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.

Matthew Schneider - Pioneers of Wyoming Sustainability Series by Jon Gardzelewski

Written by Lauren Miller


[Regarding sustainable building] Wyoming is still certainly a closed climate. BERG is doing a lot in this respect. My experience with BERG has been the best thing that I’ve experienced in my studies, especially to get to see the buildings going up around the state. It’s been absolutely great.
— Matthew Schneider

 Matthew Schneider in downtown Laramie.

Matthew Schneider in downtown Laramie.

Students can often be overlooked when compiling lists of change-makers, but it's clear that Matthew Schneider should be recognized in this series. Schneider worked with BERG first as an undergraduate student and then later as he pursued his Master's. With great things on his horizon, he will surely be one of the innovators in sustainability and beyond to watch.

Schneider began his career at the University of Wyoming as an Architectural Engineering undergraduate. This was when he got his first experiences with the BERG program. Having had classes and advising sessions with Dr. Anthony Denzer and Jon Gardzelewski, he was familiar with the group and had made an impression on the professors who were involved. Thus began Schneider's involvement with BERG. After completion of his undergraduate degree, Schneider went on to pursue a graduate degree, also in Architectural Engineering, at the University of Wyoming.

Schneider worked on a variety of projects with the BERG program. Starting with looking at energy simulations among other work during his undergraduate career, he was integral in many of the BERG projects. One of the key projects that Schneider worked on was helping to gather the information and design elements to develop the catalog which BERG now uses to show clients possibilities for new homes.

The Crowheart project began when Schneider was a graduate student. After being in contact with the Hedlunds, the clients for the project, Schneider began work. The Hedlunds had a clear vision for what they wanted in the house and the ideal layout, and Schneider came in on the drafting and technical side to help begin to build the Hedlunds dream home. There were many aspects of the project which were both challenging and rewarding, especially since Schneider was still a student at the time. Schneider contributed significantly to the planning phase by providing instruments such as 3D representations of the building. There were a lot of technical details to be considered in building such an energy tight home and ensuring that details could be to standards. The experience provided Schneider with architectural experience which most students do not receive until after college.

 Midday at the Crowheart project.

Midday at the Crowheart project.

Schneider contributed much to the design and what is currently coming to fruition at the build site. He helped design and pushed for the indoor greenhouse rooms, one of the unique features of the home. Another feature that was unique for Wyoming's snowy  climate is the roof. The Hedlunds had originally wanted a completely flat roof, to help minimize the visual impact which the home had on it's environment; however, the weight of snowfall received in the state prevented such a design. An agreement was reached with a slightly angled roof, which still helps to blend the home into its setting but also remain safe in the winter months. There were many aspects of the unusual build which presented a thought exercise for Schneider, but he made the plans with innovation and grace, clearly well-prepared for such a challenge. "I think that building what the client is looking for is always the biggest challenge, because there's no one right answer", Schneider continues, "Regardless of what anyone says about the design [of the Crowheart project], and even if [the homeowners] question decisions in five or ten years, compared to what is mostly going up in this state, this is absolutely the right thing to do".

Much of Schneider's experience with BERG helped him greatly in his graduate education. His Crowheart experiences were invaluable for his thesis work, which focused on energy codes in Wyoming, which is very much tied into the kind of build at Crowheart. When asked about what takeaways he had from the project, Schneider replied, "Well, foremost, the experience itself. Going through the designs iterations and working on this type of project. Doing this project alongside my studies at the University of Wyoming helped reaffirm my thesis project and seeing that it was true, seeing what it takes to build an energy efficient home in Wyoming".

Through experiences and education, Schneider has been able to cement a few aspects of what he would like to do in the future. He enjoys the process of getting to design someone a home, "One of the great things about the Hedlunds was their involvement. We got to explore and discover what they really wanted". His experiences with Engineers Without Borders as well as personal inclination have led him to pursue his own research, and he is currently conducting independent research about refugee housing in Turkey, "[The independent research] It's hard to define. I'm looking more at refugee housing actually. I'm branching more into theory now and socio-cultural aspects. It's a departure from zero-energy home design". Although Schneider will still be focusing on architecture, he is widening to include sociologic impacts and other related disciplines in his research. After his research in Turkey, he plans on returning to school to become a licensed architect as well pursue a doctorate degree. Schneider's drive and work have the capacity to provide lasting change and he has placed his own footprint already in the field of Wyoming sustainable building and is sure to do so on a state, if not global scale.