Building Green Builders Supply
by Gordie Little
Who in the world wouldn’t love to build and move into a house that is so green it can almost heat itself? Stay tuned. There is just such a house near enough for you and your contractor to visit, examine carefully and ask any questions that come to mind.
The “green” home is the brainchild of Mike Belcher, president of Builders Supply Ltd.
They have horizontal lumber bins rather than the newer metal tree racks. But Belcher says they carry so much more than lumber nowadays: “We sell cements, blasting sands, composite lumber, windows, and all kinds of doors including hollow metal doors for commercial buildings, along with hardware. We have wood flooring, laminate flooring, bath and kitchen” He added, “We also carry fireplaces and heating supplies, plumbing items, decks and roofing, to name just a few.”
Belcher is proudest of his large inventory of so-called “green” building products that are gaining a lot of attention in this age of energy conservation. His is fond of saying “Go green to save our earth” and
invites any and all inquiries about “solar and wind power to lesson your energy bill.” Belcher added, “Solar thermal power compliments other technologies such as wind, solar photovoltaic and geothermal generation. Solar energy is created by harvesting sunlight to boil water and drive steam turbines. The resulting thermal power can then be inexpensively and efficiently stored.” He says many companies are currently “going green” and his desire is to “help make a better world for our children; so let’s all work together to save our Earth.”
Belcher’s father Murray was hired as a manager of the company when he got out of the service and it was incorporated about two years later. At that time, it was a fuel, coal and insulation business, but under the senior Belcher’s watchful eye, they soon added more and more building materials and have grown steadily into a veritable icon in the region.
You might say that Mike and his brother Joseph were raised in the business, starting to work there in school. For Mike, that was 38 years ago. He attended business school while working at Builders Supply. After graduation, he said, he paid his dues through hard work. He added, “I’ve been involved in everything here from cleaning bathrooms to becoming president of the corporation. I drove trucks, unloaded boxcars, wore the cashier’s hat, have done the books and everything else that has to be done.”
The Energy Guys
He has many hobbies, most of which are connected with his love of Mother Nature. An avid hunter and fly fisherman,
Mike and friends sometimes take a day or two away from their normal six-days-a-week jobs to enjoy their favorite outdoor sports. “Construction is a tough trade,” he explained, “My brother Joseph also works hard running Watertown Concrete. We need to back off and enjoy nature every now and then.” Besides Mike, Builders Supply currently employs a dozen others and is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 till 5, closing at 2 on Saturday.
Their business changed with the advent of what are termed “the big box stores,” but Belcher explains that business is brisk, catering primarily to area contractors. They employ on-the-road salesmen who call on customers and use a boom truck to deliver supplies directly to rooftops or other work sites.
Belcher said his interest in the “green” approach to building has been growing for more than two decades. Dean Anthony is a contractor friend and the two of them conducted energy clinics in the area. For two years they aired a successful radio show were dubbed “The Energy Guys.”
A Green Spec House
Mike said, “I’ve always believed that we’ll only get out of Mother Earth what we put into it. I’ve always been a heavy recycler at home. We’ve been trying to suggest to people that you should turn your house to the south and use the proper overhangs for the height of your walls. The sun is free and it can heat 50 percent of the structure 50 percent of the time.”Belcher lamented that it’s been a tough sell in the past because people are so money conscious. They don’t stop to calculate how much they can save. “Here’s something that’s free,” he insisted. “And if you also pay for a little bit more insulation when you build your house, it will save you heating dollars as long as you own it.”
That’s the kind of thinking that led Belcher to design and construct what he calls “a green spec house,” that he hopes will change a lot of minds among individuals and contractors.
At the time of this writing in mid-June, Mike anticipated that the 1468-squarefoot house facing due south would be completed by the end of the month. They used the latest “green” products available to build the home with three bedrooms, two baths, a nice-sized kitchen and adjacent dining room, vaulted ceilings in the living room with a wide open design and a two car garage on the front that acts as a buffer to keep cold air out of the house in the cold winter. The mechanical room is located in garage with an energy-saving boiler and in-floor heat throughout. Passive solar heat will be a huge assist.
They have installed a re-circulating pump on the hot water system. The unit is on a timer that can be set to work before you get up in the morning. It will then recycle the hot water into the bathroom and kitchen so you’ll have instant hot water when you first turn on the faucet. Mike explained, “This works in lieu of kicking on the well pump and pushing the water up again, running cold water to charge your whole system that has to re-heat the water over again. We have installed a holding tank that the boiler will keep warm. When the timer kicks the pump on, you have nicehot water right at your faucets. This means a savings in electricity at the pump and lots of savings from not having to reheat the water you’re pouring down the drain.”
How Green Building Works
He had high praise for what is called the ARXX wall system involving concrete insulted Styrofoam forms with 100-percent recycled plastic webs in the blocks for the walls. Mike says the concrete “is Mother Earth itself. You just add water and pour it into the walls.” There is siding outside and sheetrock inside, with an almost unheard of R-50 insulating factor in the walls.
They used 18-inches of cellulose (recycled newspaper) in the ceiling, giving them an R-60 insulation factor. High-tech triple-pane glass is used on all four sides of the house. On the east, west and north
sides, they have used a product with titanium nitride lo-E coating on the glass with Krypton gas between the layers to prevent heat loss and keep the cold out with about an R-50 insulating factor. On the south side, the Krypton gas is omitted to gain heat energy from the sun. The windows have a U-Value of .21, which Belcher says is almost unheard of in the industry. The U-Value is a measure of the window’s ability to reduce heat loss.
The company used OSB (oriented strand board) for sub-flooring rather than plywood and utilized bamboo laminate floors in much of the house. Both are highly regarded as “green” products. Ceramic tiles are used in the bathrooms and kitchen. Further, paints that are VOC (volatile organic compounds) compliant have been used throughout.
Belcher said when you close the house up, “You have no concept what the temperature is like outside.” He believes this building re-defines the concept of an “airtight house.” Since there is very little air infiltration, an EZ Breathe ventilation system was installed to make sure the air is fresh. An intake on one end of the house sucks in air, conditions it and blows it into the house. At the other end of the house is a unit with a humidistat and a timer, which will exchange your house air as often as you like with precisely the right amount of humidity.
Belcher says preliminary estimates are that the house can be heated and hot water supplied in winter for as little as £63 a month. This is a personally satisfying project for Mike who hopes to educate and encourage many contractors to build more energy efficient homes and businesses.
He will be welcoming potential customers during special times. When this spec home is eventually sold, the contract will have a provision to open it for tours several times a year. Heating bills will be posted with a bulletin board containing all the information about what went into the house.
Belcher explained that he used a new product called Form-A-Drain as a foundation drainage system. It ensures that any Radon gas accumulating beneath the slab is passively sucked out through the roof vents for the sake of safety
The entire house is replete with compact florescent lights. It has canister ceiling lights that are foamed over and use 20-watt florescent bulbs. Mike says, “At 10 p.m. when you walk through the house, it will appear just like daylight.” He went on to say, “We’ve taken a lot of time and effort to build a house that will have minimal impact on the environment at a low cost to live in and a minimal cost to build compared to other structures. We’re proud to have used a lot of ‘green’ products in the process. We’ve even built an S-shaped driveway so we wouldn’t have to cut trees and brought in fill so we wouldn’t have to do a lot of digging here and move the earth around.”
Does the house deserve a high EnergyStar rating? Mike smiles when he says that an Energy Star rater thoroughly examined the house and concluded, “You are so far beyond Energy Star, which is a minimum standard! You have exceeded it by a long ways. I wish more people would design their homes just as you have: small, simple and green.”
We asked Belcher if this is the greenest home in the area. He said, “We’ll find out. I’ve applied for the National Association of Home Builders Green stamp of Approval and it’s a very stringent test. You are rated Silver, Bronze or Gold. Of course, we expect Gold. You only need about 400 points for Gold, but I expect to rate above 500.”
How about wind power? Belcher has thought about that as well. He’s currently talking to the manufacturers of unique horizontal windmills and feels their future for homes and businesses could be bright. However, this house is tremendously energy efficient without adding any outside solar panels or a wind turbine.What is Belcher’s main goal in building this unique “green” house near Watertown?
“If I can get just five people to turn their heads and think seriously about being more energy-conscious, and perhaps build toward a more ‘green’ aspect, I’ve done my job.”
When asked about his philosophy and that of Watertown Builders Supply, Mike said, “I’ll never forget that, as a small child, I went on a trip with my father and Harold Wight who originally started this business.
Beginning then and many more times over the years, I heard them repeat the following phrase: ‘If you have a good product and a good price with good people, you’ll have a good life.’ I’ve tried to live by that philosphy myself.” His web site adds, “We have always been green because we care about our earth, our children and our environment.
We maintain our family-owned atmosphere of doing business.