Stars Align for Energy Efficiency

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

During the last presidential election, the candidates talked a lot about “energy independence.”  Behind the rhetoric and campaign promises, there is truth.  Like never before, the United States is in the position to fully embrace sustainability and energy efficiency.  Energy is a national security issue. We are sending money to parts of the world for oil when those countries have no long term interest in us. Less dependence on them will be a driver in identifying domestic sustainable energy resources. Truth is, we have “skimmed the cream off the milk” so now is the time to stand on our own whether we like it or not. There are four key influences that point to this alignment:

Social influences:  Consumers are more educated about energy efficiency; in part due to added focus by the media.  Television has Planet Green, news broadcasts focus on “Going Green” looking at what individuals and businesses are doing in this area. Baby boomers, who were children in the 1970’s, remember the gas lines and early public campaigns for energy efficiency and recycling. When energy became cheap and plentiful again, most of those efforts were cast aside and forgotten. Well here we are again.  Since those Boomers are now making the economic decisions, they have greater influence. After all, who’s buying hybrid cars? Baby boomers!

Economic influences: There is a great amount of venture capital and government grant money available for the development of alternative energy and energy efficient products.  Solar and wind have never totally caught on before because they were cost prohibitive.  Now, as demand grows, they will be more affordable and, therefore, embraced. Programs like Cash for Clunkers was successful partially because it motivated the consumer to move into a more energy-efficient car, keeping car manufacturers and dealers in business by creating demand and reducing the carbon footprint of poor performing vehicles.

Technology influences: This is fueled by the economic influences.  Research and development around wind, solar and ethanol as alternative energies are being funded.  Ethanol is not viable as a resource alone because of a variety of issues including water. It could, however, be a part of the solution. For manufacturers, like us, continuing to improve the energy efficiency of insulation or solar roofing products as well as finding new ways to improve other building materials, is critical.  When the housing industry is producing 2.2 million homes per year changes can’t be implemented easily.  But now, in a slower market, changes can be made to the building envelope to improve energy efficiency while keeping the home affordable.  Organizations like Oregon BEST and Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge, both of which we spoke about before, encourage the building community to take energy efficiency and net-zero building to the next level.

Educational influences: In the past, we didn’t have degreed programs around building science and sustainability. Now, this information is being incorporated into the curriculums for architects, engineers and other professionals who deal with construction. The professionals coming behind us will be prepared to take energy efficiency and sustainability to greater heights.

So, yes, the stars are aligned for lasting change with regard to lowering our carbon footprint both as individuals and corporations, embracing alternative sources of energy and leaving a legacy of innovation and sustainability for future generations. 

Your thoughts are welcome!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Stan Gatland photo_1Stan Gatland, Manager, Building Science Technology at CertainTeed Corporation contributed to this blog.

Blogging from Building Science Summer Camp

Stan Gatland photo_1I am Stan Gatland, Manager, Building Science Technology at CertainTeed Corporation.  I am joining my colleague, Lucas Hamilton, in the Blogosphere.

Every year, I have the opportunity to attend training for Building Science professionals affectionately known as Summer Camp. Ok, we call it camp, but really, there are no tents or campfires songs, or even horseback riding.  Actually, it’s officially called the Thirteenth Annual Westford Symposium on Building Science, sponsored by Building Science Corporation.) Not only is it a great opportunity to learn about the latest and greatest  Building Science trends but for me, the most beneficial part of  ‘Camp’ is the informal meeting of the minds to share current challenges and generate new ideas, solutions and debate about best practices. The attendees include architects, engineers, physicists, designers, builders, material scientists, manufacturers and other building professionals.

 There has been significant growth in the attendance at “Camp” over the years due to increased focus on the building envelope, energy efficiency, moisture management and sustainability.

I was particularly interested in the information presented by Andreas Holm and Hartwig Kuenzel from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.  The interest in building science actually began with the introduction of insulation into buildings in Europe in the early 20th century and led to the establishment of the Institute for Building Physics at the Fraunhofer Institute. Historically, Europe and Canada are well ahead of the US with regard to Building Science.

 Among their topics was the discussion of how whole building performance changes with respect to moisture when adding thermal insulation. Adding insulation reduces the amount of heat that flows through an assembly. While this improves energy efficiency and thermal comfort, it also reduces the amount of energy available to dry assemblies and can cause colder surfaces to accumulate more moisture over time. The Institute is looking at ways to improve the moisture management performance of buildings that have become very energy efficient.

They also talked about indoor climate control and energy concepts for schools. Making buildings more air tight may require indoor humidity control through fresh air ventilation.

If you have participated in one of these, or have some thoughts on building science topics of interest, let me know.  I’m glad to be one of CertainTeed’s “Blog-gurus” and look forward to talking with you on occasion.

Extreme Makeover Ohio Style

Over the RhineOver-the-Rhine is an old, historic neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, with some amazing architecture, that has been driven down by economic pressures for the last several decades.

 A group of young architects, City Studios Architecture is taking on the restoration of these buildings. To do this, they’ve tapped into some general contractors; builders and developers who have identified financial resources that provided seed money (Section 8 housing, block grants, economic development funds) for this project. The overall goal is to rehabilitate and save the buildings while honoring the traditional workmanship and design. This must be done in a way which is cost effective, durable, and creates a building which is affordable to operate.

City Studios was faced with many physical challenges.  For example, many of the buildings are row houses that were built around 1900.  In some cases, the middle building has been compromised and needs to be leveled which leaves the other buildings with what was an interior dividing wall that is now an exterior wall. Now you have the challenge of weatherizing these walls.

One of CertainTeed’s customers had called on City Studio as a new firm. What he found were eager, young architects with a great project and lots of questions.  This customer had worked with me on some projects in the past and called to see if I could help them out. Their questions were not just idle chit-chat, they were complex issues. I did some computer models and simulations and sent them the results with some explanation. As a result, they asked if we could meet. I was able to meet with them and their general contractor, The Model Group, while on another assignment in Ohio.

As this dynamic group of young architects moves forward with this monumental undertaking, some of the preferred solutions to individual issues may lie outside of CertainTeed’s product offerings. In those cases, I have been reaching out to my Building Science colleagues in complimentary product lines to lend their expertise. This is becoming more of a team project and an exciting one at that.

Bottom line: City Studio Architecture is off and running. They are restoring old buildings and building new in-fill construction to complement the existing structures.  They are creating jobs and are working on interesting projects which in these economic times is a great thing for young architects.

It’s not the biggest thing in the world but it’s what Cincinnati is doing to improve their own backyard and could be a model for other communities.  It’s a great thing and I will be following and reporting their progress in other blogs.

Lucas Hamilton is the Manager of Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Living Building Initiative – The New ‘Star’ of Sustainability

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Now that developers have achieved LEED Platinum on their projects, someone needed to throw the target out further to challenge the design and build community.  The Living Building Initiative may just be the answer.  The Cascadia Region Green Building Council in Oregon (a member of both the US and Canadian Green Building Councils) is setting the bar higher with the Living Building Challenge  This initiative does not replace or compete with any other program, it is simply a new level of commitment to sustainable development. 

Believe me, there is more pain than up-front profit on projects that strive to meet the strict requirements of the Living Building Challenge, but Cascadia is challenging developers to build to these standards for both commercial and residential—and they are succeeding.

There are 16 requirements that must be met for a building to be considered a Living Building.  For example,

  • The site must be on existing developed land, brown fields or grey fields.  It can’t be farmland, prairieland, parkland or wetlands.  For every acre used, the developer must set aside an acre for open space for 100 years.  This is called habitat exchange and guarantees open space.
  • The project must account for its embodied carbon footprint and buy a one-time offset. The project must offset the amount of carbon dioxide used to develop and construct the building by planting trees or other measures.
  • Water must be 100% cycled or recycled which means closed-loop or collected on site.
  • The project must contain features “solely for human delight or cultural celebration.”  It goes beyond the building and incorporates the human spirit. 
  • The building must be available to the public at least one day a month for educational purposes.

Are there areas outside of Portland that are rising to the Living Building Challenge? Do you know of a Living Building Challenge project going on in your area?

I would love to hear from anyone out there who is involved with a Living Building initiative.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager of Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation

Smaller and Smarter for First-Time Home Buyers in Omaha, NE

I went to Omaha recently to meet with Scott Kinkaid, Vice President of Innovation, HearthStone Homes who is blazing a trail in home building and leaving some of the bigger, national builders in the dust.

Instead of following the pack and going from building starter homes to luxury homes, they decided to build smaller, energy efficient homes geared to first- time home buyers.  They chose to go in this direction right before the cash crunch, which really paid off considering the introduction of the tax credit for first-time-home buyers.  But they also wanted to insure home sales would continue at their brisk pace when the rebate ends later this year.

As part of his energy efficient home plan, Scott wants to guarantee the home buyer that the energy costs of these homes would not exceed $20/month.  He determined this would be a three-pronged approach:  Look at the building envelope for efficiency, evaluate the technology and educate the home buyer.  On the first issue, he talked to his insulation contractor who wasn’t certain what it would take to achieve these low monthly energy bills. The contractor, who purchased construction materials from several manufacturers, made a request to all of them to discuss this issue.  Only CertainTeed accepted.

I love a challenge, so I went out to Omaha to meet with Scott (By the way, if you go to Omaha during the College World Series, book your hotel room early!).  Within 24 hours, we had performed some computer simulations and while we didn’t hit the $20 target, we were able to suggest changes to their building models that would provide a builder-guaranteed “good” efficiency rate of $32/month, a “better” efficiency of $29/month, and a “best efficiency” rate of $22/month for heating/cooling.  My suggestions included increasing the insulation package, upgrading mechanical systems, adding cool roofing products, and tightening up the duct work.  Having these simulations and suggestions enabled him to look at what it would cost to make the adjustments and make a sound business decision to make it happen.

They were thrilled.  Now HearthStone will improve the energy efficiency for these homes by adjusting issues in the building envelope, increase Energy Star ratings through added technology in the home and will be able to pass savings onto new home buyers, providing the home buyers will learn to use the home efficiently to get the maximum utility savings.  Bottom line, this was a win-win for all parties.

HearthStone wanted to stand out in the marketplace and has done so quite nicely.  They are building about 800 ultra-energy efficient homes a year and is outpacing the big, national guys who usually lead the pack in middle America.

Lucas Hamilton is the Manager of Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation

Mining Gold for the Future

Saint-Gobain's Research & Development Facility, Northboro, MA

Saint-Gobain's Research & Development Facility, Northboro, MA

CertainTeed’s parent company, Saint-Gobain, the world’s largest building materials company, just completed the expansion of its Research and Development Center in Northboro, MA. In the early stages of the project, I went to Northboro to meet with the architects from Shepley Bulfinch of Boston and David Woodbury, who was in charge of the project for Saint Gobain, to discuss how to best meet Saint Gobain’s environmental directives for energy consumption in the design of this building.  Saint Gobain’s corporate sustainability directive is one of the most stringent in the world.  It says ‘We will be leaders in energy conservation.”

The architects had never been challenged by a client to incorporate the company’s products while complying with a corporate directive for energy consumption.  They did a great job.  Shepley Bullfinch was able to integrate 13 Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products into the design and create the most energy efficient building in Saint-Gobain’s network of nearly 200 facilities throughout North America.  This building is not only slated for LEED Gold, which is great, but it is also the state-of-the-art in energy efficiency which is outstanding.  Among the products used on this building was CertainTeed’s Flintlastic® FR Cap with CoolStar™, a commercial roofing product with solar reflective properties to maximize energy efficiency.  If you want to see the products used on this project visit Northboro.

This building uses much less energy per square foot than a comparable building and exceeds all performance requirements for any energy program in the country.

All new construction projects within Saint Gobain will meet these directives for energy efficiency. The program also applies to existing buildings and those requirements will be phased in over time. It speaks directly to where we want to be in our daily lives with regard to sustainability and energy consumption.

It was exciting to work on this project because it was virtually a blank canvas that enabled technical and building science professionals to take energy efficiency to new levels. As we meet these energy performance mandates for CertainTeed and Saint-Gobain, it will help us work with our customers by sharing what we have learned on our own buildings.

Lucas Hamilton is the Manager of Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation