I am originally from a small, rural town in northwest Ohio. Every time I head towards home, I drive through an Ohio countryside that is speckled with old barns – some beautiful and some that are barely there anymore. There is a man out there though – who is trying to save some of these barns and give them a new life. Dan Troth, of GreenTech Construction, explains, “It’s a way for me to connect with … the people that built Ohio. Whether it’s an antique barn, or an antique timber-frame house, or an antique timber-frame church, they’re all that connection and we’re losing it.” (See more of Columbus Dispatch Interview)
I recently met Dan as he was giving a second life to one of those timber-frame homes in Marion, Ohio. The Beineke family was looking for a home to retire to, and they believed the best option for that was the 1872 timber-frame home that their great-great grandfather had constructed. However, the home had not been lived in for several years and would need a significant amount of renovation - including lifting the entire structure up 5’. Also, energy efficiency and structural integrity were extremely important to the future homeowners so they wanted to integrate the use of SIPs, structurally insulated panels, for the renovation.
SIPs are lauded for the many environmental benefits they can bring to a project. They are able to enhance a project by not only creating a tighter building envelope but by also being more efficient in terms of resources. They can save the contractor significant time during construction and also decrease construction waste. Sam Rashkin, the Chief Architect of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office, recently wrote an article encouraging the construction market to start adopting this technology faster. In his article, “The Envelope, Please,” he lists the following benefits of SIPs:
Much faster construction time
Less tools for assembly
Reduced reliance on subcontactor work/contracts (e.g., framing, insulation, air sealing)
Superior moisture-managed assemblies (with basic attention to proven details)
Full structural nailing access not limited to studs
Superior quality control
Superior strength per weight
Superior wind resistance
Superior bug resistance
Superior dimensional accuracy that makes everything else easier to install (e.g., drywall, trim, doors, windows, cabinets)
Superior energy performance with minimal thermal bridging, inherently quality controlled insulation (e.g., gaps, voids, compression, shrinkage control, settling control), and inherently air-tight assembly
Superior Unvented Attics (where used for roofs):
Hard cost savings for soffit and ridge vents
Fire-rated assembly difficult to achieve with other unvented attic inslulation options
Elimination of all thermal bypass details requirements:
Air sealing where drywall meets top plate at all walls adjoining attic
Insulated and sealed attic hatches and knee-wall doors
Flashed and sealed shafts (e.g., ducts, flue, piping)
Air sealing at all HVAC register boots
ICAT recessed light fixtures
Free storage in conditioned attic space
Adaptability to much lower cost shallow frost-protected footings rather than basements in cold climates since basement no longer needed for storage and HVAC system
Savings from forgoing split HVAC in two-story homes since second floor no longer adjoins egregious hot temperatures in summer
The marriage of this new technology with an 1872 timber-frame home is exciting – to say the least. Not only is the Beineke family able to have an incredibly efficient home, but we are able to do it in a way that preserves and celebrates a family’s history. Dan’s team gutted the home down to the hand-hewn timber frames, pressure-washed them, jacked the structure up 5’ to give more head room in the basement and then added the SIPs, creating a closed thermal boundary.
At that point in time, he brought us in. He knew he already had a pretty tight envelope but he wanted to bring in a third-party to verify. I met Dan on site with my blower door and infrared camera in hand. With the blower door running, we walked throughout the home sealing the building envelope using spray foam. The blower door is not necessary to do this, but it exaggerates the points of infiltration making it easier to see the weak areas. Not to our surprise, the weakest area was where the new garage addition met the existing structure. However, after spending a little time sealing this area up, we went down to the blower door to see what range our infiltration number was at: a remarkable 183CFM50. The home is 4,467 square feet (43,356 cubic feet) – so that means – at the pre-drywall stage this home was testing at 0.25 air exchanges per hour at 50 Pascals pressure (ACH50). This number represents the volume of air passing through the building envelope every hour, so the lower the ACH50 - the better, according to the mantra, 'Build it tight, ventilate it right.' The thought behind that is that it is better to control how and where the air is coming into the home. (As a point of reference, ENERGY STAR v3 has a maximum of 4ACH50 (Climate Zone 5 Prescriptive) and Passive House requires a maximum of 0.6ACH50.) This old timber-frame structure was now a very tight home and to make sure they ventilated it right, they used a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) system to bring in fresh air. (Read more here on how HRV systems work.)
Other efficiency items included in the home include a closed loop geothermal system for heating and cooling, triple-pane windows with different coatings depending on the orientation (U-value 0.23), LED lighting, Energy Star appliances, and a tankless water heater. Also several of the home’s original features were able to be reused or repurposed. Even the old buggy wheels, saved from the family's 1800's buggy, are being made into chandeliers for the home.
This home recently received an award from the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA). For the 2016 SIPA Building Excellence Awards, the Beineke home not only won the Renovation category, but it was the Overall Residential Winner. We are very excited that we were able to be a part of this project and proud that we can be a part of creating homes like this. So much of our life is spent within the walls of our homes, so it’s important we build those walls in the most sustainable manner possible – with a cognizance for our environment, the quality and health of the space, and the durability of the structure. SIPs may not be the best solution for every project, but we do believe they can be a great tool for many builders.
Now – back to the barns that speckle the Ohio countryside…
We have a history – and sometimes it may seem easier to just tear a building down rather than attempt to save it. But, if you can find a way to bridge that gap between past and present, the end product can be all-the-more inspiring and powerful. Not only can you pay tribute to the craftsmanship of those before you, you can also honor nature by reusing and rejuvenating those materials to a second and enduring life. For the Beineke family, when faced with the prospect of lifting the entire home 5’ off the ground, demolition might have seemed like a quicker solution. However, they did not let that scare them and instead the Beinekes are now able to live within the walls that their great-great grandfather built for his family over 140 years ago.