Article No: 228
The Cutting Edge
By: Lyssa Myska Allen
architecture by ERIC HUGHES • built by HYBRID HOMES
A builder, an architect, a professional ICF installer, a construction crew, and a dog named Jagger hole up together in a rented house during a blizzard. Besides looking forward to a crockpot of venison and beef every night, what are they doing? Building a house … a house that happens to sit in the highest wind-zone in the state of Michigan, in a blizzard.
“For that reason, they put up a wind generator, but it made putting up an ICF wall rather difficult. So we set the side toward the wind first so that it blocked the wind while we set the rest of it,” says Jake Vierzan, the aforementioned professional ICF installer and founder of R-Value Concrete Structures, LLC. “I would say the most cutting-edge thing would probably be the incorporation of the wind generator into the project.”
But that wasn’t the only pioneering thing about this Onekama Hybrid Home. It won the Great Lakes Reneweable Energy Association’s “Exemplary Project” award, beating out some stiff competition, including a wind farm and the renovated downtown of Ann Arbor. “They were looking for cutting-edge technology,” says Vierzen. “We were selected because we used a number of different technologies, and used them in a way that was feasible for most people to do.”
Those technologies included not only Vierzan’s Build Block ICF and Lite-Deck systems, but passive solar home design, solar hot water heaters, wind electricity generation, soy-based spray foam insulation in the roof, solar-reflective shingles, siding with incorporated flyash, bamboo flooring, stained concretes, and Anderson 400 series windows. The house is expected to receive Platinum certification from the LEED for Homes program.
“I was raised to be very conscious of cost, so initially I got into this because of energy efficiency,” says Vierzan, who spent ten years in commercial construction before building his own company. “As the market has been changing over the last few years, we noticed that energy efficiency has been one of the key tenets of green construction … I saw a great future there and I saw that it was a good thing.” R-Value started in 2004 and has been enjoying growth rate of about 25 percent each year.
The Onekama Hybrid Home was the vision of builder Adam Bearup of Hybrid Homes and architect Eric Hughes of Image Design, one of the most noted green architects in the state. The two went to a local tradeshow looking for an ICF installer, and there they met Vierzan. “Anybody that was advertising that they were green, they basically interviewed right there to find out if they truly were green and why. And we were able to answer their questions … these guys were pretty strict, so I was happy with that.”
The trio became Team Hybrid, which now boasts seven companies, working collectively to design and construct the house. Vierzan says of Bearup: “he really wanted to push the envelope of what can be done as far as sustainability and energy efficiency. Toward that end, everything was recycled. In the first couple of months, the only thing that actually went into the trash was less than a garbage bag full of stuff. So we recycled foam, plastic, cardboard, wood, steel—anything was recycled.”
The concrete even features recycled products, as it is made with 30 percent flyash replacement. Flyash is a byproduct of coal combustion that normally goes into a landfill. But when added to concrete, flyash adds strength and durability. It does present some unique challenges, however: “It does not set up anything like regular concrete. So finishing it, you really have to learn what it’s like and anticipate how it’s going to set,” Vierzan says. “It actually flows less well than regular concrete, so when we’re pouring the ICF walls, we have to be extra careful with vibrating to make sure we are consolidating well. So we use both an internal and an external vibrator to do that. At R-Value, almost everything we do we spec 30 percent flyash, so we’re accustomed to it. Doesn’t make it any easier to work with, but …”
The home’s design also posed a few challenges. One of the main features is a second-story deck with views of Lake Michigan and Lake Portage, part of a two-story garage with a drive-in workshop on the bottom and garage on the top. “The second story deck was probably the biggest challenge because that needed to be absolutely weather-tight,” says Vierzan. The Lite-Deck installation was easy. “Lite-Deck is an ICF for floors and the nice thing about it is that on the bottom side, it’s already furred out and insulated, so all you have to do is put the drywall up. On the top side, it works really well with radiant heat … he can walk out there in the winter in his bare feet if he wants and never has to shovel snow off it. It also gives you a weather-tight room underneath, finished out and quiet.”
But, the deck design called for “a drain right in the middle of it, which we were very concerned about … we poured one thickness on top of the Lite-Deck, and then laid down a layer of waterproofing, and then poured another two inches on top of that. And we did have some problems with leakage and actually had to take that top layer off again and redo the waterproofing, using a different type of material and re-pouring it. That was interesting, but I tell you what, the views from this deck are awesome. So it was well worth the trouble to put a deck up there.”
Vierzan and his R-Value team also go to a lot of trouble to keep themselves up on the new technologies available. They constantly research and try new techniques, and are excited when they can introduce something new to builders and architects. “We would like to partner with people such as Hybrid Homes and not just be a subcontractor that builds what is specified; we want to be involved in consulting with, ‘how can we make our project greener?’” They’ve completed two more projects with Team Hybrid, and eight more are in the works.
Vierzan says, “If you have your choice of two products and one of them is better for the environment, then why not use it? Our awareness was raised just because the industry was growing and going in that direction. It’s been a good choice.”