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SUSTAINABILITY

COLUMN: Building the ultimate wall to for maximum efficiency

Hannah Nixon
Posted 7/31/19

Over a series of weeks, the Timberjay has been highlighting the effort by local builder Andy Hill to build a retirement home that’s truly sustainable. But it’s not just a building …

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SUSTAINABILITY

COLUMN: Building the ultimate wall to for maximum efficiency

Posted

Over a series of weeks, the Timberjay has been highlighting the effort by local builder Andy Hill to build a retirement home that’s truly sustainable. But it’s not just a building project— Hill is hoping to spread the word about the concepts that the rest of us can and should consider as we contemplate our own future projects.
“It’s no big deal for me to build this house,” says Hill. “What matters is getting other people dialed in on how to build this house.”
Step One? Build a wall. That is, the Perfect Wall.
One of Hill’s first considerations was how the building envelope would contribute to the site’s eco-friendly status. This is where the Perfect Wall begins; “What makes a Perfect Wall is that all the control layers are on the outside of the frame,” says Hill. “Therefore, the insulation is unbroken by framing members.”
Have we lost you yet? Let’s break down this wall before we build it up any further. Here’s the skinny:
A Perfect Wall is made up of insulating foam and a vapor barrier, which are placed exterior to a wall’s studs and frame. Furring strips and the siding finish off the job.
With a traditional wall, insulation is placed on the interior side between the studs, which allows for a significant transfer of warm and cold air between the resulting gaps in the insulation and the studs themselves. This means more energy, and more money, to heat or cool a home. Similarly, the vapor barrier – or the barrier that keeps water vapor from collecting inside a building’s walls- is traditionally set on the inside. When placed on the inside, humans’ other desired interior amenities, such as wall outlets, require us to drill holes through the vapor barrier. This, too, creates the potential for warm and cold air to be more easily exchanged between the outdoor and indoor environments. The Perfect Wall bypasses these deficiencies and offers a sustainable alternative.
A Perfect Wall has insulation exceeding the rating of R20, which is the rating of a standard wall. That’s construction speak for: A Perfect Wall helps to naturally manage climate control.
All of the walls comprising Hill’s new home will feature the Perfect Wall style. While a single piece of wood has a rating of R1, and a standard building wall maxes out at R20, every wall in Hill’s home will have a rating of R92. However, sustainability doesn’t stop with a design. Hill went above and beyond what many may consider a typical environmental-friendly threshold when he sought out sponsors for used building materials. Nelson Roofing out of Hibbing, for example, is providing Hill with salvaged insulation sheets. “The sheets typically cost $28.00 a piece” says Hill, and included that the sheets would have otherwise been thrown away. Upon completion, 90% of the home’s insulation will have been recycled. By focusing on reuse, says Hill, “the Planet’s resources don’t have to generate new product to keep up with our buildings.”
As Hill passes the baton onto other home builders and remodelers in the Northwoods, use his guidance to remember that your home’s walls do more than separate the cool indoors from the steaming, dense summer air; they offer a starting point for designers to build upon, and a framework for a sustainable future.

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