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

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.

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.

Burr and Burton Academy

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.

At Bensonwood we’re proud of our nearly 40 year history as the premier designer/builder of energy-efficient timber frame, hybrid, and other high-performance homes.

But we have also built a strong reputation for designing and building LEED certified, energy efficient and architecturally striking commercial buildings and specialty structures.

Recently, Bensonwood Lead Architect Randall Walter and other members of our architecture and engineering team designed the Burr and Burton Mountain Campus Academic Building.

Dedicated on August 23, 2012 in time for the opening of the school’s fall semester, the building is designed to be a living classroom with a goal of achieving LEED Platinum designation and Net-Zero energy status.

BBA Heater

The masonry heater is a focal point within the “Clearing” in the Mountain Campus Academic Building

Randall worked closely with the Burr and Burton team to ensure that the building not only fit into the natural surroundings of the site but truly became part of the learning experience for students, blending scientific architecture with artistic abstraction. Design features include ceilings inspired by the structure of the underside of a leaf, a skylight that casts light on the native Vermont slate clad masonry heater, between two reclaimed oak trees primary walls splayed at 14.5 degrees, celebrating the variation between true north and magnetic north in southern Vermont.

In keeping with typical Bensonwood design and construction practices, locally sourced materials where used wherever possible.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony Randall noted that a quote by Winston Churchill inspired the design – “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

Below Randall has provided additional information on some of the features of the building:

Size

  • Primary building area: 4000 square feet
  • Total building including overhangs: 6200 square feet

Building Materials

  • Marvin Ultimate clad Triple glazed windows and doors (R-5)
  • Cellulose insulated walls (R-35) and roof (R-60)
  • Red Oak – log posts from Alstead, NH & BBA campus
  • Nordic-Lam – engineered timbers – Canadian black spruce
  • Eastern white pine – rafters & ceiling boards
  • White and red pine wall boards (red pine from BBA campus)
  • Hemlock – rough sawn, random width siding from NH and VT
  • Western cedars – exterior posts and beams
  • Sliding barn doors – reclaimed local barn board, oak frames
  • VT sourced maple benches and window sills
  • VT Shadow Grey slate tile
  • VT Verde Green brushed marble counters and hearth

Interior and Exterior Finishes

  • Vermont Natural Coatings – whey based finish – used on all wood and concrete surfaces
  • All finishes have low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Performance

  • Wood burning masonry heater
  • Air-source heat pumps
  • Energy Recovery Ventilators for fresh air
  • Photovoltaic arrays (Sept/Oct install) to achieve Zero net energy
  • All plumbing fixtures exceed EPA water sense standards
  • Preliminary blower door test below Passiv standards for air infiltration (495cfm@ACH50)

Construction Schedule

  • Foundation installed November 2011
  • Prefabrication offsite over winter
  • Site access reopened April 2012
  • Delivery of prefabricated parts and assembly begins May 2012
  • Building completed in 4 months
  • Waste management plan exceeded LEED requirements – near 93% waste diversion
  • Anticipated LEED points 82-83 (Platinum threshold is 80)

First Unity Home: Part 1: In the Shop

Our first Unity Home is on-site this week. A five-person team will be raising a Xyla in a just a few days.

In this video (1 of 4 on our YouTube channel) Jay Lepple, Bensonwood’s Building Systems Team Leader demonstrates the features of a wall panel that was recently fabricated in our shop for this home.

This is video 1 of 4, with other videos demonstrating window and siding installation in shop, and the benefits of the Computer Aided Design (CAD) in our off-site construction process.

Walls in the shop

Wall panels packed and ready for wrapping before being trucked to the site