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Credit: Paul Richer


Weather Board: Accoya is a sustainably sourced softwood treated via an acetylation process that, the manufacturer says, greatly increases its dimensional stability and lifespan, making it suitable for both structural and finish applications. Brach says Accoya siding performs as well as or better than non-wood alternatives. “It arrives on the site very straight, it takes paint and stain very well, and it doesn’t shrink and swell,” he says. Accsys Technologies, accoya.com

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Credit: Paul Richer


Open Season: Brach specifies German-made Unilux windows (shown here in a firm project) for their flexible configurations, vaultlike construction, and high energy-efficiency. The company offers the same tilt-turn operation in four different materials, but Brach prefers the wood-aluminum version. His favorite features: “large sizes, great U-value, and wood interiors.” Unilux, unilux.de

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Comfort Zone: Brach finds Mitsubishi Electric’s split-system heat pumps perfect for the low-load houses he designs. Their simplicity—they require no separate air handler or ductwork—saves space, installation time, and expense. “Everyone knows about them for cooling, but they’re so efficient now for heating too,” he says, “down to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.” Mitsubishi Electric, mitsubishicomfort.com

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Credit: Paul Richer


Watershed Moment: Boat builders have proved the durability of epoxy-coated marine plywood in damp environments, so Brach feels comfortable using this combination for wet-duty assemblies such as this custom hand basin. “I have done this several times to make wood sinks,” he says, “and so far, so good.” Needless to say, the results are as beautiful as they are durable. Wolstenholme International, www.wolstenholme.com

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Air Force: Energy-recovery ventilation is a must in Brach’s supertight Passive House projects, and he calls UltimateAir’s RecoupAerator 200DX “the de facto cost-effective Passive House ERV in North America.” The unit exchanges the air in an average house about once every two hours at a 95 percent heat recovery rate, while also providing humidity control and MERV 12-level filtration. UltimateAir, ultimateair.com

Power Windows: In a highly efficient building, passive ventilation can replace tons of air conditioning capacity, but only if you remember to open the windows. Functional Fenestration’s electric operators and remote actuators put windows and skylights under the control of a building automation system. “You can link them to an evaporative cooler or HRV,” Brach says. “They’re handy.” Functional Fenestration, fenestration.net

Wish List

Fuel Gauge: With sensors installed inside a house’s electrical panel, eMonitor measures the energy use of every circuit and appliance in the building. The system communicates via Wi-Fi with a programmable thermostat and can be controlled via any Internet-connected device. “You can see in real time how much energy things are using,” Brach says. “You can validate your energy model and identify problems.” Powerhouse Dynamics, powerhousedynamics.com 

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Strategic Reserve: Designed to fit unobtrusively between attic joists or inside stud walls, PCmat thermal storage mats are filled with a renewable, plant-based phase-change material that stores and releases heat more efficiently than concrete or water. “It’s a wax that’s calibrated to melt and absorb heat at a specific temperature,” Brach says. “So you essentially get thermal storage without thermal mass.” Phase Change Energy Solutions, phasechange.com

See all the entries in Architects' Choice 2013.