The Building Envelope: Innovations in Planning, Materials and Budgets Video, 72 minutes

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Alex Wilson, founder of BuildingGreen and director of the Resilient Design Institute, recently completed a zero-energy retrofit of an old Vermont farmhouse.

In this webcast, Alex and his designer-builder, Eli Gould, review their nuts-and-bolts experiences and lessons learned with innovative products and systems, with a focus on the building envelope.

Alex Wilson, Founder, Executive Editor — BuildingGreen, Inc.
Eli Gould, Founder – Ironwood Brand, LLC — Design/Build

A rural Vermont farmhouse becomes a net energy exporter

Alex's first step was to find an old run-down Vermont farmhouse and barn to rehab—rather than build new on an undeveloped location.

While salvaging the timber frame of the farmhouse, Alex built a new foundation, an unusual super-insulated envelope, window system, garage, and mechanicals, using innovative design approaches and leading-edge green products at every step along the way.

It all starts with planning

Alex has always been a process advocate, and he and Eli share how they kicked off the project with an integrated planning session, used 3D modeling to show how the envelope would come together, and worked from the outset to incorporate impact-reducing steps like a smaller footprint, the right orientation, and creative use of prefabricated components to maximize performance, minimize waste, and save money.

Why choose newly introduced—and re-introduced—high-performance products and materials?

Alex was willing to push the envelope, so to speak, to use products that haven't been adopted yet by the mass market. He and Eli will discuss the significant choices they made and why, including:

  • How Alex made peace with fiberglass—and which innovative product, specifically
  • Getting bang-for-the-buck with windows: premium quad-glazed windows where they're needed, and more affordable but still high-performing window-storm combinations elsewhere
  • Imports? Yep, we'll talk about imports: air barrier housewraps and tapes selected for durability and performance
  • Cork insulation, popular in the first half of the 20th century, sounds cool—now let's figure out how to install it.
  • You want a full basement super-insulated, and you don't want to use a lick of foam? How Alex and Eli got it done.
  • Icing on the cake: the little tweaks that allowed them to make the building envelope on this old farmhouse super-airtight, as well as resilient in case of natural disasters and power interruptions.

But was it affordable?

Spoiler alert: Pushing the envelope involved cost premiums.

But as longtime advocates for affordable green building, Alex and Eli will share what they learned from this deep-green project that the rest of us can apply to save first costs while still achieving big operational cost savings.

They'll share their thought processes on how to set priorities, where to save money with smart choices, and what Alex's heating and electric bill is today.


For more than 30 years, Alex Wilson has been the most trusted voice on energy efficiency and environmentally responsible design and construction. Since launching Environmental Building News (EBN) in 1992, he's built a reputation, resources, and staff to provide the foundation for BuildingGreen, an information company that produces GreenSpec, BuildingGreen.com, and LEEDuser, as well as providing consulting for a variety of companies for whom sustainable design is a core value.

Alex’s expertise in energy efficiency comes from hands-on engagement in the industry, including serving as executive director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association for five years in the early 1980s and teaching workshops on the construction of solar greenhouses in New Mexico in the late 1970s. A noted author, his work includes Your Green Home; The Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, as co-author; and the Rocky Mountain Institute's comprehensive textbook, Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate, along with hundreds of articles for publications from Architectural Record to Popular Science.

Eli Gould left his hometown in southern Vermont twenty years ago to pioneer what was then a new degree track at Yale University, combining architecture and environmental studies. He returned home and founded the vertically integrated company "Ironwood Brand," combining native lumber, high performance prefab, and advanced mechanical systems.  This company has branched into the dedicated new lines known as PreCraft, Inc. (manufacturing), STIX L3C (forest products), and VCHiPP (modular mechanical rooms).

In recent years he has built some of the highest performing residential buildings in the region, and developed a unique reputation for resilient system design and development of new construction assemblies, yet he still loves the native lumber and adaptive reuse of historic Vermont architecture that he began with.