Ahead of the Game
AHEAD OF THE GAME
Tamarack Construction was building energy efficient homes long before it became popular
Before energy prices sky-rocketed, before Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Academy Award, and before “green building” became a widely adopted phrase in residential construction, Paul Wilson was building energy efficient homes.
For more than 14 years, Wilson, the president of Tamarack Construction in Florence, has been building custom, conscientious energy-saving homes – houses that all meet, and most often exceed, the requirements for ENERGY STAR® certification. Just this past April (2009), Tamarack Construction was named Small Builder of the Year for Montana by Northwest ENERGY STAR® Homes.
“Tamarack Construction Company has proven to be a leader in the green building industry with a demonstrated commitment to education and training, in addition to building quality homes,” said David Hetherington, Program manager for Northwest ENERGY STAR® Homes.
In 2008, Tamarack built five ENERGY STAR® certified homes in Montana. According to Northwest ENERGY STAR®, those homes will remove 29,065 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air annually.
What separates Tamarack Construction Company from most other home builders in western Montana is that they don’t use standard stick framing for walls, ceilings, and floors. Wilson has been building homes using Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) since he tried it out on his own house in 1992.
Instead of the standard stick framing that uses studs to connect the exterior and interior boards, SIPs use a rigid foam plastic insulation between two oriented strand boards (OSBs). By not having studs between the exterior and interior boards, the foam insulation panels reduce the significant heat transference that can quickly trigger a furnace on a cold day or the air conditioning on a hot one.
Wilson started building with SIPs full-time in 1994 with West Slope Panel Homes after learning the trade and doing it part-time for a couple of years. In 1996, Tamarack Construction was formed. The company designs the floor plan in consultation with its customers, with a committed focus on ensuring energy efficiency and meeting th4e desires of their clients, Wilson said. Their streamlined process keeps everything in one place to keep the cost of design down and to maintain consistency with the essential elements of the construction.
“A lot of people, even some architects, don’t realize the little things that make an energy efficient home,” he said.
Most customers find that their homes will be so airtight and energy efficient that they won’t need a central heating or cooling unit.
“Most of our houses are of a size that gas fireplaces can heat them,” Wilson said. “In an energy efficient home, you don’t have cool spots and hot spots. It’s generally pretty even throughout the house.”
Because it is less labor intensive to install the panels, construction can be quicker to build, depending on the blueprint, he said, adding that their homes can often be no more expensive to build than a standard stick frame house. And the owner gets the added benefit of reduced heating/cooling bills and the knowledge that they are using less fossil fuel.
“In most of our homes, the heating and cooling costs 1/3 of what a typically-built stick-framed house would cost,” he said.
Wilson said he was glad to see home builders finally start to acknowledge the need for “green” building but added he hopes people go beyond mere labels to determine if something is genuinely environmentally conscious.
“There are different shades of green,” he said. “Green starts with energy efficiency. Period. You can’t have a green home without it being energy efficient.”
Permission to reprint granted by: Greg Martin, freelance writer
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