitty gritty. When someone asks me for my recommendation on insulation I recommend the following: R-40 in the walls and R-60 in the ceiling. In cold climate building we also add 2”-6” of rigid foam below the slab. To get a little more complicated, I also try to minimize something we call thermal bridging. Essentially, thermal bridging is a path from the interior to the exterior of the home with little to no insulation. If you think of a standard wall construction, you have studs with insulation in between the studs. The thermal bridge happens at the studs. Wood has an R-value of 1 per inch. Everywhere you have a stud in a typical wall it has an R-value of 5.5 in a 2x6 construction. In between each stud you have insulation with an R-value of 19. So the stud at 5.5 is the poorest performing section of your wall and a direct path for cold to transfer from outside to inside.And lastly, but most importantly, super insulated homes aim to be as air tight as possible. Every seam, crack, gap, or location where two materials meet is sealed with foam or caulking. It’s a common misconception that buildings need to breath. People need to breath, buildings don’t. Does that mean you don’t need fresh air? Absolutely not!!! What it means is that we control how much and where that air comes from. Instead of travelling through your dusty insulation and your dirty basement, we introduce that fresh air directly from outside. In addition to being able to control where the air comes from, it's equally as important to control how much air comes in. Most people probably remember from high school science that hot air rises. Well when that air rises and exits through your attic you have to heat the air that comes in to replace it. So the draftier your house is, the more it costs to keep it warm. And if you remember from a couple paragraphs ago, our comfort levels are directly affected by air movement.Yes, I'm asking you to spend more during construction to put in better insulation and air seal everything you possibly can. But if I could prove it would pay for itself in a very short amount of time, would you be interested in knowing how long?We hope you’ll visit again to learn more about insulation, windows, geo thermal and air source heat pumps, zero energy, and lots of other cool building related topics over the next couple of months. Reach out to us and let us know your questions, we are always happy to answer any questions you might have, and several other people reading this blog may have the same exact question, so you’re doing them a favor by reaching out!Until next time, have a warm and comfortable life!