Demonstration Home Shows the Light

Efficient windows and doors are just the beginning in project incorporating ‘zero-energy’ concepts
Gary Pollard, Pollard Windows
March 1, 2006
FEATURE ARTICLE | Energy Efficiency

Over the last several months, Pollard Windows has been involved with an educational housing project spearheaded by BASF, the chemical company, as part of their “Better Home, Better Planet” initiative. I’ve been thrilled to be involved for many reasons—from helping to learn more about environmental building practices, to gaining more exposure for my company, to helping a deserving family to whom the home will be donated once completed.

The home is one of 20 demonstration homes across the country selected by the U.S. Green Building Council to undergo rigorous examination for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes pilot program. Expected to achieve at least a Gold and possibly Platinum rating, the home was built using zero-energy concepts from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Set to open in early 2006, the home will be the site of many educational seminars and tours for builders, architects and other industry professionals. At year-end, the home will be donated to a local family with a quadriplegic son.

“We believe we are creating the most energy efficient home in New Jersey,” says Gary DeSantis, corporate architect with BASF, “There are many factors that were considered during the design phase to achieve this, but perhaps the most important was the building envelope itself.”

The basement walls and first floor were built using insulated concrete forms and the second floor consists of structural insulated panels. Without windows, doors and other penetrations, you can’t get a tighter, more efficient building envelope—but who wants a home without windows and doors?

That’s where my company, along with Wasco Skylights, came into play. “No matter what type of building you build, the windows, doors and skylights will be the so-called ‘weakest link’ in the building envelope,” says Charlie Popek, president of Green Ideas Environmental Building Consultants in Phoenix. Popek’s work on the Paterson home focused on the entire building envelope, maximizing its efficiency to help it achieve LEED-H certification. “It pays to invest in the best fenestration products you can afford, but it’s just as important to orient and install them correctly as well.”

The design team at the BASF home turned to us and Wasco to provide quality windows and doors to not only maintain the integrity of the building envelope, but also to let in as much natural light as possible. “We were looking for fenestration products with a high U-Value that were easy to operate, and we placed them in strategic locations to get as much daylight as possible,” says Popek.

According to the Department of Energy, daylighting can offer significant energy savings by offsetting a portion of the electric lighting load. Additional savings are also realized by the reduced cooling needs, as electric lights give off a surprisingly large amount of heat that must be handled by the HVAC system. Many studies have been published touting the health and productivity benefits of natural light in homes and workplaces, as well as reduced life cycle and operating costs.

Proper daylighting can only be achieved when it is considered early on in the design process. The placement of windows, doors and skylights will affect the work of the architect, lighting designer, interior designer, electrical and mechanical contractors, so they all must be included during the design phase to make sure everything works in concert. There must be a careful balancing of heat gain and loss, glare control, and variations in daylight availability (when and where you’ll need artificial light).

Obviously, daylighting strategies will vary from region to region and even from site to site, but some of the more effective daylighting techniques include:

  • Extending the perimeter footprint to maximize usable daylighting area.
  • Locating windows high in walls or in clerestories will result in deeper light penetration and reduce excessive brightness.
  • Adding light shelves, reflective window overhangs that reduce glare while reflecting light through a transom window above. These can improve room brightness while decreasing window brightness.
  • Using sloped ceilings to reflect more light into a space.
  • Filtering daylight with vegetation, curtains, louvers, etc. to help distribute light throughout the room.

The daylighting strategy in the Paterson home was guided by the LEED-H criteria. “We studied the daylighting and energy criteria very carefully during the design phase,” says DeSantis. “We did our best to maximize points in those areas, so we maximized performance as well.”

The first step was to consider the actual site. DeSantis says the home was situated with a perfect southern exposure for the solar collectors on the roof. Windows were then placed carefully to reduce heat loss on the north and east sides, while maximizing the benefits of heat gain on the south and west. “Of course you still have to be able to control the natural light, as this home may not benefit from heat gain in the middle of summer. So we installed remote control interior blinds to allow occupants to control glare and heat gain,” the architect reports.

Other techniques employed in Paterson include skylights over a vaulted ceiling, which diffuses and reflects light into the entry, living room and kitchen of the home. Two sets of French doors with large glass panels were also installed— one in the master bedroom and one in the injured boy’s room—which open out to the patio to let in views and light.

The windows supplied for the home came from our Liberty Tudor casement line, which are vinyl clad with pine or maple interiors. A combination of bubble and fin weatherstripping (components made by BASF), Solarban 60 soft coat low-E glazing and quality construction all allow these products to exceed Energy Star requirements for U-values, solar heat gain and air infiltration, making them a great choice for this zero-energy home.

Going into this project, I knew our products were a technological fit. What I didn’t know was how much I’d learn about daylighting and other green building practices that can benefit our industry and our communities. These types of projects show us how we can all make better products that go into producing better homes, which, as the BASF slogan says, makes for a better planet.

Gary Pollard is owner/sales manager of  U.S. operations at Pollard Windows, a manufacturer of wood and vinyl windows and doors based in Burlington, ON with U.S. corporate offices in Cheektowaga, NY. More information about the company is available at