New Frameworks, founded in 2006, is a worker-owned cooperative based in Vermont that offers design-build services, Passive House consulting, and straw prefabricated panels. The bulk of its projects are residential homes; however, the team is currently working on a school program center and has other prospective commercial and municipal buildings in its sights for 2021. About 80% of the cooperative’s projects meet Passive House certification requirements.
The cooperative’s panel sector, known as Gryphon Panels, is the only manufacturer of straw panels in the United States, producing components for about six projects each year. The close-knit team of about seven worker-owners handles designing, planning, building, transporting, and installation of its panels, delivering within a 5-hour radius from the home base in Vermont.
Lowering the embodied carbon of its builds was the driving consideration behind Gryphon Panels, allowing the group to rely heavily on plant-based materials like timber and straw. When sourcing these supplies, the team views each purchase as an opportunity to multiply positive effects by supporting local businesses, using locally sourced timber from small mills and sustainably managed forests, and supplementing with FSC lumber only when needed. They also have a commitment to support small, family-run organic farms.
A straw bale’s high performance as an insulation material depends in part on its density. To preserve that density, the group uses the bales in their original size—14 X 18 X 36 inches—which affects a panel’s size and a structure’s window placements. As a result, buildings designed and built with Gryphon Panels are not only energy-efficient and low in carbon but have a signature handcrafted aesthetic.
All panels have a continuous vapor-variable membrane air barrier on the interior with plywood sheathing on the exterior of the straw panel frame that acts as a vapor-open air barrier. For most builds, a continuous layer of wood-fiber board insulation is used on the outside of the sheathing.
Most projects constructed with the straw bale panels are custom designed by the New Frameworks design team, although the flexibility exists to work with outside designers. For those projects, the Gryphon Panels team collaborates with the design team to implement standard panel sizing. The cooperative also sells and manufactures airtight, Passive House-quality, plant-based doors that clients can add to their packages. Currently, windows are not installed in the facility, though they expect to start offering factory-installed Passive House windows in the next few years.
In 2021 New Frameworks is expanding, including hiring for seven new positions, and working on stock plans. The company ethos keeps both the planet and their worker-owners in mind.