Passive House: The House of the Future | Sheri Koones

Passive House: The House of the Future | Sheri Koones

smaller_version_400x400Posted: 05/08/2014

From our old friend Sheri Koones in the Huffington Post yesterday. We appeared in prefabulousher popular 2012 book Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid: Your Path to Building an Energy-Independent Home.

The Passive House (or Passivhaus) (PH) was first established in Germany and is quickly becoming a standard in many parts of the world, including the United States. Whereas other important standards, such as LEED), focus on many environmentally friendly aspects of the home, such as site location, sustainability, materials, water efficiency and so on, Passive House only focuses on energy and ventilation.

Inspiring and Building the Next Generation of Residential Energy Professionals

DOE STUDENT CHALLENGE DESIGN AWARDSThe Challenge Home Student Design Competition seeks to inspire the next generation of architects, engineers, construction managers, and entrepreneurs to design homes that meet requirements for zero energy ready performance that are affordable and market-ready. In turn, the competition provides students with skills and experience for careers in clean energy.

This week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced today the winners of the first competition. The winning teams produced market-ready, state of the art design solutions for high-performance homes that are energy efficient, comfortable and durable. The designs are for zero energy ready homes, meaning their high performance features sharply reduce energy use and all or most of the remaining energy use can be offset with renewable energy.

MONTAGE DESIGN TEAM WINNERSWe are honored that one of the winning teams, Montage Builders – Northern Forest, thanked Tedd Benson and Bensonwood Head of Engineering Chris Carbone for inspiration and support. Tedd and Chris met team members and SUNY – ESF students Michelle Tinner and Peter LiCongo recently at the NY Green Building Conference where he was a keynote speaker and Carbone led a session on “Designing and Building with Heavy Timber.”

Montage Builders – Northern Forest student team leader Michelle Tinner describes her team and their influences this way:

“We were very inspired by Tedd’s use of the word montage. Here is how we define the term as it relates to our team name: Montage Builders – Northern Forest. Montage, a combination of different elements that forms a unified whole, references our teams diverse multi-cultural and multi-generational aggregation of perspectives and experiences, which is the key for the success of our design.

Northern Forest acknowledges the importance of regionally specific design and the default (pre-development) landscape of our region – used for accurate site ecosystem service assessment.

Our team was unique in that we brought together students and faculty from three different educational institutions – all other teams represented just one. We also integrated may different disciplines which supported our holistic approach. We have communications designers, interior designers, architects, landscape architects, environmental scientists, engineers, and construction managers on our team.

An important parallel between Tedd Benson’s approach and our’s is the use of natural materials, the reliance on traditional ecological knowledge, and the reference to historically relevant architecture. We used American Craftsman style architecture which was popularized by a local designer Gustav Stickley. The style is inherently honest and promotes the use natural materials like wood, which is locally available and environmentally preferred, it discourages functionless additions such as fake dormers (the McMansion’s failed attempt at not looking silly), and can be found throughout Syracuse’s neighborhood ensuring that our design would fit the local pattern language. Many of the other designs at the competition were modern.

We were all delighted to have Tedd attend our presentation at the New York State Green Building Conference. He smiled at us the entire time we were up there presenting – probably because he was pleasantly surprised that we were using his favorite word. Having his support and that of Chris Carbone, who got us a timber framed pergola quote at the 11th hour was encouraging and meant a lot to us.”

DOE CHALLENGE HOME LOGOThe team was led by three faculty advisors: Paul Crovella, Ken Bobis and Kevin Stack.

Right now, there’s a need to develop cost-effective designs that are at least 40-50% more efficient that a standard new home. These homes are so energy efficient they offset all or most annual energy consumption with a renewable energy system, such as solar.

To support this increased demand, the Energy Department’s Building Technologies Office is helping to develop a strong workforce with core competencies in building science, including direct entry workers, recent college graduates, and those in continuing education through a number of high-impact initiatives and programs, such as the Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals, Solar Decathlon, and the Energy Department’s Challenge Home Student Design Competition.

What One Modern House Tells Us About the Future of Urban Building – Next City

via What One Modern House Tells Us About the Future of Urban Building – Next City.

On a Tuesday morning not long ago, I entered a half-assembled house tucked into a quiet corner of Somerville, Mass. In much of this small city, adjacent to Cambridge, you can no longer walk down the block without passing a yoga studio or an artisanal butcher. But this residential street still felt more like the blue-collar town of a previous generation. Outside, a yellow crane lifted a floor deck high overhead. A few men wearing hard hats and tool belts busied themselves inserting screws and climbing ladders. MORE

LEED Platinum-Certified Bensonwood Project Wins 4th Award

A view of the Burr and Burton Mountain Campus Academic Building as you approach from the road.

A view of the Burr and Burton Mountain Campus Academic Building as you approach from the road.

The LEED Platinum-Certified Burr and Burton Academy Mountain Campus in Peru, VT, which Bensonwood designed, engineered and built, is a recipient of the 2014 Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence.

Environmental excellence awards have been given since 1993 to recognize efforts and actions of Vermonters to conserve and protect natural resources, prevent pollution, and promote environmental sustainability. To date, more than 200 efforts have been recognized.

“These projects contribute significantly to Vermont’s environmental quality and encourage others to take similar actions to protect our resources,” said Deb Markowitz, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. “They demonstrate the importance of innovation and partnerships in enhancing and sustaining Vermont’s environmental quality.”

Award winners will be recognized at the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Annual Spring Conference on May 14 at the Davis Center on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington.

front of BBA's mountain campus by Bensonwood

The front entrance of the LEED Platinum-certified, net-zero energy building.

This is the fourth award in the past four months for the building. BBA’s Mountain Campus also won Efficiency Vermont’s 2014 Better Buildings by Design “Best of the Best” in Commercial Building Design and Construction, recognizing innovative and integrated design approaches for energy efficiency in Vermont’s commercial and residential buildings.

BBA Heater

The ultra-efficient masonry heater in the school building is integral to warming the building.

In November, the Mountain Campus earned a prestigious Engineering News-Record “Award of Merit” and in January 2014, it won the “AIA New Hampshire Merit Award.” The AIA jury said: “The respect for the environment is as integral to the architecture as it is to the mission of the school. The jury appreciated how the structure, columns, and framing define the composition and are a metaphor for the forest setting.”

Like Unity Homes and other Bensonwood custom timber frame projects, the building was largely prefabricated offsite and erected quickly in the forested setting to minimize impact to the local ecology.

Industry Insider: Tedd Benson – Timber Home Living

Industry Insider: Tedd Benson – Timber Home Living.

One of the most celebrated homebuilders in America, Tedd Benson is a true champion of the traditional timber-frame home — with a modern twist. 

Tedd Benson, Founding Owner, Bensonwood

Tedd Benson, Founding Owner, Bensonwood & Unity Homes

Ask any member of the timber-frame community who has had a major impact on reviving the art of traditional timber framing in recent years, and you’ll most likely hear the same response time and time again: Tedd Benson. READ MORE

Slideshow: 5 Modern American Farmhouses | Dwell

Slideshow: 5 Modern American Farmhouses | Dwell. “A pitched roof doesn’t necessarily mean a home is stuck in the dark ages of the American architectural vernacular. In fact, the following modern farmhouses—which either underwent a transformation or were built with the style in mind—prove that gables and porches can be very modern indeed.” We couldn’t agree more! In fact, Tedd Benson has been saying this for years, but we’re glad the world is catching on…. tradd2-r1tradd3-r1tradd1-p2-ttradd1-p1-tvarm3-r1varm2-r1

Why We Use Dense-Packed Cellulose Insulation

Bensonwood's proprietary OBPlus Wall

A cross-section of Bensonwood’s cellulose-filled OBPlus Wall®.

Many have asked us why we use dense-packed cellulose insulation in our OBPlus Wall® panels, roofs and some ceilings and floors. Here are some of the cellulose advantages in our “Montage Building” system:

  • Our cellulose insulation is made from recycled newspapers treated with a natural mineral borate to give it a Class A fire rating as well as resistance to mold and pests.
  • The dry cellulose is blown into all the framing cavities at a settle-proof density (dense-packed), filling any shape with a continuous thermal insulation layer. The blowing process compresses the cellulose to a density of between 3 and 4 lbs/cu.ft. In addition to preventing any settling of the material, the dense-packed cellulose also cuts down convection that can occur around batt type insulation and in low-density blown fiberglass, particularly in colder temperatures.
ob plus wall with dense packed cellulose

Cellulose being blown into a Bensonwood wall panel.

  • Dense-packed cellulose blocks air movement better than fiberglass batts. While sprayfoam also seals the enclosure against air infiltration well, its rigid consistency when cured may allow it to crack as framing members around the insulation dry and move over time. Cellulose has the flexibility to allow for such movement without resulting gaps.
  • Similar to wood fiber, paper cellulose fiber manages moisture well, taking in and releasing the moisture effectively. As a result, indoor relative humidity is much more even due to the hygroscopic buffering capabilities of the cellulose insulation. This is in contrast to the hydrophobic characteristics of fiberglass and foam insulations, which lack this capability and can cause a home’s interior to experience significant swings in humidity when weather changes. So, with its tremendous insulating and moisture management characteristics, cellulose helps to buffer temperature and humidity extremes.
  • While foam insulation has a slightly higher R-Value per inch, cellulose takes less energy to manufacture than any other insulation material. This embodied energy includes the total energy required to transport the raw materials, then manufacture and distribute the finished product. Fiberglass has up to 10 times more embodied energy than cellulose and foam products have as much as 64 times more.
  • Cellulose insulation is one of the greenest building products, having the highest level of recycled content in the insulation industry—as much as 85%. Fiberglass has a maximum of 40% recycled content and foam products little or none.
  • Cellulose sequesters carbon in a building’s components instead of releasing it into the environment. Cellulose insulation is made from recycled paper that might otherwise end up in landfills, releasing methane as it decomposes, or be burned, releasing CO2. This sequestration results in a positive carbon balance which helps the efforts to lower the material’s impact on climate change.
  • Cellulose insulation is produced regionally, employing local recycling programs and independent recyclers.
  • While all insulation provides sound reduction, cellulose has approximately three times the density of fiberglass as well as fibrous consistency, delivering enhanced sound dampening.

For more details on cellulose insulation, visit http://www.nationalfiber.com/cel-Pak.htm or http://cellulose.org/GreenestInsulation/.

What dense-packed cellulose looks like inside a wall.

What dense-packed cellulose looks like inside a wall.

Solar Unity Home, Contract to Complete in 20 Weeks

A year ago when Carol and Ed Reardon wanted to build a healthy, energy-efficient, year-round residence on a lake, they knew whom to call.Bensonwood had recently launched its sister company, Unity Homes, which offers healthy, high-performance, more affordable homes.  Here was their chance to own a high-quality Bensonwood home on a budget they could afford. Best of all, they discovered they would be living in the home in only five months’ time.

The home, a Xyla 132, is the first Unity home to feature solar electric panels, which power the HVAC system, including an air source heat pump for both heating and cooling, and heat recovery ventilation. Because of the extremely low energy demands of the Unity building shell (the highly-insulated homes meet or exceed Passive House levels of air tightness), and with the state and federal incentives, the solar panels by Solar Source made sense financially.

Unity Homes Xyla Floor PlanThe home site, on a picture-perfect lake in southern New Hampshire, had been in Carol’s family for decades, so she became the driving force behind the project. The first step was to remove the old camp sitting on the land with serious rot and mold in the crawl space and above the ceilings.

Unity Homes Xyla open floor planCarol was particularly interested in the health aspects of Unity homes. Living with allergies, she wanted cabinets and vanities with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), wood construction and a sophisticated ventilation system. All Unity homes share these health benefits, along with solid, light-filled, quiet spaces that promote a sense of well-being.

Carol says, “Unity came along at the right time for us. We have downsized to a beautiful new home where we can enjoy our retirement years in a place we love.” Ed Reardon adds, “Bensonwood and Unity people have been a pleasure to work with throughout this process. Special praise goes to Unity project manager Ryan Lawler who couldn’t have been more helpful, responsive and encouraging.”

Seriously? | Tedd Benson on Homebuilding

The New House Rules | Tedd Benson on Homebuilding.

In my last post, I vented a little about the cover of the largest professional homebuilding magazine (Byline, “Smart Building Starts Here”) depicting a construction site that might have been exceptional 100 years ago, but today should be an industry embarrassment, not a magazine cover. Finding that the photo proudly displayed on the cover was only part of the reason for my dismay.

The home under construction was to be the “New American Home,” the featured model home at the International Builders Show.  Its purpose is to show off the latest process and products our industry has to offer.

For a refresher, here is that magazine cover with story about the model project under construction, apparently a paragon image of 21st century homebuilding. The reality is building materials in the dirt, guys cutting and shaping each and every piece that goes into the building (awkwardly, with small tools), and no organization that systematically improves quality or achieves better efficiency.

What we really see is the lurch into yet another century of homebuilding evolution, still  unimpeded by progress.

SMALL Builder002“The New American Home” that was the outcome of that site construction was also 7,000 square feet, and that represents the other side of the American problem in homebuilding. Big is more important than good.  My intent was to address the building process problem, but readers were more repulsed by the size. After all, as a model intended to be an exemplar, we can probably keep building in inefficient ways, and we can keep giving the American public less housing quality  than they need and deserve, but we can’t keep building that big. So I get it.

Nevertheless, I’m surprised that people take for granted the inherent anachronism of the typical homebuilding process.  Yet its stasis in the context of contemporary technology and worldwide manufacturing advancement is so pervasive that its lack of progress is invisible, and its inefficient and ineffective reality is widely accepted, and sometimes even lauded as evidence of craft. I see an emperor with no clothes; others say he’s always been naked and that’s what makes him so kingly.

Here are two homes I recently saw under construction in the mid-west.

KSjobsite1

Ksjobsite2

Take a minute. Study those photos, as if you were managing the efficiency and quality of a process that matters immensely to the life and economics of our society. Just look at those two sites! Look at the guys sorting through the “pick-up-sticks” in the upper photo. What could they possibly be doing, and who’s paying for it? What do you think about their care of the materials? In the second photo, the dumpster size speaks volumes, and we have more sticks in the dirt, and a guy carrying a single framing member over his shoulder. Why is any of this so accepted in 2014? In any other industry where quality and efficiency matters a company employing this sort of manufacturing standard would be out of business in a nano-second.

As a builder who has spent his professional life trying to improve building quality, I find all of the above examples rather alarming, as I do the home quality standard that usually is the process outcome.  But I guess I’m in the minority.

The final photo is even more revealing. My co-worker, Hans Porschitz, was looking for a photo of the standard building process to add to a  presentations he is doing. In his Google search, he found an article from the Wall Street Journal from 2012, titled: Housing Starts Surge as Confidence Grows. The point of the article was that home construction was starting to come back strong and that all was beginning to look good for building construction. Great news, which at the time people like me read with deep interest, hoping the long recession malaise would finally end. But here’s the kicker: look at the photo that illustrated that positive news about homebuilding:

Our Homebuilding Standard

Seriously? I don’t know where to start, but apparently the editors at the WSJ thought this was an appropriate iconic photo to illustrate the positive bustle of an industry coming out of the doldrums and now thriving again. Aren’t you glad? Would you want to own that house? Is this how much our homes matter to us? How long will we accept these wooden tents adorned with facades of drywall and garnished with amenities? A few things come to me:

  • There’s not a legal labor rate low enough to justify the methods.
  • They don’t care about the construction materials at all.
  • Waste is no problem.
  • There is no pride with anyone there or it would look different.
  • None of these people care anything about OSHA safety regulations, much less their own safety.
  • What else do you see?

Honestly, I just don’t understand it, but this IS the American way of building and we as a society apparently take it for granted that this is as it should be.  There’s an industry and cultural assumption that it’s the best we can do, I guess. The first photo is from the number one homebuilding industry trade magazine, and the last one is from our number one business newspaper. Our country, therefore, obviously thinks our homebuilding process is just hunky-dory.

But when you think about it, is it any wonder that: building construction has become the last refuge of the otherwise unemployable, and certainly doesn’t make any list of desirable careers for young people? …that natural disasters lay whole communities flat? …that the typical American home is an energy sieve? ..and a maintenance nightmare? …that there is typically at least a 15% defect rate (structure, safety, health, not cosmetic) when other industries are chasing fractions of 1%?

Homes DO matter. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, our culture creates our homes, thereafter our homes create our culture. The need for urgency is far more important than only energy and sustainability; it’s about the soul of who we are.

We CAN and therefore must do better. Much better. There are many of us working “in the trenches” to bring a better destiny to American homebuilding, and that includes all my associates at Bensonwood and Unity Homes, who have dedicated our professional lives to that proposition.

Though the enemy–a recalcitrant, misaligned industry–is strong, we will prevail. Better homebuilding is coming to America.