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.

Unity Home Rises on Connecticut’s Gold Coast

Another Unity Home Rises on Connecticut’s Gold Coast | The New House Rules.

It is always rewarding to build for repeat clients, which is the case with our current Unity home in Essex, Connecticut, our seventh since launching the new line of residences in October 2012. The two-story, 2,450 square foot Tradd is Net-Zero ready, is expected to exceed the Passive House standard for air tightness, and like all Unity Homes, can go from foundation to finished home in 30-40 working days.

 

Our local on-site builder for both Unity homes in Essex, A. Joseph Shea, was instrumental in bringing Bensonwood’s Unity Homes and the two Essex couples together.

Tradd floorplanThis latest Unity, our first Tradd 134, is a 4-bedroom, 3.5 bath shore home customized with solid-sawn Douglas fir timbers and high-end finishes and mechanicals. The custom Tradd will serve as the guest house to the main house; a home for which Bensonwood built an addition back in 2012.

The retirement-age clients had considered building a fully-custom home with Bensonwood, but chose Bensonwood’s sister company, Unity Homes, instead because of its streamlined design-build process. They didn’t want to spend a lot of time making the myriad decisions a full-phase custom design process can require. Instead, they were able to visit Unity’s Walpole, NH facilities and, after just one day of finalizing the design and selecting finishes, moved to contract.

Tradd 134 2nd floor planThe energy-efficient, prefab green home is currently in fabrication at our Blackjack Road facilities, concurrent with the site work. Its weathertight shell will then be raised on site in a matter of days, later this month, and finished during the summer. Like theXylaZūm, and Värm Unity Homes, it features sustainable wood construction, ample use of natural light, low VOC building materials for greater indoor air quality, paints, adhesives, and sealants, as well as dense-pack cellulose insulation, solid, sound dampening construction, and draft-free even-temperature comfort.

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

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.

New Tools for Calculating Energy Usage in Net Zero Homes

Over the years at Bensonwood we’ve designed and built a number of LEED certified, Net-Zero homes and commercial buildings, but our team never stops in our quest to learn more, and deliver new and better design/build methods to the benefit of our clients, our world and our structures.

(Some noteworthy projects: Unity House which partially informed and inspired our new Unity Homes brand, the Net-Zero Coast Maine Botanical Gardens, and Burr and Burton Academy* which we recently blogged about).Rheannon DeMond

Bensonwood Assistant Project Manager Rheannon DeMond recently completed the Net Zero Energy Homes 10 week course as part of the NESEA Building Energy Masters Series that covered every aspect of designing a Net Zero Energy Home.  Rheannon has a background in building energy performance but was looking to further educate herself on the necessary calculations, systems and technologies that it takes to design a home for Net Zero Energy use.

(Read a post by Marc Rosenbaum who taught the course, on his Thriving on Low Carbon blog).

“What the company and myself got out of this course was a set of excellent calculation tools to make estimating all aspects of energy usage much easier.  We are now capable of estimating the total energy usage for a home in the North East, and the size of the Photovoltaic array that can handle those loads to make a home Net Zero capable.  The tools will also allow us to analyze current designs to show home owners the advantages and disadvantages of certain systems and orientations.  As a company that is always striving to be more efficient, this course has given us the additional information and tools to allow us to better design homes that will continue to save our clients money and reduce their impact on the environment.”

Please join us in congratulating Rheannon on completing the course.  Her expanded knowledge will benefit both Bensonwood and our clients!

*Note: Burr and Burton Academy’s Mountain Campus academic building was designed/built to achieve Net-Zero energy status and LEED Platinum certification but has not yet been certified.