The importance of a thermal break

The walls in the photo are composed of 6″ of concrete and rebar surrounded on both sides by 4.25″ of foam, for a total of 14 1/2″ thick walls. Basement walls are 8″ thick concrete, with the same foam, totaling 16 1/2″ thick. This provides an R-38 wall value, with zero “thermal bridging”.

Thermal bridging is a very important concept in efficient home construction. When poor insulating materials, i.e.- a wood stud, are in contact with the homes interior and exterior, a thermal bridge is created. The wood studs in the wall transfer the cold exterior to the interior, there is no “thermal break” to stop the cold transfer. In ICF construction (insulated concrete forms), the foam is continuous on the homes exterior and interior, no thermal bridging occurs.
In homes with in-floor radiant heat, it is important to block the hot concrete slab from coming into contact with the cold exterior with a thermal break. This home uses a specially engineered product called compact foam to block heat transfer to the outdoors. This foam has the structural rigidity of wood and the insulting value of foam. 

ICF construction stops thermal bridging and creates an extremely solid structure


Foundation Waterproofing

In residential construction most basements are simply sprayed with a tar based waterproofing agent or other similar coating. Contrary to popular belief, most basement leaks are not caused from lack of water proofing. Water that collects against foundation walls that does not drain properly, leads to most problems. This is called “hydrostatic pressure”.
Drainage board, that is often used on commercial structures, is a dimpled plastic membrane applied to the foundation wall. The drainage board allows any trapped moisture and hydrostatic pressure to be relieved by providing a space for the water to safely trickle down to the perimeter drain. This added step of protection is more important then the waterproofing itself.
When combined with a well-designed gutter system and properly graded lot, drainage board and standard waterproofing will keep a home dry, and reduce damp environments in lower levels.  Excessively humid air can promote mold growth and air quality issues.

Drainage Board is an often overlooked step in the construction process.


Tilt-Turn Windows Lift-Slide Doors

Popular in Europe for decades, the benefits of tilt-turn windows are just beginning to be known on our shores. The windows are essentially a combination of a casement and an awning window. When you turn the handle to the sideways position, it opens in, like a casement window. When you turn the handle to the “up” position, the window pivots from the bottom and opens at the top, to allow for ventilation and increased security. 

Beyond functioning as two window types, the additional heavy duty hardware required for the multiple operations of the window provide for a much tighter window seal, improving efficiency. 

Since the windows open “in”, instead of “out”, they are much easier to clean. They also increase security, as intruders would have a more difficult time prying the window open from the exterior.

Lift-slide doors are a major advancement in the mechanics of a sliding glass door. When closed the weight of the door is resting on its rubber seals, when the door handle is engaged, the door actually “lifts” onto it’s wheels allowing it to slide open. This action creates a tight seal when the door is closed, guarding against cold winter wind.

Chad Kotlarz

Tilt-turn windows have numerous advantages over conventionally operating windows and they just look cool!


Choosing the right window material

One of the most important decisions a home owner can make, is choosing the correct windows. With the dozens of choices available, the choice can be difficult to make. Lets take a look at a few of the features to look for when making the decision.

Windows are important design feature in any home. The placement and size of windows can dramatically effect the feel of any room. As important as windows are to the home, they come at a major price to energy efficiency. Most windows have an insulation value (R-value) 80% lower then walls. When utilizing highly energy efficient walls (i.e.- Insulated Concrete Forms), it is important to choose a window that properly compliments the wall’s insulation value.

The best way to achieve increased insulation value in windows is to add an extra layer of glass or “triple glaze”. Three layers of glass adds significantly to the insulation value, and also deadens exterior noises. The surface temperature on the interior glass surface will be within a degree or two of the wall, creating a much more comfortable space in the winter months, reducing cold drafts.

Windows are built in a wide variety of materials. Most have a wood core and are “clad” or wrapped in vinyl or aluminum. Wood is prone to warping, and if moisture ever penetrates, it will grow mold and rot. One hundred percent aluminum windows are another option. Aluminum will never rot, won’t warp, is much stronger the wood, and resistant to mold growth. Infiltrating water will not damage the unit. The added strength can support much larger window spans for cleaner lines and a more open feel.

Solid fiberglass is another viable option. Fiberglass is also stronger than wood, and resistant to weather conditions, but caries a higher price tag.

Steel windows create some of the most dramatic site lines available in a window. Their superior strength allows for extremely minimal frames, increasing your view of the outdoors and making quite an architectural statement. On the downside, they are among the most expensive windows available and provide poor insulation. 

-Chad Kotlarz

Next weeks topic: Tilt-Turn, Lift-Slide windows and doors!


Solid Aluminum windows allow for extremely large expanses of glass due to their added strength. This opening is 23 feet wide, and 9 feet high, supporting triple glaze glass. 


The importance of a rain screen

A Rain Screen is an air space which is created behind the siding of a home. The space is usually one half to three quarters of an inch, and serves as a gap to allow condensation and water to drain behind the siding out to the exterior.

Water can and will get behind all siding, especially the side of the home that exposed to driving rain. In typical construction, once water either condenses behind siding or penetrates the siding, it has no place to go. Consequently, it is left to deteriorate the siding, building structure, and propagate mold growth. 

It is now becoming building code in parts of the country that experience wet climates to always install rain screens on every home. Michigan does not require rain screens, and homes are rarely built with them.

In my eyes, a rain screen is a must in our northern Michigan climate. Especially homes that are built on the water and subject to intense driving rains.

-Chad Kotlarz

A properly installed rain screen will dramatically increase the longevity of your home’s structure, and reduce toxic mold.