SENSIBLE High Performance HOME BUILDING TODAY, For a Better Tomorrow.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Perhaps THE classic paradoxical question.

It applies to all sorts of subjects including Residential Building and Design. Or is that Residential Design and Building?

See the paradox? Or perhaps more aptly the circular nature of the process.

The Building process informs the Design process as much as the Design process informs the Building process. It is
all about feedback loops that hone the whole process of Home Design and Building to what works best under any
given circumstances. This all makes for High Performance Healthy Homes giving you the most for your money.

This recognition of the interdependence between design and building brings out the best in both while making it really
difficult to talk about one without the other.

As you look through this page about Sensible Home Building, whether your project is New Construction, or Additions
and Remodeling, or Restorations and Renovations, or Kitchens and Baths, or Cabinetry and Woodworking or Sauna
Baths or anything else please remember if it sounds like we are talking about design it’s also about building.


A lot of what goes into your new home construction applies to additions, remodeling, restorations and renovations too.

First and foremost is attention to details! This starts from the ground and goes all the way to the roof and is a true mark
of our Meticulous Craftsmanship.

Our first focus of attention to details is your home’s exterior envelope system. The exterior envelope system consists
of the foundation and slabs that make contact with the ground; the wall system, including all window and door openings
and the roof system. This is the part of the home that keeps the weather out and you and your family dry and comfortable!

The single most important issue throughout the construction of the exterior envelope system is the proper management
of water. Optimum functioning of all the other parts of the exterior wall system; load
bearing structure, insulation, electrical and interior finishes depend on reliable water
management and exclusion.

While water has the potential to be the most damaging element to the functioning and
durability of your home’s structure and systems, in the case of underground water vanes
water also has the potential to be a detrimental influence on the health and wellbeing of
all who dwell in the home (see resources under Dowsing for more on this subject).

Proper site location on the property and elevation of the foundation sets the stage for a well built home. Proper attention
to surface drainage as well as underground around the foundation is key. Waterproofing and effective capillary breaks of
the concrete footings, foundation walls and slabs are critical.

Understanding and constructing effective drainage planes with air spaces and detailing flashing around windows and
doors in wall systems keeps water out while preserving the exterior trim and siding from moisture build up and
subsequent damage from mold, mildew and rot.

Simply stated, Drainage planes are water repellent materials (building paper, housewrap, foam insulation, etc.) which
are designed and constructed to drain water. They are interconnected with flashings, window and door openings, and
other penetrations of the building enclosure to provide drainage of water to the exterior of the building. The materials
that form the drainage plane overlap each other shingle fashion or are sealed so that water flow is downward and outward.

Drainage planes alone are well known such as the traditional tar paper, and the newer synthetic “house wraps” such
as Typar and Tyvek.

Properly functioning drainage planes with air spaces are a relatively new focus of attention in residential construction though understood quite well in commercial construction. The air space is the key to the proper function of the drainage plane which also provides air movement behind siding and trim to allow 4 sided drying. This contributes greatly to a low maintenance, high durability home!

We create this air space behind horizontal lapped siding (clapboards) by installing 1”x 3” pine strapping on top of the drainage plane material (which is covering the wall sheathing) at the wall stud locations. We then install the trim and siding to the face of the strapping. This is a highly advantageous detail for all horizontal lapped siding
materials and is especially good for wood clapboard. If you prefer painted wood clapboards this system will greatly
extend the times between repainting.

It will also extend the longevity of the newer fiber cement horizontal lapped siding. Fiber cement is a composite
of wood fiber, cement and a binder. Without the air space provided by the strapping any moisture that gets
behind the fiber cement will be trapped between the drainage plane and the back of the siding. The back of the
fiber cement has only a primer coating and if there are any dents, scratches or other compromises in that primer
coating the cement and wood fiber will soak up the moisture and the siding will expand and pucker or buckle and
eventually fail. This is also an issue at any ends of the fiber cement planks that have been cut to length during the
installation process.

The best siding system in our opinion for low or no maintenance is using native pine clapboards (a local, renewable
resource) over the strapping and applying a product called LifeTime Wood Treatment. LifeTime Wood Treatment is
a non-toxic, water soluble product that changes the pH of the wood to make it an unattractive food source for bugs,
molds and fungi. The resulting finish look ranges from mid tones of brown to silver gray. LifeTime is applied once
and lasts a lifetime! In our opinion this system is the least cost (for both materials and labor), most durable, least
maintenance, and most naturally sustainable way to side your house.

If you prefer the shingled look for your siding we highly recommend using a product called Home Slicker which
provides an air space behind the sidewall shingles. (The airspace created by Home Slicker is much smaller then
strapping but since strapping just won’t work with shingles due to the method of installing shingles this product is
an appropriate alternative with sidewall shingles while strapping is a far better choice for clapboards.)

Roof overhangs and proper attention to roof flashing, especially around any chimneys or other intersecting
structures to the roof top off the water management systems of the homes. Roof overhangs keeps falling
rainwater away from walls, windows, doors and foundations. This also contributes greatly to a low maintenance,
high durability

After water management we focus our attention on how the structural elements,
doors and windows and thermal insulation systems will work together to maximize
your comfort by minimizing heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer.

We use Kohltech brand window and door systems. These are Canadian
manufactured vinyl windows and doors that are built to much more rigorous
thermal standard then units available from US makers. Kohltech also offers more
glazing options to fine tune the window units to the particular location and orientation they are placed. This means,
for example, that on the South facing walls where passive solar heating is important the glazing is optimized for
solar gain and on North facing walls glazing is specified for maximum insulation value. Kohltech offers a range of
types and styles to fit most all tastes and situations.

We pay particular attention to thermal bridging and air sealing the exterior envelope to increase thermal energy
efficiency beyond the usual.

Thermal bridging is were the wood (or metal) studs and rafters and other structural framing elements with a lower
resistance to heat flow then insulation materials placed between the studs and rafters etc. bridge between the
conditioned interior space and the outdoor space thus reducing the overall efficiency of the wall or roof system.
There are a number if ways to address this issue starting with using Optimum Value Engineering/ Advanced
techniques to eliminate unnecessary framing thus providing up to 60 % more space for cavity fill insulation
and finishing with continuous layers of insulation on the interior or exterior.

We use dense pack recycled cellulose insulation for our cavity fill insulation. Depending on the wall system design
we use a polyethylene foam core foil faced radiant barrier, LowE that adds R-3.5 with a 3/4” airspace on the interior
face of the framing. The advantages of this material is far more then the R-Value. This product works like the Low-E
films in window and door glazing that reflects back short wave infrared heat our bodies as well as other solid materials
in the home emit. This gives the feeling of comfort at lower ambient air temperatures. This product also enhances the
effectiveness of radiant heat systems such as hydronic radiant systems, woodstoves, pellet stoves and masonry wood

Air sealing is a very important part of a high performance and healthy home. There is a general misunderstanding that
homes “ought to breath," that is, that air should flow in and out of the house through the exterior envelope so it stays
"healthy." In fact, those leaks contribute to making homes unhealthy as well as inefficient.

It's true that homes can become unhealthy if there is no fresh air, but in a tight house, fresh air is introduced through
heat or energy recovery ventilation systems (H/ERV). By working to eliminate air leakage through the exterior envelope
and providing fresh air throughout the home via the H/ERV we are directly addressing Indoor Air Quality and Energy
in the most advantageous and efficient way available.

We use Fantech H/ERV ventilation products. In our experience we have found Fantech H/ERV products and customer
service to be outstanding.

We also address healthy Indoor Air Quality by using low/no toxic materials and techniques in our building and design.
Indoor air quality became a major concern after the 1970’s oil embargo and the resulting initial efforts to begin retrofitting
existing homes and building new homes and commercial structures more energy efficient by adding insulation and
restricting airflow through the structure.

One of the major culprits contributing to poor indoor air quality is the nearly unbelievable number of untested synthetic
(human made) industrial chemicals in building materials and home furnishings. During the same decade in 1976 the
United States Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This law “grandfathered” or exempted more
then 60,000 industrial chemicals under the presumption that they were “safe” until proven harmful by the EPA.

In the intervening 35 years since the passage of the TSCA there are now more then 80,000 synthetic industrial chemicals
only 200 of which have been fully tested for toxicity! Of the few thousand synthetic chemicals that are known by current
science to be harmful the EPA has only banned or restricted the use of 5 toxic substances under the TSCA law! Go to
the Indoor Air Quality resource section for links and further reading on this very important subject.

Once we have a highly efficient and healthy exterior envelope and ventilation systems figured out we can then turn our
attention to the heating system. With these high performing conservation systems the heating system can be sized
much smaller.

A heat loss calculation evaluation is done first based on the plan of the building. This gives us a preliminary idea of the
amount of heat loss that will need to be overcome with the heating system. Once the exterior envelope is complete
and the dry wall is finished a blower door test is performed to find out the effectiveness of the air sealing. With the
data obtained from these evaluations we then can adjust the sizing of the heating system to be as efficient as possible.

In Passive House designed and built homes and commercial buildings sometimes the heating source is as small as an
electric heating coil the size used in hair dryers placed in the ventilation system!

Of course the first heating system in all homes should be the proper orientation of the structure towards solar south
to maximize passive solar gain with properly sized glazing (windows) and adequately sized and placed storing mass
(which comes in many forms from concrete slabs with or without tile, tile alone, plaster covered wall etc.).

Other systems we consider are; solar hot water collectors which work very well with radiant distribution systems that
are then combined with very small conventionally (fossil) fueled boilers or wood pellet boilers; solar hot water collectors
combined with conventionally fueled hot air furnaces and duct distribution system combined with the H/ERV; wood stoves
with piped combustion air intakes and our new favorite high mass masonry wood heaters.

We hope this limited amount of information gives you a small taste of our care and passion for Sensible New Home Building.
There is so much more. Give us a call and we would be happy to answer your questions and share more of our expertise.


We bring the same diligent care, attention to details and craftsmanship to our work on your existing home as any new
home project. Existing homes present additional challenges and issues that sometimes
require more creative responses and flexibility from both us the designers and builders
and you the homeowner.

We are up to the challenge! Give us a call and we will be happy to discuss ideas for your
addition and/or remodeling project.


We have extensive experience in bringing older homes up to current standards. Take a look at the following slideshow
at one very involved project that had all sorts of interesting aspects including snakes in the walls all the way up to the
second floor!!!

This home is one of the oldest structures in Richmond, dating from the early 1800’s. The photo’s show the last phase
of the restoration and renovation of the whole house that took place over a span of 10 years. This section of the home
is the original homestead and was built on a foundation of rocks placed directly on the ground.

The whole thing heaved from the frost every winter. The master bedroom is in this section. Before this work with the new
foundation the homeowner had to re-shim the bed every spring to level the bed out for the new elevation the structure
assumed after frost came out of the ground!


Kitchens and Baths should be the preeminent functional, healthy, healing, comfortable and beautiful spaces of your
home and deserve special care and attention.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case in typical home construction (and sometimes even in high-end building!).

Let’s start with the Kitchen. This is the heart and soul of your home.

We begin by finding out how you use the kitchen. Are you an avid cook or just a
weekend cook? Are you a gardener and can and preserve veggies on a regular
basis? Do you entertain frequently or is most of your time spent preparing
meals with your kids and partner? Is there more then one cook in the family?
Do you like stir-frying or make lots of soups and stews are all of the above?

Once we find out a bit about you and your family’s style in the kitchen then we can go to work designing a work and living space that suits your needs. And because we can work with the whole range of
kitchen materials from store bought to totally custom and everything in between we work within most all realistic budgets.

If store bought cabinets are your choice we will work with you to get the most for your dollar in quality. Unfortunately,
there are an awful lot of poorly made kitchen cabinets using wood fiber products that are major contributors of toxic
off-gassing, compromising your indoor air quality.

We highly recommend manufactured cabinets that use hardwood plywood for cabinet boxes and hardwood cabinet
frames, doors and drawers finished with non-toxic water based finishes.

Manufactured cabinets come in 3 inch size increments that will work for most new or existing spaces. However, semi-custom or fully custom cabinets help to utilize your space to the maximum and for smaller spaces that can
be a big plus.

Semi-custom cabinets are built from components that we get from larger manufacturers that specialize in cabinetry components. We use Keystone Wood Specialties located in Pennsylvania Dutch country city of Lancaster, PA. We assemble the components in our shop and finish accordingly.

Custom cabinets are built by us in our fully equipped woodshop. We use a bare minimum of plywood material and
NO wood fiber sheet goods that off-gas toxic chemicals. We specialize in Shaker inspired traditional frame and
panel construction using native hardwoods such as poplar, ash, maple, birch and red birch. This fabrication method
is extremely durable and we take extra effort to book-match our panels bringing out the hidden beauty and spirit of
the wood.

We offer and highly recommend completely plant based non toxic oil and wax finishes for our semi-custom and fully
custom cabinetry. We use Landark oils and waxes that are manufactured using high quality Linseed and Tung oils,
citrus solvents and bees wax. NO Petrochemicals or Heavy Metal dryers.

The oil and wax finish brings out the incredible holographic nature of the hardwood
grain and patterning. As the natural wood and finish age a rich patina develops that
deepens and enlivens the wood that will continue to enhance your love and
appreciation for such gifts of nature bringing beauty and spirit to your living spaces.

We are firm believers in maximizing the functionality our your kitchen cabinets by
giving you complete ease of access to your base cabinets by using drawers of all
various sizes instead of merely doors opening to large unorganized, underutilized space typical of standard manufactured
cabinets. We even see no real advantage to pull out shelves behind doors that make you do two motions when just the
one pull of a drawer on High Quality hardware gives you easy access to the contents of your cabinets.

We use high quality Blum brand cabinet hardware in all of our semi custom and fully custom cabinetry. Blum is THE
industry leader in undermount drawer slides, door hinges, overhead flip tops and drawer organizing hardware. All of there
moving hardware comes with self closing, soft close Blumotion action. This means no slamming doors, and touch of the
fingers closing drawers.

Buy investing in custom cabinets that are designed well and build to last your return will be many years of carefree
functional, beautiful kitchen use that will stand the test of time and endure to add value and appeal to your home.

We are well versed in all manner of countertops, including natural stone, tile, butcher block and plastic laminate.

We are also fully equipped and experienced to do a little or a lot of TILE work, such as tile countertops and backsplashes,
tub and shower surrounds and floors.

And now the Bath.

Whether it is a remodel of a guest half bath or design and creation of a custom master-bath we focus on meeting your desire for comfort and relaxation. We are avid fans of the Japanese approach to bathing and bath design.

No matter the scale or scope of the project we also focus on water management in the bath. Poorly designed and detailed baths will degrade and become mold and mildew breeding grounds that will lead to premature failure of service components and possibly structural elements like floors and walls. Durability is the name of the game in your bath and
we take every inch of it seriously.

Bath cabinetry needs to be chosen carefully. Traditional cabinet and countertop heights for the bath do not make sense for
modern baths. Typically manufactured bath vanities are designed 4” shorter and 3” shallower then kitchen cabinets. This
makes no sense. We highly recommend full kitchen size vanities in the bath to bring the sink height up to a more user
friendly elevation and allow for more depth of countertop for larger sinks or more usable counter space.

Also very important to both Bath and Kitchen projects is having a great plumbing professional working on the project to
ensure close project coordination and elimination of schedule delays and rework mistakes from poor communication and management. We use George Doughty for our plumbing and heating needs.


Kitchens and Baths aren’t the only place high quality custom cabinets belong! BFBHomes has a fully equipped woodshop
to meet all of your cabinetry and woodworking needs.

As in our kitchen and bath cabinetry we specialize in Shaker inspired traditional frame and panel construction using native hardwoods such as poplar, ash, maple, birch and red birch. This fabrication method is extremely durable and we take extra effort to book-match our panels bringing out the hidden beauty and spirit of the wood.

We offer and highly recommend completely plant based non toxic oil and wax finishes for our semi-custom and fully custom cabinetry. We use Landark oils and waxes that are manufactured using high quality Linseed and Tung oils, citrus solvents and bees wax. NO Petrochemicals or Heavy Metal dryers.

The oil and wax finish brings out the incredible holographic nature of the hardwood grain and patterning. As the natural wood
and finish age a rich patina develops that deepens and enlivens the wood that will continue to enhance your love and
appreciation for such gifts of nature bringing beauty and spirit to your living spaces.

Some of the other cabinetry and woodworking projects we do are:

Entry Closet and Organization Systems

Home Libraries and Bookshelves

Offices and Custom Desks and Work Spaces\

Custom Doors

Window Seats and Storage

Custom Stair and Railing Fabrication

Restoration, Refinishing and Matching Salvaged Cabinetry and Woodwork

Audio and Electronic Organization Systems

Garden Arbors, Pergolas and Outdoor Spaces

You Name IT and we can do it!



We have enjoyed the pleasure and many benefits of wood fired Sauna Baths for many years! As you may know sweat
baths have been a tradition of many cultures and peoples for thousands of years, however genuine Sauna Baths are of
Finnish origins.

We offer a standard Sauna design that is partially pre-built at our shop then transported to, assembled and finished at your location that provides all of the amenities you will need to enjoy the true Finnish Sauna experience all year long.

There are two basic styles of foundation construction, a platform on skids that is provided as part of the prebuilt assembly that offers flexibility and mobility if you should end up moving or a permanent insulated slab on grade that is subcontracted in your area at your location.

There are many and varied benefits of Sauna. In our opinion they are all maximized by a wood fired heat source. We use
Nippa brand Sauna wood stoves with integral water tank. We use a double layer of 1” air spaced sheet-metal heat
shielding cooled by an exterior air vent on both the wall side and back side of the stove to eliminate any danger of over
heating adjacent walls. The heater is also installed on 2” thick concrete patio blocks to shield the stove from the wood
floors if you choose the platform on skids building option.

Our standard Sauna design is based on traditional Finnish designs and is fully self- contained with a dressing/cool off room
directly adjacent to the Sauna room all in one 8’x 18’ (on the floor) structure. The back wall where the benches are located
has a gentle slope that encourages healthy mixing of the heated air top to bottom and a relaxing angle to rest against when
seated on the top bench.

The benches in both the Sauna room and cool off room are long enough for 6’6” adult to lay prone comfortably. The benches
are constructed of recycled red cedar or redwood whenever material is available or native white cedar when recycled material
is not available. The walls and ceiling are all native white cedar v-match tongue and groove paneling. There is 2” of foil faced
foam insulation in walls and ceiling to maximize wood fuel usage and increase Sauna effectiveness.

The exterior is native pine shiplap boards. There is one operational wall window in both the Sauna room and the cool off
room for maximum temperature control especially during the summer. Additionally there is an extra window in the door
to the outside in the cool off room that can be opened to make this room as cool as possible. All the windows are supplied
with stainless steel insect screening.

The standard structure is pre-wired and plumbed. There are lights in both rooms and one outlet in the cool off room. All of
the electrical system is ground fault protected and ready to be connected to either an extension cord or site installed outlet.
There is a faucet in the Sauna room to use for filling the water tank and a shower head on the exterior of the front wall with
the valve accessed in the cool off room for taking refreshing cool off showers. The water line is connected to a garden hose
from a sill cock at the main house or a lawn hydrant (frost protected and self draining when shut off) can be installed next to
where the Sauna building will be assembled. From the lawn hydrant a short length of hose is then use to connect the Sauna plumbing line to the hydrant. All the plumbing lines are installed in such a way that when disconnected from the water source
they will drain to prevent freeze up during winter months.

The standard platform on skids Sauna design is $26,900.00 exclusive of any foundational site work or underground electrical
or plumbing feed lines that you may wish to install to the location of the Sauna. The slab on grade option is $26,100.00
exclusive of the concrete slab, site work and the electrical or plumbing feed lines that you may wish to install to the location
of the Sauna.

Please refer to the photo gallery by clicking on any of the photos in this section to see the outside and inside of the standard platform on skids design.

If you have more customized needs for your Sauna please contact us and we will be happy to work with you to develop a
design that will meet your needs.

Benjamin F. Below Professional Home Builders LLC, Harpswell, Maine 04079 . Phone: 207.833.6020 . . Fully Insured

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