Custom Home Gets Unique Front Door

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unique front doorWhen woodworker Glen Waller saw old wooden dam gates lying on top of a burn pile, there was no way he would let them go up in flames. They came from the Lamoille River dam in Morrisville, Vt., and the time had come to replace them with new metal gates. Even though they had been relegated to the excavator’s burn pile, Waller knew they had value and that someday he’d find a use for them. He salvaged the dam gates and stashed them in a storage unit, along with other slabs of wood he’d similarly reclaimed.

Five years later, the center-cut oak gates found a new purpose as the unique front door to a custom home by Sisler Builders. The wood had been submerged for about 80 years and look as though they’d been sandblasted by the volume of water sloshing against them. They’ve also been naturally ebonized by the reaction of the steel I-beams and rods that held the gates together, with the natural tannins in the wood. Waller removed I-beams and other fixtures before storing the gates for five years.

unique front doorCushman Design Group of Stowe, who designed the house, also designed the the unique front door. “We like working with creative designers and architects like Cushman. They create the designs and the vision, they give us the leeway to design-build as we see fit, as long as their overall vision comes to fruition,” said Seth Allen, Waller’s co-worker in the woodworking division at Sisler Builders.

It took Waller and Allen over 600 hours to reclaim the oak dam gates and give them their new life. The client had wanted a unique front door, and is overjoyed with the end result.

 Click HERE for more about Sisler Builders’ creative woodworking division.

Meet Sisler Builders’ Custom Woodworking Division

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Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Claro walnut coffee table.

Seth Allen and Glen Waller make up the core of Sisler Builders’ custom woodworking division. Allen was hired in early 2012 as a carpenter and soon moved into the wood shop to build furniture for Sisler Builders’ clients. Shortly after, Waller was brought on to help collaborate on a large order of custom furniture that included three separate pieces—an architecturally designed, high-end walnut master bed with AV cabinets, drawers, and an oversized headboard; a claro walnut (Juglans hindsii) coffee table; and a black walnut (Juglans californica) dining room table. Sisler Builders’ custom woodworking division was launched!

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Custom kitchen shelving.

“We are not set up for high volume,” notes Waller. “We do specialty things, such as master vanities, full kitchens with interiors made of poplar, not plywood, for non-toxic houses, built-in cabinets, and furniture.”

The woodworking shop is modest, completely kitted out with Powermatic tools. The only element that is off-site is a spray room. “We do mostly natural oil finishes. A lot of present-day finishing systems only require one or two coats, so we rarely need a spray room,” Waller adds.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Glen Waller and Seth Allen doing their thing in Sisler Builders’ woodworking shop.

Waller and Allen both became interested in woodworking when they were kids. Waller’s father was an aerospace engineer with a woodworking shop at home. This in itself was enough to inspire young Waller to take woodworking classes throughout his school years. He also enjoys metal fabrication. He moved to Vermont from California, and prior to joining Sisler Builders owned a custom door-making business in Moscow, Vermont.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Cozy reading nook.

Allen modestly claims he received his own training from the school of hard knocks, but he also attended Vermont Technical College’s architectural design and engineering program, as well as wooden boat school. After graduating from high school he worked for a high-end construction company in Southern Vermont, where he built homes from the ground up, getting involved in all aspects of building.

Allen later moved to NYC to chase his girlfriend, who he eventually married. “I didn’t want to build houses and lug tools, so I started working in wood shops in New York City and that is where my love for furniture and woodshops began,” says Allen. Woodworking also runs in his family. His father owned a construction business and his father-in-law is Johannes Michelsen, a world-renown wood turner known for his amazing wooden hats.

Most of the custom woodworking projects come from Sisler Builder clients who are having new houses built or major renovations done. “Our clients don’t usually want to stick with a set design. They want the flexibility to make changes along the way,” Allen explains. This gives Sisler Builders the ability to achieve anything their clients dream up. So instead of contracting out furniture and custom projects, he and Waller do the custom work in house.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
A miniature prototype of a custom bench that can be raised and lowered according to snow depth.

“We get some interesting projects,” says Waller. “We recently did an outdoor bench that can be raised and lowered, according to snow depth, using a marriage of steel and wood to create a gear mechanism that is operated manually with a hand crank.” Waller was able to employ his metal fabricating skills to design the gearing.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Staircase treads and railing.

Other creative projects the two have completed are a suspended outdoor shower enclosure made from a reclaimed hot tub, a shuffle board table, a bamboo-cladded front door assembly, and a custom live-edge Douglas fir bench.

“We can do almost anything custom,” says Waller. “If we can’t do some aspects of a the project we will find someone we respect who can, but for the most part we do everything in house.”

 

Custom Cabinet Displays Stowe’s Skiing History

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Sisler Builders of Stowe, Vt., collaborated with Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum to create a cabinet that displays, in a unique way, Stowe’s skiing history and artifacts from the museum’s collection. The cabinet is located in the Adventure Center at Spruce Peak, where visitors can walk right up, view the items at eye level, and get a sense of the history and evolution of Alpine skiing.

Stowe's Skiing HistorySeth Allen, custom woodworking division manager for Sisler Builders, said it took about four weeks to design and build the cabinet and another week to install it. Master woodworker Glen Waller finalized measurements and the design, and built it with Craig Gants and Allen. “Everything was built with blind fasteners. You can’t see any screws or hanging devices,” Allen explains.

The team took measurements of each individual ski item and built “boxes” sized precisely to each item’s dimensions. Like assembling a puzzle, they organized the boxes to create a final display measuring approximately 20 feet long by 8 feet high. They used prefinished maple and whitewashed raw maple plywood, with exquisite attention to detail. The museum provided materials, while Sisler Builders donated the design, knowledge, and craftsmanship to create the custom display case.

Stowe's Skiing History    Stowe's Skiing History

Owner Steve Sisler, a longtime skier and ski history enthusiast, was happy to donate his company’s expertise to build the cabinet for the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum so that visitors to Stowe Mountain Resort could enjoy a different perspective of Alpine skiing.

For more information contact Sisler Builders or call 802-253-5672.

 

Air Source Heat Pumps – Renewable Resource Heating

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Air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps are gaining a foothold in the construction industry for their energy efficiency and cost effectiveness. For decades, Sisler Builders installed propane (and sometimes oil) heating equipment as a matter of course. The advent of heat-pump technology and, to a lesser extent, rising fuel prices, has changed all of that.

For the last few years, Sisler Builders installed air source or ground source heat pumps in almost all of their buildings. The technology for heat pumps, which are essentially air conditioners that run in reverse, has improved drastically in the last 20 years. On average, the systems are now four times more efficient than traditional electric resistance heat, operate well (even in Vermont winters) and cost less to operate than propane or oil.

In 2013 Sisler Builders installed air source heat pumps in one of their apartment buildings in Waterbury, Vermont. It replaced an old and outdated oil boiler. The annual heating and hot water costs of the building have gone from about $8,000 to $2,500 annually! And, since almost all of the electricity comes from a rooftop solar array, the system is much better for the environment, too.

To learn more about air source and ground source heat pumps, go to GreenBuildingAdvisor.com and search for Nick Sisler. Nick is co-founder and lead engineer at Ekotrope, a building energy software and consulting company. This essay is adapted from an article in Green Building Advisor.

Two Energy Efficient Vermont Homes

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Here is an up-close look at two energy efficient Vermont homes built by Sisler Builders in Stowe, Vermont.

Ernie Ruskey and Laurie Wood had three primary objectives when they built their house in Morrisville: simplicity, energy efficiency, and harmony with the site. They achieved their goals with a minimalist modern design, a home that is super tight, has excellent air exchange rate results, and heats easily with propane and supplemental wood. The house is nestled on a gentle, wooded hillside, with mountains views to the west, and blends unobtrusively with its surroundings.

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

energy efficient vermont homes“One goal in all of our work is to have a house that fits into the site and landscape. It’s always about the view and topography,” says Ernie, architect and owner of Tektonika Studio Architects in Stowe. He designed their house, which has a wedge shape that is, shall we say, wedged into the site’s natural topography. The garage is a half-story down, connected by an open, covered walkway leading to the staircase and main entry. Passing through the mudroom and kitchen to the light-filled great room you notice the subtle widening of the space. In consort with the nine-foot ceilings, expansive west-facing windows, well detailed maple stairwell, and natural stone hearth, this is a truly inviting space. A deck and screened porch off the wide end enable outdoor living close to nature.

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

As a Stowe architect, Ernie knows many local builders, and choosing one to build a house he designed for his family was a difficult decision. “I gave several builders a shot,” he says. “Sisler Builders was on the short list of three companies. Their bid was the middle number and it felt realistic. I also felt good about the company’s project-management skills and their deep energy-efficiency knowledge.

energy efficient vermont homesSisler Builders’ core tenet is building the tightest envelope possible at a cost that doesn’t break the budget. Their seven years of focused home energy analysis and retrofits has shown them where typical problems are, especially for air and heat leakage. Whether building a new house or an addition, their crews know what to do to make sure there are no egregious air leaks in places that are difficult, costly, or impossible to fix later.

energy efficient vermont homesAesthetics were also important for Ernie and Laurie. “Sisler Builders made the right matches with their subcontractors. The craftsmanship is superior and from a design standpoint it really worked for me,” Ernie explains. “The costing piece, team, scheduling, and experience are all important, but most important in any building process is a good rapport. Steve communicates well and our personalities clicked. Laurie and I both had, and have, a good feeling about him.”

 

Jo and Jonathan (JP) Poole of Concord, Mass., had similar goals when building their house in Stowe. Simplicity was their primary objective. They wanted a modern design, small enough to feel cozy, yet large enough to accommodate guests. They also wanted a house that was ecologically friendly and sustainable, which led them to a solar-powered geothermal heating and cooling system which uses only renewable resources.

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

When the Pooles moved from the United Kingdom to the United States, they first came to Stowe. They ended up in Concord, Mass., where JP works in biotech and Jo owns Concord Fitsquad. They continued visiting Stowe, and when it was time to build their house they reached out to Sisler Builders, whom they had heard about around town, particularly in the context of highly energy-efficient, ecologically friendly construction.

“We set up a meeting with Steve Sisler and liked his practical approach,” JP says. When it was time to find an architect, Steve recommended Ernie Ruskey of Tektonika Studio Architects. “Steve thought Ernie would be a good match for us. His tastes, design perspective, and core interests were aligned with ours.”

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

At both the Poole and Ruskey-Wood residences, Sisler Builders implemented a combination of recently introduced energy efficiency building products and practices. When building the envelopes they used Huber’s superior Zip-R wall-sheathing panel and proprietary tape. With careful application of the tape at all seams you can cost-effectively ensure a tight building envelope even before insulation is applied. Sisler Builders did that at both homes, achieving air exchange level’s really close to the rigorous Passive House Institute US best practice standards, and they did it cost effectively.

energy efficient vermont homesThe Poole house begins with the main-floor mudroom, which includes a huge, open-riser, three-story, steel-supported staircase. Beyond that is the heart of the home, a spacious and airy great room/kitchen/dining room. “The mud room and open-plan living area were primary for us. We focused our resources there and on the staircase,” JP notes.

The house is entirely electrically driven, with LED lighting throughout. Radiant heat is powered by a closed loop geothermal system supplemented with a modern Hearthstone soapstone wood stove. Their 4.9 kW solar array provides about 70 percent of all the electricity the home uses.

It’s the only modern style house in their neigh-borhood, yet it’s inconspicuous and unassuming. JP and Jo concur that at the end of the day they were really happy with the final product. “Steve quickly found solutions to challenges and was sensible and direct. Our house is simple and clean and that means the quality of work is extra important. Sisler Builders, their crew, and subcontractors provided excellent craftsmanship. It was a good team.”

Vermont Home Energy Audits

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One of the best ways for homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint starts with home energy audits. Within hours they learn how efficient their home is and what they can do to improve it. Another way is to build a home that meets or exceeds state energy efficiency standards.

Research has shown that housing accounts for approximately 40 percent of energy usage. If everyone took steps for making old and new homes more efficient, that number could be cut in half.

In 2010, when the country was reeling from the Great Recession, Sisler Builders created a division within their company that focuses on energy efficiency in current and future homes. “I’ve always been interested in making our building envelopes as tight as possible,” says president Steve Sisler. “I saw the energy efficiency training for my staff as a symbiotic benefit. We would learn methods to make our new home projects better, while learning how to enhance older homes. We were in a recession and this seemed to me an excellent alternative to layoffs.”

home energy auditsSisler Builder’s energy division has grown to include six employees. Mike D’Muhala is the technical and “science guy,” while Brian Irwin is the business manager and marketing director. A crew of four does home energy audits, installations, and retrofits. Since 2010 they have performed several hundred home energy audits, resulting in over 160 home and commercial energy retrofits. To date D’Muhala estimates that these customers have saved 16 billion BTUs and 109 thousand kilowatt hours of electricity. This equates to about a quarter million dollars in savings and a 2,000-ton reduction in CO2 emissions, roughly the same as removing 500 cars from the road for one year.

home energy audits“The most common problem we see when we do home energy audits is air leakage,” says D’Muhala. “We partner with Efficiency Vermont, and they will give a $1,000 rebate if a client reduces air leakage by 35 percent. This can be done primarily through blower door-assisted air sealing of the attic deck, basement, and living spaces.” Additional incentives are available for upgrading insulation and heating systems.

home energy auditsSisler Builders charges $450 for home energy audits and Efficiency Vermont gives an instant $100 rebate, so the cost to the customer is $350 for a typical house. D’Muhala conducts the audit, spending an average of three to four hours on site, inspecting and conducting tests. He uses a blower door, a machine that measures the air tightness of buildings, and a thermal camera to locate air leakage sites.

D’Muhala then puts together an energy model of the home which he uses to generate a list of recommendations including their costs, energy savings, and estimates of Efficiency Vermont rebates. This model can be tweaked to meet budget, lifestyle, and aesthetic preferences.

“If a house is already tight, we can still find ways to make it even tighter,” D’Muhala says. “Once a house is pretty tight it requires a heat recovery ventilator, which brings fresh air into the house through a heat exchanger. It’s all about ventilation. Send the stale, moist air out and bring the fresh air in.”

D’Muhala has been imparting the lessons he’s learned to the site supervisors and carpenters involved in Sisler Builders’ new home and significant remodel projects. The symbiotic relationship Steve Sisler was hoping for in 2010 has borne fruit! Of the six new homes they completed since 2012, all have exceeded the rigorous state-mandated testing amounts by at least 300 percent. One earned kudos from Efficiency Vermont Senior Energy Consultant TJ Holloway when he noted, “The air density (temperature) corrected blower door number is 509 CFM. This is really, really tight! Passive house tight.” This attention to detail results in reduced energy consumption, pollution, and maintenance coupled with increased interior comfort.

Sisler Builders is a member of Efficiency Vermont’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program and their Efficiency Excellence Network. To schedule an energy audit or for information about reducing your carbon footprint call Brian Irwin at Sisler Builders, 802-253-5672.

Celebrating Sisler Builders 30 Year Anniversary

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Sisler Builders 30 Year AnniversarySisler Builders 30 year anniversary. What a milestone! As I reflect on this achievement, I am proud and humbled by what an idea has turned into. President and Vermonter Calvin Coolidge once commented, “…Persistence alone is Omnipotent,” a phrase which has consistently motivated me, especially during the tough moments. The upcoming years motivate me even more.

The promise of our talented people, the ongoing technological progression charging into the construction field, and the new palette of building materials all make this an exciting time to be a builder. I look toward the future with the same sense of wonder, trepidation, and anticipation as I did when I embarked on this journey.

I’ve been thinking lately about the “connectedness” of things. Our company, now 30 employees strong, became what it is by honoring basic principles that apply in many endeavors. Whether it’s coaching or competing, being a parent or building a home, the values of respect, preparation, challenge, and follow-through work every time. I’m struck, looking back, by how similar the obstacles and outcomes can be, at the hockey arena, the dinner table, or the building site.

Generally I’m not one for mottos or mantras, but if pressed I would say we endeavor to build efficiently, with a long view, utilizing materials and techniques that champion that view. We value respect for people, quality products, and the planet.

Sisler Builders 30 Year AnniversaryRespect for people

I see a good example in the recent economic downturn. At Sisler Builders, we made it a priority to honor the commitments made to and by our employees. During the worst housing market in several decades, we adapted our work to keep our entire staff not just employed, but continuing to contribute to their families, their communities, to the recovery, and to a resilient business. One of our carpenters described the changes in his commute from a nearby town – from bustling, to sparse, to lonely. At its worst, he felt that he was the only one from his community heading anywhere. Now, the roads are filling again, but I know the driver of one silver Sisler Builders pick-up appreciates the drive a little more and that means a lot to me.

Just like our employees, loyalty on the playing field comes from investing in the team when times are tough. Below zero morning practices at the old outdoor Jackson Ice Arena forged some great teams, built character and life skills that endure for all participants.

Sisler Builders 30 Year AnniversaryRespect for quality product

A local theater group recently performed “It’s a Wonderful Life.” There’s a line where Pa Bailey explains to his son, who wants to do greater things, “You know, George, I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace, and we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.” I don’t find our office shabby, but I do find the same sense of satisfaction Pa expressed. We’ve been privileged to have been chosen to build and remodel many awesome homes for many wonderful people. Yet I believe the home includes so much more than a roof and walls and fireplace. It provides peace and security, identity, self-expression, family, community—attributes I know our buildings will deliver for decades.

Respect for planet and future

How we build is critical to how we will live, and it is for the long term. We are committed to building with respect for the planet. Sustainability includes not just energy use and consumption but emissions and our overall footprint. We build aware of the life cycle analysis of the resources we employ. We will always seek to optimize our people, through training and support, the technology we use and install and in creating custom living solutions with style, quality, and respect.

From here, we will build on the values we have forged and embodied. I plan to help guide our talented people to continue to live up to the high standards we have set and delivered in our first 30 years and raise the bar, as energy issues demand, for the coming decades.

Thanks for your support, past and future!

Steve Sisler, Owner

Foraging for Fresh Food in Vermont

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foraging for fresh food
Author Peter Merrill with chaga.

Foraging for fresh food is a common Vermont pastime once the snow is gone. Just when it seems like spring won’t come at all, it arrives in a rush here in Vermont, as steel-gray skies and damp days give way to an explosion of green. Hope springs eternal as we pour through seed catalogs, map out our gardens, and tend our seedlings, all the while dreaming of the bountiful harvest to come. Unfortunately, by mid-July this dream all too often becomes a nightmare, as we realize that we are no match for the late, killing frosts, drowning rains, and interminable weeds that annually conspire to derail our gardening plans.

foraging for fresh food
Morel mushrooms.

That’s what I love about foraging—no planning, no planting—just that moment of surprise and the instant gratification of finding something in the woods that you can actually eat. Just the other day I was weeding my blueberry bushes and came across a beautiful morel mushroom. Morels come only in May, and then they’re gone, which make them even more highly prized. I spent an hour crawling around my garden on hands and knees looking for more and found one other, just enough to sauté and savor.

Foraging for fresh food brings me back to my youth and fond memories of birthday party treasure hunts and looking for Easter eggs. At a recent mushrooming class I attended, the instructor gave each of us a bag and sent us into the woods to gather as many different mushrooms as we could find. Picture two dozen people fanning out in all directions, bags in hand, many in their 60s and 70s, and you will understand how foraging can become a passion for children of all ages and a skill that is passed from generation to generation.

Sisler Builders’ Randy Pratt remembers his mother’s passion for mushrooming and honors her memory in the naming of his dogs, Shiitake and Chanterelle. Upon learning of my own interest in mushrooming, a 90-year-old friend recently bequeathed me his late wife’s extensive library of mushrooming books simply because he felt they would be more useful in my woods than on his bookshelf.

foraging for fresh food
Chanterelle mushroom.

Anyone who knows Sisler Builders carpenter Shannon Kinneson knows he’s a man of few words—unless you get him talking about hunting or mushrooming. I can remember showing Shannon a bright yellow mushroom that I had proudly misidentified as a chanterelle. The next day a plain brown bag filled with freshly picked chanterelles showed up in my mailbox, no note, no explanation. Shannon has also helped me to find and identify chaga, a woody fungus that grows on birch trees; looks like burnt charcoal, and can be steeped to make a tasty and therapeutic tea.

foraging for fresh food
Chaga on birch tree.

Sisler Builders master woodworkers, Seth Allen and Glen Waller, are also chaga fans and often have a fresh pot of tea brewing on the woodstove in the Sisler Builders woodworking shop on cold winter mornings.

Perhaps the best part about foraging for fresh food is it helps to extend our short Vermont growing season. Where I live, ramps (wild leeks) begin to appear in April followed by fiddlehead ferns and morels in May.

foraging for fresh food
Fiddlehead fern.

Chanterelles can be found all summer long, and wild blackberries begin to ripen in July. Indian cucumbers—a wild root that has the crunch of a water chestnut and the taste of a cucumber—can be found well into the fall, and chaga can be found year round, but is easiest to find once the leaves have fallen and snow is on the ground.

foraging for fresh food
Wild leeks, or ramps.

A word of caution: foraging for fresh food is not without its risks. Destroying Angel, Angel of Death, Death Cap, and The Sickener aren’t video game villains, but some of the mushrooms that can make you sick or worse. At the end of our mushrooming class, we spread the mushrooms we had collected onto a table. Our instructor selected one and said, “If you eat this, you’ll feel sick for three days, then fine for three days, and then you’ll die.” My rule of thumb is forget about the guide books and only eat what you pick after someone you trust has identified it and is willing to eat it with you.

This article is by Peter Merrill, a former employee of Sisler Builders.

Heat Pump Technology – the Way of the Future

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Heat pump technologyNick Sisler believes that air-source heat pump technology is the way of the future. Sisler, co-founder and engineer at Ekotrope, is one of a growing number of experts in the energy, building, heating, and environmental fields. “By allowing us to heat with clean renewal energy generated by photovoltaics, wind turbines, or a hydro plant, electric heating will be an important and necessary step in cutting greenhouse gas emissions,” Sisler says.

Mike D’Muhala, energy division manager at Sisler Builders, is also on board with heat pump technology. Hearing him explain concepts like heat of vaporization, coefficient of performance, compression, joules, and absolute zero makes you wish you’d paid more attention in physics class. Even when the explanation is put in simple terms (“just an air conditioner running backwards” and “the same technology as a refrigerator”), it still feels like there must be magic involved in heating a home by extracting heat from cold outside air, even when it’s below zero.

Whether it’s physical or mystical, it’s economical: newer heat pump technology can provide much lower cost heating, cooling, short payback of investment, and lower carbon emissions.

A primer on heat pump technology

The Second Law of Thermodynamics shows that when two things of different temperatures approach each other, the hot thing cools and the cold thing heats up. This natural law has been used for cooling for decades, most notably in the form of refrigerators and air conditioners.

Essentially, an air source heat pump takes the heat out of ambient outside air (there is heat in outside air, even when it’s well below zero) by passing a chemical refrigerant though coils outside. As the liquid refrigerant heats, it becomes a vapor (just like boiling water). This hot vapor is then forced through a compressor (using electricity) to further raise its temperature. It is then pumped through coils inside the home, where the heat is released. As the vapor cools (releases its heat) it condenses back into liquid refrigerant, and the cycle repeats itself.

What’s new in heat pump technology?

For some time, ground source (geothermal) heat pumps have been transferring the nearly constant temperature of the earth into dwellings to heat and/or cool them. Often, though, installation costs for these systems can be high. In warmer climates, air source heat pumps have also been used effectively.

Now, thanks to technology improvements, better (and more environmentally benign) refrigerants, and – ironically – relatively low electricity prices, air source heat pumps are invading Vermont. In 2014, the Vermont legislature passed a bill that will have the state’s efficiency utility, Efficiency Vermont, consider reversing its traditional mission of reducing electricity consumption. As they state, “. . . in some instances, there is a strong economic and environmental case to be made for using more electricity, not less. Take the case of a modern air source heat pump. This efficient technology can help to heat a home at one-half to one-third the cost of heating systems that use propane or heating oil, while also providing significant greenhouse gas benefits.”

The benefits of air source heat pumps sometimes seem too good to be true. By one measure, called the Coefficient of Performance, air source heat pumps can provide three to five times more heat energy than they consume in electricity. Some heat pump evangelists are predicting that this efficiency will increase to 10 or more, and could revolutionize our energy future. Heat pumps also need not be just air-to-air. Air source systems are also able to heat domestic hot water, and may even integrate with or supplement traditional forced hot water heating systems. There is at least one electric utility in Vermont (Green Mountain Power) that, along with Efficiency Vermont, recognizes the value of heat pumps and is offering incentives or special rates to save even more money.

There are drawbacks, of course. Current heat pumps may not provide a whole-home heating solution. A drafty house also lowers the benefits. Performance declines as the temperature drops, and another heat source is needed for cold Vermont winters. Also, if electricity prices should increase dramatically, the economics would become less appealing.

Sisler Builders is embracing air source heat pumps, as they may fit within a custom home, and especially within their energy division. Mike D’Muhala is using his expertise and magic in providing efficiency audits and retrofits, and is including heat pump technology in the alchemy.

Communication in the Construction Industry

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It’s a well-known fact that good communication in the construction industry is crucial to a project’s success. This couldn’t be truer than in our business, where the success of each project depends heavily on the careful management of hundreds if not thousands of small details. Having the right materials and equipment, the right crew and subcontractors, and the right architect and other professionals are very important, but it’s the coordination of these various people and elements that typically make or break a project.

I tell our people that they should never be afraid to ask a question or to speak up if they don’t understand something, or if they see something that doesn’t look quite right. I try to do the same in my own dealings with our customers, their architects, and everyone else involved in our work. It’s a policy that has kept us out of trouble and allowed us to grow our business and to continually expand our skill set.

Good communication in the construction industry includes everyone

The owners, the architect, structural engineer, landscape architect, and many of the  vendors for a specific project may be new to us. By creating efficient, open lines of communication, we are able to gain the owner’s trust and confidence and to reduce the stress of all involved.

On one project we were challenged to explore and utilize new structural techniques and new and different approaches to custom door construction, timber framing details, main stair construction, and interior trim detailing. It felt good to be pushed; to demonstrate the extent of our skills and to build upon them, something we never would have been able to do without the confidence of all involved. I like to think that our enthusiasm for pushing the envelope is part of our company culture.

Custom homes, large or small, often contain fresh sets of challenges to make our lives interesting, and after 30+ years we have a pretty good base of experience to help us make sense of the new challenges and opportunities that each project presents.

Listening is half of good communication

Of course, the other key to good communication is being a good listener. We try very hard to listen to our customers and their design teams and to understand their needs. Again, this not only helps us to avoid mistakes, but it’s also led to some very interesting opportunities for us. Our new custom woodworking division is a perfect example of this. In recent years we’ve seen a growing interest among our customers in things like custom built-ins, freestanding furniture, and other intricate woodworking applications. The woodworking division allows us to meet this need while broadening our overall skill set and offering a creative outlet for some of our most talented people. And besides, it’s FUN!