EcoTrip: New enclosure products from Europe

Post authored by Ty Allen, AIA New Energy Works

A week in Poland and Germany learning about wood fiber insulation? “That seems like a lot of wood fiber insulation,” was the first thought that went through my mind. “Never been to Poland but Germany was great, and it’s been a long time,” I’m pretty sure was the second.

Three days into the trip having flown into Gdansk, Poland, driven to and toured a plant in a place called Czarna Woda, and now Eric Fraser and I are sitting in a training room in Czarnków. The German-based company Steico we were visiting affectionately calls it Steico School; learning more about vapor open assemblies and dewpoint potential (trust me, it’s very interesting)—then the question came with sort-of knowing trepidation:

“…how long did it take?”

The answer was straight and clear from our sharp, young, Polish instructor, through his thick accent:

“Twenty years.”

Twenty years to move the needle enough to make a noticeable difference. Twenty years to change the thinking of enough individuals to affect the masses. Once it had entered the mainstream vernacular, twenty years to normalize high-performance building to the point where it has fully entered the consciousness of everyday Europeans looking to build a place they would raise their family and call home. The answer was at once overwhelming, yet inspiring.

As a company, we have the privilege of being part of a growing network of like-minded building companies across the United States who have worked for years to create awareness, influence decision makers, and inspire clients to build better, higher-performing structures. When I get the opportunity to partake in a conference, seminar, training, or tour related to high-performance building, I slink away like I have just stolen crumbs from the master’s table, (whichever table that might be). There so much to see, so much to know, so much to bring back to our clients.

Aside from the fact that Steico is an incredible company, moving mountains of raw material, to manufacture miles of wood fiber product for applications ranging from flooring underlayment, to the 200m insulation board we recently used in the construction of our own new cabinet shop and storage building—what came into focus was the foundation of the building industry in Europe is that buildings by definition should function at a certain level and take as little as possible. Whether in their planning and construction, or their life cycle operation.

Much of what we do as designers & builders is to prefilter products, materials, and approaches on behalf of our clients. In the end, we want to be able to present them with options that we understand and believe in.

While not always perfect (each decision is a complex balance between a client’s budget, stylistic preferences, performance goals and social sensitivities), our aim is to continue raising the bar for us and our clients. So we have found it important to go to places we have never heard of to better understand things that, on the surface, one would think that they couldn’t possibly know more about with the purpose that, in the end, we are able to help our clients make thoughtful decisions that will yield better performing, more durable, and more comfortable homes.

Twenty years.

We viewed the building past and present of Poland and Germany through a very narrow slit. Through companies such as Steico, our old friends at Hundegger, and your average German construction company which uses advanced CNC machining and materials to do offsite prefabrication of high-performance wall panels for everyday homeowners. But as we did, I couldn’t help feeling like I was looking at our future.

Twenty years. We’d better keep pushing.

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