Northern Built – An Introduction

Hi, my name is Randy Williams, welcome to my first ever blog post.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about and working in the construction industry. I started in 1996 as an apprentice electrician working for my brother before becoming a state licensed journeyman electrician in 2000. In the late 1990’s, I helped my father, who had built several homes and commercial buildings for himself, start a new home for his sister. In 2005, my dad, brother and I started a company called Willcon Inc, short for Williams Construction. We officially became a licensed building contractor. I learned a lot about the construction industry in those first few years.

Then came 2008. I was nervous, the construction industry was in rough shape. I decided to diversify the business by becoming a certified energy auditor. I was amazed by how little I knew of building science. I received a contract in 2009 to help do energy assessments (basically high bill complaints), with a local rural electric cooperative. I found I liked the job.

Today, I spend about two-thirds of my time working construction. The rest of my work consists of energy auditing and building diagnostics. I’m in about 100 houses in the typical year. I get to see the good, bad and the ugly. It’s interesting how different people actually live in their homes. I’ve been in homes where I had to watch where I stepped, and others that could have been on the cover of a magazine. I love my job.

I am starting this blog to address a few things: the building science, the energy costs of owning or renting a home, and good building techniques and materials that can make a difference in the durability of a home. My hope is that both the casual homeowner and building professional will be able to learn something.

There are lots of resources and intelligent people talking about these subjects. Some of my favorites are Martin Holliday from Green Building Adviser, Matt Risinger’s Build Show Network featuring Steven Baczek and Jake Bruton, The BS and Beer Show with Michael Maines, Travis Brungardt, Emily Mottram and Kiley Jacques, and Joseph Lstiburek from the Building Science Corp. These people mostly deal with the nation as a whole. I want to address building in a northern climate. We have challenges that other parts of the country don’t have.

A note about the construction industry and this blog.
Construction can be a dangerous occupation. Many people are injured and killed every year, and all can be prevented. Safety begins by understanding and following safety protocols. OSHA is responsible for enforcing workplace safety, but accidents can happen just as easily at home.

Be aware of your surroundings.

Wear the proper personal protection gear, such as safety glasses and hearing protection. A trip to the ER because something is stuck in your eye is an unpleasant experience, I’ve been there.

Understand how to safely operate the tools needed for the job.
Read the owner’s manuals!

Don’t put yourself is a situation where you’re not comfortable. If you’re afraid of heights, don’t go on a roof.  Use common sense.

After safety, the next most important issue is quality of work. This includes following building codes. The building code is a minimum standard for the construction of buildings. They are written to protect the public’s health and safety. Because this blog is dealing with residential construction, any building codes that are referenced will be from the International Residential Code, which deals with the construction of one and two-family dwellings. Other codes that may be referenced, may include, but are not limited to, the International Energy Conservation Code, International Mechanical Code, and the National Electric Code. Be aware that codes are usually, but not always, adopted by state and local municipalities, and changes can be made. Be sure to understand the codes in your area, when in doubt, ask your local building official, or the authority having jurisdiction.

Now that you know what I’m about, here are a few of the topics I will be discussing in future posts. If any stick out as interesting to you, make sure to follow me on Instagram to see when they are posted, @northernbuiltpro.

  • The Energy Audit-my style and approach of conducting an energy audit.
  • Building Science 101-a beginner’s guide to building science in a northern climate.
  • Northern Built Case Studies-the effects of cold weather on heating and electric bills.
  • Northern Construction Details-Foundation to roof, all the choices.
  • Just the Mechanicals-Electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems discussions.
  • The Good, Bad, and the Ugly-Photos of the north.
  • The Code-Construction codes that apply to the north.

Finally, all information on the Northern Built blog is correct and accurate to the best of my knowledge. Feel free to respectfully disagree with me. I learn something new every day, my education might come from you.

There you have it, my first blog. I’d love to hear your feedback. Have a question, or want to talk about a particular topic, let me know.

5 Replies to “Northern Built – An Introduction”

    1. Good intro, a couple of ongoing interest of mine are basement insulation details, controlling in home humidity levels, exterior foam thickness, fastening decks and roofs through foam, and the potential of removing interior vapour barriers in northern homes (especially in basements).

      1. Thanks for the comment. I’ve actually got a basement insulation blog written, it focuses on Minnesota code requirements, which have been modified from the International Building Code. I think I’m going to change parts of that blog to better reflect building science before I post. Should be ready to go sometime in November, 2018. Controlling humidity in a home is something I’ve discussed in a few postings, but is still a subject I want to further discuss. I’m in around 500 homes a year, I see a lot of dehumidifiers running, usually during the summer months, and I’d like to discuss better solutions. Much easier to address when building the home. Great ideas for the rest of the topics. I’ve got a list started, will add them to it. Right now I’m only releasing one blog a week, I’m thinking about adding a second which will focus on the house I’m currently purchasing. I like the house, it’s in a good neighborhood, structurally, it’s sound, but it has some major building science issues. I think it will make a good continuing blog topic. I’ll be living in the home while renovating, completing most of the work myself. I’m looking forward to the challenge. Thanks again for the comment!

  1. Can an electrician do an energy audit?
    Most ones I know just drill holes in carefully detailed wall assemblies.

    Just kidding.

    How far north in MN?
    I’m west of Bemidji.

    Good details are hard to justify only in “payback.”
    They make the place better, but it can get subjective real quick.

    We build the best we can constrained by the budget, time, and current understanding.

    1. Hi David,
      Yes, I have drilled a few holes in walls, most were not well detailed back when I was working full time as an electrician. I now have to scold people when they do that.

      I’m in Grand Rapids, about an hour east of you.

      I agree with your comments, it’s really hard to sell performance only on ROI, the numbers don’t always work out for shorter term expectations. It’s hard for a homeowner to think of the lifecycle of the home, which may be 100+ years or about the possibility of future increased energy costs. That’s partly why I started this blog. In my opinion, building better has to start with the homeowner asking for it, and then realizing there will be some cost, but hopefully they receive the message that there are more benefits than just monetary savings.

      Thanks for the comment!

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