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Homes Of The Future: “How to increase energy efficiency and sustainability performance” With William Beleck of Nakamoto Forestry

For our cladding niche nothing comes close to the screen wall assembly in terms of sustainability performance. An air gap behind siding allows it to last longer for carbon capture and long-term cost performance. Air flow coupled with a porous softwood cladding cools the house in summer and insulates it in winter. I cringe when a customer of ours says they don’t have the budget for vented walls, and simply convey that we won’t warrant our product unless there is an air gap behind it. Insulation and ventilation are the best investment over the long term for energy efficiency.

As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing William Beleck.

William Beleck was raised in Texas and Oregon before graduating from the University of Oregon and Keio University in Tokyo. He spent several years each carpentering for a family remodel business and managing distribution of machinery at a Japanese multinational. In 2016 he launched Nakamoto Forestry North America in Portland, Oregon, together with Nakamoto Zourin, the largest yakisugi “shou sugi ban” mill in Japan.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

For some of us our career path is apparent at an early stage and is planned, but for many of us figuring this out takes time. I struggled for over a decade trying to find a personally fulfilling and ethical path, finally landing on something that I can be passionate about. As a fourth-generation carpenter I am simply addicted to wood and ruthlessly trained to provide good value through effort. As an environmentalist with a cosmopolitan education, my bingo moment was on my in-law’s couch in Japan watching a special on the public TV station documenting one Japanese family’s custom home build. They hired the most old-fashioned and traditional tradespeople they could find for each portion of the build, including siding it with yakisugi “shou sugi ban”. The end result was simply a thing of beauty, truly sustainable and efficient, and their build cost was the same as a tract home.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My parents made me leave home within 30 days of my 18th birthday and I was determined to succeed without anyone’s help. But it’s funny how personal connections end up affecting us and opening doors as we build relationships in life, even on our own effort. The first lumber sale I did on my own was used scaffolding planks to our Mr. M. Nakamoto’s cousin, Mr. H. Nakamoto. That provided an introduction. Also I’ve kept in touch with several friends from university both in Oregon and Tokyo, and one of them is now my counterpart managing our distribution in Europe. Trust and cooperation really take time to develop, and can be sincerely authentic.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Business is interesting since there is such a high failure rate — but you can usually start over. I always thought that when I finally meshed with a career path successfully it would be easy sailing going forward. Wrong! The crushing lesson is that we need superhuman effort to succeed, and then after succeeding we need even greater superhuman effort to keep our employees and customers happy. Chin up, nose clean, one day at a time. No “tipping point”, just forward progress.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

First week of summer after 6th grade my dad put me to work as a carpenter’s helper. First task: dig rotten fence post concrete pilings out of the ground for two days in the crushing summer sun. What a lesson in reality that was. He and my stepfather, also a carpenter, spent the next ten years working me after school and during summer breaks. I just wanted the $5/hr to buy coins or whatever, but they gave me a trade. Having someone teach you a trade is the best gift I can imagine ever receiving.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Growing up and throughout our lives we are exposed to such a plethora of good writing and rhyme, so that’s a tough one. For me, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn changed my life. It was the first time I was exposed to adventure. It gave me wanderlust and inspiration. With that mindset I hitchhiked through Japan at age 16, went to Korea at 17, then traveled throughout Asia for over a year at 19. Ate lots of good food, met lots of interesting people. The playfulness of Twain is so much more pleasant than the reality of Conrad, Hawthorne, or Dostoevsky.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

At our shop we often say “That’s too bad.” Customer upset when the trucker dropped the ball? “That’s too bad.” Computer crashed and you lost your doc draft? “That’s too bad.” Accidentally buried wood you need this afternoon behind 30 minutes of forklift driving? “That’s too bad.” Life is tough, get back to work.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.

A few of trends we work with daily come to mind. One obvious trend is that homes are being built with multiple types and colors of cladding. Dark wood with light wood, wood with cement board, wood with metal, wood with stucco. Another trend we see is people really searching for some kind of warm, organic building material to tie their modern home design into the surrounding landscape. Most of the houses we ship to have a lot of glazing and concrete that can be incongruous with surrounding forest or epic view. Architects and owners really search for some kind of cladding to tie them together and enhance the overall setting.

Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?

For our cladding niche nothing comes close to the screen wall assembly in terms of sustainability performance. An air gap behind siding allows it to last longer for carbon capture and long-term cost performance. Air flow coupled with a porous softwood cladding cools the house in summer and insulates it in winter. I cringe when a customer of ours says they don’t have the budget for vented walls, and simply convey that we won’t warrant our product unless there is an air gap behind it. Insulation and ventilation are the best investment over the long term for energy efficiency.

There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

In terms of installation practices, due to modern vapor barriers the screen wall assembly is a game changer. Resin WRB’s trap moisture between the sheathing and siding causing the siding to rot, and tannin bleed from cypresses, cedars and redwoods can cause the WRB to degrade. The days of solid sawn sheathing and felt paper are over. Vented walls should be required by code for most construction.

How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?

Historically in Japan yakisugi “shou sugi ban” has been used in coastal regions since the wood is more durable in yearly typhoon exposure since hydrophobic, UV-resistant, and case hardened. It was also often used in built up areas where neighborhood fires were endemic since a carbonized surface has a higher temperature of combustion, and since the case-hardened surface slows down oxygen penetration. A trend we saw coming years ago was the western region wildfires coupled with population growth at the wildland urban interface. While no wood product we are aware of can withstand the non-combustibility requirement mandated in high-fire areas of the western region, yakisugi tests to ASTM E84 Class A flame spread resistance and is therefore allowed as cladding on a fire-resistant wall assembly. We are supplying a lot of siding to houses being rebuilt after burning down in the fires. People don’t want to be forced into cement board cladding on their million-dollar dream home, so we offer a viable option for them.

Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

I am appalled that the government allows this to happen. There are many factors and any solution will be complex. But homeless senior citizens? Homeless veterans? Homeless families? One out of 400 people in my metro area are homeless. There are probably 25 homeless people living in tents and RVs within four blocks of my house, hundreds within two miles. What is the government for but to take care of its citizens? Why do we pay taxes anyway? The government needs a comprehensive plan to provide housing to everyone that needs it and wants it. The federal government has forced this situation on metropolitan areas through poor policy and ethical lapse. It is uncivilized and abominable.

Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?

I have two suggestions, both based on tiny home sizes. The first is to decrease the square foot size and build cost of tract homes, and to develop private-public partnerships to help low-income citizens afford them. Our asset accumulation system encourages large square footage, low build quality, and short ownership duration. The second suggestion is for the government to hire builders to fabricate tiny homes and locate them on government-owned property. The government could provide health, safety, and job training for these camps ongoing. People really only need a couple hundred square feet to be comfortable. The federal government has thousands of competent builders available on tap nationwide ready to join a comprehensive program.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The elephant in the room is that government encourages population growth in order to extract more taxes and build power. Regional, social, and political conflicts are in essence over territory when the onion is peeled back far enough. We can join the culture wars and argue about climate change or natural resources or whatever. Or we can simply sit outside on our porches and notice that there are only a small percentage of migratory birds flying by compared to when we were kids. Or go fishing and realize the salmon runs are so paltry only professionals can catch them. When was the last time you saw a bear or a weasel? We get bogged down in all the issues but overpopulation is the core problem. Community and education are the answer.

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!



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