Transparency and Green Labels for The Home

Product Life CycleWhile I was waiting for my coffee to brew this morning in the office, I started reading the ingredients on the back of the sweetener I planned to use. There was one ingredient that I didn’t recognize. Being a scientist, I am naturally curious so I looked it up. I was shocked to find out that the sweetener contained an ingredient that emits formaldehyde above 92 degrees Fahrenheit. So I chose a different sweetener.

How fortunate am I that I caught that and had the resources to understand what it was telling me. But how many people have no idea what some of this means? It made me think about the benefit and value of the emerging forms of transparency about the products that we buy and use in our homes. This information is very insightful and when we make it available in a form that people can digest and employ it has real value to customers and consumers.  An informed consumer is a better consumer and manufacturers are beginning to embrace the concept of transparency through Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations and Health Product Declarations. If you are interested in learning more about transparency in the building materials industry, I addressed this issue in a blog post.

For a more in depth and current discussion of the topic, please consider attending the webinar I am conducting on Tuesday, February 18 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm EST titled Publications for Product Life Cycle Assessment.  This course is accredited with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

 

Freeze and Thaw of Winter Can Cause Problems for Your Roof

It’s been a crazy winter!  And we still have two months to go. Have you noticed all the potholes on the roads? Well, obviously, the potholes are the result of the freeze/thaw we have been going through.  The rapid swings in temperature can wreak havoc on the asphalt roads and cause them to fail.

imagesCA630XEYWhat’s the next biggest asphalt thing in your life?  It’s your roof.  Every time you see or don’t see and hit a pothole, think about your roof.  It might be worth the preventive maintenance to have a professional get up there and take a close look.  The continual heating/cooling can cause ice dams which occur when accumulated snow on a sloping roof melts and flows down the roof until it reaches an area cold enough and then refreezes, typically at the eaves. The ice formed in such a way often grows and “backs-up” the roof pushing its way under the shingles and damaging everything in its path. This is a situation that you want to identify early.

If you have a professional look at your roof and need to make repairs or replace your roof choose your installer very carefully.  A roof that is installed improperly will not be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. Make sure you choose an installer who not only is very experienced but is also credentialed by the manufacturer whose product they install. Very often you can find credentialed contractors at the manufacturer’s website. While there, why not also look for contractors who participate in “take-back” programs to divert your old roof from going into a landfill.

Remember, whether you dodge or ford those potholes, they might actually be doing you a favor by reminding you to think about your roof.

Wall Assemblies for Maximum Efficiency: How Many Layers is Too Many?

SimplexOPTIMABuilding professionals spend a lot of time dealing with production construction which has dialed in efficiencies and productivity to provide the maximum assembly for the cost per square foot.  The reality is in standard construction you build things in five or six layers. This is the standard in terms of building a wall system more efficiently and we have gotten it down to a science.  Generally a six layer home will give you a solid, energy efficient, comfortable home.

Occasionally, I work with builders on projects that remind me of possibilities beyond what is the status quo.  I recently had an opportunity to work with a builder who was building a custom home whose wall systems had 13 layers.  This wall had so much redundancy and robustness built into it that I just had to ask for a chance to visit the project and see this masterpiece being built.

This was the homeowner’s instruction: They wanted a thick wall, they wanted a silent wall, they wanted a highly efficient wall for them to own.  That’s one of the key’s to this discussion- the owner is focused on what comes afterwards- not what happened before. To achieve this goal the builder is employing a combination of traditional masonry materials and cutting edge products and systems.   

In a similar fashion, a project that CertainTeed has been involved with at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia with Penn State achieves a similar goal but in a lighter and perhaps less massive assembly – to create a highly efficient wall system that can provide comfort, improve indoor air quality, better acoustics but, and here’s the rub- to still be affordable by more typical consumers.  This was done by using a 2 x 8 construction – providing a deeper wall cavity – A Blown-in-Blanket Insulation System, Weather Resistant Barrier, a Smart Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier System, a Wallboard Solution, Rigid Insulation on exterior and Insulated Vinyl Siding. This created an R30.5 exterior wall.

In both homes, products were used to address acoustics, indoor air quality and moisture control.  Do you need 13 layers?  Probably not but the pressure is certainly going to be on what layers remain to do more than they have in the past.

Thoughts?

 

Can We Pick Our Future Rather Than Repeating Our Past?

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Version 4 (V4) has been approved and will be become official at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November 2013.  But even after the new version comes out in November, you can register and begin LEED 2009 projects up until the summer of 2015.  This means that for the next two years we will have LEED 2009 projects coexisting beside LEED V4 projects.

These programs are very different especially with regard to transparency issues.  For example, Health Product Declarations (HPD’s), Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) and Life Cycle Assessments (LCA’s) are moved in V4 from where they were in LEED 2009. In LEED 2009 they are classified as pilot libraries but now have been moved to materials and resources, credits two, three, and four. This represents a significant change to the materials and resources credits.

The co-existence of two different programs could, potentially, cloud the issues for the end users.  But making incremental steps can help to keep people focused on a sustainable future without feeling that they have to start all over. But does the potential exist for the momentum of LEED to stall because we are not looking far enough into the future?

Consider the Living Building Challenge which is the gold standard for what some advocates envision for the sustainable future. Have they thrown the target so far down the field that it doesn’t need to be continually updated because the goals are not highly achievable today? It sets the bar very high but it does give us a long range goal for future development.

If you want to change the future you can’t do it based upon the past.  Psychologists tell us that our default reaction to a challenge is based on our experience and history. When presented with a situation we tend to lean on the past.  This causes us to repeat the past and impedes our ability to get to a desired better future.

If you want to get to a future that is different than the past, you have to imagine a future not based on the past.  You have to set your target not based on incremental changes because that just builds on the past.  Let’s start by saying “in 10 years, I want to be over there”- now work back from there until now and NOT forward from now until then. I think you’ll find that you end up much closer to where you want to be this new way than you did with the old way.

I, for one, would not want to see our efforts to move toward energy efficient, sustainable buildings stalled or worse, abandoned, because we failed to see a clear path to that future. If we get too caught up in the process, we could lose sight of the purpose.

Beware How You Finish Your Moisture and Mold Resistant Drywall

CTG_FibaTape_Mold-X10_Details_ImageWhy are you spending all your effort and resources on moisture and mold resistant drywall and then finishing it with a standard, drywall paper tape? 

That is what often happens. In high moisture areas such as bathrooms and kitchens you need to make sure that you do not erode the added value of the drywall by finishing with standard tapes. There are fiberglass mesh drywall tapes that provide the best defense against mold and moisture when used with mold-resistant treated paper and paperless drywall. 

As I have pointed out before, you want to remove the presence of food which is one the four legs needed for mold to grow:  right temperature, oxygen, moisture and food – in this case – the paper drywall tape.

Always keep in mind that everything is a system and you need to consider all aspects of the wall assembly and how you want it to perform or you may not get the outcome you were striving for.

Don’t Stop at the Surface with Moisture and Mold Damage

1316551358_254450912_4-Residential-and-commercial-Flood-Water-Damage-services-free-est-8888110187-ServicesMold Awareness Month Tip #2: When you see signs of moisture damage either on the exterior or interior you can’t just address this at the surface.  You have to keep digging until you get to dry materials.  If that means tearing out the drywall and the insulation until you get to something dry, so be it. You can’t just fix the surface because it was wet. If you have to replace materials following moisture damage consider using a mold and moisture resistant drywall and a smart vapor retarder with your insulation to add protection to your wall assembly. You will be building in more robustness to an area of your home that is apparently susceptible to moisture intrusion.

That’s from the outside too.  If you find some water damage around your window and you tear it out you can’t stop there.  Take your screwdriver or awl and probe the wood behind it to find out how far the damage goes. If you don’t correct the problem at the source and replace all the damaged materials, the chances of mold occurring in this area are very good..

So, don’t stop at the surface or just treat the symptoms.  You have to exhaust the symptoms and get to the source.

Remember, if you see moisture damage whether inside or outside the building don’t stop digging and probing until you get to dry.

If It Smells Bad It Is Bad

 September is Mold Awareness Month and I thought it would be a good time to provide some helpful tips about mold.  This was prompted by a discussion that came up the other day when I was conducting a webinar on “The Future of Building Materials and Their Impact on How we Build”.  Mold is not always visible but early detection of a mold problem is critical to the health of a building.

Mold-in-basement2Mold has a long history, in fact, references about mold can be found in the Bible (Leviticus 14: 33-53). When you are dealing with living things that have that much staying power, it is clear that you can’t or won’t get rid of them easily.  In a previous blog, I discussed the four things that mold needs to grow: the right temperature, sufficient water, oxygen and food.  But you can control the growth by eliminating one of the elements. If the problem is moisture in the wall cavity you need to remove all the wet insulation and drywall and thoroughly dry the assembly.

One of the best ways to identify a mold problem early is through smell. Often you can smell it before you see it. If you smell something that doesn’t smell right, trust your instincts and check it out.  This is your learned response to protect you from dangerous materials.

If you think you may have mold, get on your hands and knees and sniff around the outlets in your walls. If you have it – you will smell it.  Also, check areas that do not have adequate ventilation (closets or other spaces with no vents or registers).

If you smell it that means the mold spores are airborne and that is when they present the most health risk. When it’s dormant you are not going to smell it but if the spores go aerosol, you need take action.

 

Setting the “Green” Bar Very High

Hat’s off to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for throwing down the gauntlet and launching a Carbon Challenge to the most populated city in America. The Mayor’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 10 years. In order to accomplish this, he created a task force charged with identifying large footprint tenants and their real estate representatives.  To date,10 commercial office partners, 17 universities and 11 hospital systems have joined the New York City Mayor’s Carbon Challenge.

 For some buildings, upgrading the windows and mechanical systems provided a great starting point in meeting the Challenge.  New York, like most east coast cities, has a great deal of old construction, some of which does not easily lend itself to energy upgrades because of the materials and construction techniques.

 Much of what the Mayor is going after is workplace tenant practices and behaviors and that’s a good place to start.  A great deal of energy can be saved simply by learning to operate the buildings we have more efficiently.  Adding sensors to turn lights on and off, for example, help to change people’s habits. This also helps to amend people’s habits when they go home as well. The combination of workplace and home energy saving habits will go a long way to curbing our thirst for energy.

Carbon Calculator

Carbon Calculator

 Here at our company we face the same hurdles and we have started to engage and challenge our employees in all our locations to identify ways to be more efficient with energy, water, recycling, and waste management– and it is paying off.  Are we net zero? Not yet but we have received the Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award for three years running. The key is getting everyone on the cart together and challenging each other to do better. 

Last year CertainTeed developed a Carbon Calculator that tracked the CO2 saved by our installed products. We equated those calculations to the number of trees that were saved or the number of cars taken off the road – things that the employee could relate to.  This has had a real impact on behaviors.  Now they can “see” the impact their work has on America. We are currently in a challenge pledge for GreenBuild 2013, which will be in Philadelphia, to reduce our employees’ carbon output by 10,000 gallons through carpooling and a work-from-home program. Like the old saying goes… when you see a turtle on a fence post you can be sure he didn’t get there alone… and you can be sure he isn’t getting off of there alone either.

 Are there great things that you are doing to encourage behavior changes at your businesses to improve energy efficiency?

 

 

Glass Bottle or Paper Bag?

If you wanted to keep something for 50 years would you keep it is a paper bag or a glass bottle?

This question came from a recent architect training I conducted in New York. I was engaged in a conversation about wall systems and sustainability with this group and the discussion moved to durability in relation to sustainability.

I posed that question and the response was a glass bottle. However, a case can be made for both.

Many of the passive energy saving measures we employ in our buildings can only be accomplished effectively during initial construction.  As an example; it is very difficult to add insulation to side walls over time because the cavity is designed, constructed and closed in.  If you want durability and longevity you better be building something upfront that will last at least 50 years.

To that end, do not employ difficult to replace materials that are not intended to last as long as the wall you are building. If you haven’t figured it out yet we were talking about different types of insulation.

If you can’t see it, inspect it, or fix it, you had better be sure it’s going to be around longer than you are.

Your thoughts are always welcome.

Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations – Green Labels for the Home

Product Life CycleJust about everyone who shops for groceries looks at the nutritional label on the product.  I believe that we have been conditional to do so and it’s probably a good thing.  We should want to know what ingredients are going into the prepared foods that we eat. We can control the amounts of fat, sugar, salt and preservatives that go into the food we eat but only if we can easily get the data.

In a similar way, the building industry is moving toward tools such as Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) to test and validate the “greenness” of their products. These are some of the best tools available to help consumers make the right choices when selecting products to purchase.  Would you think to ask your contactor for the Life Cycle Assessment for the siding you are putting on your home?  If you care about the space you create and the world you live in then maybe you should.

Manufacturers work with third-party certifiers to test and quantify the environmental impact of all the materials used to make the product.  Companies that are undertaking these assessments are ’walking the green talk’ because it is a long process to secure LCA’s and EPD’s.

Beware of GreenwashingAs the demand in the marketplace for environmentally friendly products increased, manufacturers created a form of spin in which green marketing was used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims and/or policies were environmentally friendly.  This “greenwashing” is still happening today.

That is why consumers need to be aware of the “nutrition” labels for products they are using to build or renovate their homes. The life and efficiency of your home is important.