Build a Better Home for Your Family
How does a build firm like Opus Vitae Construction come to emphasize high-performance and healthy homes as one of our key offerings? Our curiosity and desire to build better structures first led us to wonder how we could achieve more fundamentally sound and longer-lasting houses than those we’ve torn apart or built in the past.
With extensive experience in the construction business, we continued to see the common pitfalls in the general construction of a home, and the same curiosities which first triggered our desire to build better structures caused us to reconsider almost every aspect of the home building process – even how to think about the structure itself.
What is a High Performance Home?
Opus Vitae Construction is a certified Passive House builder. We believe a house is more than a set of minimally related materials interacting with one another. Rather, a house is a dynamic and complex system where the interrelatedness of the parts matter as much (or more!) than each alone. One attribute of a complex system, such as a house, is that small changes to the system can have disproportionately large and thus unexpected outputs. This can be nerve-wracking if we, as a builder, are asked to assemble systems in ways we don’t deeply understand…especially when things like mold, moisture intrusion, and indoor air quality are part of the equation. The occupants’ health is at stake and a healthy environment is key for a healthy home.
Part of the Passive House training that we completed was to determine the best wall assembly for the Pacific Northwest region. After months of research, we came to realize that there’s no right answer – at least not until you study the demands of the proposed design in an exact geographic location and carefully consider the specific occupants. This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. Simply put, a beautiful and functionally superior home does not come to exist without focused study by a collaborative team in an expertly applied way – in both design and build. We now know that to achieve qualitative results like durability, resiliency of systems, indoor air quality, quiet and consistent comfort from room to room, low energy consumption, and the health of our clients’ homes, we need to adopt a much more robust design process to include a full engineering study. What’s that, you may ask?
An engineering study of this sort begins with mapping the exact location of the proposed home and considering the client-driven wants and needs as illustrated in preliminary design drawings. At minimum, there are three phases during the engineering study: Passive, Active, and Resilient Systems Analyses. Passive Systems Analysis considers daylight, enclosure, and energy usage to better inform architectural decisions. Active Systems Analysis considers mechanical systems, energy usage, and spacing requirements. And Resilient Systems Analysis considers energy and water usage, storage and backup options, and spacing requirements.
In addition to these offerings, the engineering study may also include enclosure consulting, integrated mechanical design, an electrical master plan, and a high-performance plumbing plan. Thorough engineering of this sort must happen during schematic design (creating the basic floorplan) and design development phases (adding exterior elevations and roof structure) – well before the completion of the full construction documents! As the design progresses, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing are engineered and incorporated into the final construction documents. This ensures that during the build, our trade partners get to install systems that have been integrated into the structural design of the building and modeled to perform.
How does Building Science inform our Construction Projects?
Carried out in collaborative conversation with the architect and builder, proper engineering exposes potential lurking trouble spots in design not typically thought about in other traditional construction approaches. We call this “Integrated Design” and there are three legs to the stool: Architect, Engineering Firm, and General Contractor – all well versed in building science principles and best practices.
There are, of course, up-front costs associated with this additional layer of design, but the approach saves money and time during the build cycle and, most significantly, for the life of the house. It’s far more efficient to draw and erase from files on a computer than it is to build, demolish, and change construction in the field! As your contractor, we have a high level of confidence that we’ll build a structure that serves your specific needs in your home in its exact geographic location in such a way that delivers when the integrated design process is top-notch! It’s worth saying: We believe that a home built this way could easily last 200 years.
Why use an Integrated Design Approach?
With an Integrated Design approach, it’s now only a hop, skip, and jump to specifying construction materials and finishes that provide additional health benefits that might otherwise be impossible. That’s super exciting because a core value for Opus Vitae Construction is doing all things better for our in-house team, trade partners, and clients. It’s an exciting thought that building healthy homes means we care for the artisans working in your home as a byproduct. For example, with the right exterior wall design in place, we can use lime plaster on the inside of the exterior walls of the house to take advantage of the humidity flywheel allowing the home to reach homeostasis with just the right amount of humidity for optimum comfort and occupant health. Or in another case, the choice of healthy, non-off-gassing finishes with the already-engineering and installed air filtration system will create exceptional indoor air quality.
Additionally, when we carefully design the exterior wall assembly of a rural house, we can nearly eliminate insect and rodent infestation, which have numerous house durability and occupant health implications. As you may imagine, only including healthy finish materials, when not coupled with integrated design and construction best practices, cannot yield consistent healthy home results. A vastly different, wholistic approach to residential home design and construction needs to be adopted which can also readily adapt to new code changes, shifts in occupant uses and habits, and even the microclimate of the house.
What Construction Challenges Do You Have?
What challenges would you like to bring to Opus Vitae? Have you discovered that you have Lyme Disease or high sensitivity to mycotoxins, and you need a house that will be a safe haven? Do you know that you have heightened sensitivity to electromagnetic fields and need to be confident you have a building team who cares about and is skilled to address those needs? Do you long to build a house that can become an heirloom for future generations of your family?
We would love to dream with you about building a house that’s not only beautiful but checks all sorts of other boxes as well. Challenge Accepted.