Frontier Zero Series

Jon Gardzelewski - Pioneers of Wyoming Sustainability by Jon Gardzelewski

Written by Lauren Miller


If you want to build a house that makes an impact and sets a good example, just don’t compromise... There are people all over the world who have done it and are doing it. If you’re told that something isn’t possible, get a second opinion.
— Jon Gardzelewski
 Jon Gardzelewski in front of the College of Engineering at the University of Wyoming.

Jon Gardzelewski in front of the College of Engineering at the University of Wyoming.

Jon Gardzelewski is one of the main faces for BERG at the University of Wyoming. A native Wyomingite he is very familiar with introducing new technologies and mindsets to the state of Wyoming. He attended the University of Wyoming for his undergraduate degree, then went to the University of Oregon for his Master's degree. He had known that he wanted to end up spending time near Laramie after school, although out of school, he started design consulting. When a vacancy for a professor position opened up at UW, it seemed serendipitous and Gardzelewski got the job. 

For Gardzelewski, the allure of architecture comes from many aspects. The practicality and utility of building design is a lot of what draws him in, "From more than a business perspective, it's how can a building maximize its impact. One way of doing that is by doing something  that has not been done before or has not been done before here". He wants the buildings that he creates and that are created around him to inspire and ignite a conversation and possibly a new thought process. In the particular projects that BERG works with, there's typically a focus on environmental aspects of building (carbon footprint, energy usage, etc.), but there's much more to consider than only the specification of the build, assures Gardzelewski, "Other ways that you can make an important impact is through what your building communicates - visually, aesthetically - the emotional response of someone who sees it. It can strike them as beautiful, it can strike them as robust, maybe it's sturdy... Is it creative, is it clever?". This sense of architectural dialogue is evident in the projects that Gardzelewski works with through BERG. For example, the Hedlund's home in Crowheart was designed very much so to incorporate into the landscape around it and to be inconspicuous and humble; as an onlooker, you can get a clear sense of that without knowing the project details.

In many ways, the work of BERG is building an eco role model for future builds and designs. While many places, such as Gardzelewski's alma mater University of Oregon, are on the cutting edge of sustainable design, it may take states such as Wyoming with lower demand and population density longer to join the bandwagon. Also pointed out by Gardzelewski, architecture in Wyoming is a more niche field than in other places, often due to the fact that we do not have as many new builds as many other places, and that commercial builds can often be contracted out. This makes it more challenging for innovators to get their foot in the door. However, this important work is most definitely being done, and BERG is at the forefront of the revolution. 

 A 3D rendering of what the completed Crowheart project will look like.

A 3D rendering of what the completed Crowheart project will look like.

One of the most exciting aspects of technological innovation for Gardzelewski has been the advent of virtual reality (VR) and other ways in which to allow clients to be able to see their homes in a more realistic way before they are built. While traditional architectural sketches are 2D and do not give a true impression of building, VR and 3D modeling allow a more authentic view of how a home will be once it is built. The VR technology allows clients to stand inside their future homes and look around, which allows them to see things such as ceiling heights and layouts in an intimate way and can help the home be more to their tastes once it's built. Gardzelewski has a strong background in both green building and technology, which allows him to bring impactful technology and knowledge to the projects which he works on. These technologies greatly improve the ability for clients' personalization for the more emotional and less technical details in a build.

The academic impacts of BERG are undoubtedly important, as established by an earlier interview with Dr. Denzer of BERG and echoed by Gardzelewski. The mission of BERG is undoubtedly educational and it has provided amazing opportunities for students to get real world experience while still in school. Aside from educating students, BERG is showing the general populous cutting edge technologies and techniques. They are changing the field of construction in Wyoming, alongside motivated companies, such as Builderman Construction LLC, which are providing the manpower and trust to make these changes a reality. 

One of Gardzelewski's favorite parts of working with BERG is the people that form relationships with the group. People often are drawn to BERG who are of a similar mindset and are often very passionate and eager to implement new technologies. Some of the technologies that Gardzelewski is excited about include heat pumps and advancements in insulation. While these advancements are wonderful and seeing them implemented in Wyoming is extraordinary, the passion of the people involved through all phases of the project are what truly makes BERG special. 

The Crowheart Project - Building for Tomorrow by Jon Gardzelewski

Written by Lauren Miller


 Morning at the Crowheart Project

Morning at the Crowheart Project

Construction projects come in all shapes and sizes in Wyoming, however almost none can parallel the innovation and individuality of the Crowheart project. The home being built, owned by Dr. Gary and Diana Hedlund (interviewed in the previous blog post), is on the frontier of sustainable home design for Wyoming. Everything from the materials to the building techniques are well thought through. There are a variety of cutting edge materials that are being deployed in the build. In addition to the materials, there are also a lot of innovative techniques being used and, most especially, a vast network of creative minds at work.

One of my personal favorite features in the Crowheart project is the unique greenhouse room. While greenhouses are nothing new in Wyoming, the Hedlunds decided to go with a very unique style, with the greenhouse actually being an integral room in the house and not an attachment. While this initially may seem whimsical and almost impossible, I'm assured that it's simply an adaptation of a traditional greenhouse. The couple worked with Bill Zanoni of Ceres Greenhouse Solutions on the design of the unique room (and also with Matthew Schneider during the preliminary planning process). Although from a laymen's perspective, such as my own, it seems that there could be considerable issues such as moisture, heat, etc., Zanoni assures that, "In a new construction, this type of room is very easy to incorporate into the design". Cory Toye, contractor for the project, assures with the same confidence, that the room is very doable. The Hedlunds are hoping that the greenhouse will be able to help supplement their own groceries and possibly even have one day produce enough to give some to neighbors during long winters. Even without these benefits, having a room of bright, living things in the middle of the harsh Wyoming winter is an oasis in and of itself.

This type of project [the greenhouse room] is engaging, very satisfying and important. While maybe not for everyone, it shows how you can grow your own food through the winter in a harsh climate.
— Bill Zanoni (Ceres Greenhouse Solutions)
 The sun sets over the Crowheart Project

The sun sets over the Crowheart Project

Certain aspects of Wyoming climate can often cause people to initially not consider sustainable building practices as a possibility for their Wyoming home as they would in other climates. One of the big factors which must be highly considered, and causes hesitation for many, are the harsh seasons of Wyoming, and Crowheart is no exception. Cold winters and hot summers are common throughout Wyoming; however, another challenge can present itself in the variants in day to night weather. A summer day could easily swing 30 plus degrees Fahrenheit between midday and overnight temperatures, therefore having high quality insulation which can fiercely regulate the temperature is all the more important. The Hedlunds have made several well-researched decisions as to their insulation specifications, and a lot of their decisions have relied heavily on the advice of their consultants, such as Hans Joachim Preiss from BrightSense LLC, who is the HVAC and energy efficiency consultant and is working on the space heating, water heating, and ventilation systems in the home, as well as general advice about the building envelope. In addition to the temperature oscillations, there is also significant fire dangers which have to be weighed. The Hedlunds have worked with Matt Sievers at Teton Steel to help decide the appropriate roofing and cladding materials to help lower fire hazards. 

There are many innovations in insulation that vary from the traditional fiberglass insulation which can be beneficial for the Wyoming weather, but conversely, difficult to find locally. There were many factors which were heavily weighted when it came to deciding the type of insulation that would go into the project - from health impacts to sourcing, every aspect was considered. The insulated upper level wall assembly is a hybrid of outboard rigid Silverboard insulation with an R-value of 20 (R-value indicates insulations resistance to heat transfer) and inboard cavity insulation with spray foam (also with an R-value of 20) using a Honeywell low global warming potential blowing agent. The roof assembly boasts an R-value of 60 and consists of a hybrid assembly with cavity fill and outboard rigid Silverboard. Both the Silverboard and the spray foam were chosen to help mitigate global warming damages. Another material used is Rock Wool, which was chosen for its fire retardancy as well reduced environmental impacts during the manufacturing process. There are also many aspects when it comes to radiant heat flooring which they had to consider; one of the factors was using gypsum concrete on the floors, which can also aid in the insulation of the house. Overall, the insulation that is going into the house is not only sensitive to building needs for a Wyoming climate but also very cognizant of environmental impacts.

Another issue which was highly considered throughout the build was the type of windows that were to be used in the house. Windows can be a large consideration when it comes to building energy efficient houses, because traditional windows can be "leaky"; essentially they can be a source of heat loss or gain because they aren't well insulated or properly sealed. The windows were one of the larger considerations by the Hedlunds. There were a variety of different models considered and the Hedlunds ultimately decided to go with a model through Glo European Windows Inc, working with Mark Wells, to bring the most energy efficient windows to the project. These windows are special because not only are they triple-paned but also because of the fully-insulated aluminum window frame. The supplier also provides the "first Passive House Certified aluminum windows in the U.S.”, which is a huge leap for sustainable construction in the country.

One of the unique features of the house is its ventilation system. The specific system known as CERV heat recovery air exchange system (HRV) varies greatly from a traditional HVAC system. The Hedlunds worked closely with Ben Newell with BuildEquinox to bring the HRV unit into the project. In addition to the unit, the Hedlunds have deployed a 300 foot length of geothermal tubing connected to the CERV for preconditioning of air. Throughout the planning process, the Hedlunds have greatly relied on Preiss, mentioned earlier, in deciding on the proper system. While there are many challenges in such a space, that also allows room for innovations. Health and wellbeing is of great importance to the Hedlunds and has been a consideration of many different specifications of the build. Advancing technologies in HVAC systems have been one of the exciting frontiers in sustainable building, as mentioned earlier in an interview with Dr. Anthony Denzer. There are many reasons for this rise in prominence - from more efficient heating and cooling to cleaner and healthier air, there's many benefits to be reaped from such a system. 

From techniques and technologies to floor plan, the Hedlunds are building with tomorrow in mind. Not only are the building materials of the house durable and able to withstand and endure Wyoming's climates, but the amenities in their house are capable of adapting with a shifting society. Features in their house, such as their own PV-supplied energy, possible electric car charging station, greenhouse and beyond, are built with future possibilities in mind. The Hedlunds also built the house with the next generation of their family in mind. The home is truly one built to endure and adapt. 

The project has been carefully and meticulously curated by the Hedlunds and mobilized by the team of experts behind the project. Diana Hedlund is always the first to champion her contractors and consultants on the project, who are truly doing outstanding work in their respective fields. Some of the meetings between home owner and contractor/consultant were serendipitous and others through a chain of already formed connections. One thing is clear, this project is the result of the hard work of many, many people. It is sure to be a model for others looking to build in Wyoming, and it surely will stand as a flower in the Crowheart landscape for generations to come.

 The view onto the Crowheart landscape from the kitchen at the build site.

The view onto the Crowheart landscape from the kitchen at the build site.


Dr. Gary and Diana Hedlund - Pioneers of Wyoming Sustainability Series by Jon Gardzelewski

Written by Lauren Miller


‘Building’ and ‘green’ are opposites. They do not naturally belong together. To build you have to disturb the earth... But what we are trying to create is a home that is built to last, using sustainable practices, that is connected to the earth.
— Diana Hedlund

 The Hedlunds outside of their "Doc's Fish Camp" cabin near Crowheart, Wyoming.

The Hedlunds outside of their "Doc's Fish Camp" cabin near Crowheart, Wyoming.

Although non-natives to Wyoming, Dr. Gary and Diana Hedlund are bringing knowledge and passion into the state. While currently residing in Utah, the couple has been building a new home in Crowheart, WY, and they plan to move to the Crowheart residence upon completion of the build. While they do not come from backgrounds particularly focused in architecture or sustainability, the Hedlunds are major innovators for their building choices and their decisions and drive will surely open many avenues for homeowners in Wyoming.

From design to sourcing, nothing about this build has been traditional, and that has been exactly to plan. The Hedlunds have very deep awareness surrounding the environmental impacts of the building materials that they are choosing to use. From the use of reused materials to imported materials, they are varying greatly from the traditional Wyoming home. Wandering around the Crowheart construction site you can see repurposed sinks waiting to be installed and stacks of high-grade insulation waiting to be placed on walls. Walking with the Hedlunds, you are allowed even more of an immersive and impactful experience. Everything at the build has a firm purpose - framing techniques, insulation, and all other building materials at the site were chosen consciously. Many were chosen by means of hours of grueling research, phone calls, and inquiries. Nothing in the build is by accident. 

The mentality of environmentally conscious building is nothing new for the Hedlunds. The couple currently dwell in a cabin dubbed "Doc's Fish Camp" when they visit Crowheart. The cabin is made up of Tie Hack cabins which were already present on the property and were creatively put together and restored. From the inside out, the cabin is innovative and charming. While sitting on the property you can hear the river meandering past in the background. With Dr. Hedlund being an avid fly-fisherman, the river on the property was one of the allures of the locale, which had actually been introduced to them by a neighbor in Utah. 

 Diana Hedlund surveys the view from the Crowheart project

Diana Hedlund surveys the view from the Crowheart project

One of the reservations that the Hedlunds had when deciding to build the house was surrounding the rurality of Crowheart. The couple has lived in metropolitan areas and wasn't sure what to expect from such a rural community. It's clear that the community has accepted the Hedlunds as wholeheartedly as they have taken to it. Neighbors saunter over to stop in and say hello, the joy between both parties evident. With significant parcels of land between each homes, such a journey is not as casual as it may be in the city, but the delight is much greater. Everyone who I have interviewed about the Crowheart project has spoken about the Hedlunds with great admiration and fondness. After meeting them, it's clear where such an inclination comes from. They break bread with their contractors and invite interns, such as myself, to their land and treat them all like family. However, the Hedlunds are clear and driven about their project being to the caliber that they deem necessary, which is what sets this project apart.

After speaking to the Hedlunds about many of the specifications of the project, I was left with a sense of awe and curiosity. Having considered myself an environmentalist, important negative impacts from construction were completely omitted from my thought process regarding new builds. Things such as the wood sourcing, species of timber used in construction and their lifecycles, outputs from producing insulation, health damaging chemicals in products, and many, many other considerations are sharply in Diana Hedlund's ethos in a way few other have the ability to consider and weigh. This acute environmental mindset mixed with an inclination for personal research has allowed the Crowheart project to have many new aspects which are innovative as well as current. As Diana Hedlund would say, there are risks and rewards to being on the bleeding edge of technology, and someone must do it. The spirit, kindness, and innovations which the Hedlunds are bringing to the state are nothing short of miraculous and are sure to help establish and encourage sustainable building technologies and practices throughout Wyoming.


Follow the blog as we go into more details about the Crowheart build in the next few posts.