Bob The Builder's Blog

What Affects Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality is a hot topic. However, it begs the question: Why, after all of these years, is it now becoming a concern? 

It all starts with the construction of a home. Our homes are constructed “tighter” than ever before – to provide a comfortable climate and increased energy efficiency. As a result, our now tightly built homes also trap particles and pollutants indoors – which can cause indoor air quality to be poor – and have an effect on our health.

Poor indoor air quality can be the culprit for itchy and watery eyes, nasal congestion, longer cold and flu seasons, headaches and even asthma. It is especially prevalent in the colder months when we don’t have windows open to allow breezes to flow through our homes.

As mentioned, building products are (unfortunately) a common culprit for polluting our indoor air. Formaldehyde is a common chemical used with many building materials such as plywood and particle board – all of which are needed to construct our homes. Carpets, glue and paint are other common culprits of “off-gassing” chemicals into the indoor air. Additionally, appliances and mechanical systems (such as gas stoves, fireplaces and water heaters) that burn fossil fuels can all contribute to the poor quality of indoor air.

Indoor air quality isn’t only a concern to new home construction, though. Benzene is another common pollutant which often decreases indoor air quality. It is found in many common household products such as latex-based paints, detergents, oils and rubber. In addition, many cleaners, carpet shampoos, spot removers and household adhesives contain trichloroethylene, a suppressant of the central nervous system. Further, carbon monoxide is often present in homes where furnaces are old or not properly maintained as well as in homes that use gas stoves. When you combine all of these chemicals with dust, mold and pet dander, you can see why indoor air quality is such a concern.

Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

Because indoor air quality can deteriorate over time and cause discomfort and allergy-type symptoms for you and your family, the first step to improving your indoor air quality is simple: control the source of pollution. For outdoor contaminants (such as pollen and dirt), take off your shoes in the foyer and do not walk with them inside the house. Clean your home regularly, and invest in a vacuum that has a HEPA filter that will trap microscopic particles. If your home contains gas-burning appliances or mechanical systems, work with your contractor to see if you can decrease the amount of emissions.

Other steps you can take include improving your home’s ventilation system so you are bringing fresh air into your home. This can be as simple as cracking a window, or operating window or attic fans to circulate the air. Additionally, since household cleaners are a huge culprit for decreasing indoor air quality, make sure when cleaning with these products that you do so in a well-ventilated space. You may also want to research natural cleaning alternatives.

By making these changes and monitoring the indoor air quality of your home regularly, you will be able to keep your family comfortable and healthy at the same time.


Your Windows: Energy-Saving Options

Our homes can consume a lot of nonrenewable resources, particularly when it comes to keeping comfortable. With the price of fossil fuels rising every year, heat and air conditioning are among every homeowner’s most expensive line-item.

One way to cut down on the costs and improve your efficiency is to install energy-saving windows.

If your home has older windows, the money you are trying to save in other ways, such as installing energy-efficient appliances or buying local produce, is going right out the window – literally. Older windows are single pane, which can be a large source of heat transfer – meaning they allow the warmth out in the winter and the heat in in the summer. This will cause your HVAC system to work overtime just to keep your family comfortable.

Windows are actually the most common place for homes to lose energy. Why? Because glass is an excellent conductor. It quickly moves energy from one side of the window to the other. Think of your car and how warm and steamy the interior gets when it is parked in the sun, even though it is pleasant outside.

Besides replacing your windows with more energy-efficient ones, there are other steps you can take to make your windows more energy efficient and reduce your energy consumption.

·       Seal windows. Sealing the gaps around windows and doors can help reduce drafts (most noticeable in the winter) and heat loss.

·       Use window treatments. To keep your home comfortable all year round, use blinds and drapes that have an insulating lining. When you want the warmth of the sun inside, open up them up, and close them when you want to block the rays. Insulated drapes keep the warmth inside during cold winter months, too.

Keep in mind that although your home may not be terribly old, the windows may still have less-than-ideal energy-efficiency ratings. Check the ratings and compare those to what’s available today.

For homeowners who want to truly improve their home’s energy efficiency, your best bet is to replace inefficient windows with more efficient ones. Look for “Low-E” windows that have krypton or argon gas between the panes. The gases are invisible, but serve as a protective layer of insulation that prevents glass from being a heat conductor.

If you'd like to increase your home's comfort level while spending less on heating and cooling, improving your windows is the answer. Seal cracks, install appropriate window treatments and replace old, inefficient windows, and soon you’ll notice a big difference.

Give us a call if you have any questions! We are here to help.

How Geothermal Heating Works

We had a great feature article in Fine Home Building a few years back - and in it, Geothermal heating was discussed in detail.

You can read the entire article here (be sure to click on the PDF link at the top of the page for graphics and details) and learn more below:

How it works: Heat from the earth
Geothermal heating and cooling are based on the fact that while temperatures above-ground can vary greatly during the year, temperatures belowground remain fairly constant. In winter, when the temperature underground is warmer than the air temperature, tubes carrying water or freeze-resistant liquid bring heat from the ground to a heat pump that extracts the heat and distributes it throughout the house. In cooling mode, the heat pump functions like an air conditioner, extracting heat from the home and releasing it underground. In many systems, like Burnside’s, some of that excess heat is routed through another heat exchanger called a desuperheater to produce domestic hot water.

Not Just for New Homes
Retrofits account for about 70% of the geothermal installations done by Michigan Energy Services, the company that installed Burnside’s system. The easiest retrofits tap into existing forced-air systems, according to vice president Rob Derksen. Costs range from $18,000 to about $30,000, depending on site conditions and the extent of modifications required. Although geothermal is often used in conjunction with radiant-floor heating, the water it produces is not hot enough to make it compatible with hydronic baseboard systems. In that case, forced-air ductwork is usually added.

Have questions or want to know more? Contact us for a quick and informative reply!

Yes! We can help you with the design on your project

We just updated the Design & Architectural section of our website.

It reviews and shows examples of the following design stages:

  • Initial Pencil Sketches
  • Schematic Design Phase
  • Design Development
  • Construction Drawings
  • Optional 3D Walk Thru

Fireside Home Construction has resources to aid in design throughout the process. We work with several designers or architects to assist with this phase. Click here to see some examples of the different phases of the design process along with an example of an optional 3D walk thru that we have completed for many of our projects.

Meadow Retreat - Excavating begins

Meadow Retreat - Excavating begins

Meadow Retreat - Stakes in the yard (And deer!)

Meadow Retreat - Stakes in the yard!

We mention our Architect friends over at Archtectural Resource in this video - they have done wonderful work in designing this new project!

Preplanning - May make your head spin, but we love it!

While all of the preplanning that Bob reviews in the video below may make your head spin... But here at Fireside Home Construction - we love it!

See the value we bring and deliver to your project through all of the well thought out preplanning that goes into every project we work on:

Energy efficient building, R-Value, insulation, etc.

You've heard about energy efficient building, R-Value, insulation - here is what it looks like when it's done right... A 'behind the drywall' look for you!

Fireside Home Construction Commits to Building the Next Generation of ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes

We are proud to announce that we committed to build and label our homes to meet the new and more rigorous ENERGY STAR requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) for 2012.

What does this mean for you, the homeowner? Here are some details:

ENERGY STAR qualified homes that earn the label in 2012 will be built with a comprehensive, building science-based approach that features:

  • A detailed package of home envelope air sealing, properly installed insulation, and high-performance windows to deliver comfort, durability, and lower utility bills.
  • A high-efficiency heating, cooling, and ventilation system designed and installed for optimal performance.
  • A complete water and moisture management package to protect roofs, walls, and foundations.
  • ENERGY STAR certified lighting and appliances that help reduce monthly utility bills.
  • Third-party verification, with independent inspections and testing by a certified Home Energy Rater.

We continue to focus on being Michigan's Leading Green Builder - let us know how we can help you or if you'd like more information on this new ENERGY STAR commitment.

Read our complete Press Release here (PDF document will open.)

Learn more at the EPA website here.

Fireside Chat: Trades craftsperson Roy Crites

A different perspective for you today from one of our trades craftspeople, Roy Crites. His take on how Fireside clients are taken care of, how we take care of our employees and partners. Thanks Roy for taking the time to record this video!


Fireside Chat: Our Project Manager Mark Allor

See the personality and hear from our Project Manager, Mark Allor, about jobsite productivity, efficiency, quality control, and how our crew stays productive to keep your building costs down.

Considering a vacant lot for your new home? Watch this video

There is a lot to consider when looking at vacant lots for your new home.

We have talked about this free service we offer before (see blog post here), but wanted to give you some additional details.

Enjoy some tips and advice from Bob:

Basement Remodeling Project - Before

Listen to Bob lay out what will be happening in this unfinished basement space over the coming couple weeks... Check back a week from now for an update!

"One of the original and most-honored green builders"

We recently came across another article (read it here) from back in 2007.

We wanted you as a visitor to our website to review the article as it points to our long history of building with energy efficiency in mind. An excerpt from the article below:

"[Bob] said his firm lays out the added costs to customers for green features, and then explains how they could pay off in the long run. While some upgrades, like geothermal heating, can tack on an extra $8,000 or more, others are common-sense practices that don't add cost.

'It's a matter of understanding proper techniques,' Burnside said. 'A lot of it's free - it's just a matter of paying attention to detail.'

...Still, Fireside remains one of the original and most-honored green builders, receiving awards from the National Association of Home Builders and Home Builders Association of Washtenaw County.

'The bottom line is we believe it,' Burnside said."

Interested in talking to us about your remodeling or new home project? Reach out to us here!

This builder's goal is more affordable green homes

We were going through some things last week and came across this article that we were featured in back in 2009. While it is now July 2011 - the theme and information still hold true!

The article is about Fireside Home Construction's goal of making 'green' homes more affordable. Here's a quote from the article and link to complete article from the Ann Arbor Business Review can be found here:

"...That's based on a 1,960-square-foot ranch house, including a finished basement and a two-car garage that would retail for $225,000, not including the lot, driveway, or well or septic system. I've been thinking for a couple of years I wanted to build smaller. Obviously, with the economy we wanted to build a smaller, affordable, yet super-efficient home, and we've been able to do that. We included the green things that people think are expensive but will end up being very affordable."

The home we are referring to in the article and pictured above is M&M's Little Ranch. Learn more about this home here.

No Absentee Builder Here!

One of the biggest things we talk about at our educational homeowner seminars is the importance of choosing the right builder/remodeler for your project. A huge factor in the success of your project is finding someone who you are comfortable with, can trust, and who really cares about your project as if it were their own.

Since we started our business in 1996, that has been our focus - Building or remodeling each home as if it were our own!

Below you'll find a few photos of Bob Burnside, President of Fireside Home Construction out on some of our jobsites. As Bob likes to say: "Show me a job with an absentee builder and I will show you a mess!"

As a Fireside Home Construction client, you can rest assured that Bob and the entire Fireside Team will be hands on and active with delivering a project that you are thrilled with!

Bob also likes to say: "I may be there at 11AM or 11PM with a flashlight, but I darn sure know everything that is going on with my jobs!"

If you are looking for a builder who will care for your home and project as much as his own, please contact us and let's begin talking about you, your family, and your project needs.

Chicken Coops, Garden Sheds - We can build or remodel just about anything!

Wanted to show you a few recent buildings we constructed to show you that we can help you - whether your project is large or small!

Here is a photo of a recent Chicken Coop Bob built at Burnside's Inn - the chickens will be populating it within a couple weeks!

Near the Chicken Coop we also have a 'Garden Shed' that matches the home. You can see our Solar Panels behind the shed and organic garden:

No matter what building or remodeling project you are considering - please contact us! We can help!

Happy 4th of July to you & your family from Fireside Home Construction!

Just a quick message to express our thanks and gratitude for your past business and interest and to wish you a wonderful 4th of July as you celebrate this great day in history with family and friends!

To play off the 4th of July holiday, if we can help you 'Declare freedom from high energy bills' with an energy efficient remodel, addition, or new construction project - don't hesitate to give us a call!

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday and let us know if we can be of any assistance to you or your family, friends, or neighbors.

New Barn Construction

We have set-up a slideshow below to show you step-by-step the construction of a New Barn we recently built for one of our clients. Enjoy the progress photos below and let us know if we can help you with any of your projects! (See this client's feedback for us below as well...)

Here is what this client had to say about their experience working with us on building their new barn. We received this feedback on the Satisfaction Survey we send to all of our clients at the end of their project:

  • "Most satisfied with the Quality of workmanship; excellent communication; adhered to timeline of project; great guys"
  • "Mark, our superintendent is OUTSTANDING! He is reliable, kind, resourceful, timely, an excellent communicator and never stops smiling. We love him. Chris was also great to work with. She kept us up-to-date through timely emails. We appreciate her too."

Lots of great information shared at educational Homeowner Seminar

We had a great turnout for our last educational homeowner seminar on the topic of New Home Construction.

Bob Burnside covered, among other things:

  • The Eight Steps to a Successful Project.
  • The 5 Myths of Building.
  • The single most important thing to look for in a builder.
  • We also had lots of great Q&A time with the attendees

We also had the pleasure of having one of our Preferred Architect Partners, Dawn Zuber from Studio Z Architecture, on hand to educate everyone on the design side of the process.

Some of the feedback we received from homeowners included:

"It was very interesting to learn about the whole process"

"Your staff was great.  Mark  is very enthusiastic"

"Good program – real nuts & bolts"

"Great environment for learning & informative exchange"

See some photos from the June 18th seminar below and consider registering for our upcoming seminars.

Our Second LEED Platinum Home in Dexter!

We just received final approval on our second LEED home in Dexter with the prestigious top level Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council.

We built this amazing home in four months from start to finish and it includes an insulated concrete form basement, structural insulated panels for the walls, spray foam for attic insulation as well as a geo thermal heating and cooling system for maximum efficiency.

It’s 1920 square feet at a very affordable price and extremely efficient, durable, healthy and warm and cozy. Ask us for a personal tour in Dexter!

Fireside Chat with Ron Jones – National Green Building Expert

Ron Jones is Founder and Editorial Director of Green Builder® Media and is considered to be one of the fathers of the green building movement.

Ron came to visit our LEED Platinum Model home in Dexter a few years ago and we caught back up with him out in Portland at The Energy & Environmental Building Alliance Conference.

Ron is a national expert when it comes to Green Building and shares a few thoughts on the topic in this brief video:

7 Reasons to Make the Switch to LED Lighting

At Fireside Home Construction we believe strongly in building/remodeling homes to be as energy efficient as possible. LED light bulbs are one small way we do that.

LED bulbs have long been used for colored lighting and signage. Recent advancements make them increasingly effective for commercial purpose white light.

7 Reasons to Make the Switch to LED Lighting:

  1. Reduced energy costs
  2. Better for the environment
  3. Longer life
  4. Superior color point consistency
  5. Reduced maintenance
  6. No infrared or ultraviolet emissions
  7. Reduced heat              

If you have any questions about LED Lighting - don't hesitate to contact us. We are happy to answer your questions!



Our Foundation Of Choice

The Insulated Concrete Form Foundation from Advantage is our foundation of choice (Product Website Here)

We explain why in this brief "Fireside Chat"


And here's another up-close view of the foundation system:

Green by Design

“Go green from the very start.”  

That’s the advice I give clients who come to me with their own home or renovation designs and ask me to build them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I always appreciate their creativity and ingenuity, but I owe them to ask the question: how green is your design?

Working with an eco-friendly architect makes great sense.  They know how to make create a beautiful, functional, livable space so that green builders can bring that vision to life while being gentle on the environment.  

And, of course, there are levels, for sure.  Concepts of environmentally friendly architecture range from the design and build out of mud homes to a focus on high performance in buildings that minimize environmental impact while maximizing energy efficiency. These things are very different, but both very important as we move toward greater responsibility for Mother Earth and a more sustainable future.

I don’t want to debate those today.  We can talk, until we are “green in the face,” about natural architecture — an emerging green trend that incorporates natural materials from your locality into the design and build of your home — eco-friendly design or sustainable building practices.  While they are all different in their environmental benefits, there still is no doubt:  

These ideas, concepts and initiatives ARE the next best thing to sliced bread!

It’s simple. If we design our homes and other structures focused on human health, nature and resource conservation, we can live long happy lives in a lively, healthy world…and so can our grandchildren…and theirs.  If we don’t, we’re just irresponsible and selfish…among other adjectives.

I am a green builder because I care about my customers, their families and their communities.  Because of that I always work with architects and designers who are committed to the environment. They are my partners in green and they work to design our joint projects to be healthy to humans, healthy to the earth and buildable, by me, using advanced building technologies that keep it all honest and sustainable.

It’s about sensitivity — human, cultural and ecological — and it just makes sense.

Whether you are interested in using all-natural and recycled building materials in a new construction project, maximizing the use of local materials in a right-sized home for your family, or simply ensuring high performance — and lower operating costs — in terms of energy efficiency, know that your design is just as important as the build out and the technologies you put in place.

Make sure your builder works with an environmentally friendly architect. It can help you in many ways. Doing so can help you:


  • Save money on your project
  • Ensure its quality, beauty and design excellence
  • Qualify for a number of significant incentive programs


Trust me.  Make sure you or your builder works with a green architect or designer.  Because when you start with a plan designed around green initiatives, everybody wins…for the long haul.


Why Choose Fireside