NAHB International Builders’ Show – Where New Products and Learning Collide

CertainTeed booth at IBS 2013

CertainTeed booth at IBS 2013

I am in Las Vegas for the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show 2013.  I truly enjoy this show because it is a great opportunity to ‘kick the tires’ on products and learn about best practices taking places in the build community. 

With the new 2012 Building Codes that are starting to be adopted by states, it is critical that build professionals know the changes to the code requirements where they are building. It is also important to hear about best practices for achieving airtight assemblies and the best solutions for achieving maximum energy efficiency in the building envelope.

For IBS 2013, CertainTeed is focused on building knowledge. To assist with this, CertainTeed is incorporating in its booth (C2126) a Builder Resource Center making available building science and technical experts to share best practices but also to answer questions from show participants. If you come to our Resource Center you will be eligible to win a full day consultation by a building scientist on your construction site. 

At the booth, we will also have technical experts hosting “Ask the Expert” interactive sessions centered on building science, roofing, insulation, siding, gypsum and foundations. With the extension of the Energy Tax Credit as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, contractors and developers who construct or renovate “dwelling units” (apartments, condos or single-family homes) that meet certain energy efficiency standards have access to a tax credit of up to $2000.

If you are attending IBS, make sure to stop by booth C2126 and pick our brains. I guarantee you will have a great learning experience as well as a fun time.

The Greening of the 2012 Building Codes: Air-tightness Testing – A Must Have for Consumers

 

Blower Door Testing

Blower Door Testing

The 2012 energy code, which we are very excited about because it is very advanced compared to the 2009, requires two things which have never been required by aU.S. code before.  These are:

  • Blower door testing of houses
  • Duct pressure testing for leakage

These two things are extremely influential on energy efficiency and have always been assumed were part of best practices. We have seen changes in the codes saying “install air barriers or tighten up your duct work” but they never required that these tests be conducted to ensure that the house is airtight.

These are two physical tests that need to be conducted on every new home if the 2012 building codes have been adopted by a state. While this is one of the best ways to ensure efficient thermal comfort for home owners, the potential impact on the builder must be understood. If you are building a house in say 120 days scheduling someone to come out to conduct this testing could severely impact the building schedule: these tests need to be conducted before installing the drywall. No drywall until you have passed the inspection- imagine it.

But who conducts this testing?  Code officials are not typically trained or funded to execute this type of testing.  This testing has been done in the past for NAHB, Energy Star and other programs by internally or externally certified raters. Home Energy Rating System (HERS) raters are a great example of one group that is trained to do this testing.

However, there is no organized resource, clearinghouse or national database for building professionals to find all of the various local professionals who can conduct these tests. To ensure that these tests are conducted and that states do not “opt out” of this requirement, a national database needs be developed so that third-party testers can be easily found and scheduled.

This is an important part of the 2012 code that qualifies for the consumer that the home is energy efficient and that some of the most critical passive elements of that efficiency were done right.  It’s not what you spec; it’s what you inspect.

 

Building America Solution Center a Great New Resource for Consumers and Residential Builders

The U.S Department of Energy has launched the Building America Solutions Center website.  Building America is a program that is operated by the Department of Energy to investigate best practices for residential construction.  They have accumulated a great deal of information from the field and done several experiments that up until now have only generally been shared within the Building Science community. It is a wonderful resource for building professionals and consumers who want to make the best choices when improving the energy efficiency in residential construction.

The Solution Center website shares best practices and other project resources to help plan, implement and measure energy efficiency programs for residential buildings and homes. The site includes resources to answer questions regarding new energy efficient technologies, projecting savings, financing home improvement projects.

This is public / private partnership funded research and everyone should be aware that it exists so they can make the best choices as we all move toward improving the energy efficiency of our buildings.

Spread the word about this great resource!

Don’t Forget the End Users When Building for Energy Efficiency

While at Greenbuild 2012 I was asked “What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?” My answer was posted on our Blog but there is more I want to say about this so here we go!

Users or occupants of high efficiency buildings need to understand and be a partner in the process because  ultimately they influence the  success or failure of a building’s efficiency over time. For example, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes will give you credit for and requires Energy Star performance which means certain insulation levels, certain air tightness and certain efficiencies on the mechanical systems (among other issues). The energy efficiency of the building is based upon a combination of highly efficient equipment and permanent passive systems.

When the active system wears out, if the consumers don’t appreciate the importance of the efficiency of that system on the overall performance of the habitat they are unlikely to take that into consideration when they have to replace equipment.  They can go from a high efficiency piece of equipment that made their sustainable building sing beautifully and perform wonderfully and stick in something that is on sale or is perhaps promoted by their contractor but with a whole different efficiency rating.  Now the building goes from being a Prius to being a Hummer simply because the driver wasn’t told the difference between the two.

In sustainability circles we often talk about “the Prius effect”.  This comes from the engagement of the driver with the car.  Once the driver understands the savings due to the offset of the electrical to the fuel and you give them real-time feedback, they began to drive against the machine to improve the efficiency. The build community needs to develop dashboards or other tools for high efficiency buildings so that end users can see the benefits provided by the systems.  That buy-in is critical to sustaining efficiency over the life cycle of the building.

There is no point in doing a sustainable building for someone unless you teach and show them how to maintain it. That is one aspect I especially admire about the Living Building Challenge. The Beauty petal has components which include inspiration and education. Couldn’t we all use a little more of both?

Greenbuild 2012 is a Wrap! Philadelphia Here we Come!

San Francisco is among the top sustainable cities in the U.S. so it was exciting to be out there for Greenbuild this year.  The expo portion of the conference was only two days this year but from the beginning of the first day the show floor was packed with attendees who were really engaged. In fact, it was the most engaged audience I have seen since the recession began.  Hopefully, that is an indicator that the building market is returning.

NOVA speed dating

NOVA speed dating

In my travels around the show, I was surprised that I really didn’t see too many new innovations. There was nothing that stood out as a bright, new product or very innovative with the exception of the Saint-Gobain NOVA Innovation Competition.  The NOVA External Venturing division of Saint-Gobain rewards start-ups offering the most innovative solutions in the field of habitat, energy and the environment.  This was the first time the competition has taken place in the U.S. Over the last several months Saint-Gobain reviewed and selected eight finalists who would come to Greenbuild for a final interview process during the show days.  From those eight, three entrepreneurs where awarded cash prizes, however, all the contestants will have the opportunity to partner with Saint-Gobain in exploring potential joint development, licensing and other collaboration.

It was amazing the buzz that was created on the show floor by the NOVA Competition.  The final eight entrepreneurs participated in what might be referred to as a “speed dating” round.  These innovators were pitching their ideas to some of the best business leaders in our industry. It was exciting during the speed dating and a large crowd gathered for the announcement of the winners.  The top winner was Heliotrope, a developer of energy-efficient electrochromic glass that that switches reversibly between three states:  solar transparent, heat blocking, and heat and light blocking or darkened.  The second place winner was PlanGrid, a complete collaborative platform for construction information and the fastest PDF viewer in the universe.  Third place went to SmarterShade, a unique approach to the emerging technology being called “smart windows.”

Greenbuild 2013 is coming to Philadelphia – CertainTeed’s neck of the woods.  But, for Philadelphia, following San Francisco is like having the Beatles as a warm-up band.  While many folks who are into urban sustainability are aware of the great progress made my our Mayor Nutter and his team, just how far and how quickly Philadelphia has transformed its sustainable future may come as a surprise to some of our visitors next year. I’m certain that none of this would be possible without the support and efforts of groups like the Delaware Valley Green Building Council who is hosting GreenBuild for 2013. There are some very exciting projects taking place in Philadelphia and we are eager to share them with the green world.

I hope to see you in Philadelphia for Greenbuild 2013!

 

 

A New Perspective on Environmental Impact

From a product standpoint, conducting life cycle assessments has become a fairly standard practice. Building industry professionals as well as end users expect this kind of transparency and want to be equipped with information on how products are manufactured, the raw materials that are used, and their ultimate fate at the end of their useful life. This is all good (actually it’s great), but what if we also look at the environmental impact of an installed product from a broader, collective perspective? For example, there’s a whole range of products that can save — and even generate — energy for homes and buildings. This energy savings and generation can equate to significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Working in conjunction with Sustainable Solutions, we set out on a mission to further explore this idea. Using Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products —  such as fiberglass insulation, solar window film and photovoltaic roofing systems — we created a model based on data from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. What we learned is that the carbon reductions of installed Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products on an annual basis equates to the carbon dioxide emissions produced by more than 300,000 passenger vehicles or the amount of electricity needed to power more than 189,000 homes. Ultimately, these types of products have a long-lasting impact on the built environment and we take great pride in that…

Interested in learning more? Stop by the Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed exhibit #4359 at Greenbuild 2012.

Tips For Rebuilding Following Hurricane Sandy

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Many of us in the Philadelphia area have been recuperating from Hurricane Sandy although we did not get hit as hard as our neighboring state, New Jersey. Some of our co-workers do have family members with shore homes so I have had a chance to look at the building codes and other guidelines for rebuilding in flood prone areas. I wanted to share some information about rebuilding and the things you need to keep in mind.

Many of the houses have damage to the first floor and what we are seeing it is not the ‘business as usual’ building codes that have previously been acceptable in New Jersey. There are new building codes that are in effect that follow more closely the FEMA guidelines. For example, the guideline requires that you:

  • Remove the drywall and insulation to two feet above the high water mark.
  • Dry out and treat the entire cavity.
  •  Following the gutting of the cavity – remove all the drywall and insulation exposing all the studs to the back side of wood sheathing or house-wrap – this area must be treated with a mold inhibitor.
  • When you reconstruct the wall you can only us certain insulations:  either closed spray foam insulation or extruded polystyrene foam boards foamed into placed.  While anyone can install the extruded foam panels (if they can find the right thickness- remember you need to be an R13 in New Jersey now so that will be an XPS board at least 2.6” thick).  Spray foams need to be installed by a certified contractor.
  • The wall needs to be finished with a paperless drywall – it can’t be the mold and moisture resistant drywall – and the drywall needs to be stopped with a ½ inch space between the new and old drywall to create a capillary break. The gap can then be finished off with a chair rail or other element to hide the wallboard gap. I think the reason they are requiring a gap is so that in the event that a flood happens again, the water can’t wick up the wall and affect the old wall structure.

When I saw this I thought ‘this is not normal.’  Because it isn’t normal – it is an exceptional code being applied to flood prone areas as designated by FEMA. These are what townships are putting into place to minimize the damage if another storm hits.

It is clearly not business as usual for East Coast communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.

 

 

 

Net Zero Test House a Great Experiment for Energy Efficiency

Lucas Hamilton

October is Energy Awareness month and what better way to start it off than to talk about a great project underway in Virginia. CNN recently ran a story about the Net Zero house that was built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as a test facility to experiment with alternative energy high-efficiency systems. 

The 2,700 square foot home on NIST’s property in Gaithersburg, Virginia is home to a “virtual” family – Father, Mother and two children. The house is powered by solar panels and geothermal systems while hundreds of devices that actually simulate the family’s energy use.

While the home looks like a standard middle class home that you might find in any suburban neighborhood the home cost about $2.5 million to build.  That is mostly due to the elaborate systems being utilized and tested.  The appliances, plumbing and heating systems are programmed to turn on and off based on the time of day.  For example at 6:15 am, a computer that is housed in the garage which is ‘control central’ triggers the valves in the basement to turn on the water flow to the showers. Of course, it doesn’t take into account Johnny leaving the lights and TV on his bedroom all day.

One very cool aspect of this project is that everything in the home, except one small devise, is manufactured in the U. S. and is able to be purchased and used in a typical residence.

Other facts about the construction of the house such as geothermal loops that extract heat from earth as opposed to the air and walls constructed to reduce energy loss and keep the home at a comfortable temperature will provide great data that can be used in future construction.

There are net-zero homes that are being built in parts of the U.S. but this home will provide incredible research that can be applied to construction standards going forward.  Watch the video for a full review of the project:

http://youtu.be/xSzu83fyQaQ

I think we will learn a great deal from this project and it will help us in the quest for net-zero homes but… how do you feel about using a virtual family? I think we’re going to miss out on learning about behavior and this is an area which we may understand the least.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed

Managing Your Expectations

Lucas Hamilton

When you are considering remodeling activities and the impact that those activities will have on the energy consumption of the home, a very good place to weigh the benefits of one activity over another is the Federal Energy Management Program.

Under this program there are a variety of things but the one I thought most interesting is the Technology Deployment.  This focuses on market-driven technologies and creating market pull for new and underutilized technologies.

If you look at the Building Envelope section you will see what activities will give you a great impact on reducing your energy consumption.  Activities such as using a cool roof or a green roof, installing window films or replacing older windows with high R value windows are rated so that the end user can identify which remodeling activities will give the biggest bang for the buck. You can also look at the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning and see that commercial ground source heat pumps, for example, have a huge impact.

This in a wonderful way for consumers to get to the bottom line and be able to make smart choices when remodeling in order to reduce energy consumption especially in older homes.

It is also a great way to avoid being disappointed because you were told by some radio advertisement that installing new windows will cut your energy bill in half. You will be smarter than that!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed

If You Suspect Mold in a Building – Remember the Hindenburg!

Lucas Hamilton

If you have had some moisture damage in your building and suspect or see that you have some mold, remember The Hindenburg

Before you cut into the wall, compartmentalize and put the space under a negative pressure.  The last thing you want to do in a building when you think you may have had a moisture issue and suspect that mold could be growing behind the wall is to disturb it and have the mold spores release into the air within the building. If you think you may have a problem and need to cut into the wall take these steps to create negative pressure in the room:

  • Close the door
  • Open a window
  • Put a fan in the window blowing out to create negative pressure in the room
  • Then you can safely cut into the wall to treat the mold

The lesson we learned from the Hindenburg relates to the smoking lounge.  The lounge was kept under positive pressure and the smoke leaked out into the rest of the dirigible so that if there was a gas leak in the envelope of the dirigible, the gas could not flow into the smoking lounge to get ignited by a pipe or a lighter.

You are doing the same thing here but in reverse.  You are putting the space into a negative pressure before you disturb the space so that contaminants could not possibly flow into the building.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation