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This Site Has Moved To

May 6, 2015



Greetings to all of you who have been following me for several years, or are just finding my site for the first time. After many months of careful contemplation, I’ve decided to merge my Sustainable Home Contracting Help blog with our company website Suncrest Builders. All the articles you can find here, plus more are on our main site for these topics:

  • Insured Property Loss
  • Material Knowledge
  • Organizing Your Design
  • Getting More Value For Your Investment
  • The Construction Team
  • Contracts

Although I’m always writing as a design-build contractor with my own set of experiences, I will continue to write posts that are as relevant and helpful as possible to a wide range of homeowners: not only for the friends and clients of Suncrest Builders. It is evident that although there are a lot of blogs and articles for DIY work to be done on your property, I don’t find any more information about the topics I’ve selected for this website than I did back in 2012 when I first started writing!

In addition, if you are most interested in:

  • Sustainable design
  • Off-grid home design
  • Renewable technologies
  • Green and sustainable building products
  • Rural home construction

You’ll find many articles on our Envirohaven Sustainable Housing Solutions site.

I found it very difficult to spend the time needed to write quality posts with information that is as helpful relevant as possible while maintaining the 3 different sites.

Thank you for choosing to spend a bit of your valuable time reading my posts. I hope that you are able to take a few moments and check out our either, or both, of our other websites where I will continue to write on the topics that come to my attention from questions and comments sent to me as well as situations I run into as I go about my work of helping people turn their dreams into a home that they love to spend time in.

In Gratitude,



Wise Window Choices Save Energy

February 4, 2015
Windows installed in Haven™ home.

Windows installed in Haven™ home.

When planning for maximum energy efficiency in your home, windows need the most critical evaluation. Many manufactures are touting energy efficient glass, but it’s what they aren’t talking about that is just as crucial for keeping those dollars from flying out the window!  Both wood and vinyl window frames get high marks for providing a way for warm air to travel to cold air. That is a bad thing when you’re trying to keep your heating and cooling bills to a minimum.

According to the Efficient Windows Collaborative  three energy performance characteristics of windows are used to portray how energy is transferred and are the basis for how energy performance is quantified: Insulating Value, Heat Gain from Solar Radiation, and Infiltration.

1. Insulating Value, or the “U-Factor”, is how well the window glass keeps the warm air (either inside or out) from traveling to the cold air it will continually seek.

2. Heat Gain from Solar Radiation or Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) is simply how much heat is transferred through the glass when the sun shines in.

3. And lastly, Infiltration is about how much air can pass through your window assembly.

To find the most efficient as well as cost effective windows for our Haven homes, we went to the experts at NVision Glass for help. They introduced us to the Anderson Series 100 window. There are three aspects of this window that won us over.

a. It is made from the vinyl and wood waste products of other Anderson windows

b. The Series 100 window is the only window we could find that is built with a honeycomb frame adding strength and durability as well as much more Insulating Value in the frame than other windows.

c. The cost. A great window that offers more for less. That’s sustainable!

For all the exciting details regarding Anderson Series 100 performance, click here.

Watch the video to hear NVision owner, Josh Munns, explain what he likes about Envirohaven and what you will like about NVision Glass.

We look forward to hearing what your experiences have been with energy efficient windows have been. Please share this post with other sustainability minded folks you know.

This article is shared courtesey the blog page

In The Dark about Lighting Savings?

November 24, 2013

11_main_solatube_picLook at your current power bill. Now imagine it being 8-10% lower without having to struggle to see well while getting dressed in the morning, cooking, doing desk work, or other detail oriented tasks. Smart lighting design that uses natural light in the most efficient and effective ways possible can substantially lower your power bills.

The U.S. EIA ( Energy Information Administration) estimates that “Residential lighting consumption was about 186 billion kWh or 13% of all residential electricity consumption.” 

Even if you’re not concerned about saving a few dollars a year, you can’t argue with the fact that natural lighting feels better to be in. According to the Lighting Research Center, natural light, or “full spectrum” light allows for us to enjoy the truest colors in our world.

An article by Sheryl Eisenberg in “This Green Life”, Energy-efficient Light, written in 2004 is worth revisiting. Sheryl provides a list of mostly simple things that can be done to maximize natural light in order to use less energy; sustainable lighting.

There are only two additions/ changes to Sheryl’s list that I would like to note:

(1) With the advantage of 9 years of energy technology under the bridge since Sheryl’s article,  LED’s have replaced CFL’s (fluorescent) in a big way. Since we wrote about LED lighting in April of 2012, the cost has come down so much that it’s widely available at popular retain outlets. New stores have opened up that sell only LED fixtures, and the lenses available for LED’s are highly improved. Stay tuned for a new post about how to use LED fixtures as part of a comprehensive lighting design in the near future.

(2) For roughly $400-600 each (depending on length of tubing needed and roofing material), Solatubes can provide a LOT of beautiful natural light. We’ve installed them everywhere for our clients, but they are especially enjoyable in interior areas that are otherwise hard to reach like hallways, garage work areas, interior kitchens, and many utility rooms.

Check out Sheryl’s list and other good information about creating a sustainable lifestyle on the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  site.

With lighting being such a big part of our energy expenditure, it’s a big part of creating a more sustainable lifestyle! Please share your creative and efficient lighting experiences with us.



Under- slab and Stem-wall insulation; Small Investment-Big Savings

November 22, 2013

Insulated slab pour day 11.20.13If you’ve been wondering if foundation insulation is worth the expense, this article will inspire you to….just do it!

A very small investment can add up to many many dollars of energy expense staying in your home rather than being sucked into the ground where it’s worthless to anything but the rodents and bugs living there!

Check out this article and let us know what you think! We look forward to hearing from you.

Affordable Earth-Air Heat Exchange System Saves Energy Costs

November 21, 2013

geothermalAffordable Earth Tubes, a type of geothermal system, have been used for decades to cut energy costs up to 80% in well insulated homes. While geothermal systems are very efficient and effective the cost can often outweigh the benefits.  A large system of tubes requires a large amount of property to be dug up. This excavation can be very cost prohibitive as well as severely scar the landscape. Complications multiply when there are a large amount of trees or rocky soil where the system needs to be installed. While certainly not the most efficient of the geothermal systems, our research on Earth-Air Heat Exchange Systems has convinced us that this smaller type of system adds great value for a cost that is well within reach of modest budgets, especially when installed in new construction. For existing homes with a crawl space, the retro-fit project will prove more complicated, but worth investigating. 

Envirohaven as installed two Earth-Air Tubes in their Haven model home in Reno, Nevada. You can read about their research and see a photo of their system here. 

Learn more about this simple, affordable, sustainable, way to get more heat and cooling for less money.  If you have questions or comments about this system and its sustainable properties, we’re interested in hearing from you!


Grey Water Recycling For Arid Climate Zones

November 17, 2013

07-23-12 039The following article with information about grey water and the benefits of recycling was posted by the on the blog on November 13, 2013. Hope you find it interesting.

If you are looking to incorporate grey water recycling into an existing home, unless you are able to do the work yourself, you’ll most likely find it complicated, and probably cost prohibitive. The site linked to in this article, Grey Water Action,  is packed full of information that I hope you will find helpful.

When building a new home in more arid climate zones, creating a separate drain system for sinks and showers to a filtration system and holding tank for outdoor use does not require much additional time or material expense. Most consumers looking to be environmentally responsible in those areas will probably agree that the benefit will outweigh the expense over time. If budget is a concern during the construction process, the preliminary plumbing can be done so that the tank and filtration system can be added at a later time.

If you’re in the process of building a new home, it’s best to ask your plumber for more details.

We’re happy to have your comments or questions for more information on this topic.

More On Sustainable Building Practices

November 17, 2013

logo-symbolAs many of you already have found out, I’ve been focusing a good portion of my time building a new company with partners Greg Bischoff and Clint Borchard. Our company, Envirohaven, manufactures home packages that are green, sustainable, highly durable, affordable, and relatively easy for others to assemble. Because of that effort, I’ve not had the time to post to this blog for some months.

I’m happy to announce that we’ve been able to add a team of researcher/writers to the Envirohaven Team that will be contributing to the blog on that site. I’ll be sharing those posts that are relevant to Sustainable Home Contracting here on this site.

Although working with clients who are interested in designing and building sustainable homes that are more suitable for conventional neighborhoods is still a passion of ours at Suncrest Builders,  Envirohaven has grown out the growing need to provide a way for people of average means to live off-grid or in a net-zero home. The choice, or need, to live without access to public electricity has become much more prevalent. The options for being able to build in an affordable way and allow for implementation of sustainable design practices and innovative green materials have not kept up with demand. My partners and I began looking at sustainability in a holistic way several decades ago. We believe that Sustainability is not just about putting non-toxic materials into the home you live in.  We believe that, although that’s important, there is much more to it than that. It’s about using less to create more.  Using fewer materials can actually equate to creating more living space when value engineering practices are implemented. Fewer materials equates to a life time of lower costs in maintenance and replacement materials. Using less equates to less natural resources (petroleum among other products) and the emissions created when transporting your materials to your home which equates to less costly materials.  My partners and I have spent our careers proving that a holistically sustainable home need not be out of the financial reach to the average person. Less, should not cost more.

For a product to be considered “green”, scrutiny should be given to how that product holds up and the manufacturing practices of the company. There are currently no national US standards or certifications that enable a consumer to be sure that the products they buy are holistically responsible. Certifications such as USGBC LEED, NAHB Green Building, and even Energy Star are all developed from an industry perspective. Industry desire to make more green by selling “green” is woven into the fabric of every one of those certifications. It’s not that they are inherently bad, but consumers looking to live in a healthy and sustainable environment can not take comfort in knowing that they have lofty acronyms attached to their home. From my perspective, it is more important to note that consumers who find they cannot afford the price tag that comes with those certifications do not have to feel they cannot afford to live in a home that is holistically sustainable!

In a perfect world, we would use only products that  are grown or mined close to home by companies that are all environmentally responsible. But it’s not a perfect world. We are continually required to make the most responsible decisions we can make from a limited amount of choices. My goal for this Sustainable Home Contracting, Envirohaven, and our Suncrest Builders clients, is to help wade through that mine field of choices to make the best set of choices for any given situation. It’s a constant learning process due to the constant stream of new building products and practices entering the market every day.

If there are topics or new products of interest to you that have not been covered here, please post a comment below and I will do my best to research that topic or question and post an article about it. I’m always happy to expand my body of knowledge and appreciate the help I get from readers and clients for coming up with new and interesting material information to share.

Thank you for your continuing support.

Beware of Hidden Costs When Purchasing Rural Property

November 19, 2012

A version of this post can also be found on the website for Envirohaven, a company that manufactures panelized home kits designed specifically for the special needs of living without access to public utilities or, off-grid.

If you’re planning on purchasing a remote piece of property , you’ll want to be a good detective to find out as much as possible before falling in love.  Costs for improvements, water and septic as well as local building regulations can make your dream home cost prohibitive, if these costs are hidden at the time you purchase your property. Bringing in electrical power can cost in the neighborhood of $100,000 per mile.

Septic:  it’s unlikely that you will have access to a community sewage system. You can choose several options. If you plan on really roughing it, you might use a pit toilet. Some people choose to create a composting toilet system, or purchase one. In all probability, you’ll choose to put in a septic system. To find out if a standard septic system will function property in the soil and pass (US) health department regulations, a soils engineer will need to be hired to do what is called a “perk test”. Essentially, a big hole is dug, water added, and the engineer times how long it is for the water to drain.  Several issues can come up that would require a special (special is always more expensive) system that will need to be engineered specifically for your location. For example, if the water takes too long, if your ground water table is too high, or if there’s not enough drain-able dirt downhill from your home, it’s going to cost you. If a perk test hasn’t been done on your property, always purchase the property contingent on a successful perk test.

The Well:  How deep is the average well in your area, and what are the average well costs?

Access: Is there a road maintenance agreement with surrounding properties? This is a written document that reflects an agreement between all parties that use the road for access to their properties about many issues such as; how will the road be maintained when it ruts, is deep in snow, or washed out. Who pays? How is the responsibility divided up? Do the neighbors adhere to the agreement?

A road maintenance agreement can sometimes be required before a bank with finance a project on the property.

If there is no road or driveway to your building site, speak to an excavator who does road work, in your area, to get cost estimates before making an offer on the property. Crossing drainage or small ravines can add tens of thousands of dollars to your building cost.

Sprinklers: Does the county building authority require sprinklers in homes without access to fire hydrants or in remote locations?


The answers to these property improvement questions, and other unknowns, might require a such large enough chunk of your budget that you won’t have enough left over to build your dream home.

Finding a qualified Design-Build Construction firm with a sustainable focus before securing your property can help ensure that you will be shopping for property with a plan in mind. When you find your place to settle, it will be as ideal as possible for your logistical needs as well as your emotional needs.

Did I forget anything important that you have had experience with? Please add your comments or questions below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Why Rectangular Homes Didn’t Hold Up To Sandy

November 11, 2012

by Greg Bischoff for Envirohaven, Reno, Nevada

First published November 11, 2012

Watching the news about the devastation which Hurricane Sandy brought to the East Coast makes us all realize that everything man creates is insignificant when compared to the power of nature.

Having grown up on Long Island, my heart goes out to those tens of thousands affected by this tragedy. The typical suburban house that our family lived in was built in 1955. It had a full basement, part of which was finished into two bedrooms that my brothers and I shared. I remember when the carpenters came to finish out these rooms. I would go down there when they left for the day, and was fascinated by how it all went together. Maybe that’s what sparked my interest in building, and led to my career as a building contractor.

The houses now built here in Reno, NV, and most everywhere in the US, are much different than those built on the East Coast in the 1950’s. Those older homes didn’t have the straps, ties and hold downs that are required for homes built today. We all saw pictures of houses lifted off their foundations and moved hundreds of feet, still in one piece. This would be much less likely to happen to a newer house fitted with contemporary framing hardware. Today’s codes do make for stronger structures, but we can do better! I hope that out of this terrible tragedy,  new ideas will appear on the horizon that will make our homes even stronger. We can only imagine what will be the shape of things to come.

Of special interest to all of us here at Envirohaven was a CNN special report on the devastation wrought by Sandy that mentioned houses which looked undamaged from the street. When inspected further, there was evidence that they had actually twisted, from the strong winds. Where there once were straight flat walls, now an S-curved surface extended the whole length of the house. The reporter said that the whole house would need to be torn down. Even though still attached to its foundation, with no obvious blown out walls or roof, these homes became a big pile of trash. What could have been the cause of this?

Almost all houses these days are made of rectangles. A four sided rectangle is a very unstable structure. If you apply pressure to the side of an un-reinforced rectangle, it will deform rapidly. Keep up the pressure and it will eventually flatten. Builders add “shear” to these rectangles to strengthen them, by nailing plywood or OSB to the frame. This is a good solution, but not the best. A severe weather event like Hurricane Sandy, and the tremendous power it brings, can deform even reinforced rectangles.

Triangles, on the other hand, are the strongest shape there is. An un-reinforced triangle will not deform when pressure is applied to one side. Reinforce it with plywood sheeting, and you have something that is almost impossible to bend out of shape. Imagine a structure made of interlocking triangles. It will be close to indestructible. After the HUGE 9.2 earthquake in Chile a few years ago, the only structures left standing in Conception, the town nearest the epicenter, were houses made of interlocking triangles.

Our company, Envirohaven, is currently manufacturing triangular based homes. The principle behind our patent pending design combines the strength of interlocking triangles, with the space efficiency of a hemisphere. The efficient utilization of interior space is superior to what is found in a traditional rectangular home, a traditional “dome” structure or yurt. If you’re interested in  learning more about strong, hyper efficient, cost-effective and sustainable homes, check out Our Homes.

Please remember that an unimaginable number of people are still homeless, without power, heat (in severe winter conditions), water, clothing, food, and any basic necessity you can think of. The Red Cross is still the go-to organization in times of disasters. There are also many local organizations in New York and New Jersey that are doing the hard work of helping people and animals in every area of need.

Do you have questions about this post, or, do you have experience with homes that have survived a natural disaster? We would be very interested in hearing from you.

Are Triple Pane Windows A Good Investment?

August 19, 2012

Triple pane windows have been around for years and I believe that not enough attention has been given to the question of whether or not they are a good investment. There are several companies that I’ve become familiar with that use sophisticated sales techniques to sell triple pane windows directly to homeowners. Once such company here in Reno only replaces old windows with triple pane at premium prices. They are so overpriced, in my opinion, that they only work with unsuspecting homeowners and will not work with contractors at all.


I asked an expert on the subject, Brian McCormick of NVision Companies, Reno, Nevada. NVision was founded on over 32 years of industry experience and is one of the largest window distributors in Nevada and the leading green home energy company in the state.


All windows display a rating called the fenestration rating.  Which ever type of window you are considering, this is the most important information to use when considering which option would be most effective for energy savings, in any environment. According to Wikipedia, fenestration is refers to the design and/or disposition of openings in a building or wall envelope.  Who knew! Provided by the National Fenestration Council ( yes, there appears to be a council for everything!),  the rating label on the window is the only way to know if you are comparing apples to apples and getting your money’s worth when considering windows.


As far as triple pane glass is concerned, it can be more energy efficient if you choose the right surface configuration. Generally most experts will tell you that a quality frame with dual pane glass using a high Low-E (low thermal emissivity) value (366) is very close in rating and easier on your wallet.


Argon gas is available to be inserted into the dead space between the panes and does produce a slightly better fenestration rating. In past years Argon Gas would be used to fill the insulated glass units because it was necessary to receive a Federal Tax Credit for an efficiency upgrade. However, this tax credit is no longer in effect and Argon isn’t used as much. The elevation we live at, over 5,000 ft. and the route the glass has to travel require us to have a “Breather Tube” installed in all insulated glass units. The “Breather Tube” allows for the dead space to change with the elevation pressures as they travel. Therefore there is no guarantee that the gas won’t simply escape over time. Unless a home owner is adamant about wanting Argon NVision doesn’t recommend its use.


In our experience,  high quality windows with Low-E glass that are installed with insulated shades or even foil backed pleated shades give homeowners more bang for their sustainable buck than the cost of triple pane. When lowered, these shades help to keep warm or cool air from transferring in and out of the windows.

If you have further expertise and/or experience with efficient window products, we would love to hear from you.

Thank you Brian McCormick for taking your time to share your expertise with us. If you live in northern Nevada and would like further assistance from Brian, he can be reached at




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