Matt recently interviewed Matt Risinger from The Build Show about why American houses suck. The building codes and techniques used in the US are lagging way behind other areas of the world. The two Matts talk about some of the why of that, but also what we wish we would see more of. Mr. Risinger has an incredible background in building high quality homes … and as a builder, he’s seen it all.
Check out Matt Risingers channel here: https://www.youtube.com/@buildshow
Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode Why Do American Homes Suck? https://youtu.be/KDXjSpoOQmQ?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7uzySCXq8VXhodHB5B5OiQ
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Hey everybody, as usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids, including the most recently released. The Sinister Secrets of Singe, and I’m just generally curious about technology.
So I’m lucky that my brother Matt is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. How are you doing
today, Matt? I’m doing great. Uh, like we talked about in our previous episode, I’m still getting settled in. Um, we’re actually recording this right after that.
So not much has changed yet, but by the time we get to the next episode, things will probably have changed again.
It’s literally just moments later. So hence people who are sitting here on YouTube, watching us and thinking, do those guys not own other t shirts? Well, there’s a reason for it. Normally on the program, Matt and I revisit some of Matt’s more recent episodes, and we have a conversation around the various technologies that he’s examined on his own.
But this week we have. A exciting guest. Matt recently interviewed Matt Risinger from The Build Show about, we’ll be blunt, why American houses suck. The building codes and techniques used in the U. S. are not at the same pace as other parts of the world. And the two Matts talk about why that happens, but also what we could see more of.
Mr. Risinger has an incredible background in building high quality homes, and as a builder, he’s seen it all. And he’s taken that building experience and turned it into the network, The Build Show, which brings together veterans from all over the industry to talk about these important topics. There will be a link in the description.
So please jump over to his channel later, examine his network and see what he has to share. But for now, we’re happy to share Matt’s full conversation with Matt Risinger.
All right. So we’re doing a dual publish and Matt and I both are like, who goes first? It’s the Matt and Matt show today. Matt, how are you today, brother?
I’m doing great. How about you? Good, good. We’re separated by a few thousand miles, but I think our passion on the topic will certainly come through. Our title today is Why Do American Homes Suck? And it’s interesting, you proposed this title, Matt. And I immediately said, Oh yeah, we should definitely talk about that.
Yeah, it’s my team and I have been researching into like doing a topic around this because I’m building my own house, trying to be energy efficient, trying to do better, build a better house. Yep. And everything I keep coming up against is American homes are just the building standards are just not up to par with what we’re seeing around the world.
And You came to mind immediately when I was looking into this, it was like, I’ve got to reach out to Matt because you have so much experience building yourself, dealing with other builders, seeing other things around the world. And I just wanted to talk to you about what, what you see from your experience, like what you’ve been seeing around this topic.
That’s really cool, man. I appreciate you, uh, you thinking about me. You know, there’s a quote that speaks exactly to what you’re talking about that I need to, uh, I need to tell ya. Steve Baczek, an architect who works, uh, in Boston and shoots videos, has this awesome quote. I wrote this down years ago, long before he was ever making videos with me.
And he says, It’s not that high performance homes cost too much. It’s that our idea of a fairly priced new home is based on a history of building houses To meet embarrassingly low performance benchmarks. How does that resonate with you?
That resonates a lot with me. That is the perfect quote for
Yes. Sure. Doesn’t it? Yes,
very much so. I was going to ask you, like, I don’t want to trigger you, but you put out a video not too long ago about. Cardboard sheathing. And the first thing that comes to mind for me is like, how is that still allowed in the building codes here in the U. S. to build a house with
Yeah, it’s crazy. Uh, I don’t know if I can fully answer that other than to say it has a minimum amount of sheer value, uh, that it, that it adheres to. And Uh, it’s only been in recent codes that builders have had to, um, perform a blower door tour a blower door test to actually, uh, get a certificate of occupancy, and as I travel around the U.
S., I I suspect that less than 10% of American homes have actually had a blower door test that got a final certificate occupancy this year. There’s just very few jurisdictions in the U. S. that are actually requiring it. Uh, Austin, Texas, where I build, does. Uh, but Dallas, Texas, Houston, Texas, I shouldn’t say that, I think there is at least a couple jurisdictions in Houston that do require it, but very few places in Texas, and Texas is a Huge market in the U.
S. by total volume of permits pulled every year. People aren’t requiring much of a benchmark, uh, at all. And I think that’s how builders have done it. So lowest common denominator, the general public doesn’t know any better or seemingly care. So, builders are going for first cost. I mean, do
you think there’s a reason why we haven’t pushed the building codes up?
Or like, let me rephrase that. We have kind of a fragmented building code standards around the country. Cause like, I’m surprised, like I’m, I’m in Massachusetts and I’m building in my town and the town from town, there’s sometimes very different requirements as to what’s allowed and what’s not based on what inspector you’re dealing with and what kind of code requirements there are.
Is that part of the problem? Is that it’s just too fragmented? We don’t have a good baseline? Yeah, that’s certainly
part of it. But if I could back up a little bit, Matt, I think this is, this is something that’s been kind of embedded in American culture for a long time. Like, if we can go back to, uh, I was born in the 70s, I’m a little older than you are.
Uh, in the seventies, we had a national oil crisis, right? Where we had this issue with, uh, all the oil producing, uh, countries deciding that they didn’t want to ship it at what we wanted to ship it for. And so gas went from a dollar a gallon in the seventies. When I remember, I remember seeing 90 cent gas, 95 cent gas.
It’s all of a sudden now gas is two or three dollars, which blew people’s minds. And uh, that kind of went away in the eighties. We went back to cheap gas again. And I think as Americans, we started really becoming interested in high performance homes in the seventies because it seemed crazy for us to, to think about spending, uh, money on energy.
Uh, when, you know, we could spend less money on energy, and if you’re a middle class family making, you know, 25, 000 a year, let’s say, in 1980, and you’ve got an electric bill that’s 250, 300 a month, that’s a huge part of your monthly income. Uh, and of course the economics may be changed today, we’re maybe making a little bit more money, but the metrics are still the same.
I mean, I… Uh, regularly know people that are spending 1, 000 a month on the utilities for their home and that’s, you know, you gotta make a lot of money for that to not make a dent in your family income. So, you know, efficiency is a really big deal for us. Um, so, the problem happened though, I think, Matt, in the 80s when, uh, gas prices and, and that kind of rolled back quite a bit and we enjoyed a pretty long period of time without.
A massive increase in gas prices. Our general wages were going up and gas prices were staying kind of flat. That’s not what happened in Europe. Uh, in Europe, gas has been like California priced for a long time. Uh, we’re recording this in 2023 and in Texas, uh, outside of my studio, we’re paying 2. 50 for a gallon of gas.
Still pretty dang cheap in the scheme of things. I was in California last week and with their taxes, uh, on top of that, plus maybe there’s some tax for getting it to California, I don’t know, because it’s further away from the refineries than I am in Texas, I paid 6 to fill up my rental car per gallon, uh, in, uh, you know, the airport in L.
A. when I was there last week. So, I mean, that’s, that’s a significant dollar figure, but it was 25 years, 20 years ago when I visited, uh, Europe for the first time as a 20 something, and I couldn’t believe that converting liters to gallons, they were paying like 8 a gallon or 9 a gallon for gas, so it really made sense for me that I saw these small Peugeots and these, you know, uh, Mini Cooper like cars, because if you’re paying 9 dollars for gas.
Uh, you know, you’re gonna all of a sudden be a lot more interested in efficiency, whether it’s mandated or not. Uh, and as a result, Europe kind of stayed on from the 70s, this kick of, hey, we need, we need efficiency. We need to make sure that we’re, uh, not just mandating it, but consumers were asking and demanding for it.
Uh, you remember, what was it, five years ago when gas prices went through the roof all of a sudden? You couldn’t, you couldn’t give away a Suburban for that period of time. And you couldn’t find a Prius on any lot anywhere. Consumers realized, hey, this is ridiculous, so I’m gonna make it happen for myself, regardless of what the mandates are, and I’m gonna go buy a Prius.
Well, in the coming years, they abandoned that Prius and went back to their normal… Whatever quote unquote normal was for them, uh, and I, you know, I’m a little bit of a hypocrite here because I drive a big truck and I’ve got a family of four and a dog and an RV, uh, but at the same time, you know, I’m in a different, uh, I’ve made more money so that, that, uh, expensive gas bill doesn’t mean as much, but if we go back to houses again, minus the car thing, I think the other thing that, that’s very different about America to Europe is we have a very moving mindset in America.
Yeah. Where we think of houses like our cars, like, oh, it should be good for the next three years, five years, but, you know, if I get transferred to Chicago, uh, if I want a new one, I’m going to get rid of this, so whatever I do or buy… I really only care about this piece of, uh, uh, property for three years.
For this tangible asset for three years. And so we look at everything through the lens of a couple of years. Whereas in Europe, they don’t move around like that. Uh, they expect their houses to be passed down to generations. And my understanding, and this is not a thorough understanding, but my understanding is that uh, houses and property is very expensive in Europe, probably like double the cost of America, uh, or more.
And so if you have a real asset like that, you own a house somewhere, you want to give that house to your kids because they may or may not be able to afford to buy one without maybe that inheritance, uh, going back decades, uh, or maybe even generations in their family. Does that resonate with your experience or your thoughts, Matt?
does. Part of what I’ve been finding fascinating diving into this is the how Europe forked away from us. And it really does seem to come back to that 70s oil crisis where it kind of, we kind of recovered here, but they didn’t, the prices stayed high. So the motivation to get super energy efficient over there has never gone away, which explains the triple glazed windows and the tilt turn European style windows and the high insulation values.
And I constantly get comments on my videos. When I talk about. How much energy I use in my house, people are shocked that I use up to a thousand kilowatt hours a month. And they’re like, in my house, I only use half that or a third. And they’re always over in Europe when they mention those comments because they use so much less energy because they’re more energy efficient.
And they’re always looking at better appliances and better buildings. And they’re shocked that we have houses that we’re still building out of wood with no insulation and. ArtMyHouse is built out of brick and has walls that are 15 inches thick, uh, kind of a thing. Uh, like, whenever I’ve shared information about the house I’m currently building, which is a Unity Homes, which has a very thick, well insulated wall.
I get comments of, that’s common here in Europe. Like that’s, it’s just commonplace, where here it’s like unheard of. It’s like, you don’t see this very often.
For the listener who doesn’t know, by the way, Matt, let me explain real quick. Unity Homes is a division of Bensonwood, uh, and Ted Benson, the founder, still active in the business, uh, was building these awesome, uh, I’m on my third Bensonwood house now?
No, my second. I just finished my second Bensonwood house. They, they use, uh, iJoyce for studs. And then it’s timber frame for structure, which is inboard of that. So Matt’s house might have anywhere from 10 to maybe as much as 16 inch thick dense pack cellulose walls with basically no thermal bridging. And Ted learned a lot of his methods, including the air sealing, from trips to Europe.
And is using a lot of kind of European tapes and sealants, uh, that are now becoming more standard in America. I think of zip system sheathing. Uh, you know, they had some similar technology for air sealing, uh, that they’ve been doing for decades, and it’s only been the last decade or so that we’ve… I started coming on board, including myself, frankly, on this, on this front.
So I mean, Matt, your, your house is way above American standards.
Yeah, it was, it was, and as a homeowner, it was a little interesting getting like a mortgage for it because most banks don’t understand high energy efficient houses and sometimes it costs a little more. So needing a little bit more of a loan and they’re like, why is it so expensive compared to other homes?
So you have to look at, well, what does this house look like compared to another comparable house, which is another energy efficient home. Where in Europe, they’re all like this. They’re, they’re all kind of built with the same standard, which kind of comes back to the whole, when it comes to standards, if you were given the magic wand and like you could rewrite the building codes here in the U.
S., what are like the top three things that you would do? What were the top three things that
you would change? Yeah, you know, Matt, to be honest, the very first one has nothing to do with efficiency, but it has everything to do with resilience and durability. And that’s that, you know, things related to water aren’t really in the code.
For instance. No inspectors ever saying, Hey, you’re missing a head flashing on these outside windows. Uh, they just assume you’re gonna do that. Uh, or, Hey, this house has no overhangs. So you need to build to a higher standard. You know, you need to do a spray rack test on these windows, let’s say. Or you need to use this type of roof that’s a more expensive and a more, more long lasting roof than this inexpensive one.
Those kinds of things I wish were more code, to be honest. Uh, because the, the biggest crisis for homeowners, uh, is not a high energy bill. It’s a problem that requires us to, uh, rip off their facade and redo it correctly. Uh, and, uh, I, I call those rescue jobs, and I see them all the time. I’m doing one right now for a client.
Uh, and they’re pretty terrible on everybody, including their finances, because we have to rebuild a house that has problems. And usually those problems are not very evident. Sometimes they are in the first year, but oftentimes it takes a couple years. And we’ve got a health issue, we’ve got mold growth, we’ve got potentially long term water damage, and maybe even structural damage.
And it’s the most devastating of issues. And so, you know, when we think about, if we go back to cardboard sheathing real quick, one of my big issues with cardboard sheathing is it’s really hard to get it waterproof. And the way that production builders have gotten away with it without having major problems is by building traditional houses with big overhangs.
You know, my 70s house that I recently moved out of that I’d done a remodel on, uh, that 70s house was single story, hip roof, 8 foot tall ceilings, and 2 foot overhangs on all 4 sides of the house. And so the house had a giant golf umbrella, so even though it had a really crappy method of construction, it never got wet.
Uh, I liken the example to, like, Grandpa wearing his trench coat with a golf umbrella. You know, if Grandpa has a crappy trench coat that’s ripped and he bought it at the Salvation Army and it has some holes in it and… You know, his shirt’s untucked, uh, but he’s got a golf umbrella. Well, you’re, you’re fine, you’re okay in the elements, but if you all of a sudden take away that golf umbrella, well, now you need to have not just a Patagonia jacket on, but like a really good Patagonia jacket, one with no rips and tears or, or nails through the jacket maybe.
Uh, and so that, that actually would be number one for me. And then number two, I would say the blower door score. The blower door testing is a big one because once you actually do that as a builder, uh, which for me was starting, uh, when I moved to Austin, Texas, uh, I was shocked at how bad I did on those tests, uh, and how I even thought I was trying to do the right thing with, let’s say, spray foam.
Uh, and still got very poor results and, you know, barely met code, basically. Oh, man.
So, you’ve learned a lot over the years, which kind of, this ties into building new versus buying an old house and trying to retrofit it. Like. When I decided to do what I was doing, part of the reason I went new was I was actually a little scared to buy just some random house.
You never know what you’re getting into. Like you just mentioned the sills and what’s in the walls, how did they construct it? Was it done well? You’re basically, it’s kind of a crapshoot, uh, with what you’re going to get. So for me, I just didn’t want to deal with that. So my wife and I were like, let’s, let’s just build new.
So we know exactly what’s going into this house. From day one, working with the builders, we knew exactly what was being done. We’re asking for very specific things. Do you think it’s smarter to build new or do you think it’s worth retrofitting? And I think this is a loaded question for you because I know you’ve, you’ve retrofitted
existing house and you did it, but you, you did it yourself.
So you knew exactly what was going into it. Yeah.
Of course, every question is nuanced, right? And there’s a plethora of answers. Building new can be awesome, uh, but even building new, we need to be cautious about our level of, our level of expertise, our builder’s level of expertise, and the level of architecture we’re building to.
So, you know, those no overhang houses, uh, in a rainy climate like Austin, Texas, uh, you know, those houses are risky. If you’re building a no overhang house and… The desert, where they get 15 inches of rain a year, less risky. Uh, so, you know, my, I suspect that your Unity home has overhangs. Uh, and is more traditional architecture.
There’s no parapet walls to the sky. Uh, with flat roofs on your Unity, at least based on the floor plans I’ve seen. So, so sloped roofs are inherently less risky, because gravity is taking the water away quickly. When there’s no gravity on a flat roof to take that water away, except for a quarter inch to a foot, if we get a two inch rainstorm per hour, we can get a bathtub on our roof, and even a roof that was totally waterproof during a normal quarter inch rain, all of a sudden becomes a leaker, uh, when the rain backs up and there’s only a small hole to get it out quickly.
So, I mean, it’s one of the reasons why I love traditional architecture. It’s why I like overhangs on houses. Gutters are good for our houses. So I would say, you know, building new… But knowing your level of expertise and knowing the, uh, amount of risk you’re getting into with the architecture or with the features of the house, that can be really, that’s, that’s good knowledge.
That’s good wisdom. On the other hand, remodeling, uh, can be a great way to go. And, uh, if you can look at that house from the lens of water from the sky or water from the ground, uh, or sprinkler water, then, you know, you can find terrifically well built old houses that have no problems. Uh, because they had great architecture and smart builders that maybe didn’t have gee whiz, uh, tapes and sealants.
But they had good old fashioned gravity on their side.
I mean, does it tie into like, taking building codes out of the equation, it also comes down to builder education and consumer education? Like I’m kind of on the consumer side, you’re on the builder side. I’ve gone way overboard trying to educate myself as to what I want and what I need and trying to understand this stuff.
Yep. But then again, I had trouble finding builders that I thought I had confidence in, that they would be able to deliver what I wanted, which is one of the reasons I went to Unity, because I knew they could do what I wanted. But finding like independent builders, it’s really kind of a crapshoot. So do you, do you kind of think it’s a…
Education issue among the builder community of they may not know there’s a better way to do things because they’re good builders, not that they’re bad builders, but that they may not just know that there’s better ways to do some of this stuff.
Yeah, I mean, ultimately, that’s not an integrity issue. Uh, I think I had really good integrity in my twenties when I was building, but I just didn’t have wisdom.
And so there’s a difference between integrity and wisdom. And so, uh, I did a video not too long ago about, uh, 20 questions to ask a builder before you hire them. Uh, and, uh, you know, one of the questions is tell me about your waterproofing strategy. Uh, you know, that’s really the most important thing for long term durability and resilience for a house.
Uh, and I anecdotally love it when I hear people tell me, uh, hey, I asked my builder if they watched the build show and immediately their face lit up. Uh, and we nerded out over different, uh, build show videos and different episodes. Uh, when a builder’s kind of like minded to me, uh, my audience of which probably 30 or 40 percent is just plain old homeowners that are watching and trying to hear what the pros are saying, they get a good sense for, hey, this person really cares about the details.
And it’s not integrity, you know, we’ve already, we’ve assumed that they’ve got good integrity, but then there’s that wisdom piece. And that’s harder, Matt. Uh, that’s, that’s a harder one to vet as a homeowner. And as someone who’s hiring a builder, you know, do they have good wisdom? Are they going to build me a good house?
Uh, not just… Uh, treat me correctly from a business sense.
Yeah. I mean, even from a consumer side, you brought it up earlier of in the US, we tend to look at houses as if I’m going to live here for the next five years. We don’t tend to look at it as I want to live here for the next 20, 30 years or hand it down to my kids.
Uh, so for me, it’s like I’m building a forever home. This is the house I’m moving into. I’m not going to move away from it. So I want this to last 30 years. So I’m making investments in some of the choices I’m making. Now, knowing it might be a little more expensive here and there, but for the long term, it’s going to give me the comfort I’m looking for, the value I’m looking for.
And I don’t think a lot of people look at homes that way. I know my parents, every time we’d move into a new house, my parents were always talking about like, what’s the return on investment? Do we want to update the kitchen? Are we going to get our money back out of that when we sell the house? And it’s like, you kind of get that too far down that path.
You start making choices that are going to shortchange yourself and make compromises on quality sometimes.
Yeah, that’s, and that’s a hard one to find an analogy for, Matt, but here’s, here’s one that I just thought of as you were talking, uh, my, uh, a good friend of mine bought a brand new boat during the recession, uh, and it was on a discount, got a good deal on it, and it wasn’t more than a year or two of, of boat ownership, uh, before things really started breaking down, and he expected it to be more like his Chevy truck, let’s say, where, you know, it was pretty reliable till you hit 100, 000 miles, then you gotta start replacing things, and then, You know, when it’s 10 years old, you should expect that there’s more replacement, but you know, a well built modern vehicle should get, uh, somewhere between maybe 15 years of service, uh, no problem really, uh, out of it.
Boats are not the same, apparently, at least a lower cost boat. This was like a, you know, a ski boat, and he constantly was having problems with this thing, and it was, you know, the old adage, bust out another thousand boat, uh, and I think that we sometimes think of houses like that. Like, oh, as long as we get past, you know, two or three years for the homeowner, uh, you know, this should be fine.
And, and the term builder grade, I started hearing that word in maybe the nineties. And you would see at the grocery, you’d see at the, you know, the home center, uh, oh, this is a builder grade, whatever. Well, that meant that that was the least cost one you could buy of whatever it was, the builder grade. And like you, Matt, I want, I wanted to build my personal house.
To a standard that was, I don’t want to just spend more money to, for the, uh, for the nicer countertops or for the more expensive jacuzzi or whatever. I want to spend my money on things that are really going to last and make a difference. So that I can not just feel good about this house, but if I, if I do want to make this my forever home, uh, that I can.
And of course I’m going to have to replace my water heater in 20 years or my furnace in 20 years. But I won’t have to replace my ductwork in 20 years because I cheaped out Uh, and did a really crappy job on that, and I also don’t want to have to call the pest control guy to get a raccoon out of my attic like everyone else in my neighborhood does about every five years.
Uh, so I built mine to a different standard, very much like yours, where I definitely spent more money on infrastructure and resilience. But in the end, it’ll be a much more satisfying house on a day to day basis, let alone a decade to decade basis. Does that, does that resonate with you?
Oh, yeah. Like it’s, it’s, there’s some interesting choices we made in our house.
We’re building a house on, on slab, slab on grade, uh, so we didn’t do a basement. And one of the reasons we did that was less cement. It reduced the cost a little bit and we took that money. And we’re investing it in other aspects of the house. A metal roof. Uh, we’re getting a, you know, standing seam metal roof.
Uh, doing the unity home itself, uh, was, uh, one of the reasons we did that. Uh, getting a geothermal, uh, heating system put in, which is gonna be tied into our hot water, which is gonna reduce our hot water use. So it’s like we were investing things. on the bones of the house and the mechanicals of the house, which are not the sexy things that sell a house, but it’s the stuff that’s going to make it more comfortable for us to live in every single day.
It’s going to make it a happier experience living there in our home. So it’s like we were kind of looking at it from that lens instead of, uh, yeah, let’s take that 10 grand we saved on this thing and put it on the countertops in the kitchen. It was like, that was not what we were doing. We were trying to put the money where we thought it was going to give us the most kind of bang for our buck for quality in the house
I love hearing that Matt. And what I didn’t hear you say was we’d put an asphalt roof on so that we could afford the solar array. Uh, that kind of, that kind of argument absolutely drives me crazy because the first hailstorm that comes, you’re going to have to pull the solar array off, re roof the house and pay to put the solar array back on, whereas your metal roof, you’re going to get at least five to maybe seven or eight decades of service from that roof.
It’ll be, uh, incredible in the storms. Uh, assuming you installed it correctly, uh, and not only that, but it’ll last three times longer than an asphalt roof, and when you’re, when you’ve hit the end of its service life, it’s a hundred percent recyclable and is actually very valuable as a commodity that would, you know, that someone will actually pay for that metal decades from now.
So, I mean, that’s, that’s the kind of decisions Matt that Just make me absolutely smile when I hear somebody say that they’ve made that decision.
Well, my other favorite part about the standing seam metal roof was it’s peanut butter and chocolate for solar. It’s because you don’t have to drill into the roof. It’s got clamps that go on the standing seams and it makes it easy to pop them off, pop them right back on, no damage to the roof, no penetrations into your house.
It’s, it’s like. It’s the best way to put solar on a roof.
It’s the Reeses of solar, that’s exactly right. Exactly. Uh, the whole bolt on solar thing, I mean, I love solar, I love the fact that it’s, you know, no moving parts, it should last for two or three decades, but I hate seeing it on these crappy, uh, you know, shingled roofs that people just didn’t think about it ahead of time and didn’t spend the money to do a well built house to begin with.
Uh, you know, because there’s so many things that need to be done first before you do solar. Yeah.
There’s another question I wanted to ask you about when we’re going back to the Europe versus the US. What are some of the things that you’re seeing that they do for building in European countries that you would love to see us doing more over here?
Ooh, great question. Um, you know, I love wood construction. I’ve, I, uh, I’m a huge fan of it. But it is interesting to travel through Europe and see some parts of Europe, like Switzerland, when I travel through there, 100 percent timber construction, they love wood, and they’re really proud that it’s from Swiss forests as well, uh, in Switzerland, and they just insulate really thick on the outside and have good overhangs, kind of the Swiss, uh, you know, iconic architecture.
On the other hand, Germany, which I’m assuming, uh, maybe this is a, a resource thing. Uh, probably doesn’t have as many forests, and so they’re using those forests for, uh, cabinetry and for other wood products instead of two by fours. And so, in Germany, I saw some really, really interesting, uh, block construction, unlike anything that I’ve seen in America.
And one thing that’s really cool about European houses is because they have these very thick walls, they integrate shutters and shades on the outside of their buildings, which really is the correct place if you think about it. You know, when you put an inside window covering on an American house, the sun has already heated up the house.
That window covering is just helping you with the visible spectrum of the light. It’s not helping you at all with the UV rays and with the rays that are heating up the house. Whereas in Germany, all the, uh, even like apartment complexes had exterior roll downs. They were kind of built in the building facade because they were thicker.
So they’d roll those down and they usually had two layers of them. One that was like a privacy shade that you got plenty of light through, but you just couldn’t see that you were taking a shower inside, let’s say, or changing. And then the next layer of shade was more like a blackout that, you know, if you’re gone from your apartment during the course of the day, uh, why not put the blackout down?
Now we’re not heating the building up in July. Uh, you know, at my house, I have some windows that are facing due southwest. Uh, and I kick myself for not putting exterior shutters at least on those windows. Because how much sense would that have made to block that light? And that absolutely heats up my house no matter what low emissivity coating you’re putting on your house, which does.
Certainly block some of that, but a ton of BTU load is coming in through those windows in the summertime. So it’s those kinds of smart building things that, uh, I want to see us do more as Americans. And certainly, more exterior insulation where it needs to go is the correct form of insulation. But, uh, but being smart about it.
And lastly I’d mention, I think one of the things that I liked about traveling through Europe, and I did get to go to Japan once 20 years ago, I loved how small, uh, and well crafted the houses in Japan were that I visited. And I’m assuming that’s for a number of reasons. They’re a small island. They don’t have, you know, five acre lots for their houses.
Um, but they have this affinity for well built and well designed things. Uh, and so, you know, a typical Japanese family, let’s say a family of three or four, they’re living in a really well built thousand square foot house. Uh, or maybe less. Uh, and when I visited my friends that were stationed there in the Navy, Uh, they let us stay in a, in a house that was probably around that, 800 square feet.
The craftsmanship was incredible. Each room had its own mini split head on the wall and I had my own thermostat on the wall for my room. I’d never experienced the mini split before then and was like, This is unbelievable! I can set mine at 68 when I sleep at night! This is so cool! It doesn’t matter what the baby next door wants the temperature to be, because we’re not on the same zone.
I have my own room! It’s those kinds of… Uh, kind of smart and small and better crafted, uh, things that I really like from, uh, from seeing Europe. And I feel like some of that’s starting to take a hold. Have you ever seen the, uh, Sarah Susanka Architect books called The Not So Big House? No. I haven’t. Uh, really popular series in kind of the 90s and early 2000s.
And she’s wrote several books, uh, with that Not So Big House kind of topic name. They’re all fantastic. I have all of them in my library here at the office and, and reference them on occasion. You know, the whole idea of instead of building a 4, 000 square foot house and getting lots of square footage that’s not very good, it’s not very well built, now you’ve got to heat and cool this big space, why not build a 2, 000 square foot house on the same budget, or maybe slightly less even, Uh, that’s well crafted, that you have one fantastic room that your family wants to gather in, that has great built ins, that has hardwood floors, that’s very comfortable, that has better windows.
Uh, you know, that’s kind of the philosophy that I took on my house. I’m 2, 800 square feet. Uh, I’ve got six of us plus a dog, and I love it. It’s the perfect size. I have three boys that share a bedroom, and my, my girl has his own bedroom. I have a three bedroom house. That’s all I need. It’s perfect.
That’s when I’ve told people how big my house is. Sometimes they are, the response is, why didn’t you go bigger? It’s like, it’s just me and my wife, some pets, and then we have family over every once in a while. It’s like, we don’t need a lot of space. Yeah.
Why would I go bigger?
Yeah. Why would I want to heat and cool that part of the house that we’re never in?
We’re in there like 2 percent of the time. It’s like, that doesn’t make any sense to me. It
seems silly. Even a little more. Totally.
One of the, one of the last things I kind of want to kind of talk to you about is what would your recommendation to somebody? Like myself, be, for somebody that wants to have a better, longer lasting home, more energy efficient home, what would your recommendation be?
Where should they start?
You know, it’s a good question. I hadn’t, uh, I hadn’t prepped for this question or thought about it a whole lot, but something you said to me, I think, really resonated. You mentioned the term forever home, and I feel like I’m hearing that more and more often, including some people that are coming to my building company and saying, hey, we want to build with you guys.
Uh, you know, this is our forever home. Uh, I love that mentality. And maybe it’s not your forever home. Maybe this is your next decade home. Uh, right? We never, we don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. But that mentality of Forever Home is really good, and I think if you use that as a kind of guiding light for doing your research, for talking to builders, for, uh, looking at videos, for buying books, for researching and blog reading, uh, I think that’s thats a term that really resonates with me.
You know, what are the materials that you would use on a forever home? What’s the type of construction you would use? Uh, another term I would mention, uh, that I’ve kind of changed the term a little bit, but, uh, Joe Stebert coined this phrase, perfect wall. Uh, it’s basically a system of building where you treat your house like a piece of furniture.
Like this desk that’s in my office, how long will this desk last in my air conditioned, heated and cooled, and moisture controlled office environment? Uh, without rain. I mean, in theory, this table could be a thousand years old and it would still be perfectly fine. Take this table outside and use it as a picnic table, even if it’s pressure treated, what are you going to get?
A pressure treated table, maybe a decade or two before it’s falling apart. So if we could treat our houses and the structure of our wood frame houses like this table, couldn’t we build on a pretty incredible house? And that’s the premise behind Joe Stebick’s Perfect Wall, that I’ve built a couple houses now and kind of changed the style and the way to build those.
Uh, but I call it monopoly framing because that made a little more sense to me in my mind where you basically take this, this wall system that’s wood framed, put all the control layers on the outside. You put your insulation on the outside, you put your waterproofing, you put your air sealing, and you put your vapor management or moisture control on the outside.
Now this wall becomes my perfect roof, becomes my perfect slab, and you can build a pretty incredible house. And Joe Stebrick says this is a way to build a house that would last 500 years. That’s pretty, that’s pretty close to the forever home, I would say. I don’t know anybody who’s older than 500 anyways, currently.
Uh, Methuselah’s not with us anymore in the Old Testament. But, uh, so I call it monopoly framing and I built my personal house that way. Uh, I built several houses with the same monopoly framing premise. And it means that now all my duct work is in my air conditioned space, just like yours. Your Unity home has that same feature.
And yet, every day, all day long, throughout Texas, 99 percent of the homes have ducts and attics. Which are actually hotter than the outside space. Our Texas attics are 140, 150, maybe even degrees. On a typical Texas day, it’d be as if you ran your ducts outside one window, outdoors, and then back inside the house.
Would, would that make any sense? No! Especially not with R8 ducts. You know, you got this much, you know, one inch duct insulation, and you’re not just running them outside, but you’re actually running them through your oven. You know, through the attic. And so it’s, it’s this kind of smart building, Matt, that, uh, I think that if people research that and spend a little time thinking about those systems ahead of time, That they’ll stumble across builders that are very like minded.
And there’s a lot of good builders in this country. And in fact, there’s a lot of good builders in just about every town I’ve visited to shoot videos in where I’m shocked by how smart, by how forward thinking, by how code is not even on their mind, because that’s so far be they’re so far beyond that it doesn’t even matter anymore.
And that’s what your house is. I mean, your house is probably 2x code on just about every code requirement, I suspect, Matt. Uh, and that was, that was kind of part of the process when you bought a Unity home, including finding a builder to put it together like a big parts kit. That’s a great
I love the idea of shifting our thinking to forever homes, long lasting homes. It changes what questions you’re going to ask. It change changes what you’re going to demand from a builder. It’s, it’s a change of the relationship completely. A hundred percent.
I love that. A hundred percent. Matt, we’re, uh, we’re getting along.
We should, we should, uh, we should podcast again sometime, my friend. Absolutely. I’d love to. I would really like that, Matt. Thank you for your time. And, uh, hopefully we’ll see you back on the Build Show again. Absolutely.
And thank you so much
for sure, brother. So Matt
and my thanks to Mr. Risinger for his willingness to sit down for that conversation and listeners, please jump into the comments with any questions you might have for this Matt.
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