We're discussing high-performance home building techniques.

High-performance home building techniques: Site Tour in Houston, Texas.

Foreword by Ian Thompson, Editor

We’re discussing high-performance home building techniques today with our guest author Matt Risinger who is with Ryan Rush of Brick House Design Build in Houston. Ryan is implementing good building practices that maximise the energy efficiency of the house.

Ryan’s not building to passive Hause standards, but he has specified good quality products and has a really good job installing and sealing every joint, again maximising the building’s energy efficiency.

This 6,000 square foot (558m2) residence in Houston’s climate is conditioned by just two 3-ton heat pumps. That’s a remarkable 1,000 square feet per ton – a ratio that would have seemed improbable not long ago. It’s a testament to the power of integrated design and meticulous execution.

In HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems, particularly in North America, the cooling capacity of air conditioners and heat pumps is often measured in “tons.” This usage dates back to the days of ice-based cooling systems.

Here’s a quick explanation:

  1. One “ton” of cooling capacity is equivalent to the cooling power of one ton (2,000 pounds) of ice melting over 24 hours.
  2. In modern terms, 1 ton of cooling capacity equals 12,000 BTU (British Thermal Units) per hour, or about 3.5 kilowatts of cooling power.
  3. So, a 3-ton heat pump has a cooling capacity of 36,000 BTU/hour (3 * 12,000).

The air sealing achievements are equally impressive. At 1.1 ACH50, this home is approaching passive house standards in a challenging climate. It’s a level of performance that demands respect and close study.

What truly sets this project apart, however, is Ryan’s holistic approach. He’s not just focusing on individual components; he’s rethinking entire systems. Take the roof, for instance – 7,500 square feet without a single penetration. Or the fireplace – a decorative element that maintains aesthetic appeal without compromising the building envelope.

As seasoned building professionals, I’m sure we all understand the complexity of balancing client expectations, code requirements, and performance goals. Ryan’s work demonstrates that with innovative thinking and careful planning, we can exceed in all these areas simultaneously.

This project serves as a compelling case study in applying building science principles to influence architectural decisions. It’s a reminder that our role as builders extends beyond mere construction – we’re problem solvers, innovators, and stewards of sustainable design.

High-Performance Home Building Techniques with Ryan Rush and Matt Risinger.

Green Building Practices in Houston, Texas

Video Summary

In this Build Show episode, host Matt Risinger meets with Ryan Rush of Brick House Design Build in Houston, Texas to explore high-performance home building techniques. Ryan, known for his Instagram feed showcasing excellent building science details, gives a tour of one of his spec houses, demonstrating innovative approaches to energy efficiency, air sealing, and moisture management.

The 6,000 square foot spec house in Houston’s Memorial area exemplifies Ryan’s commitment to high-performance home building techniques. One standout feature is the use of Zip R6 sheathing, which combines a 1-inch insulation board with the Zip system for enhanced thermal performance. Ryan details his window installation method, using a window buck to provide a solid nailing surface and ensure proper air sealing.

Air sealing is a crucial aspect of high-performance home building techniques, and Ryan’s approach yields impressive results. The house achieves an airtightness rating of 1.1 ACH50, significantly better than the local code requirement of 5 ACH50. This exceptional air sealing is accomplished through careful detailing and strategic use of tapes and sealants.

Ryan demonstrates several innovative high-performance home building techniques for air sealing:

1. Using 3M All-Weather Flashing Tape 8067 for sealing concrete-to-sheathing connections

2. Applying closed-cell spray foam in overhangs to create a continuous air barrier

3. Installing an LVL beam on the exterior of the sheathing to maintain air barrier continuity

4. Using 3M flashing tape on the interior of window rough openings

Fresh air ventilation is another critical component of high-performance home building techniques. Ryan installs a Broan 160 AI Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) to provide controlled, balanced ventilation. The ERV is independently ducted from the HVAC system, allowing precise control over fresh air delivery. Ryan uses Fantech in-line fans to fine-tune airflow in bathrooms and other spaces.

The high-performance home building techniques employed in this project result in significant energy savings. Despite the home’s 6,000 square foot size, it only requires two 3-ton heat pumps for conditioning – achieving an impressive 1,000 square feet per ton ratio. This is two and a half times more efficient than typical construction practices in the area.

Ryan’s attention to moisture management is another hallmark of his high-performance home building techniques. He uses a 10-mil Stego vapor barrier under the slab, running it continuously through pier caps to create an uninterrupted moisture barrier. On the exterior, Ryan applies a Tamlyn drain wrap to create a rainscreen effect, providing an additional layer of protection against moisture intrusion.

The fireplace in this high-performance home is a unique feature. Recognizing that traditional fireplaces can be significant sources of air leakage, Ryan opts for a non-functional decorative fireplace. This design choice maintains the aesthetic appeal while eliminating a potential weak point in the home’s air barrier.

Ryan’s high-performance home building techniques extend to the roof design as well. The house features 7,500 square feet of roofing without a single penetration. Plumbing vents are routed through gable ends instead of the roof, eliminating the need for problematic roof flashings and enhancing long-term durability.

Throughout the video, Ryan emphasizes the importance of understanding building science principles and applying them to architectural design. His high-performance home building techniques demonstrate how thoughtful detailing and material selection can result in a home that is not only energy-efficient but also more durable and comfortable.

The video concludes with a closer look at the Broan ERV system, showcasing its auto-balancing feature and smart controls. Ryan explains how the system can adjust ventilation rates based on humidity levels or occupancy, further optimizing indoor air quality and energy efficiency.

In summary, this Build Show episode provides an in-depth look at cutting-edge high-performance home building techniques. Ryan Rush’s spec house serves as an excellent example of how careful planning, innovative materials, and attention to detail can create a home that far exceeds standard building practices in terms of energy efficiency, air quality, and durability.

By implementing these high-performance home building techniques, builders can create homes that are not only more comfortable for occupants but also more sustainable and cost-effective in the long run. As the construction industry continues to evolve, the strategies demonstrated in this video offer valuable insights for builders, designers, and homeowners alike who are interested in pushing the boundaries of residential construction performance.

The combination of advanced air sealing methods, thoughtful ventilation design, and strategic moisture management showcased in this project sets a new standard for high-performance home building techniques. As more builders adopt these practices, we can expect to see a significant improvement in the overall quality and efficiency of new homes across the country.

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