net zero

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. 

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.

Frontier Zero and Wyoming Innovation by Jon Gardzelewski

The Building Energy Research Group (BERG) is a collective at the University of Wyoming which is helping to build homes with Net-Zero energy in the state of Wyoming. BERG utilizes the skills of University of Wyoming faculty as well as advanced students to aid in the planning and execution of building houses for the Frontier Zero Project. Homes that are being built for Frontier Zero are built consciously with factors in mind such as super insulation, HVAC systems, photovoltaics, among other technologies. These choices allow the homes to utilize energy generated on site as well as reduce loss through more conscious building decisions. In the following Frontier Zero Series, the players and influencers in BERG and sustainable building in Wyoming will be featured, as well as some of the advantages to choosing to build sustainably in Wyoming.



BERG - Frontier Zero