New Construction: Easing Builders into High Performance Construction

I've started a short video series to explain my work in high performance wall systems.

Some quick background - my colleague Scott Hedges and I have spent some time studying home building practices in Sweden, and we find their techniques for efficient high performance houses very applicable in the heating zones of the United States.

I've applied our research to several prototype wall systems based on US products, organized in a stepped performance model of Good, Better, Best versions that allow builders to experiment slowly and get up to speed with high performance building as their comfort, clients, and business model allows.

Topping off these recommendations is a new model for Platform Framing, I believe the first significant revision of the Western Platform Framing model that has ever been seriously proposed. It is Swedish Platform Framing, and it makes certain key modifications to the Western Platform model to reduce horizontal thermal bridges, eliminate conditions that are difficult to insulate and seal, and lends itself to the coming shift to off-site construction practices. 

I'm eager to see adoption of these techniques, and of course I am available to help builders implement these new high performance models in their work. 

SO, I invite you Energy Pros to view the videos as a quick introduction, and to follow the links posted in the video descriptions to read deeper content on these systems on my web site. 

Part1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZ0WlbT4flE
Part2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGk_Qe31yEY
Part3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUthssuOYks

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......Excellent.....

Thank you for the enlightening introduction to Swedish construction. The Danish poet/philosopher, etc Piet hein has a bit to say about the Scandinavian and American way...

THE ROAD TO WISDOM?

Well, it's plain
and simple to express.
Err and err and err again,
but less and less and less.

Piet Hein.

I still find balloon frames houses with wide open crawl spaces, wide open pathways up the walls twenty feet to wide open attic wide open to the winds. They'll have oil-fired boilers and baseboards heating the lath and plaster walls, heating the air channels and slowly wasting away the resources of our finite world quite stupidly. I found a 1000 sq. ft house with electric baseboards, $1000 a month electric bills and I showed the owners with a flashlight and a 45 degree mirror the channel. We could see where the plaster was mooshed into the lath spaces, see the light at the roof line and the OPEN cavity launching their heat and money up and away.

I told them a contractor wants about $2 to $2.50 a sq. ft of net wall area for high-density sidewall insulation installation around here and would eliminate almost all that heat loss through the channels, and could do it in a day most likely...

I also suggested John Krigger's 'batt stuffer' method from below and above, from crawl space and attic, (with two plexiglass sheets 12" wide 1/8" thick and as long as is practical - one to make a smooth glide chute with no wire or nail blocking the path and the second as a stuffer to ram a batt tacoed onto the plexi into the wall from above and below) make chute with one, stuff batt w/ other, slide 'em out and go to next stud run, etc...and then seal both w/ a can of foam. In one weekend for under $400, he and she bonded with each other & with their house and brought comfort and $700 a month savings.

Western platform framing is erring, but less. Swedish platform is less and less. Good lesson for us all.

Thanks again and let's err on the side of less and less and have some gorgeous blonde carpenters arrive with cranes and trucks and factory-built panels, arrange them on site in a couple of days and then we can all go enjoy our international learning lessons over a latte or an aquaVIT!!

Thanks Diane for all you do.

That series of videos was quite inspiring. All I did was reflect a bit on what we have learned in the field for a few years.

 Piet Hein is a very cool guy. His stuff lifts us up where we belong. So do you! So does Greg. Let's keep it rolling.

I'm trying to err less and less and less... :)

Interesting framing method and I appreciate the effort to show the videos, however, I have differences of opinion with Mr. La Vardera on a few points:

1. Advanced Framing is not just a top plate and in-line framing only issues, but also designing the house in 24” grid to maximize resource efficiency, 2 stud corners, ladder Ts, right-size headers, and 24” grid. AF allows builders to reduce up to 25%-30% framing material. It does work better on small houses as it does on very large homes.

2. I rather use outsulation to avoid thermal bridging, plus it has the benefit of keeping the wood sheathing warm to avoid condensation.

3. I don’t know the climate in Scandinavian countries, but I venture to say it’s a lot colder than most places in the USA (except Fargo, ND); having said that, installing moisture/vapor barrier on the inside is a technique most building scientist and builders are going away from, here in the US and Canada, except in the coldest of climate.

Armando - in the context of this video I could not expand on all the reasons why I believe "Advanced Framing" is a dead end, but I have elaborated why in a long essay which you can read right here:

http://blog.lamidesign.com/2011/02/usa-new-wall-so-called-advanced-...

In short, I don't disagree with you. Two stud corners, single stud window jambs, spaced and insulated headers - these are all good ideas. But anybody can adopt these practices without "Advanced Framing". What is not a good idea, is the 24" grid, and the only thing this grid gains you is eliminating one of the top plates, as I said in the video. This is just a poor trade off, and a big obstacle to wide adoption of the practice. And in the end, it does not improve performance that much.

We also agree on "outsulation" as you put it. The USA New Wall models include an exterior insulation layer in the Better and Best configurations. Its a good way to break thermal bridges. A second break at an interior wiring chase is even better.

Regarding the placement of the vapor retarder, these wall models are recommended for heating centric climate zones. I also disagree with your conclusion that the industry is moving away from an interior vapor retarder/barrier location. There are some people that have recommended this, for more than a few years now. There is even directions in the IRC on how much foam you need. I don't see a big take up - it goes against years of building tradition, and much of common sense. You may see some "green builders" doing this on the fringe of the industry, but an insignificant percent. Builders are still craft paper to the inside.

The only reason I've ever seen for putting the vapor retarder at the outside is because you want to use foam as an exterior insulation layer - a defacto vapor retarder. To mitigate this, the wall is configured to allow "interior side drying" as its described. This is always a compromise. Insulation thickness has to be chosen carefully for your climate in order to keep the dew point of the wall system in the foam layers, and even when chosen well you still face the chance that out of range weather will put the dew point within your moist interior air for an extended period. There is no reason to use foam on the outside in cold climates anymore, not when you can use stone wool made specifically for this application, stone wool that has nearly the same insulation value, and breathes vapor.

My experience is that most builders don't make these decisions. They use model wall systems. These are walls that are expected to work in a wide range of conditions. These are walls that are tolerant of out of range temperatures. That's the way we've always built, the way that we are used to building, the way that we will probably continue to build weather Building Scientists like it or not. 

Greg,

There is so much that I disagree with your AF blog, that it would take another thread to get into. I believe your view of AF is too simplistic, but it also takes good detailing and practice. I've designed a lot of homes with AF for over 15 years, I've taught dozens of framers, builders and Architects for years on how to do it right, and almost all of them agree that not only it's easier and saves material, but homes perform better. It's all about doing it right and paying attention to details.

I do believe that balloon framing can be a good technique on small houses, if done right and with good detailing. In my case, with large homes, I need more that 1 ½” bearing on floor trusses, and I would not “hang” a whole floor system on 2x4s.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

I don't disagree that AF takes care and practice. I just feel that the housing industry is not going to muster that care and practice in its current form. When and if it does become careful and practiced, then there is much more that can be done than AF, and done without a 24" grid.

You say balloon framing - I don't know anybody doing balloon framing in practice, perhaps for the sake of study. I'm not sure why you bring up balloon framing? This is not balloon framing.

Bearing on 1.5" is no problem for normal spans. Large homes, large spans, there is much that can be done to design the ledger to support longer spans. You are premature to rule it out.

As far as hanging a floor on a 2x4. I assume you are talking again about the ledger. I've not suggested that. I'm not sure why you bring up hang a floor on a 2x4? My example shows a2x6 ledger, but this is just an example - the member must be sized to suit the load. 

I have no problem disagreeing Armando, but your statements make me feel that you've not looked at this closely, or you are jumping to conclusions.

Also, I should point out that while Sweden has regions that extend up into the arctic circle, the bulk of the population lives in areas that are more like our typical heating regions in the mainland USA. So no, its not cold like Fargo in Sweden, its more cold like Hartford and Omaha, and other places in the US that are considered heating climates but not extremely cold.

Maybe other readers would be interested in reading over twenty years of great research and information about AF from hundreds of scientist at four national research labs, like PNLN, ORNL, NREL & LBNL, and from research teams like BSC, IBACOS, NAHBRC, Davis Group, Steve Winter & Assoc., CARB, just to name a few. I’m sure folks will recognize some of the biggest names in building science in America that have worked in thousands of homes in the US and Canada.

To read about these research teams, national labs and publications of AF, see: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/building_america/about.html

And it is a shame when such vigorous research is not taken up by an industry. But its not the first time that has happened.

The science may be good, the intentions may be well placed, but the fact is that AF does not return enough benefit for the effort and restrictions it imposes. My opinion is it is a dead end. My observation of the take up is that it is a dead end.

Armando - I thought you already declared the "agree to disagree". Why more?

Greg,

These forums are for members to learn and exchange ideas, whether we agree or disagree. In my previous post I was just giving other readers information on where to read more about AF from highly qualified and unbiased resources by hundreds of researchers and field projects. Readers here are smart enough to make their own mind. I’m sorry you are so defensive about it and you don’t like people to have a different opinion, I’ll leave your thread. Thank you.

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