Build an Energy Efficient Bunker

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This is the basic sandwich that
builds your walls

There are lots of systems out there to build a structure to resist and hurricane and lots of options to maximize the energy efficiency of your walls. An insulated concrete formwork structure does both at the same time, which makes it very popular in hurricane prone regions for ecologically or operating cost conscious clients. The basic idea is to construct a building by laying up foam blocks and formwork that will stay in place, placing rebar into the empty void, and then pouring concrete to fill the void. If you’ve ever seen a wood structure in a high wind zone while it’s under construction, you’ve seen the severe amount of strapping and connectors and steel required to make the structure rigid enough to keep from being torn apart under high winds. The concrete structure, while not quite the bunker I describe above, is inherently rigid and impact resistant while also being mold and termite resistant due to the lack of food for either one. An added positive, with the thickness of the walls and the continuous insulation both inside and out provide a great amount of insulation and thermal mass to maintain comfort year round.

The House of Steel

There are several materials other than wood you can use to build a structure, one of the most common is steel. Steel products are particularly versatile and can be applied in a variety of ways including fencing, gateways and even artwork; you can get more information on applications of things like sucker rods online. Steel is used very commonly in construction, and there are basically three types of steel used in the construction of a building, light gauge cold formed steel studs and joists, bar joists, and steel beams. It you are interested in getting steel for a construction project, then it might be a good idea to check out these steel i beam sizes to give you a better idea of what you should be looking for. These are most commonly used in commercial and institutions not so much because they are stronger and can handle more load, but because they are non-flammable and more dimensionally stable. Steel can also be used as part of sheet piling, and sheet piling contractors commonly use steel for for retaining walls, land reclamation and underground structures. Buildings that plan to be around for a hundred years can afford the upfront costs as the maintenance requirements of steel building materials are almost nil if they are properly protected from rusting. For masonry and timber, you may need a joist hanger.


When selecting an architect, more important than their degrees or even who they have worked for is this:  have they done a similar type of job to this before and what was their level of involvement.  Most licensed architects have worked on several types of jobs in their careers, but you should always ask for examples of projects similar to your own.  Some architects go to huge firms and get pigeonholed into one type of project and become an expert on say interior design or residential work, but have no clue how to get the permits required for a restaraunt.  While an architect trying to break into a field may offer you a fantastic rate, their lack of experience may cause delays and problems down the line and you’ll have to decide if you think their commitment to your project is high enough to keep it from being a problem or if you are about to pay for their learning experience.

Cannon Fodder

[frame src=”/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/COAmar06dk_PDC-1.jpg” width=”170″ lightbox=”on” title=”An impact window unit being tested” ]

This is one reason why impact
rated windows cost so much

So you want to build a home near the ocean. My first advice, hire an architect or engineer immediately. Ignoring the fact that the lot probably cost a fortune and design fees are a minimal percentage of your total outlays, most jurisdictions require a design professional to verify construction near the water meets the lateral force design standards (often referred to as the wind codes.) The strapping and shear walls and other details I’ll talk about in some later post(s), but today I want to talk about impact-rated window units. These are window units that have been tested to withstand debris thrown at them and the wind and water pressure variations in a hurricane. On the left is a picture of a window in the first part of the test. The test involves securing a window to a framework and firing a 2×4 out of a cannon at it. This, of course, damages the window, but shouldn’t break it completely. It is required to still be air and watertight and survive a large number of pressure cycles (where the air on one side of the window is over and then under pressured) while being sprayed with water without the window rupturing or water getting through. I have watched windows being tested (by an independent third party, not the manufacturer for obvious reasons) and it looks a little like the window is breathing as it bows in and out under the change in pressure. So what makes these windows so strong?

Choosing the Person You Will Be Fighting With

Fairly often, I have clients who come into the office looking for tips on finding a contractor, and the first thing I tell them is, look for someone you can peaceably disagree with. There are things that are good indications that the contractor is a good one, for example reviews or if they have received help from the Success Group International, but generally I suggest that they are after thoughts. Construction is a field where I can guarantee you, something will go wrong. Oftentimes, many somethings, especially in remodelling and renovation work. The amount stuff goes wrong sometimes reflects on the skills of the architect, engineer, or contractor, but often is due to unknowable things, bad luck, or even indecisive owners. So, when things go wrong, you need someone who you can work with to make it right and the personality fit is far more important than most other details, including price. So if you’re looking for building contractors make sure you do you research into as many companies as possible, for instance check out Essex Homes Charlotte here! But still, how do you pick the person?

Unleash the Sun

I’ve covered active solar before; photovoltaic panels that convert the sun into electricity, with the help of solar inverters like those from SolarEdge. It is an easy option if you’ve got a good south facing roof, but what if you don’t have an unobstructed view of the south or your lot doesn’t allow you to get a lot of roof exposure that direction. Might I suggest using passive solar to help heat your house then. Passive solar can actually be helped by trees blocking the sun (as long as they’re deciduous and won’t block the sun in the winte) and if the roof can’t face south, pretty sure you have a good sized wall facing that way. Passive solar takes a bit more of a design focus earlier in the process as most of the features involve structural changes that are tough to do after the fact, but a sun room addition can easily take advantage of similar conditions if your existing house isn’t set up for it, just give a qualified professional a call and have them come look at what you can do.

Which Siding is the Right Siding?

A simple post today, but a critical one for many customers. There are so many options in siding out there, how do you pick the right one? The first thing I tell them is to ignore what you want your house to look like. This sounds ridiculous, but unless you want a stucco look, just about any option can acheive it with the same true criteria that separates them, cost, maintenance, and longevity.

How Much Insulation Is Enough?

That is totally the wrong question, the better question is, how often do I want to tear out my walls to upgrade my insulation? Pretty sure the answer is never, and if that’s the case, then you should put at much insulation into your walls as is humanly possible while you’re building. There are a few ways to maximize your insulation capacity in a standard wood-framed wall.

Engineered Wood Products

Previously, I did a little post about lumber, the cheapest and lowest quality control option in for structure.  Moving up the ladder a bit, there are engineered wood products which have several advantages over traditional lumber, but generally cost more.  Engineered products are typically stronger, more dimensionally stable, and less prone to warping and twisting and most houses generally have at least a few engineered components.  In general, they cost in line with a steel beam, material wise, but are often much easier to install being either lighter or capable of being put together in place.