Building With New Efficiency

By Beacon Staff

Building a home is a labor of love for many, full of financial unknowns and stressful deadlines. Once the planning and designing is finished, the waiting period begins as the house takes shape over a period of weeks to months.

A new company in the Flathead says it can help with the waiting, as it promises extra-efficient and environmentally friendly structures that, once manufactured, can be built in two days.

Montana Sustainable Building Systems, a new Whitefish company specializing in wood wall, roofing and floor systems, has taken European housing techniques and hopes to import them to the Flathead.

The underpinnings to this approach are standard practice overseas but are new to the United States. Solid wood walls, along with insulation made from wood products that would normally be counted as waste, provide sustainability and efficiency for decades, said David Fischlowitz of FischWorks Building Systems.

Fischlowitz is one of the founders of Montana Sustainable Building Systems, along with Peter Kobalt, Patrick Clark, Jens Hackethal of Germany and Christof Mayr of Italy. Hackethal and Mayr bring their expertise from the European building industry to the Flathead to help develop the sustainable design.

“We’re about to build North America’s most advanced wood-processing plant by light years,” Fischlowitz said.

The solid wood wall consists of three layers of panels pressed together with non-toxic glue, a method called cross-laminated timber construction. The grains in the outer layers are arranged to work against each other. These panels form the wall that would be seen inside the house. On the other side lay thick layers of wood-fiber insulation, capped off by a breathable siding.

“The efficiency this creates blows the conventional standards out of the water,” Fischlowitz said. Such thick walls would trap heat and only need one-third of the energy to keep the house warm, he added.

The layers are breathable and can dry, removing fears of inner-wall mold or trapped moisture. Kobalt pointed out the safety qualities of solid wood walls, which are seismic and fire resistant and keep out unwanted noise as well.

But equally as important are the environmental benefits, Fischolowitz said. The panels and insulation would be made from small- to medium-diameter trees that are often overlooked by major logging companies. The process could revitalize the forest and add value to previously worthless wood, Kobalt said.

Even the shavings and other byproducts would be used, either as fiber insulation or as biomass fuel to power the factory. Using wood would be better for carbon emissions as well, Kobalt said, because trees cycle carbon as they grow and manufacturing steel and concrete takes more energy.

The business owners are still trying to find a spot for their facility somewhere in the Flathead, which would house cranes big enough to be used by Boeing and an assembly line 1,200 feet long. They expect to start pressing boards made from Montana timber by summer.

Prospective homeowners would design their house, which Hackethal inputs into the factory system to create custom panels. The materials would be shipped to the location en masse, detached and put together in 48 hours, Kobalt said. This approach allows for fast additions as well, letting the owner unscrew part of the house to add another area quickly and efficiently.

Fischlowitz hopes the venture will provide a boon to the Flathead’s hurting construction industry by creating skilled, high-paying, multi-shift jobs as well as giving mills more work.

Montana Sustainable Building Systems has started reaching out to construction companies, architects and other in the building industry with promising results, Fischolowitz said.

The custom panels would not be cheap, Fischolowitz said, and construction companies looking to minimize their bottom line would not be ideal customers. However, unlike conventional standards that provide a one-year warranty on a building, these houses could be under warranty for decades and worth the higher cost, he said.

Other possibilities for solid wood products include industrial buildings and bridges, which, once the wood outlived its strength, could be restructured for a different purpose like insulation, Kobalt said.

The company is primarily funded through private investments, Fischlowitz said, but it is also pursuing the possibility of state or federal grants to help with job training and economic development in the valley.

Though the company founders are convinced their products represent the future of the construction industry, some things – like the excitement of realizing dreams – will always stay the same.

“It’s a big deal when you build a house,” Kobalt said.

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