Southern Comfort: A Unity Zūm Rises in Asheville, NC

front 2Zum_Mimken_DD_Page_1Situated 2,000 ft. above sea level in the Appalachian mountains, Asheville, North Carolina has a full range of temperatures with average January lows of 28 degrees F and average July highs of 85 degrees F, making it a prime location for Unity Homes’ energy-stingy houses. In a nutshell, Zūm’s low-load building envelope offers year-round comfort with minimal energy input, making F3 (fossil fuel free) living easily achievable. And when combined with energy rebates and incentives, the Zūm the home was even more affordable.

In addition to financial health, Zūm promotes personal health as well with its green, low-VOC materials throughout, exceptional indoor air quality, minuscule room-to-room and floor-to-ceiling temperature variants, abundance of natural light, and sound dampening shell that keeps outside noises outside.

2013.11.27_Zum_Mimken_DD_Page_2The client for Unity’s first Zūm, Nick Mimken, is a repeat client, having built his first house with Bensonwood back in 2001: an island house on Nantucket. According to Nick: “I had had a very good experience building the timber frame Nantucket house: it proved to be everything you said it would be…and more,” adding that “the Bensonwood architect, Bill Holtz, and the crew had been top notch and worked amazingly well with the local builder.”

On his latest homebuilding project with Unity Homes, Nick continues:

 Fast forward a dozen or so years and this time around I was thinking about downsizing and wanted something smaller and energy efficient when I learned about Bensonwood’s new Unity Homes. Being interested in zero energy design, I visited your headquarters, met with architect Randall Walter and sales person John Dunbar, and as before, I was impressed with the way you use the latest technology. They walked me through the computer modeling and site lines, etc. and I was sold on the process.

IMG_7150Unity Homes provided a “Tempo Offering;” a package including the home’s shell, millwork and mechanicals—ideal for do-it-yourselfers wanting to complete their prefab home in phases, or in this instance, for a client looking to build on a distant site outside our home region of New England—hiring a local builder to finish the home.

MIMKEN ZUMThe builder, Jody Guokas of JAG Construction, is finishing out the home with contemporary cement panels similar to those used on our Unity House college president’s residence in Maine, and on the Catherine Houghton Arts Center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Again, according to the owner/builder:

 “My local green builder, Jody Guokas, wasn’t interested in the project initially, but when he learned that Bensonwood had designed the home and would be installing the shell, he jumped on it. He wanted to learn from Bensonwood’s processes. One member of Jody’s crew had even worked at Bensonwood for a spell, so the fit was perfect.”

 P1040501The build site is a challenging, heavily-wooded lot, with the home’s footprint coming close to the setbacks on all four sides. This required the crane to precisely pick and set the wall and roof panels to avoid tree limbs, power lines and neighboring houses.IMG_7156

As for project management, Nick added: “Unity’s Ryan Lawler deserves a blue star. He worked tirelessly with me, calmly working out problems.”

Asked to sum up his experience, Nick Mimken said, “For me, it’s a story of good people, good reputation, and good process.” He then offered, “It’s a small world, so this counts.”

 

Project Update: A Solar Studio

studio-001When Keene, New Hampshire photographer Steve Holmes wanted a studio space, he was driven by a lifestyle decision to connect his business to family and home. He also wanted more touch points for an enhanced client experience, where they could initially meet Steve, discuss the shoot, be photographed, then review the finished work.

studio-003Holmes, who specializes in portrait and wedding photography, came to Bensonwood through a recommendation from a friend for whom we recently built a home in Idaho. Holmes knew what he wanted for his studio and provided Bensonwood architect Randall Walter with Adobe Illustrator sketches of his ideas.

The Holmes Studio as completed complements the local vernacular; the exterior is a traditional shed-barn design, while the interior has a clean, contemporary look with a more refined feel. It features high ceilings to accommodate professional lighting and ample windows to allow plenty of soft, natural light from the north side into the studio space.

studio-002The versatile 1,224 square foot space features a covered porch and a greeting room to meet with clients and show them portraits, a bathroom, dressing room, workshop and storage space. A large, rigid projection screen on the back of the massive sliding, barn-style door dividing the office and studio spaces was Steve’s idea, which woodworking team leader Kevin Bittender made a reality in Douglas fir, customized with Better Barns hardware and a low-VOC finistudio-005sh.studio-004

Because of his engagement in the process, Steve found the design-build process very enjoyable. He especially likes the feature of the 3,000 pound single beam that spans the length of the building, adding a subtle nod to the rustic New England vernacular and balancing the contemporary interior design with the heavy timbers for which Bensonwood is so well known.

Solar SourceIMG_4837 in Keene, New Hampshire supplied the grid-tied photovoltaic system that, over a year, produces more electricity than the studio needs. Holmes says he really enjoys watching his electric meter spin backwards as the 13.85 kW solar electric system feeds energy back to the utility.IMG_4838

A White Mountains Contemporary

Q&A with Owner/Builder Jeff Gilbert

smallMBR Glass Porch_1

How did you learn about us?

“I am Vice-Chair of the board of the non-profit New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and last fall we attended a retreat which toured  Southwestern NH, stopping at the Bensonwood Woodworking Shop in Alstead. While there, Tedd Benson showed up and gave an engaging talk on Bensonwood’s blend of craft and technology to build better houses. That eventually led to continued discussions with Tedd and (Bensonwood architect) Randall Walter on a home project I was working on in the White Mountains.”

What about Bensonwood resonated with you?

“I had a generic interest in utilizing computer technology in the integration of design and systems. The flexibility implicit in Bensonwood’s design and fabrication appealed to me. I was especially interested in Bensonwood’s approach to building systems: craftsmen-created with superior fit and finish, all leading to energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes. The whole concept of applying technology to the home to make a better product interested me.”

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How did you get interested in building science?

“For a while, after law school in 1971, I moonlighted for Emil Hanslin & Tony Hanslin of Yankee Barn, selling lots at the Eastman Four Season recreational community in Grantham, NH, when I wasn’t doing my day job as a lawyer. I became interesting in building systems and off-site fabrication, as a better approach to building homes.”

“Later I became interested in the fabrication of homes and followed Acorn Deck House and others.”

How did you arrive at the distinctive design for your home?

“I had been working with an architect to design a contemporary home, but was looking for a more  overtly contemporary and distinctive design. Working with Randall Walter and Tim Olson, we were able to achieve this through the use of  dramatic shed roofs  and glass curtain walls.”

How interested were you in energy performance”

smallGilbert_7“In one of my conversations with Tedd, he mentioned that Bensonwood homes, properly sited, could maintain 42 degrees F in the dead of a northern New England winter—with the heat turned off! This appealed to me because we’ll only live part of the year in our White Mountain home. Also, with the low load of the building envelope, I can use a relatively small forced air HVAC system.”

Tell me about the property and the siting of your house.

“The house is sited south and east to take advantage of the spectacular 180 degree view overlooking the jewel of the state park system: Franconia Notch and Ridge, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Liberty, Haystack Mountain, and Cannon Mountain ski area and, further to the east, Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. This southeast exposure will also take advantage of passive solar.”

smallMBR Glass Porch_2“My wife, who had grown up in the Littleton area and I  bought the property from a next door neighbor, who happened to be her choir teacher in school. The land abuts a two-acre conservation parcel that is a lupin field.”

How have you found working with Bensonwood so far?

“It’s been a collaborative experience: working harmoniously to develop the design. And as far as flexibility goes, being a developer, I like that I could get the high quality shell from Bensonwood, and then general contract the job myself. That really made sense for me.”

 

jeffrey-gilbertJeff Gilbert is a businessman who graduated from Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He practiced law for 14 years, and thereafter spent a number of years as an investment banker. Currently, he is one of the two principals of W.J.P. Development, LLC that owns and manages three community shopping centers in New Hampshire. Since 2000, Mr. Gilbert has been active in politics, serving as a NH State Representative until 2005. From 2002 to 2004, he was Vice Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Chairman of the State Revenue Estimating Panel, Chairman of the Joint House and Senate Economic Development Study Committee, and a member of the joint House and Senate Higher Education Oversight Committee. Mr. Gilbert presently serves the State as Treasurer of the Port Advisory Council and as a member of the State Parks System Advisory Council. He is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of New Hampshire Public Broadcasting and President of the Board of Trustees of The Housing Partnership, a local organization providing affordable and workforce housing in the seacoast region. He is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Portsmouth Athenaeum. Mr. Gilbert has three grown children and resides with his wife in Rye, New Hampshire.

 

Bensonwood Featured in History Channel Special

Bensonwood is proud to have been featured on a new two-hour H2 special: “Hidden History In Your House,” which premiered May 22nd. Host  Kevin O’Connor traveled the country uncovering the house as a technological time 1012574_401779406626551_5193879631165858028_ncapsule centuries in the making. Kevin peels back the houses we live in to reveal the surprising ways that the story of America and the history of the world are hidden inside.

The This Old House crew spent a very long, but very fun day here with Tedd and associates talking timber frame history, from harvesting the forests of the eastern woodlands to finishing and raising the timbers of a colonial home. It was also a wonderful opportunity for us to reunite with our old TOH  friends including director Thomas Draudt, cinematographer Jay Maurer and Kevin O’Connor. It’s hard to believe it has been six years since our Weston House project for the 2008 season, a new prefab, eco-friendly home reminiscent of barns built centuries ago.

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Rising Star, Builder Shawn Brown

shawn_brownPLACEHOLDERWhen Shawn’s high school Building Trades instructor, Chris Moore, told him of a job opening at Bensonwood, he jumped on it. Unlike some of his fellow classmates, Shawn wasn’t taking every shop course he could merely for the credits. He wanted to become a great builder. Now, coming up on his one year anniversary at Bensonwood/Unity Homes, Shawn gained valuable experience framing and sheathing panels in our Building Systems shop and traveling to regional job sites assembling the highly fabricated, panelized elements into home shells.

Since joining the company, Shawn has been amazed at how far building science has come and is eager to learn every aspect of Bensonwood’s processes. He especially likes working a few weeks in a controlled shop setting and the next week or two at an exotic job site. According to Shawn, “It’s never dull, and it’s really exciting seeing these amazing homes come together on site in a matter of days knowing the precision of the fabrication made it possible.”

Hungry for new experiences, Shawn noted, “I’ve gotten to travel to picturesque, distant, and often challenging job sites doing what I love to do.” These have included building projects as varied as a beautiful shore home in Gloucester, MA, “within a stone’s throw from the ocean,” a religious retreat in Woodbourne, NY, “with the (January) temperatures dropping to 20 below,” and most recently, a high-performance Unity Zūm home in Asheville, NC.

This summer, as a testament to his enthusiasm and quality of work, Shawn will go on site for the first time as a job captain to assemble a Unity Homes Xyla. “They’ll be an experienced job captain looking over my shoulder,” he confided, “but I’ll be responsible for raising the home’s weather-tight shell.” With Bensonwood’s ongoing culture of continuous learning, it won’t be long before he’s looking over the shoulder of some new kid with dreams of becoming a great builder.