Mountain Timber Home Showcases Energy-Efficiency Construction

Energy efficiency was the goal, but reclaimed materials and an eye for detail give this Montana mountain timber home a little funk.

Energy efficiency was the goal, but reclaimed materials and an eye for detail give this Montana home a little funk.

Pohlman-timber-front-exterior Reclaimed corrugated siding was originally made in the 1940s and is somewhat thicker than material manufactured today. Seventy years of weather exposure has given it a handsome texture.

There was no better way for Jason Pohlman to broaden the repertoire of his design/build company than to dive into the details of a house for his own family. Jason is one of three partners at Mindful Designs, a Whitefish, Montana-based firm that has built a variety of energy-efficient custom homes, ranging from straw-bale and double-stud wall designs to homes constructed with structural insulated panels. When he acquired a ridge-top parcel of undeveloped land, he found it an ideal opportunity to practice what he and his partners preach. The result is a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot home on two levels that incorporates a variety of reclaimed and site-sourced materials. “Our goal was to have it fit into the landscape, so that did drive a lot of the design as far as the roof lines and the views that you’re getting from the windows,” Jason says. “It played off the natural landscape.”
Pohlman-timber-stairwell An open first-floor plan helps distribute heat from the wood stove. Concrete floors are acid-stained and protected by a clear topcoat. They’re easy to keep clean.

Energy-Efficient Elements

Advanced framing — more formally called optimum value engineering (OVE) — provides the foundation for the home. Studs and other framing set on 24-inch centers, plus the elimination of structurally unnecessary framing members, use less lumber, leave more room for insulation and reduce heat loss through the building shell. The walls are insulated with 2 inches of sprayed-in polyurethane foam and 6-inch-thick fiberglass batts, a technique called “flash and batt.” The closed-cell foam makes a highly efficient air barrier while providing high insulating values. The approach resulted in R-32 walls and an R-63 roof, well above standard construction performance. The radiant-floor slab is filled with 2 inches of rigid foam insulation to reduce heat loss through the floor and heated with an electric boiler. Low power rates enabled by local hydro projects made that a reasonable choice, but Jason already is planning to convert the heating system to an air-to-water heat pump when he completes a planned garage addition and ties it into a common heating system.

Reclaimed and Local Materials

The home’s wooded lot yielded fir and larch trees that were milled into siding and other lumber with the help of a portable band-saw mill. Fir from a 1920s era boardwalk on the Great Lakes went into the exposed timber-framed components, and corrugated roofing from the 1940s was used as exterior cladding. Newly sawn lumber on both the exterior and great room ceiling was treated with Lifetime wood treatment, a compound that gives it the patina of old lumber and only needs to be applied once.
Pohlman-timber-great-room A large great room is both play area and adult hangout zone. The ceiling is site-milled wood treated with a finish that gives it the look of old lumber.

Multipurpose Living Space

A generous great room on the main floor combines the kitchen and living areas and helps the house seem roomy. “It’s not a huge floor plan,” Jason says, “so that’s our kids’ playroom, and then after a quick cleanup, that’s where we also hang out. It’s right next to the kitchen so it’s a very open plan that is comfortable. You can do all your kitchen prep, and somebody’s sitting on the couch and enjoying the view but also being able to be a part of what’s going on.” South-facing windows let in plenty of light and, in winter, welcome heat. The acid-dyed concrete floor is easy to keep clean. The back of the house is banked into the ground and protected by a 12-foot-high wall made from insulating concrete forms, which combine rigid foam insulation and structural concrete. It all adds up to an extremely comfortable house.