Insulate! The Value Of A Great Building Envelope

By Nick Mira

Ever since I purchased my first home in 2009, I’ve been incrementally insulating.

The house was built in 1906 and I’ve spent the last 8 years working to make this old home more comfortable, energy efficient, and quiet. You might guess that there are a lot of differences between a home that was built 111 years ago and those we build today. When I moved in mine wasn’t the epitome of modern design and efficiency. It was drafty, creaky, and acoustically it sounded like there were hardly any walls at all. This is a far cry from the more tight and thermally controlled envelopes we design for custom homes today.

As I forked out more and more money, tore up walls and ceilings, rewired electrical circuits, replaced pipes and crawled into weird, dusty spaces, I realized it is difficult and frustrating to go back and modify something after it has been constructed. This has helped define our approach to house design as we know how important getting things right the first time is, and how designing for future performance and adaptability is incredibly valuable.

As I made these upgrades over time, I also wondered how much wood, heating oil, and electricity has been consumed by this old house and its inhabitants over the last century just to keep those living here comfortable through 111 winters. That thought really drove home my responsibility as an architect.

In our role as architects we are responsible for the buildings we design from conceptual ideas, through construction and into their long future life. One of my top design priorities is to see that we push for the best building performance possible, focusing on the lifespan of the building, rather than just the up-front costs and client’s immediate needs. That means we have to get the layers of insulation within a wall tuned correctly for the specific climate we are design in, so that we can achieve the comfort, energy efficiency, and quiet I’ve been searching for.

As you can see from the experiences I had with my old house, the time to get it right is at the beginning, during the design process. That’s also the best time to budget for a little extra investment for health, energy savings, acoustic benefits and comfort (all those things I’ve been pursuing since I bought my home). It is always cheaper to work out these important aspects of a home, while it is still just lines on paper. The more time and money invested in this phase of the project saves 10x that cost in construction and over the lifespan of a house.

Think about your favorite winter jacket. Just like your jacket, the best insulation and building performance solutions are not one-size-fits-all. And like your jacket, building performance has nothing to do with aesthetics or style. Regardless of the exterior aesthetics, your home should wear a custom jacked that is calibrated for the specifics of your environment. There are many products and systems available that work together so your building performs the best for you and your environment.

 

 Pictured Above - Thermal conduction in an exterior wall is reduced dramatically with the use of continuous exterior insulation. Helooooooo Comfort!!

Pictured Above - Thermal conduction in an exterior wall is reduced dramatically with the use of continuous exterior insulation. Helooooooo Comfort!!

 

Luckily, modern technology and building science is on our side. Whole-house systems design approach is an integral part of our design process and we continually educate ourselves on the best practices and current materials and technology. Whether we’re designing ADUs or custom homes, meeting Passive House standards or simply exceeding code requirements, the ultimate goal is designing a building that is high performance, minimizes life-cycle costs, and creates a comfortable indoor environment for families to enjoy.

If you’re wondering what that building looks like for you, schedule a free consultation with us. We’d love to help you live in a home that’s quiet, comfortable, and efficient 111 years from now.