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2011 - Volume 1 Issue 2
Casas Bonitas
New Home Construction
Article: Joe Burgess
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Wood Frame Construction

Most new homes continue to utilize wood frame construction because of its versatility and cost. Not all exterior wood frame walls, however, are designed the same. Single story homes can utilize either 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 studs placed on either 16-inch or 24-inch centers. Your priorities will dictate the choices among extra strength, more room for insulation and the cost for materials. There is also an option for double-stud walls that can give the appearance of adobe. Filling the gaps between studs and the space between the two walls with blown-in insulation contributes to excellent energy efficiency.

    "We use engineered trusses for greater stability, FiberBrace™ sheathing for quieter exterior walls and treated floorplate lumber for resisting bugs and moisture."

Danny Andrus,
Trinity Homes
  "Our brick homes utilize a full brick that serves as a veneer for the wood frame construction. There is not much price difference, but in addition to providing a different look for this area, brick adds thermal lag (thermal mass) to the R-factor provided by the fiberglass insulation batts between the studs for a more efficient home."

Charlie Garcia,
Icon Homes
  "Adobe construction is a work of art, as opposed to a production line method, but we are able to maintain affordability by employing our own well-trained crews for both the manufacture and laying of the adobe."

Matt Acosta,
Artesan Construction
  "Our wall-construction process, with the excellent thermal mass qualities of rammed earth plus the thermal resistance (R-factor) of foam board, is combined with spray foam insulation over the ceiling to create a tight, energy-efficient envelope."

Pat Bellestri,
Soledad Canyon
Earth Builders
  "ICF construction, especially when combined with spray-foam roof insulation, provides a solid, energy-efficient sealed envelope for the home. It is termite and bug proof, mold and mildew proof, fire resistant and even bullet-proof, if you are concerned about that."

David Coyle,
Coyle Associates
  "The insulating qualities of ICF construction are fantastic, and with layers of polystyrene on both sides of the concrete center, sound attenuation is excellent."

Jeffery Huff,
The Design Alliance
[1] Engineered Studs - Engineered studs (laminated strand lumber – LSL) and finger-jointed studs are at least as strong as traditional lumber and are much less likely to bow and twist. LSL studs are typically made from softer, fast-growing timber like aspen and poplar that can contribute to green-building tax incentives.

[2] Oriented Strand Board - OSB (oriented strand board) sheathing is another product that can be used on the exterior walls for strength and stability. Glue options can minimize moisture damage to exterior sheathing over time.

[3] QuietBrace™ - QuietBrace™ sheathing significantly reduces noise infiltration from wind and traffic, while still contributing the necessary lateral support for wood frame walls.

There are obviously numerous possibilities when opting for the more traditional and usually less-expensive wood frame construction option. Make sure that your designer and builder are knowledgeable about the use of the newer and greener products, if those are your choices.

Brick Exteriors

Brick has historically been a preferred construction material because of its beauty, its fire, bug and mold proof qualities and it is essentially maintenance free. It is more expensive than typical wood frame construction materials and more labor intensive and time consuming. Today in the Southwest, brick is used primarily as a veneer for wood frame construction, still providing protection from the elements and adding a touch of beauty to the home. The wood framing contributes the opportunity for greater energy efficiency by providing space for insulation and adds flexibility with regard to interior wall uses and décor.

To build a brick home in the historic sense, utilizing the brick for bearing walls, requires experienced masons and adherence to local codes. Double walls with steel ties, headers and varying patterns provide the required lateral stability for supporting heavy roofs and second stories.

As a veneer, the first course typically is laid on a recessed ledge just below the floor level. Steel bands “tie” subsequent brick courses to the wood frame studs preventing bulges in the veneer over time.

Brick, in its varying shades and materials, is an exciting product fired in time-honored processes. There are also numerous sources for recycled brick, very much in keeping with green-building concepts.

Adobe Construction

Adobe offers a number of advantages, not the least of which may be its ties to ancient southwest cultures. Walls built with this product have sufficient thermal mass to maintain a relatively stable inside temperature when outside temperatures are swinging. Due to their low R-value, however, they are not efficient when outside temperatures remain very high or very low. Some form of insulation can be included in the wall construction to achieve best year-round results. Adobe walls will last for centuries if properly maintained, they harbor no termites or mold and they are fireproof.

Indications of mud (adobe) construction date back 7000 years in Mesopotamia and even 3000 years in ancient Peruvian cultures. It has been utilized extensively in southwest cultures from the tenth or eleventh centuries. New Mexico historically has been the greatest user of adobe in the United States and continues to be the leader in new-home adobe construction. Because of New Mexico’s moderate mean temperatures, relatively wide temperature swings between day and night, and its low rainfall, adobe has been an ideal building product.

Adobe is normally covered with weather resistant stucco, but if adobe is left exposed to the elements, which is done occasionally for aesthetic reasons, stabilized adobe that includes a petroleum product in the mix provides resistance to moisture. Today for optimum energy efficiency, the R-value of adobe is often improved by adding insulation between the adobe and stucco or by laying a double adobe wall that incorporates a gap filled with insulation.

Adobe construction is included in international building codes with more specific codes adopted by New Mexico, Arizona and California. Two story adobe structures are allowed using double wall construction and the materials used in adobe blocks are regulated and monitored.

Rammed Earth Construction

Rammed earth is a form of adobe construction utilizing a damp mix of mud and cement, mechanically compacted in layers between forms. The exterior surfaces are usually covered with stucco, forming a strong, stable wall. The material can be formed in curves and angles without sacrificing its strength or the consistency of its mass.

Like adobe, thick, rammed-earth walls provide the thermal mass that is slow to release a given temperature, yet by itself lacks the R-value to resist consistently high or low ambient temperatures. Rammed earth construction in this region includes foam board insulation between the earthen wall and the stucco. The foam board overlaps the foundation, thus fulfilling New Mexico’s requirement for insulating the slab perimeter and it contributes an R-value to the thermal mass of the rammed earth. When combined with tight roofing insulation, like spray foam, the envelope provides excellent energy efficiency.

The weight of the compacted mud in the 21-inch thick walls requires close attention to compaction of the pad and a slab designed for the load. Footings are typically 24 inches wide and 24 inches deep.

Rammed earth construction is usually associated with southwest architecture, but obviously would work well with Mediterranean designs. So, if the thought of mud walls tweaks your cultural connection to the Southwest and your commitment to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, rammed earth should be a consideration.

Insulated Concrete Form Construction

Wall construction using insulated concrete forms (ICF) is used by builders in both El Paso and Las Cruces, providing thermal mass and an excellent R-value for energy efficiency. As the name implies, the forms for holding the concrete are actually insulation blocks that remain in place after the concrete is cured, they are covered with stucco and thus become part of the final wall construction. In essence, the concrete that is poured within the insulation blocks develops a continuous bond with the slab, providing a very strong and very tight wall and floor system. As with adobe and rammed earth, ICF walls are bug and mold proof and fire resistant.

ICF construction lends itself to both southwest and Mediterranean architecture. Curves and angles are easily formed and the system contributes to strong two-story structures. Combining the strength and thermal mass of the concrete with the insulation blocks that sandwich the concrete, ICF is an excellent choice for longevity and energy efficiency.

To achieve energy efficiency with any wall construction, the home’s envelope must include tight and effective ceiling or roof insulation, low-E windows and good seals around doors and windows. Finally, hot water and air conditioning systems and even lighting designed for the specific space to be served are the final elements critical to an efficient home. ///
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