Photos by Kayleigh Omang
When homeowner Joan Quam was looking to build a safe, reliable home, she knew where to go. Working with Cornerstone Specialties alongside its president Gary Orth, Quam is now the happy owner of an energy-efficient and perfectly practical home.
About Cornerstone Specialties
Since 1998, Cornerstone Specialties has been constructing exceptional, energy-efficient homes. Under their president, Gary Orth, they continuously work hard to accomplish energy-efficient practices, adopting new technologies. With their eye for detail and dedication to quality control, Cornerstone Specialties has been committed to building high-performance homes with maximum energy savings.
“When I started building almost 22 years ago, I said, ‘If I’m going to build, I’m not just going to build the same house everyone else is. I’m going to do something that will make a bigger impact on people’s lives, that will provide them with a better alternative than what’s out there,'” said Orth.
There are numerous special features incorporated in Cornerstone Specialties homes that make them at the forefront of energy efficiency. Some of these technical specifications are ICF (Insulated Concrete Form) foam basements, air exchangers (HRV), and sealing the envelope of the home so the energy doesn’t leave on its own.
“We approach a house from a whole-house standpoint, not just one component. If you have an awesome product but it’s not working in harmony with the rest, then it’s just not going to function correctly,” said Orth. Cornerstone Specialties prides themselves in their knowledge of how to put together all the energy-efficient technologies that are out there, ensuring they operate together and in harmony.
Thanks to their dedication to these practices and the use of high-quality materials, Cornerstone Specialties is a Certified Green Professional, a designation from the National Association of Homebuilders. They earned this certification over 10 years ago, attending a series of classes on how to build “green.” Orth joked, “The classes taught a lot of the things that we were already doing. I felt I could have taught some of the course!” This certification costs money, but the payoff is invaluable. “There may be a few more steps you have to take, but it’s not a huge expense. A lot of people think that if they get a high-performance home, they’ll have to pay through the nose. But that’s not the case. You have to look at what you’re going to gain in the future. The payback makes up for it.”
Choosing Cornerstone Specialties
A recent home that Orth and the team at Cornerstone Specialties have completed is the home of Joan Quam. Sharing the build with her son and daughter, she wanted a home that was reliable and completely safe.
In her previous home in South Carolina, the homeowner had an unsavory experience. The home she lived in had countless major flaws, affecting the health and sanity of her family. “It was a very stressful, horrible ordeal. And a financial devastation,” she added.
So when moving to North Dakota and settling here, she wanted to feel full confidence in her home. “I knew that if I built with Gary [Orth], that it would be a good structure. And that it would be energy efficient as well,” said the homeowner. “I didn’t know what I was going to get for sure if I bought an existing house, because of what happened before.” The fear of not wanting the take a chance on purchasing another nightmare-ish home and the confidence she had in Cornerstone Specialties led her to the decision to build rather than buy.
But where did this confidence in the builder come from? The homeowner came across Cornerstone Specialties in a way that they receive much of their business: a referral. Cornerstone Specialties built Quam’s parents’ home about 15 years ago and they had rave reviews for the company and their home itself. “They’ve been living there since then and everything is great still — he just does everything right. You don’t have to worry,” Quam said.
Orth takes pride in that he gets his business mostly from referrals. When someone has a good experience with him, it’s the best way he feels he can advertise his services. “I feel a connection with my clients. If I build you a house, I want you to be happy with it, and you’re not going to be happy if there are problems,” said Orth.
Energy Efficiency & Dedication to Quality
Quam’s home and all of Cornerstone Specialties’ homes are built to save the homeowner money. The operating costs in Cornerstone Specialties’ homes are noticeably less than the surrounding homes, thanks to the energy-efficient practices.
An example of these practices come with the walls of the home itself. Cornerstone Specialties’ walls are over a foot wide, stopping cold air from coming in from the outside. In a typical basement, the walls are constructed out of about eight inches of concrete, concrete being a good conductor and letting cold come in. In Cornerstone Companies’ builds, the concrete walls have 2 1/2″ of insulating foam on both sides.
Picture putting your ice-cold glass of water on the counter on a hot summer day. What does it do? It sweats, causing the moisture from the air to condense (or sweat) on the cold surface. A similar process can happen in our homes, most of us just don’t know it. This process can lead to some homes having mold issues in their basement walls. In a typical (non-ICF foundation) basement, the outside walls are constructed with wood studs, fiberglass insulation, and sealed with a vapor barrier. If moisture is inside that wall assembly it will condense (or sweat) on the cold concrete wall behind it and lead to mold growth. An ICF foundation prevents this condensation from happening. Similarly, one might feel air coming in through outlets, switches, windows, and other penetrations on exterior walls. Quam’s house does not have this issue due to Cornerstone’s special sealing techniques.
In most standard builds, code requires “damp-proof” walls, which means water can still seep through if the wall develops a crack due to soil pressures and settling. However, in Orth’s builds, he ensures the outside walls are water-proof, so you never have to worry about water leaks or mold growth within your walls.
The build process was straightforward and easy, thanks to a dedication to customer satisfaction, but also thanks to an online construction management software system Cornerstone Specialties uses. This software allows for constant communications between builder and homeowner. Explaining the system, Orth said, “Say you have a question about your kitchen faucet, you can go to the section about plumbing and type in your questions. Then I get the information and I can post selection options. The homeowner can then select whatever they want, at midnight if they want, since it all goes through the online software.” This software gives the freedom to not have to meet in-person for every single detail and it saves time on both ends.
It also allows the homeowner to learn a little more about the home building process. Learning what costs go into different elements and which aspects are more flexible for changes. By updating selections in real-time, the homeowner knows exactly what they are getting in the house and at what costs. This ensures that there will be no surprises, something Quam was very thankful for. “It felt that we really had a partnership in building this house. It wasn’t just me saying, ‘No, this is what we are going to do.’ We worked through problems. I think it was a great build,” Orth said.
In designing and building this home, energy-efficiencies were guaranteed, but the Cornerstone Specialties team also ensured the home was efficient, in terms of how the family would use it.
“We spent a lot of time up-front getting all the details right. [Orth] learned all about how our family functions and had a lot of suggestions and changes, in addition to making sure that I could sleep at night, knowing this place isn’t going to fall apart like my previous house,” said the homeowner.
Included in the home is a workspace for Joan, a home gym for her daughter to practice her figure skating exercises and a main-floor bedroom available in case her parents ever need to move-in later in life. There’s an incredibly insulated basement with ample room for her children to have friends over in the long winters, even including a kitchenette area for pizza parties, baking and beverages.
Quam’s home has all the style and amenities of any modern-day constructed home, but with the added bonus of energy efficiency. This space is proof of the eco-options that are available in our region. Looks like you don’t have to sacrifice style and taste in order to live consciously after all.
Cabinets: Clearwater Custom Cabinetry
Builder: Cornerstone Specialities, Gary Orth