News + Updates

We are excited to have started building the SURE HOUSE in a parking lot on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken New Jersey. “SURE Construction” is a subset of our PopSci blog that we’ll use to chronicle our construction process. Check back often if you want to follow our progress and get a first hand view of how a sustainable and resilient house takes shape.

We are excited to have started building the SURE HOUSE in a parking lot on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken New Jersey. “SURE Construction” is a subset of our PopSci blog that we’ll use to chronicle our construction process. Check back often if you want to follow our progress and get a first hand view of how a sustainable and resilient house takes shape.

To meet the most stringent building energy use standards in the world, SURE HOUSE has teamed up with the air-sealing experts at 475 High Performance Building Supply.

Passive House, a building energy standard originally from Germany, is growing in popularity in the United States, especially in the New York area. It has a simple idea – create a building envelope that is so airtight and well insulated that you can control the flow of energy in and out of the structure.

A building needs to be wrapped like a present in a completely airtight, unbroken layer. Constructing such an efficient envelope involves more than just adding layers of insulation.

So how do you air-seal a house and why is it so important? Over the next few weeks we hope to show the entire process and how it applies to the SURE HOUSE, but the simple answer is; with the use of specialized tapes and membranes. Because this practice is still new to the United States and these specialized materials are not yet manufactured here, we enlisted the help of 475, Passive House building component suppliers located in Brooklyn.

Stevens Institute SURE HOUSE students installing air-sealing tape on floor

475 – named after the Passive House cut off for Specific Heating and Cooling Demand of 4.75 kBtu/ft2yr – supplies air-sealing materials for the Northeast United States and offers guidance on how to use them in construction. In terms of building science, air sealing is critical to creating a successfully efficient envelope. This is true for many reasons, some of which are not immediately obvious. First, a leaky house contributes to significant losses of energy due to the flow of conditioned air out of the building. This leakiness can be measured with a “blower door test” in which a house is pressurized and a number is generated called the “air changes per hour.”

The IECC requirement is 3.0 ACH50 for colder climates while the Passive House requirement is a fraction of that – 0.6 ACH50, quite a challenge and how it is achieved is different for every building. The second reason why this is so important is because airflow through an assembly actually greatly decreases the R-Value of the assembly due to convection removing heat from the insulation.

Finally, since an airtight wall can increase issues with moisture and mold inside the assembly, the assembly must be constructed with detailed analysis of water movement. This should provide greater control over how the wall will hold up if water gets inside.

As the SURE HOUSE team begins the air-sealing process, we decided it was time to head over to 475 on the other side of the island in Brooklyn to get everyone acquainted and to learn a little more about the products we will use. At the 475 warehouses, we took a look at their fleet of mockups showing how to properly seal any type of condition that might break an air barrier. The taping around window and doorframes, MEP penetrations, and at wall junctions must maintain a continuous barrier. A “red pencil test” is performed where you take a “red pencil” and start to draw a line along the air barrier and confirm that you can complete an entire loop without picking the pencil up off the page. If this can be done for every section of the house, you have succeeded and hopefully you will achieve the number you want with your blower door test. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.

With the help of 475, we are working out the issues in air-sealing the SURE House, starting with the basics. The first product every Passive House project should invest in is an interior, airtight membrane known as Intello. We will use this fabric-like membrane will wrap the interior of the framing of the walls and ceiling for the SURE HOUSE. The technology behind this material is groundbreaking in how it deals with moisture within a wall or roof.
When making a wall airtight, you don’t want to create an opportunity for moisture to get trapped in. Basically, water should always have a way to dry out, but how can water get past an airtight membrane? The creators of Intello have exploited the difference between airtight and vapor-tight to make a material that permits water to pass through it when moisture content reaches a certain level. When a wall gets too wet, the Intello membrane undergoes a chemical change, which allows the wall to dry out, and lessens the risk of mold growth.

The next big line of products we will be considering for air-sealing are the specialized tapes. There are an unlimited number of conditions that require tapes with different properties and geometries. 475 offers a multitude of tape products as well as advice on where to use them so it will be back to Brooklyn for the team as we wrap up SURE HOUSE to achieve optimal energy efficiency.

The student team from Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) says the SURE HOUSE — their contest entry for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 — is not only a student design project; after being built, it will be rigorously tested, extensively toured, and finally lived in. And this isn’t their first solar-powered rodeo. The SURE HOUSE is the 3rd consecutive SIT entry in the Solar Decathlon competition. You can see more about the 2011 and the 2013 solar-powered houses here.

SURE HOUSE is built to sustain a coastal storm with deployable shutters that protect the structure, and because the home’s power system supplies more energy than the house needs throughout the year, there is excess energy available to the community during power outages.

Read the full article here…

We are excited to have started building the SURE HOUSE in a parking lot on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken New Jersey. “SURE Construction” is a subset of our PopSci blog that we’ll use to chronicle our construction process. Check back often if you want to follow our progress and get a first hand view of how a sustainable and resilient house takes shape.

Hurricane Sandy was personal for students at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

They witnessed the humanitarian crisis that unfolded after the Hudson River spilled into the Mile Square City: portions of the city were underwater, some residents were trapped for days, and the National Guard patrolled the streets.

Further south along the Jersey Shore, the damage was catastrophic.

In the storm’s wake, the university — known for its science and engineering prowess — recognized the critical need to develop sustainable housing solutions and is now taking a leading role in designing a more storm-resilient future.

Read the full article here…

Flashback…1960s Seaside Park, NJ. You and your family are walking down your street toward the ocean, and eventually making your way towards the Seaside Heights Boardwalk. The neighborhood has a great deal of architectural integrity. Each house has its own story. From the articulated wooden boxes to the cedar shake beach bungalows, each iteration represents a kind of every man modernism that is accessible to people with middle class incomes.These small homes seem to have the perfect balance of house to landscape. Greeted by the ocean air at the end of the street, you walk along the beach and eventually make your way to the Boardwalk to enjoy the night with your family.

Let’s fast forward to 2015 Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, NJ…two towns devastated by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Walk down these streets, they are far from that 1960s storybook atmosphere. The integrity of these neighborhoods are now dictated by vinyl siding, mini McMansions, and flood restrictions.

SURE HOUSE rendered in shore community

As our team studied the past and present of New Jersey coastal communities, we started asking oursleves how do we get that 1960s aesthetic, style of living, and synergy with the landscape back in contemporary architecture? How do we get our middle-class target market interested in these energy efficient beach bungalows again? We really wanted to understand this typology and the effect it could have on the lifestyle in a coastal community. As a team we realized, sometimes the only way to move forward is to look back.

After researching various 1960s beach homes, there were many that stood out with regards to the way they handled their spatial conditions. Steven Holl, Richard Meier, Charles Moore, and William Turnbull Jr. designed many precedents that we were able to specifically look into. Turnbull would become a strong inspiration moving into concept and design. He had a knack for exploring formal spatial properties, siting, landscape design, and the use of basic, unrefined building materials to fit his houses into their natural surroundings. Turnbull was a local Jersey Boy, so he understood and was able to draw inspiration from a Jersey vernacular vocabulary. He loved exploring the concept of a “House within a House” or a continuation of interior space to the exterior. A few of his homes in particular display these concepts.

Budge House

Turnbull’s Budge House (1966) incorporates the kitchen and bedrooms as part of a screened enclosure while the living room corner becomes a permeable wall using its glazed walls and glass sliding doors that can open and close to maximize space in the summer. The building’s redwood plywood panels can be raised against the porch ceiling, like garage doors, opening the rooms to the outside.

Budge House, Healdsburg, California, 1966

Spec House II

The Spec House (1968) was Turnbull’s second attempt at designing a speculative development at Sea Ranch, California. The house featured exposed cross-bracing, douglas fir solid wood walls, plywood cabinetry, and sliding barn style windows and doors which all contribute to the home’s refined, rustic appeal. The living room positions the user in the intermediate zone between indoors and out creating a connection to hearth and shelter alongside the rugged beauty of the coastal landscape. The exterior is clad with natural redwood which diminishes the distinction between interior and exterior with its ability to weather and gray over time.

Spec House II, Sea Ranch, CA, 1968

Fall River Cabins

The Fall River Cabins in Glenburn, California continued the search for a universal beach home that began with the Sea Ranch Spec House II. Turnbull designed these homes to be flexible in terms of program, he was constrained by a strict budget that made economy essential. He continued to investigate the possibilities of single room living as he had done in the Budge House. Each home has large sliding doors that when rolled back open the indoors to the woods and meadows. At the opposite end are screen porches to encourage cross ventilation on hot summer days.

Fall River Cabins, Glenburn, CA, 1974

As seen in these three precedents, outdoor living areas are an important element of the architectural design, speaking to the importance of outdoor space in the lifestyle of the coastal communities. When it came to the SURE HOUSE, we realized these were important characteristics to integrate into a durable, energy efficient home. On top of that, we needed to keep our target audience in mind, a middle-class family of a coastal community.

Fall River Cabins, Glenburn, CA, 1974

As you can see, the Turnbull Beach Cabins and the SURE HOUSE have similar spatial characteristics. Openness. Flexibility. Integration of Nature. By creating a large coupled space around three distinct modules (wet, living, and entertainment), we are able to maximize our open floor plan’s relationship with the exterior. Granted, these studies only explore spatial organization and the overall parti as a diagram, but they are great foundations for our team to build upon while exploring ways to incorporate the material properties of this type of architecture into contemporary building strategies.

Our answer to the question of how to get that 1960s aesthetic, style of living, and synergy with the landscape back in contemporary architecture is straightforward: integrate outdoor space with a simple, contemporary interior that relies on ample natural daylight and functional, flexible living space to create a warm and inviting family home.

Yeah, we’re pretty SURE we can get on board with that.

View this blog on here.

Photos: Buildings in the Landscape – William Turnbull, Jr.

Hoboken, NJ
50° F
Partly Cloudy
Irvine, CA
82° F
Partly Cloudy

High-Performance Home

Buildings, and particularly our homes, are the single biggest consumer of energy today. In order to reduce our energy... Learn More