Building a custom home often seems like being stuck in an endless decision tree, like you are responsible for designing and assembling a space rocket to the moon. Well, maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole. Then again, for the average Joe, it doesn’t feel like much of an exaggeration. I suspect more decisions about material choices and suppliers must be made in a shorter period of time involving more money that at any other point in a person’s life.
There are a myriad of material and vendor choices in the marketplace. ”New,” “improved” products are always being introduced; many of these seem more marketing hype than substance. Product features, performance, cost, warranty, manufacturer’s country and reputation, color, style, availability, satisfied and unsatisfied user opinions, nearby distributor, customer support reputation are just some of the evaluation criteria.
My nature is to study and evaluate competing products. My professional career was as an analyst. I read manufacturer’s literature and specifications, consider objective reviews in magazines and other blogs like this one, and select the single product that best fits our needs. I want to make sure that we get good value for the products we select compared to the alternatives.
Here’s a compendium of the key products and services used in EdgewaterHaus construction, and a short summary of why we selected them. More details are in the individual blog posts.
Logix Insulated Concrete Forms. ICFs are foam building blocks with a hollow core used to assemble below or above grade walls. The blocks are stacked like Lego blocks, supported with temporary bracing, then the hollow cores are tied together with rebar and filled with concrete. The result is a one step concrete wall with external and internal insulating foam. There are many brands of ICF blocks on the market. Some are delivered as a complete block; others ship as right and left panels that must then be assembled into blocks with proprietary web fasterners. The latter saves shipping volume, but adds on-site labor to assemble individual blocks. That’s not a trivial matter if you must assemble, say, 500 blocks for a full depth basement wall. All ICFs seem to use similar foam to form the block, and differ only in their internal stiffeners and, ah, how they stack up. How to choose? After much research, we chose Logix Platinum Series preassembled blocks.
Logix has a very broad array in the types of blocks offered, including a brick shelf used on our project. The blocks are Greenguard certified for indoor air quality. Their grey color makes it easier on the eyes for installers. The Platinum series is unique in the industry in that it incorporates microscopic graphite particles into the foam to yield an R-27 block in the typical 2 3/4″ panel thickness. That’s a 23% increase in R-value! The giant firm BASF developed the Neopor product used in the foam. The graphite particles reflect heat and reduce radiant heat conductivity. Yeah, I was a skeptic also about the physics, especially radiant heat transfers below grade. Think radiant heat, and you think of the sun. This will be installed in the ground “where the sun don’t shine.” Our energy consultant Marc Rosenbaum looked at the details, and reassured us that there are in fact considerable radiant heat transfer components in materials like foam with air pockets.
Advanced Building Solutions ABS is the local distributor of Logix ICFs. Owner John Bradbury is an enthusiastic supporter of green building efforts and exceptionally well steeped in the technical aspects of the products he sells. Equally important, he has been a pleasure to deal with, offering timely advice that has saved us both time and money. We pre-purchased the block last fall, then he cheerfully gave us a credit after our redesign reduced the number of block we needed. John will deliver the block, temporary bracing, and will be available for technical support during assembly.
Bieber Windows. We knew that the calibre of windows we needed to achieve the Passive House standard would likely make them the single most expensive component of the building. We were right! The south facing windows are the primary heat source for the house. We researched and looked at about 15 window manufacturers. So it was a most refreshing experience to have discovered Bieber windows. Bieber windows are a 4th generation family owned business in operation for over 80 years in the Alsace region of France. Yes, we would have preferred to get a window made in the U.S. or Canada, but very high performance wood-core aluminum-clad windows are just not manufactured in North America.
What kind of specs? Well, the Bieber window we selected is Passive House certified by the Passive House Institute in Germany, which means it has been independently performance tested. The south facing glass has an exceptionally high Solar Heat Gain Coefficient of 0.63. The frames have a U-value of 0.106. The other windows have an SHGC of 0.5 and a U value of 0.088. The higher SHGC glass trumps the slightly worse U-value for south facings windows.
These are triple pane, argon filled, tilt-turn windows. Rotate the handle 1/4 turn, and the top of the window pulls down inwards like a hopper by about 9 inches for ventilation. That means you can confidently leave the windows open and not worry about rain. Close the window, rotate the handle another 1/4 turn and the window now swings open inwards like a door on very beefy hinges. When you look at the side of the window, you can’t help but be amazed at how sturdy it is built. We could have specified concealed hinges at no extra cost, but we like the look and obvious stoutness of the visible hinges. Close the window and return the handle to the starting position locks it in place.
There are the usual array of exterior colors and interior stain options. The screens are very well designed and integrated into the exterior frame, something absent from many other tilt-turn style windows. The European pine used for the frame and sash comes from FSC certified forests. Bieber offers many other custom touches, like the option to cut an angled kerf on the interior frame to receive a drywall return.
Benoit Luys our sales rep was very knowledgeable about both the technical aspects of the windows and how to best meet our needs for a Passive House. He will be onsite during delivery to ensure the windows are properly unpacked, undamaged in transit, and offer technical advise for installation. That’s critical, as European style windows do not have a nailing flange typically found North American windows, and are instead installed with nailing clips.
Saco & Biddeford Savings Few people have the disposable assets to self finance construction of a new home. We looked at many financing options, from nation-wide “too big to help” financial institutions, to banks that we have used for decades in our home state of Virginia, to local banks in Maine. Many banks don’t even offer construction loans – too much risk of the builder or loan holder going bankrupt during construction. While banks don’t want to repossess an existing home, they especially don’t want to take on a half baked one. That’s why construction loans typically carry a higher interest rate than available for an existing home.
None of the big national banks were interested; the ones we spoke to don’t even offer new construction loans.
We spoke with several credit unions we have used for decades in Virginia about a new construction or equity loan on our current home. We were told they don’t do construction loans out-of-state. Surprisingly, they baulked when they asked and we told them what we would use the equity loan proceeds for construction of new home.
We canvassed banks and credit unions in Southern Maine. From the start, Saco & Biddeford Savings stood out with noticeably better rates, a very knowledgeable loan officer, and a what would proved to be a well-oiled loan approval process. Established in 1827, SBS has been providing community banking services for an amazing 185 years! We explained that we would be building a VERY green, energy efficient home, and expected that it would be a challenge getting an appraiser to realistically value the property. (We certainly were prophetic about that!!!). We were assured the bank would support us throughout the process.
And they certainly have done so. Through several appraisers who touted their green credentials but proved shockingly ill-informed, SBS was very supportive, helpful, and flexible. We are exceptionally pleased to use SBS for financing EdgewaterHaus construction.