The Passive House: Giving Back to the Community by Sourcing LocalOctober 2, 2020
This 12-part blog series will share the vision, architectural challenges, and construction effort involved in building a new house, one that defies conventional home design by integrating the environment in a rigorous, unprecedented and beneficial way.
Based on a conversation with Jon Sawatzky, Director of Product and Marketing for Loewen; Tony Novelli, Marketing Manager for Loewen; Diane van Horn, Architectural Territory Manager–Mid-Atlantic for Loewen; and Tom Vierschilling, Architect, WESKetch Architecture + Construction | November 9, 2020
If you stepped inside the Loewen facility in the heart of Manitoba, Canada, you would be hard-pressed to find an assembly line. Loewen, a manufacturer of premium wooden doors and windows, organizes its facility into makerspaces for expert artisans, who handcraft their products while maneuvering state-of-the-art technology. Wickedly cold winters, summer days with temperatures that reach into the 90s, and large swings in humidity have provided the perfect backdrop over the course of a century for the evolution of an innovative, premium window product that is now part of the building envelope for Cold Brook Farm (CBF).
A building envelope is the exterior system of the home and includes everything from the foundation to masonry, insulation, doors and windows. Although windows have the least insulation value and make up a relatively small portion of the building envelope, they provide the most opportunity to leak air. For the passive house, WESKetch Architecture + Construction balanced window performance with architectural integrity and considered many product choices, including several European options. Historically, high-performance windows for environmentally-responsible homes have come almost exclusively from Europe. The selection of Loewen windows came down to craftsmanship, the aesthetic, superior design, durability, and the opportunity to source windows of this caliber as locally as possible—in this case, from neighboring Canada.
Coastal Douglas Fir for windows that are sustainable and recyclable
Coastal Douglas Fir trees can soar to a height of 330 feet. Strong, stable, and enduring, these trees are the standard for Loewen’s fit-and-finish, energy-efficient windows. Douglas Fir has a high natural resistance to moisture absorption, decay, and insect infestation. Their wood, harvested from sustainably-managed forests along the Pacific Northwest of the United States and British Columbia, is crafted by Loewen into windows with solid wood frames. Loewen’s commitment to quality is driven by the company’s belief that today’s consumers are more educated than ever before and are making conscious choices about what they are putting in their homes.
For Deborah and Jason D., the windows for Cold Brook Farm were a deliberate, environmentally-responsible choice. The return-to-the environment philosophy of Loewen is core to the ethos of Cold Brook Farm, and Douglas Fir windows are both sustainable and recyclable. The Loewen plant is remarkable in its commitment to sustainability too. Scrap metal is recycled, and wood cut-offs are re-engineered into smaller components, with scrap used to heat the plant. The plant recycles and reuses almost all of the wood waste and unused metal created during manufacturing and strives to put no materials into landfills.
Although only one part of a well-designed, integrated building envelope, the windows provide the “face” of this otherwise unsung hero in Cold Brook Farm’s goal of achieving Net Zero. Knowing that the windows would be crafted by a company with sustainability as a core part of their mission is why the Cold Brook Farm team partnered with Loewen. —Jason D.
The future residents of Cold Brook Farm are not alone in their environmental awareness. The global movement towards sustainability and net-zero buildings is one that Loewen follows closely. The European Union (EU) is far ahead of the United States in enacting legislation in support of passive buildings. In 2002, the EU established the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which mandated that all new buildings be nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs) from December 31, 2020.
Back in the United States, in 2006, California passed Title 24-2019 mandating that beginning in 2020, all new single-family and low-rise multifamily homes are designed to achieve zero net electricity use by utilizing solar energy systems, highly efficient mechanical systems and an excellent thermal enclosure. Despite the requirements contained in California’s Title 24-2019 being the most demanding state-wide energy performance-oriented building standards in the United States, the Loewen windows being used at Cold Brook Farm will outperform the stipulated U-factor, a measure of heat transfer, requirements by a full 50%.
A view of Cold Brook Farm
Windows That are “Built-to-Last”
The vision behind Cold Brook Farm is framed by three overarching principles, which guide all major product choices for the passive house. The architectural team and homeowners balance cost against whether products are:
As it turns out, Coastal Douglas Fir is the strongest and most durable of all the softwoods. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Products Laboratory, after 12 years at two test sites, untreated pine, maple, and red oak decayed—pine and maple severely—whereas Douglas Fir showed no decay. Research by the US Department of Forestry and MacMillan Bloedel Limited also shows a remarkable difference in the performance of Douglas Fir relative to commonly-used pine.
At Cold Brook Farm, balancing superior thermal performance against cost and the correct architectural aesthetic were the drivers behind the decision to choose Loewen casement and picture windows. The corner of the master bedroom, upper portions of the dining and sitting areas, and tower stairway will be fitted with beautiful, non-operating picture windows. Other locations in the home have casement windows that close more securely than double-hung windows, thereby improving their thermal performance, and all of the windows for the home have triple-pane, LowE (Low Emittance), gas-filled glazing.
Cold Brook Farm was conceived architecturally to have elements of both traditional and modern farmhouse design. To ensure an exceptionally high-performance building envelope, we needed to individually specify the look, performance and functionality of every window. Loewen’s made-to-order windows provided that flexibility without tipping the cost over into the custom window category. —Jason D.
True Triple Glazing Technology for a Thermal Window Advantage
True Triple Glazing proved ideal for the windows and the building envelope of the passive house. In 1973, Loewen pioneered the True Triple Glazing product design process. While most window manufacturers focus on single and dual-glazed technology, Loewen has designs that accommodate triple glazing configurations with a deeper, more robust sash and panel.
A picture window for the master bedroom at Cold Brook Farm
Not only does this window design provide a thermal advantage, but it also increases the strength of the product, allowing for larger sizes. Loewen’s True Triple Glazing system features LowE coatings, three panes of glass, and stainless steel spacer bars that are sealed into a single unit. The cavity is optimally designed at ½” to maximize the effects of Argon, which minimizes thermal transfer and reduces condensation. The LowE coatings control solar heat gain and maximize insulation—critical for a high-performing building envelope.
Clean lines, a beveled profile, and traditional joinery make Loewen windows striking and beautiful. However, the energy-efficiency and technology behind them are, in many ways, the true marvel. As WESKetch Architecture + Construction assessed the components of the building envelope against the net-zero North Star (energy use – energy produced = zero), Loewen windows became the clear choice. The company’s corporate commitment to land stewardship and cradle-to-grave product performance was not lost on the future residents of Cold Brook Farm either as their vision of the passive house continues to come to life.