Construction Materials & Methods

BIM Helps Habitat for Humanity Partner Family Take a Virtual Tour of Their New Home

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By implementing BIM, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver found a way to shorten construction schedules as well as to achieve better communication with volunteers and partner families.

BIM improves efficiency and thereby improves the bottom line: Companies that were early adopters of BIM have been educating us on this fact for several years. What may not be as immediately apparent is that improving efficiency can sometimes improve more than just the bottom line. When non-profits implement new technologies with the result of achieving greater efficiencies, it can enable them to improve the lives of more people -- and do so more quickly -- than was ever before possible.

Madrid’s Sustainable Petrol Station

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Gas station design is about to experience a major shift. Madrid’s BREEAM-certified Repsol station demonstrates what may be on the horizon, both in terms of building design and what is for sale at the pump.

For most, gas stations may not come to mind when talking about exceptional green design, especially these days. Gas prices are continuously soaring, and we are more commonly wide-eyed at the outrageous prices than at the eco-friendly qualities or pleasing aesthetics of these in-and-out petrol ports.

USGBC Design Columbus 2012 in Columbus, Ohio

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A trip to Design Columbus 2012 in Columbus, Ohio, showcases the positive impact made by local chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The USGBC’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo is the world’s largest conference and exhibition devoted to green building. By attending you can take in three days of seminars and other educational events, see thousands of products, and enjoy live streaming and archived conference videos. Although Greenbuild is the USGBC’s premier event, local USGBC chapters host a number of similar events each year, and some are bound to take place practically in your own backyard.

Slabs for Colder Climates, Part 3: Installing Frost-Protected Shallow Foundations for Unheated Buildings

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Fernando Pages Ruiz continues his educational series on constructing frost-protected shallow foundations, focusing here on unheated structures.

Although neither the International Residential Code (IRC) nor the International Code Council (ICC) provides a prescriptive path, design criteria do exist to design frost-protected shallow foundations (FPSFs) for unheated buildings, including garages and porches attached to heated structures. The standard for unheated buildings developed by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), ASCE 32-01, Standard for the Design and Construction of Frost-Protected Shallow Foundations, is available for purchase at

Slabs for Colder Climates, Part 2: Installing Frost-Protected Shallow Foundations for Heated Buildings

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Contractor-turned-homebuilder Fernando Pages Ruiz gives hands-on instruction for constructing frost-protected shallow foundations.

Because moisture in soil can create an "ice lens" – an area where ice crystals form and bulge, exerting vertical pressure – building footings have traditionally penetrated deeper than the maximum seasonal frost penetration in any given climate to prevent these vertical forces in frozen ground directly under the footings from lifting the foundation and damaging the structure. In many areas, frost depth exceeds 42", resulting in footings far deeper than those needed structurally.

Unilever Headquarters

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A new facility for Unilever combines a contemporary, connected office environment with award-winning green building features.

When Unilever, a health and wellness company in Hamburg, Germany, determined that it needed a new headquarters, it wanted a structure that would provide adequate work space while fostering communication, socialization, and a sense of unity among its employees. Creating a juxtaposition of work and social space, Behnisch Architekten was able to bring the vision of unity to fruition while honoring Unilever’s commitment to sustainability and creating a better future.

The Pensmore Chateau

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Despite technological advances in weather forecasting, natural disasters are often unpredictable. Even when we do know a geological or meteorological disturbance is on its way, very often little can be done to protect existing homes from destruction, so TF Forming Systems is building in that protection from the ground up.

TF Forming Systems owner Steven Huff is in the process of building a large residential structure that will be able to withstand the toughest natural disasters, all while reducing dependence on oil, gas, and coal. TF Forming Systems manufactures and distributes a variety of insulated concrete forms (ICF). The Pensmore Chateau, a 72,000 sq. ft. structure located in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, is said to be able to withstand F5 tornadoes, in addition to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fire, and insect damage. The chateau is located between Springfield and Branson, Mo., near the town of Joplin, which was devastated by F4 and F5 tornadoes in 2011.

Slabs for Colder Climates, Part 1: The How and Why of Frost-Protected Shallow Foundations

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As energy savings and the conservation of resources increasingly drive decision-making for homebuilders, frost-protected shallow footings offer a good method for constructing slab-on-grade foundations.

As a builder constructing townhouses, commercial buildings, and the occasional slab-on-grade (SOG) house in frigid Nebraska, I always thought it silly to dig footings half as deep as a full basement when the point of SOG construction was to spend less on foundations. A basement seemed the better value, to me, given that only token cost savings came with a slab ... until one year, while attending the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) International Builders' Show, I heard a lecture on a new (at least for me) approach to constructing slabs in northern climates that did not require footings to extend below the frost line. I immediately perked up and listened closely; it sounded like a good cost-saving measure.

Pervious Pavement: Pavement That Leaks Like a Sieve

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Contractor to Contractor: In this first of a two-part series, contractor-turned-homebuilder Fernando Pages Ruiz discusses permeable pavement, which allows rain and snow to seep into the ground.

What Is Pervious Pavement?

Pervious concrete came to the attention of the building community in the United States after Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1987. With restrictions in the amount of stormwater runoff permitted from roads, parking lots, and other impermeable surfaces, some developers began to look for environmentally friendly alternatives. They found it in an exotic, water-sucking concrete first tested in Florida about 30 years ago as a flood-control device. Engineers placed highly porous concrete paving in spots along Florida roadways frequently submerged by heavy downpours. The permeable surface provided a quick-drying roadway that didn’t stay flooded after the storm.

Next-Generation Heavy Equipment

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Because I love heavy machinery, watching the massive mining equipment in "Avatar," notably the Slash Cutter and the D-22 dozer, had me secretly thinking, “Holy cow, I wanna drive that thing!" The lingering images of the uber-heavy equipment and its seemingly boundless ability to get a lot of work done in a hurry made me think of how today’s machines might morph into these mega-machines. Although "Avatar's" remote-controlled bull dozer may exist only on screen, Google recently announced that it had sent one of its self-driving Toyota Priuses over 140,000 miles of California roads by using their Google Maps and Street View technology. Likewise, the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS) sent a robotic self-driving Audi TTS coupe up Pikes Peak in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb at racing speeds, further fueling my imagination about next-generation equipment.

The New Standard of Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

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Gone are the days when cutting-edge sustainability practices yielded a significant competitive advantage for building product manufacturers. Today’s builders and homeowners not only expect to be able to choose from a wide assortment of environmentally friendly products, they also expect that the companies behind the products to engage in robust sustainability practices when it comes to company culture as well as operations and manufacturing processes. As a result, sustainability has become a cornerstone of doing business for manufacturers, rather than an afterthought.

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