1st evoDOMUS – Bensonwood Project Underway

evodomus rendering

Architect’s Rendering by Alexander Kolbe

When husband and wife architects Alexander and Michelle Kolbe, co-founders of evoDOMUS, a Cleveland-based firm, wanted to design and build high-quality, sustainable homes in the U.S., they went looking for a manufacturing partner who could match the quality of homes they built in Alexander’s native country of Germany.

They sought a montage homebuilding company of the caliber of the venerable Huf Haus and Baufritz, Germany’s leading off-site building companies, which helped establish off-site panelized building as the primary construction methodology throughout Europe. Both companies are more than a century old and, like Bensonwood Unity Homes, combine timber framing influences with advanced design and high-performance building.

However, the Kolbes wanted a more personal connection to the client through the entire process—the level of attention a smaller company could provide—to reduce the stress homeowners often associate with a custom house project, such as designers not tuned-in to their clients’ needs, unreliable contractors, as well as schedule and budget overruns. After thoroughly researching high-quality panelized builders, fabricators and timberframers, the names Tedd Benson and Bensonwood kept popping up. So Alexander got on the phone and, much to his astonishment, Tedd picked up.

Upon hearing of the Kolbes’ high standards and montage building interest, Tedd replied, “That’s exactly what we’re doing!” A meeting with Tedd and project manager Hans Porschitz followed and it was soon apparent that the synergies and shared values of the two companies were aligned. A relationship was established: Bensonwood would fabricate the evoDOMUS home shells.

Now, the first joint project between evoDOMUS and Bensonwood is underway in Fairfield County Connecticut: a 5,000+ SF 4-bedroom Bauhaus-inspired modernist home in the “Cloud” Series of evoDOMUS homes. Strikingly original and family-friendly, Cloud is also inspired by current Mexican and Spanish interpretations of modern residential architecture. Customized to their clients’ needs, the home’s clean lines, contemporary materials and use of advanced building science are all characteristic of evoDOMUS home designs.

evodomus elevation

East & West Elevations

Designing the home for its two-acre site had its challenges; its wooded setting with wetlands, an awkward slope and rock ledges all needed careful  consideration. In addition, the home had to incorporate passive as well as active solar design, requiring precise siting along with design elements such as a south-facing second floor loggia to shade the first floor in summer months.

The Kolbes’ strong focus on sustainability prompted the use of triple-glazed Loewen windows and a Zender Energy Recovery Ventilator, which recovers up to 90% of the energy of the extract air to warm the incoming fresh air, saving on heating costs. The air distribution system then channels the optimally tempered fresh air to individual rooms as needed. The exterior is clad in Resysta siding made of rice husks, common salt and mineral oil, which makes it both environmentally friendly as well as extremely weather resistant against sun, rain, snow or salt water. Resysta siding also requires minimal care and offers the look and feel of wood and can be painted.
evodomus logo

The home has 4,100 SF of living space with 2 stories above grade and a 900 SF finished basement and 924 SF garage. Off the garage are a mud room, a half bath and a yoga fitness room. The first floor has an open great room with living and dining areas adjoining another open space with a kitchen and family room. Rounding out the first floor is a bedroom/study with adjacent bath. The second floor plan includes the master bedroom, three additional bedrooms (each open to a long balcony), a family bath, a study and a laundry room.

evodomus floor plan

First Floor Plan

EvoDOMUS uses low or no VOC paints and finishes in their homes and only formaldehyde-free materials. Material selections consist primarily of products with high-recycle content, as well as FSC certified woods and bamboo.

Alexander and Michelle Kolbe wanted to offer their customers not only the highest quality, sustainable homes available, but an excellent experience as well. By partnering with Bensonwood, evoDOMUS could put its resources into delivering superior design, customer service and care, rather than making investment in fabrication facilities, with financial partners and the loss of control and client interaction that would imply.

By maintaining that control, evoDOMUS is able to fulfill its mission of making homes as beautifully designed and high quality as German cars—with a customer experience to match.

Unity Homes: Indoor Air Quality and Comfort

unity homes kitchenYou can live 21 days without food, 7 days without water, but only a few minutes without air. Every day we take 21,600 breaths; that’s nearly 8 million breaths of air a year. By weight, we take in more air than food: 4,500 times our own weight in an average lifetime.*

On average, we spend 90% of our lives indoors, and approximately 2/3 of that time is spent at home. Today’s health conscious consumers will pay a premium for healthy, natural foods, but often give less thought to indoor air quality or overall healthiness of their homes. A recent McGraw Hill Construction report, “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings,” finds that most homeowners turn to family, friends or coworkers for advice on home products and practices, with few requesting advice from the builders, remodelers and architects who know most about how these decisions might affect occupant health.

However, homebuyers are increasingly concerned about the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) of their homes. Pollutants like mold, radon, carbon monoxide and toxic chemicals are receiving greater attention than ever as poor IAQ is linked to a multitude of health issues. Some pollutants cause health problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches or fatigue. Other pollutants cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer, and other severe long-term health issues. At high concentrations, pollutants such as carbon monoxide, can be fatal.

Given how important air is to life, let’s examine perhaps the most important attribute of Unity Homes, and properly built high-performance homes in general, which is how they can help you breathe easier and live healthier.

air pohoda ERV

Air Pohoda’s Ultima 240E i-ERV uses an Enthalpy heat exchange core

To start, only low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) materials and finishes are used in the construction of Unity highly-insulated, tightly-sealed, energy-efficient homes, resulting in exceptional levels of indoor air quality. Because of their extraordinary air-tightness, the indoor air is continuously replenished with fresh and conditioned air, reducing the energy losses that typically come from whole house ventilation. This is accomplished by the use of a standard Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) or optional Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) with adjustable humidification and dehumidification controls. 

Regardless of which ventilation system is chosen, Unity homes come standard with air-source heat pumps (for heating and cooling). When properly installed, an air-source heat pump can deliver one-and-a-half to three times more heat energy to a home than the electrical energy it consumes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  This technology loses less humidity in the winter than with forced hot air/furnace systems that scorch the air at high temperature—driving off its moisture—making an outboard humidifier consume more energy to replenish it. Finally through filtration, allergens and other pollutants can be removed, making indoor air considerably healthier than outside air.

Why build tight houses that require sophisticated ventilation systems, you ask? There are many myths held by the public (and by many builders as well) surrounding the false notion that houses need to breathe. This bogus theory holds that houses can be too tight and that air leakage or “natural ventilation” dries everything out and keeps the air quality healthy. But as Green Building Advisor.com points out, “…air leaks mean you’ve lost control of air movement…air and moisture can be forced into wall and ceiling cavities where water vapor condenses and fosters the growth of mold.”

Additionally, according to Green Building Advisor.com,

“Warm air exiting the top of the house can draw in cold air to replace it, wasting heat and energy. In many ways, uncontrolled air movement wastes energy and increases the risk of long-term damage to building components. Effective air and moisture barriers reduce those problems, but they come with a few caveats: Tight houses need mechanical ventilation to ensure a supply of fresh air to keep people healthy.”

a Unity Homes Xyla 212

Artist’s rendering of a Xyla 212.

And while we’re on the subject, what exactly is “fresh air?” Most would assume outside air is fresh air, but whether you live in the city or the country, outdoor air carries pollutants in the form of gasses, droplets, and particles. This includes pollution from cars, trucks, airplanes, industry, tractors plowing fields, wood and crop fires, ground level ozone, and allergens like pollen. Indoor air, too, can contain a host of pollutants from combustion sources like stoves and furnaces, to high VOC building materials and furnishings, to household cleaning products and radon, to name a few. All of these pollution sources can cause health problems if not mitigated through green building practices and sophisticated air handling technology.

Unity Homes, and other quality high-performance homes, help you breathe easier and live healthier by using only green materials and finishes, by sealing out unwanted moisture, dirt, dust, insects and allergens that can lead to health problems and costly repairs, and by conditioning and filtering incoming air. At the same time, Unity’s well insulated and tight building envelope reduces overall heating and cooling costs, and adds comfort by eliminating drafts and temperature variations.

Moreover, while a Unity Home conditions your indoor air, its low-waste, precision offsite fabrication and super-efficient energy performance thereafter works to lower its impact on the outside air—which we all share—as well.

xyla 212 under construction

A Unity Homes Xyla 212 under construction in Vermont.

Our newest Unity, a Xyla 212 with an ERV in Montpelier, Vermont will be featured in our next newsletter.

Read more about what steps to take both to reduce the risk from existing sources of indoor air pollution and how to prevent new problems from occurring in EPA’s “Care For Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.

*Source: http://minkukel.com/visualize-it/every-breath-you-take/

 

 

 

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.”

smallGilbert_8

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.

 

Homes Matter by Tedd Benson

Courtesy: The Keene Sentinel. From the latest issue of Business Monadnock 

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

Screenshot 2014-05-16 13.08.55Many years ago, when we pulled our company associates together to try to draft a collective mission statement for our homebuilding company, we came to an unexpected conclusion. As we kept asking questions about why we do what we do, and why clients engage us for what is usually the biggest investment of their lives, we came to understand there’s an important ideal beyond the simple execution of our crafts for the straight-forward purpose. READ MORE

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.