Of the numerous issues giving the city permitting horde fits is my desire to use Faswall blocks made by Shelterworks in Philomath, OR, about an hour south of Portland. These are similar to Durisol in Ontario Canada, but on the west coast. both are made with demineralized wood fiber and Portland cement, and came from the post world war two European need to find something to extend and therefore limit the need of hard to get concrete in that massive re-building effort.

I call them an inside-out ICF (insulated concrete form.) Typical ICF’s use virgin expanded polystyrene forms that are hand stacked, shored up and filled with re-bar. I was one of the first to use them in western NY, in 1984, hated them then and ever since. A consumer hoodwink, frankly, that I’ve mostly avoided except for a very few clients who have had their way with me. (Hey, I’m not totally stubborn.) The problem is that they leave the very vulnerable EPS, which breaks down with ultra violet and is susceptible to critters on the OUTSIDE, where it has to be parged and protected. For this privilege you pay through the nose and it’s not very easy to do a great job.

Faswall takes the concept of a stackable form and makes it right. The block protects the insulation inside, the concrete usage is minimized, the r-value reasonable, and you still get to pay through the nose. Well, okay, if you were looking for a Cinderella story, this one is only about foundation blocks. I did visit Beatrice Dohrn, one-time legal council, Manhattan cabinet-maker and now building her own home, in Eugene, with only one helper. She’s steadily going up 2 stories with blocks and has discovered some good tricks. When she’s done, she’s definitely going to write these guys a proper manual, I hope.

The permit problem is that this little company isn’t all engineered certified like they will be one day, and after all, Portland is serious about its seismic category 4. The waffle-like pattern created by these blocks hasn’t the testing that solid concrete walls have, and no matter the theory and numbers, these guys have their rules. Time to switch engineering firms and bring in the guys with bigger pocket protectors.

There are other ICF’s in this theme, like Apex block, Rastra and others. Email me if you want the long story of how I chose Faswall.