Yestermorrow implements Havelock Wool in Vermont and Utah
Editor’s Note… The Yestermorrow Design Build School is one the coolest places to learn how to build healthy, high-performance structures. We recently partnered with them on two of their certificate programs, one in Vermont, and the other in Utah. Not only did we learn a lot about how they build but we made some good friends along the way. Read below (in their own words) for more about their mission and their thoughts on Havelock Wool.
This spring, Yestermorrow was given the opportunity to explore and create with Havelock Wool insulation. Two of our certificate programs received discounted or donated materials for insulating small residential structures: a cabañita built in our Natural Building Certificate and a tiny house on wheels for our Tiny House Design/Build Certificate.
Yestermorrow’s main educational campus is in Waitsfield, Vermont, where the school was founded over forty years ago. The school was borne out of the design/build movement in the 60s and 70s, when architects disillusioned with academia came to Vermont to find cheap land with which to experiment. The improvisational, organic methods of building that they explored informed our philosophy: that builders should know how to design, and designers should know how to build, and both should strive for sustainability and the use of renewable resources. Yestermorrow was founded in 1980 to teach students how to design and build, value sustainable materials and practices, and innovate the building trades. In 2023, we are experimenting with new technology and best practices for the healthiest homes possible.
In 2020, we began stewardship of the DesignBuild Bluff campus in Bluff, Utah, where we run our natural building curriculum. We hosted our first Natural Building Certificate (NBC) in Bluff this past May in partnership with Community Rebuilds, a Moab-based nonprofit working to create sustainable, affordable housing. Twelve students with varied backgrounds and experiences, a teaching team led by Juan Andres de Risio, and documentarians from Immerse Media helped create a small cabañita on our Bluff campus in four short weeks.
Conventional insulation can pose health risks to both the environment and occupants. Yestermorrow strives to expose students to materials that will effectively achieve an efficient, high-performance home while aligning with our ethos of innovatively implementing sustainably sourced and renewable products.
De Risio designed the cabañita to feature several natural building techniques, so the choice was clear to use natural insulation as well. According to de Risio, “The decision to use Havelock was synonymous with the decision to use sheep’s wool. Before the NBC I had just built a cabin in Virginia and insulated the walls and ceiling with wool from Havelock. My experience with working with Havelock was just as enjoyable as working with their wool. Havelock graciously donated the wool we used in our cabañita and provided plenty of technical information to share with students while offering us dedicated customer care.”
After pouring the lavacrete foundation and framing the walls, the students learned how to install blown-in wool insulation in the box beam and ceiling of the structure. The wool insulation is a particularly good choice for the hot Utahan climate: it regulates temperatures effectively to provide a cool space for the summer and keeps the cabin cozy in the winter. Wool is naturally water-resistant, fire-resistant, and air permeable. On top of that, it is sourced ethically with a minimal carbon footprint, making it an all-around frontrunner for creating sustainable, resilient buildings. DeRisio concludes, “our cabañita is undeniably healthier and thermally more pleasant to be in because of our use of wool in the ceiling and our box beam.”
Back over in Waitsfield, our 2023 Tiny House Design/Build Certificate spent four weeks building a tiny house on a trailer for a client, while designing their tiny home projects in the studio. Students come from around the country (and the world!) to take our courses, so their personal designs are highly informed by their home climate and zoning restrictions. This means that the students spend time comparing various materials and methods for their efficacy in different environments.
Architect and Tiny House instructor Anastasia Laurenzi pointed out that wool is already a natural insulator for an animal, and we are simply applying the same principles to our buildings.
When we source materials for client projects, we are looking for materials that are both highly effective and that match our values as an educational institution. We are not only looking for products that provide adequate R-Values or cost and energy savings, but also we are paying attention to the life cycle of the product, how it is manifested, and the working conditions for all involved. If possible, we source materials locally and pay attention to their embodied energy and future use and/or renovation.
Yestermorrow Facilities Manger Brad Cook is a building science professional and energy retrofitter. With much experience with blown-in insulation, we called him in for the technical installation of Havelock into the tiny house trailer. What were the pros and cons? According to Cook, “It was easy to work with…you didn’t have to wear gloves or a mask like you would with fiberglass. It was fairly easy and pretty quick.” In hindsight, we may have opted for the batts in this situation due to the flat angle. Laying batts down would have us fighting the elements of Vermont a little less, but the blown-in wool was ultimately effective for achieving the R-value we were seeking. The natural, reproducible wool would be an excellent choice for Vermont attics and walls.
There’s no better connection to our land and history here in Vermont than wool. Around 200 years ago, you would have found six times as many sheep as people in our brave little state. During the “sheep boom” of the 1830s-1850s, these hardworking animals produced nearly 3.7 million pounds of wool. “When you think about the sheep, especially the sheep eating the grass beneath the solar panels, it’s a nice little life cycle,” says Cook.
The sheep boom ended with the transcontinental railroad that connected the New England textile mills with the vast farmlands of the Midwest. Still, there’s a history here, and there are certainly still sheep. Wool is a natural, sustainable resource, and if implemented widely could impact our reliance on fossil fuels in the building industry. Our mission at Yestermorrow is to inspire people to create a better, more sustainable world through hands-on education that integrates design and craft as a creative, interactive process. Making the connection to natural materials and resources is a huge benefit of the process for our students. Understanding the full life cycle of what goes into our buildings makes the difference for healthy homes, and ultimately a healthier world.