Start of Construction: Credit River’s Hercuwall Structure

Beginning construction on a new building is a bit more work than a simple reno, or even a large-scale gut renovation.

In a new build, the property must be prepped, the prior structure (if there is one) totally demolished, and the footings cast and the foundations poured. These are the very first forays into creating and assembling the home. Here is where the house finally starts to take shape!

Starting construction on Credit River was especially demanding. The first step, prepping the property and removing the existing structure was a huge undertaking , as the existing structure, an old Viceroy-style cabin, was such a huge building! At 3,000 sq.ft., the structure was suffering from mould and structural damage and had to be completely removed. Besides, the house’s location on the property, facing away from the river, wasn’t ideal either. So the demolition was already a huge undertaking, even before building began!

But our very first step, before we could even begin the removal of the existing structure, was erecting an erosion control barrier to prevent any run off, silt, garbage or debris from ending up in the beautiful river running alongside the property.

After we ensured we would not leave behind any debris in the river or on the  property, we began to clear away the existing building, leaving us with a blank slate to begin construction. First was putting down our concrete footings, then our foundation of ICF (Insulated Concrete Form) blocks. On the foundation, we then erected our Hercuwall Frame, a composite concrete and steel structure that does double-duty as insulation and comes built in with its own vapour and air barrier

Hercuwall, an innovative new product by HercuTech, is both less environmentally damaging and easier and quicker to install than using ICF for an entire structure.

Don’t get us wrong – we love ICF for its strength, durability, and energy-saving thermal mass and high thermal resistance. As well, ICF is extremely useful for its sound-absorption and fire resistance, plus many ICF walls are also made with many recycled materials. However, though ICF has some really great attributes, there are also factors to keep in mind when building with it – most importantly the high amount of concrete it uses, whose production can be environmentally damaging and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. We think it’s always important to keep in mind both the positive and negative aspects of all building materials, even our favourite, environmentally conscious ones.

What makes Hercuwall different from ICF (as well as any other building structure) is it is a single product that does many different jobs.

Specifically, it is a building system made of composite concrete, foam, and steel, which arrives on location in a series of custom-built panels sized to match the individual project’s architectural plans. The structure uses less than half the amount of concrete that ICF does, making it even more environmentally efficient than ICF, and it uses no wood or timber, which helps reduce demand on timber resources and lowers its own embodied energy.

Hercuwall also works as the structure’s insulation, water barrier, vapour barrier, AND window and door casings and sills. Comparing Hercuwall to ICFs, Hercuwall’s r-value is higher (R33 as opposed to ICF’s R24), even though Hercuwall is thinner by 2” (standing 9” wide instead of ICF’s 11”).

Another bonus of Hercuwall is its easy set-up. Because the panels are custom made to each project’s plans, the installation is simple, fast, and straightforward, requiring no special skills or certifications. Credit River’s General Contractor, Chris Johnson of ProICF estimated our installation time as 60% faster than a typical ICF installation of the same project. Hercuwall’s website boasts near superhuman speed – , that with a crew of five people, the walls of a 2,400 square foot house can be installed in 2 and a half hours, with the concrete placed in 2 more. This may be exaggeration, or at very least an incredible “best-case” scenario – after all, it’s on their company’s website for a reason! In our experience, the installation, though definitely not super-speed, was still much faster than ICF installation.

It was particularly satisfying to erect our Hercuwall structure and try out this innovative material. In fact, the product is so cutting-edge that we are actually the very first to use it in Canada.

That makes Credit River the first Canadian project ever to be built using Hercuwall! And we assure you it definitely won’t be the last.

On either end of our Hercuwall structure, we opted for engineered floor trusses and roof trusses, instead of the conventional choice of floor and roof joists. The difference between the two lie in their shape.

Joists are horizontal planks supported by walls or beams at each end:  dimension lumber, like 2x10s or engineered joists like I-joists The longer the joist, the further the span so the deeper the planks must be in order to support the weight of the floor and everything on it.

Trusses are more 3-dimensional than joists, and are assembled with larger pieces of lumber.

They are similar to roof joists, except that both the top and bottom chords lie flat, parallel to each other. Trusses have two main advantages over joists:  firstly, they can span longer that joists with limited depth. Secondly, the spaces between the members are useful for running services like HVAC ducting and plumbing drains, further saving space. We wanted to keep our house’s height down, to retain the low-prairie style aesthetic, and by choosing trusses instead of joists, we managed to cut out almost 10 inches of depth in the home’s floor. Awesome!

We also used trusses for our roof’s structure as well. Yet again, we wanted to retain a low-lying structure that hugged the landscape, and roof trusses allowed for plenty of insulation within the spaces.

Finally, we finished our flooring by installing in-floor heating pipes, and finishing with a poured-in concrete screed. And with that, Credit River’s skeleton was standing on its own. Next, I’ll update you on Credit River’s envelope: We’ll go over insulation, doors, windows, and roof and wall cladding.

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