Friday, April 22, 2011

Green Building is for Everyone

Green Building can mean different things to different people. I often see this as different levels of green building. To some people, any building constructed to a higher energy efficiency level than the minimum code is considered green. While other people consider only the highest level of energy efficiency green. And yet another group not only requires high energy efficiency, but also reduced environmental impact from a material usage standpoint.

But I think most people are willing to settle for the middle ground; a home with better energy efficiency than what is required by code as well as a home that incorporates building materials that are either recycled and/or sustainable.

Accomplishing this is fairly easy and relatively inexpensive! One of my biggest irritations is why all buildings are not designed and constructed to be more energy efficient. For a home, higher energy efficiency can easily be accomplished by thicker walls with more insulation, insulating the rim joist, more insulation in the attic, proper sealing of penetrations and openings, and better doors and windows. These changes can dramatically increase the energy efficiency of a home yet may only add $1000 to the total cost. The energy savings alone will pay for this extra cost in as little as 3 years. For the life of the home, a more efficient home will require less energy every month and year than most other homes.

Any builder that does not offer an energy efficiency/green building package as an option is either lazy, not too bright, or maybe both. Being as these ideas are so mainstream, offering higher energy efficiency or green materials is a way to differentiate themselves and attract additional, potential buyers. This is not rocket science, it is more like marketing 101!

Many green building materials are readily available from local suppliers today. Examples of these include: reclaimed wood beams, dimensional lumber and flooring, cellulose insulation, some tile and counter top materials as well as some carpeting and natural flooring materials. Another example of a green building material is wood harvested from a forest managed in way to ensure sustainability. Cellulose insulation is a viable option in most areas today. Reclaimed lumber is typically available but may be more costly than newly produced wood. However, reclaimed lumber has characteristics difficult or impossible to obtain from new wood sources. Many of the other materials are readily available but may be more costly than more common materials.

Green Building is not hard and is available to everyone who is willing to search out or demand more than the minimum. Life is too short to accept what you don’t really want, especially when it involves what is probably one of the most expensive purchases of your life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

ICF Safety

I have told people for a long time: The only way to have a home safer and stronger than an ICF home is to live in a cave! I believe this is true and the pictures below illustrate this point very well.

I found these pictures while perusing the net and thought they were so incredible that I had to share them. I do not know who took these pictures or what ICF system was used in the construction of these homes (if the owner of these pictures objects to their use here, contact me and I will remove them).

Which ICF system used is somewhat irrelevant in regard to the strength of the finished home. All ICFs use some system of reinforced concrete as the structural wall. This makes all ICF wall systems very strong. Things you should consider as a consumer when selecting ICFs for your home are: quality of the ICF supplier, quality of the installer, location of the manufacturing plant, total insulation value of the ICF system, type and configuration of the ICF webs, compatibility with proposed finish systems, configuration of the structural system, and engineering data available.

The first picture shows an ICF home that had a very, very close brush with a tornado. You can see that two conventional homes in close proximity were leveled while the ICF home remained intact. I suspect that any conventional home located in the same place would have been leveled like the neighboring homes.

The other picture is of an ICF home that was hit by the storm surge from hurricane Katrina (as I understand it). You can see that the ICF home is still standing and relatively unscathed while every other home in the area has been swept away.

These pictures just illustrate the incredible strength of an ICF home. There is nothing quite like living in a home with solid reinforced concrete walls. I know it gives my wife peace of mind. Structural strength is just an additional benefit to the energy efficiency of an ICF wall system.

Monday, April 11, 2011

ICF House Plans

There are thousands and thousands of different house plans available from designers, architects, plan books and on the internet. But virtually none of these have been specifically designed to utilize ICFs or insulated concrete forms.

Framed construction is the most common form of residential construction, so most designers do not create many plans specifically for ICFs. But many designers are often willing (sometimes at no charge) to modify their plans for a client who wishes to utilize ICFs. I do not charge extra to modify one of my existing plans for ICFs or to design a new home using ICFs.

While ICFs are a fairly common building material, some aspects of ICF home construction differ from more traditional stick-frame construction. One main difference is the thickness of the walls. The most common ICFs use about 6” of concrete in the middle of the wall. Then there is a layer of foam on either side, typically 2” to 2 ¾”. This brings the total wall thickness to 9” or 9 ½”. Standard 2x4 framed walls are only 3 ½” thick while 2x6 walls are 5 ½”.

In most rooms of a home, the additional wall thickness is no problem. Without a tape measure, you cannot tell the difference between a living room that is 22’ across from one that is 21’-6”. However, in small rooms such as a bump out for a master bath, this extra wall thickness can reduce the interior space by too much. This is easily fixed by slightly increasing the exterior dimensions of that area. Small rooms against exterior walls is one area to be aware of when converting a plan to utilize ICFs.

The floors of multistory ICF homes do not use stacked platforms between stories as with stick-framed homes. Typically, ledgers are attached to the ICF walls with special steel brackets to support the floor platform. This configuration allows the ICF wall to be continuous from the footing to the roof. There are no issues with this configuration; it is just different than stick framing.

But be assured that virtually any home design can be converted to utilize ICFs with a little effort and at possibly no extra cost. If you really want an ICF home, check with your designer to see if they can modify the plan for you. If not, many ICF manufacturers provide a list of designers who are very familiar with this product. ICFs are a great product; don’t let your plans hold you back.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Modern Home Design, Eby2 update

I received a updated picture of the Eby2 home in Canada today, and I have to say that it looks fantastic!

This dramatic modern design overlooks a beautiful lake in northern Canada. The second floor is carried by 3 large glulam beams, cantilevering out over the main floor. This home uses a shed roof with wide overhangs. I particularly like the wood soffit material that has been used. I also like the mixture of stone and lap siding. As you can see there are several large windows on the south side to take advantage of the sun as well as the spectacular lake view.

The owner plans to send more pictures of this home once is completed, so stay tuned for updates. You can learn more about this beautiful design here: