The Thermal Envelope Company (TEC), a leader in high-performance insulation systems and the exclusive provider of the TEC Gen9 System, opens operations in Jackson.
By Ann Zimmerman
Top builders, architects, and homeowners throughout the Mountain West are discovering the Thermal Envelope Company (TEC), which got its start in Sun Valley. With the demand for a new location, Eric Carlson, president of TEC, is personally establishing the company’s presence in Jackson.
“Jackson is close enough to Sun Valley to leverage our team’s resources in both places. Plus, the climates are similar. Per the residential insulation code, Sun Valley is zone six, and Jackson is zone seven. The performance of our systems particularly stand out here and in any environment where temperature and climate become more and more extreme,” Eric explains.
More than 200 new and remodeled homes have benefitted from TEC’s professional insulation systems engineered specifically to each building. What began as a retirement business for its founder, Art Carlson, is now a multi-generational corporation. Demand for TEC solutions has grown significantly, making the expansion to new markets a natural next step. “We see similarities not only with climate but also in the architecture and build quality between the Sun Valley and Jackson Hole areas. There has already been considerable interest from the Teton County building community in our services and products,” says Eric Carlson, who is determined to grow the company while maintaining the same levels of engineering and service established in Sun Valley.
“We offer a robust systems-based approach to a building’s thermal envelope design and take full responsibility for its performance,” Eric responds when questioned about why he thinks TEC has so many contractors and architects endorsing the company and returning to work with them.
Art Carlson, founder of TEC and Eric’s father, is a mechanical engineer who spent his working life innovating advances in the burgeoning semiconductor field for IBM. Now, he directs his innovation focus to designing, engineering, and implementing high-performance thermal envelopes. “While it seems like a jump,” explains Eric, “when you think about it, both fields are highly concerned with heat management.”
Art begins the story of how he started TEC with his lifetime dream—building his own log cabin. He retired, bought property in Sun Valley, and began his hands-on, one-man building adventure. Because of the weight of the logs and other factors, he decided to split the logs, build a conventionally framed home, and attach the halved logs to the outside and inside. Art recalls his reaction when it came to insulating the home he was building, “The paradigm of insulating a home by filling wall, floor, and ceiling cavities with material to slow the transfer of heat was essentially creating heat storage in the exterior of the building. I thought to myself, we are not doing that here! I was determined to stop the heat transfer and heat accumulation to keep the heat inside the living space!”
A natural teacher, Art explains that the second rule of thermodynamics is that heat always goes to cold, and the goal of insulation should be to stop the transfer of heat. “Cold doesn’t come in; heat leaves.” He adds, “The measure of a building’s ability to resist heat transfer is expressed as an R-value, and the higher the R-value, the slower the heat leaves the building and the better the insulation performs. However, R-value measures only conduction. Heat flows through three processes: conduction, convection, and radiation. Current building codes and common insulation products focus primarily on conduction alone.”
“Comfort Lives Beyond Building Codes”
–Art Carlson, Founder, The Thermal Envelope Company
Art proceeds to explain the concepts and importance of radiation and convection. Radiant heat transfer stems from infrared and light absorbed by the building envelope. Convection is heat transfer caused by air movement and attenuated by the resulting pressure change. TEC addresses both issues by eliminating 95 percent of radiant and convective heat transfer.
We asked Art how someone who hasn’t engineered thermal envelopes could recognize a poorly insulated home. Art explains simply that a person will feel less comfortable, needing to adjust the thermostat up and down to try to maintain the desired temperature. “During the winter, you may feel drafts or experience that the downstairs bedrooms are cold and many times unusable, while the upstairs is too hot. Another sign is when, if you look at the roof in the winter, there is an uneven pattern to the snowmelt, indicating uneven levels of heat loss. The surface above the support beams melts the snow, while the insulated areas between the beams don’t. Where the snow melts, ice forms, potentially damaging the roof.”
Conversely, Art explains how to recognize a well-insulated home. “Basically, it is comfortable. A well-insulated home maintains an even temperature throughout the home and eliminates drafts. And, isn’t that what we all want when we build a home? Performance and comfort should be a priority in home building, but it is often overlooked. Great attention and money are spent on other features of the home that have no influence on its performance or comfort.”
With the determination to put performance and comfort first, Art developed the first generation of the thermal envelope system, used it in his own Sun Valley home, and has continued to refine it since. Today, he is working on the ninth generation, or the Gen9 System.
Thermal Envelope Company’s Gen9 system
“TEC is a leader in insulation systems and offers all types of insulation solutions at competitive prices to meet the needs of our clients. Our patented Gen9 System, however, is truly the next generation of comfort-based insulation systems providing comfort, engineered,” explains Eric.
Eric explains how the system works. “A building envelope is the physical separation between the conditioned (inside) and unconditioned (outside) environments of a building. The Gen9 System dramatically improves the performance of the building envelope by virtually stopping heat transfer. The Gen9 System also stems air, water, and noise transfer. The built-in moisture barrier controls the movement of moisture and water vapor.” He continues, “What sets the Gen9 System apart from others is that it addresses all three ways heat can be transferred in a layered building envelope system. The system includes high-performance closed-cell spray foam and a low-emissivity/high-reflectivity radiant barrier to offer comfort beyond building codes. The concept is that you don’t want to absorb heat into the structure, but rather, contain it in the living space, producing exceptional comfort that cannot be felt with traditional insulation methods.”
Art describes a typical Gen9 installation process. “After the home is framed, we foam seal the entire building while leaving plenty of room in the building frame for electricians and plumbers to complete their work. Because the home is sealed and warm, the mechanical trades are able to work throughout the winter in comfort, reducing downtime and increasing the crew’s productivity and craftsmanship. After mechanicals are complete, we install the radiant barrier just ahead of the finished interior wall, typically, sheetrock. Gen9 also allows architects greater freedom to create dramatic new designs without the constraints created by other solutions: if the architects can design it, we can make it perform.”
Of course, the big questions are cost, performance, and energy consumption. Art answers simply, “Gen9 reduces energy consumption by 30 to 40 percent, and the installed system is generally 15 to 40 percent less expensive than comparable solutions.” Another benefit, longevity of the home, is less easily quantified but also important. “I expect Gen9 homes to perform well for 50 to 70 years longer. The disparate materials that make up a building’s structure will contract and expand at different rates when subjected to temperature shifts, deteriorating the building over time. Temperatures stay stable with the Gen9 System, reducing deterioration. Homes will perform longer, maintaining their comfort and increasing the home’s resale value down the road.”
“The Gen9 System reduces energy consumption by 30 to 40 percent, and the installed system is generally 15 to 40 percent less expensive than comparable solutions.”
–Art Carlson, Founder, The Thermal Envelope Company
Unlike other insulation providers, TEC backs their performance claims with the company’s wallet. Eric explains the program. “We call it the Thermal Envelope Company Performance Guarantee. Before the building is built, based on the building plans and the selection of the Gen9 System, TEC forecasts peak and annual energy consumption. For energy consumed above the forecasted consumption, the company pays.”
Simply put, upfront with the bid, TEC forecasts the building’s BTU load. When the Gen9 System is selected, TEC guarantees the maximum threshold for the home’s peak energy consumption.
Eric claims that there are two unstoppable forces behind the company. “One is the crew, our guys on the ground. They are passionate about getting the job done right. They are fully knowledgeable about all of the products. Because they have a strong knowledge of framing and building construction, they are able to implement superior results. Time after time they have watched with pride when the blower door test score comes in more than 50 percent better than building codes require.”
And what is the other unstoppable force? “It’s Art,” Eric says with a grin. “Better performance and comfort is a passion for him. He loves working with contractors, architects, and homeowners. His best days are when they come to him with a problem, and he gets to solve it.”
Eric is beyond excited about TEC and is fully committed to its future. He says, “What reassures us that we are doing the right thing is when our customers consistently tell us we’ve created the most comfortable homes they have ever experienced. I know it’s true when I see them wearing shorts inside their homes during our brutally cold winters!”