Performance versus Prescriptive Compliance for Meeting Energy Codes

During some recent travels to work with builders, I spent time with a builder who was in the process of constructing walls and building envelopes with very little R value. These were thermal mass walls but with little R value. The builder was meeting the state energy building code through the performance path, which allows for more design freedom but involves more complex energy simulations and tradeoffs between systems, by using a highly engineered, very sophisticated, very expensive, high efficiency heating and air conditioning system.

The building when it’s completed will meet the code and the intent of the code which is to reduce energy consumption.  However, the weakness of this approach is that the equipment which is being used to meet the energy reduction goal codes will eventually wear out.  When that time comes, the owners of the building will be able to replace this high end equipment with a less expensive option since they are not under the jurisdiction or ‘watch’ of the building inspectors. This will decrease the energy efficiency of the building and possibly compromise its building code compliance.

This is one of the good things about the prescriptive path to the building code – that the elements that we choose, when properly installed, will meet the code and goals of energy reduction for the long term.  Things like thermal insulation when installed during the initial construction will always be in place, will always work and will never wear out. It will continue to perform over the life of the structure.

So while it is good to have options, remember not all options will give you the desired result over the life of the structure and that is worrisome.

 

A Sustainable Behemoth Part II – Quantifying the Recycling of Removed Materials During Deconstruction

DSCN3647This is the second blog in a series I am doing about the construction of our new headquarters which will be a ‘living lab’ for our products.

Work on our new headquarters in Malvern, PA is moving extremely fast.  I would say faster than any of us thought possible. The exterior glass is being installed on the building and the goal of being ‘under roof’ before winter is certainly within our reach.

But before we could install the new exterior with Saint-Gobain glass products, the deconstruction of the building needed to take place and all of the materials coming off the building that can be recycled needed to be cataloged.

The building is being built to several different sustainability standards, including LEED, most of which require that we make an accurate accounting of the recycling efforts going into the deconstruction phase.  All the glass and steel, as it comes off the building, needs to be quantified and accounted for.  This information will be used for validation of our goals for recycling the existing building.

The speed, accuracy and the accounting for all the materials that can be recycled was simply amazing given the size of the building. This was not only done quickly but cleanly.

Phase I complete!

If you are attending Greenbuild this week stop by our booth #1413 and see this project, the products and speak to the architects and technical staff working on the building.

Builder Beware: Code Changes Require Cover Up of Exposed Beams

download (1)Recently at an event where I was giving a continuing education presentation, I sat in on a presentation given by a manufacturer of wood framing materials. We usually talk in terms of dimensional framing (2×4 or 2×12) lumber as opposed to manufactured wood framing materials.

Today it is common practice to use manufactured wood products such as TJI’s (Truss Joist I-Beams–) These have become very common and popular because they are straight and flat while a 2 x 12 is a natural piece of wood that can warp and twist and then needs to be straightened out at the jobsite. Manufactured wood has gained in popularity because of these properties and others.

However, in fires, manufactured wood burns differently than traditional dimensional framing products. This can be a problem because very often, at the homeowner’s request, builders will leave the basement unfinished for the homeowner to complete at a later time. What is happening is that in these scenarios, if there is a fire in the basement, firemen can fall through the unprotected floors because the exposed manufactured wood joists and beams may be burning faster than traditional framing materials.

For that reason, a code change, Section 501.3 of the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), has been developed mandating that all manufactured wood floor framing be covered by a 30 minute radiant barrier. That means that all those basements with unfinished ceilings will need to be finished.

I strongly recommend that builders and contractors contact your building code officials to make sure you know what you are required to do to cover the exposed beams for safety. Installing and finishing a gypsum ceiling may be one of the most affordable and practical ways of providing our emergency responders with the protection they deserve.

 

A Sustainable Behemoth in the Making – The Saint-Gobain/CertainTeed New Headquarters

Image 01There is an old saying “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  Well, that is exactly what Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed are doing at our new headquarters in Malvern, PA.

This is a very exciting time for our Company as we ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to sustainability and performance of our own products.  We are engaged in a full renovation of a building that was the former home of a large insurance company but has been vacant for a decade..  With our building products we are transforming the building – inside and out – to a state-of-the-art sustainable, living laboratory for our products and systems that should qualify as USGBC LEED Gold.

Because this is our building it gives us the opportunity to practice all the things that we preach on a daily basis to the market about our products. This is an opportunity to create our environment, live in it and monitor how our products perform. It is also an opportunity for all of our sister businesses to come together and address challenges such as indoor air quality, managing office acoustics, daylighting issues and overall comfort throughout the work day.

This project has generated a great deal of excitement for all our employees and we will have a great deal to talk about over the next year in our blogs because it is a living, breathing example of building sustainably with sustainable materials and with an eye on the future.

There is no other building on the planet that will have this unique suite of dynamic products all working together to make a material difference in how we work so we can help others change the places where they work.

I hope you will check back frequently, follow our journey, along with the pains and woes that all people go through when building a building sustainably.  It should be educational and fun!

 

The Intricacies Behind Thermal Comfort

When you think about thermal comfort, what comes to mind? Insulation? Heating and cooling systems? The thermostat? Of course, these are all critical components to interior spaces that are conducive to happy, productive occupants. However, to truly master the science of thermal comfort, a more in-depth investigation can be beneficial.

While radiation, air speed, and humidity might be the most studied aspects of thermal performance, let’s shift our perspective to that of the end user. Specifically, how do activity, age and clothing affect comfort in interior environments?

Believe it or not, studies by ASHRAE indicate that clothing has very little impact on comfort. To reach this conclusion, ASHRAE used a unit of measure, clo, to determine the insulating capacity of clothing. Clo is based on the amount of insulation that allows a person at rest to maintain thermal equilibrium in an environment at 70 degrees Fahrenheit in a normally ventilated room. The difference in clo, which equates to 0.88 r-value, between summer and winter fashion selections is roughly 1.5 clos — a miniscule factor in terms of comfort.

However, when you consider the age of occupants it’s a different story. A 25-year-old employee bouncing off the walls and drinking a Red Bull experiences comfort much differently than a 50-year old manager who sits at a desk 8-plus hours a day.

Why? The rate of metabolism, which is influenced by age among other things, can create an awful lot of heat.  Since heat production varies from person to person, individual actions are taken to reach equilibrium that impact the entire space, such as opening a window, allowing more sunlight into the area or adjusting the thermostat.

The lesson here is that architectural professionals and building owners should be mindful of age in their designs to ensure long-lasting comfort for building occupants. For those of you that want to take a deep dive into the nuances of thermal comfort, check out ASHRAE 55-2013.

Thermal Control in Building Envelopes

Like so many things we encounter in our lives when it comes to thermal comfort in a building, it is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.  That is why it is so important to understand the thermal performance of materials but also their water vapor and air resistance properties and how they will interact in the wall assembly.

Whether specifying materials for a new construction or for a renovation it is important to have a thorough understanding of how all the components in a wall assembly will play together to get the desired outcomes for the building.

Indoor comfort is critical for human health and performance and so starting with a space that has been designed for optimal thermal performance is crucial.

Join me on Tuesday, June 3 at noon for a deep dive into Thermal Control in Building Envelopes.  After this 90 minute free webinar you will be able to:

  • Describe the three modes of heat transfer
  • Understand the thermal properties of building materials
  • Describe how to calculate the thermal performance of insulated wall assemblies
  • Describe how to insulate different types of wall assemblies
  • Describe ways to increase the thermal performance and moisture durability of roofing assemblies
  • Understand the thermal performance attributes of fenestration products – windows, curtain walls, and doors
  • Understand how thermal control in building envelopes can help earn points in the LEED rating systems

This course is GBCI approved and AIA approved for 1.5 LU.  Remember to bring your questions!

 

Don’t Confuse Product R-value with Assembly R-value

Martin Holliday

Martin Holliday

In his Blog, Musings of an Energy Nerd , in the Green Building Advisor Martin Holliday, who has been in the industry for a very long time, revisits an old topic regarding the performance claims of a certain type of insulation that we call bubble wrap. The performance claims are greatly misunderstood by most people due to the ignorance of even semi-professionals to the specifics upon which these claims are based.

The bubble wrap claim of an R-value of 8 is usually based upon its performance in an assembly not as a material by itself. They do not usually describe the assembly in which this rating is achieved when they state that performance. These products have a radiant barrier component to them and if you attend my webinars where we discuss heat flow, air flow and moisture flow – this is one of three modes of heat flow – you know that radiant barriers only work when installed adjacent to an air space. When you look at a project where they say that the product has a R-value of 8 they may have failed to mention that it was installed over spacers over a 2 inch air space when it was tested. You may not have that same scenario in your assembly.

In his article, Martin provides examples of claims that have been proven false. What was insightful to me regarding these claims is that the false claims are being repeated or made by the big box retailers who carry significant weight with consumers and DIYers. This is problematic because claims being made by a large influencer means consumers are being misled and installing a product that they think is an R-8 material when it is really an R-1 material. When their energy bills skyrocket, they are forced to redo the work and pay again to make it right.

The manufacturers have been held accountable for false claims, but who is monitoring or holding accountable, outside of Martin, when false claims or misleading information is being given to consumers at a retailer?

That is one of the reasons that using a professional contractor or installer is money well spent.

Managing the Biggest Building Challenge – Moisture

We have reached the dessert portion of The Art of Building Science webinar series and it is definitely apple pie a la mode because it is jammed packed with information. A large portion of this session is focused on Moisture Management because that is the number one cause of premature service life in our built environment today. It is the one thing that we never, ever find a way to live with.

Moisture management is critical to everywhere we build because we build with water and water surrounds us. I have taken part in mold remediation projects in East Los Angeles so even in drought-ridden California you can experience excessive moisture at times. The only place on the planet that does not have moisture issues ever (at least for a very long time now) is the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Even if you haven’t been able to participate in the earlier sessions, join us Tuesday, May 6 at 5:30 pm EST. Of all the topics we cover in building science, moisture management seems to generate the most questions and the most confusion so it’s always a good time to refresh our memory and augment our knowledge. You can register right here for The Art of Building Science Part III – Moisture Flow. This course is AIA approved for 2 CEUs.

As we continue to see devastating weather systems throughout the US, designing and building to manage moisture is becoming increasingly important. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about controlling moisture in the built environment.

Don’t Risk Missing Points in LEED V4

LEEDv4If I put on my promotion hat on for a minute, I urge anyone using LEED to be aware of the transparency reporting changes between LEED 2009 and LEED V4. Both reward transparency points but in LEED 2009 they are found under the pilot libraries but in LEED V4 they are migrated down to materials and resources credits.

Since both programs will be in play until mid- 2015, it is important to know where to properly apply these transparency points from manufacturers that provide transparency documentation.

You can be awarded up to six points for transparency so, believe me, this is not something that you want to walk past these because it can cost you a fortune to make up six points somewhere else.

If you need to know the differences between LEED 2009 and LEED V4, I am running a webinar entitled Understanding LEED 2009 v. LEED Version 4on Tuesday, May 6 at 2:00 pm EST. My webinars are free of charge and qualify for AIA and GBCI credits.

In the spirit of transparency, I will cover the following objectives:

  • Identify key improvements in LEED version 4 compared to LEED 2009. Describe new credits applicable to building products and their requirements
  • Understand the new importance of products with Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), Health Product Declarations (HPDs), and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs
  •  Identify products that improve energy performance, acoustics, daylight, waste management, and thermal comfort
  • Explain the importance of selecting low emitting products and materials to meet updated credit requirements

If you build for LEED, you won’t want to miss this session.

Tips for Checking for Mold Following a Wet Winter

Mold-in-basement2

Following this incredibly wet winter, it is a good idea to check to make sure that mold growth is not beginning inside or on your home. You may have noticed that the media has been talking about this on news programs of late.

Mold needs four things to thrive and liquid water is perhaps the most critical as it is the only one we have a chance of controlling. Having liquid water coupled with available oxygen, food and the temperature sweet spot, 41° to 104° F, is the perfect storm for mold growth. Here is what you should do:

  • Inspect your basement for damp walls or cracks where moisture can come in and seal them.
  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely. 
  • Scrub mold off hard non-porous surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • On porous surfaces, in addition to surface cleaning you need to completely dry the material in order to prevent its reappearance. If that can’t be done, you may need to remove the material.
  • Inspect the exterior of your home at ground level. If water is collecting there, divert it away from the foundation.
  • If you find mold, make sure to cover your face and hands to minimize exposure when cleaning the area. It is also important to put a fan in a window and blow air from the room out of the house when you are working around the mold or you may disturb it. If it is a significant area affected or if you begin to feel “allergy type” symptoms when working around mold, call an expert to clean it out.

What humans typically react to are the mold spores which become airborne when it is in its “happy place” with food, water, and a cozy temp or when the mold is physically disturbed.  

We’ve made a lot of changes to how we build in recent years in order to conserve energy and live more sustainably. Many of the things we’ve done to improve our habitat have unfortunately created an ideal environment for mold to thrive. The only chance we have to keep mold from becoming a full-time member of our households is to eliminate the presence of liquid water in or on the materials we use to construct the dwellings.