Living Building Challenge Alive and Rising in Seattle

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

In the early days of my blogging, I talked about the Living Building Challenge and the early adoption taking place in Portland, Oregon. The Challenge aims to certify green buildings around seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty. It is so comprehensive that it is “whole-istic”. Sorry.

An exciting “Living Building” project is currently underway in Seattle that was highlighted in U.S News on MSNBC  on March 20, 2012. This could be a true showcase for the ultimate in sustainable office buildings. There is also a slide presentation in the link that is worth reviewing.

Denis Hayes, who co-founded Earth Day with Gaylord Nelson, now heads the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation.  He is partnering with architect Jason McLennan, who is CEO of the International Living Future Institute on this project.

With everything from harvested rainwater to geothermal wells, solar energy and lots of natural light, this building has no parking lot on the premises but is accessible by bus, bike or on foot. One day this could truly become the standard for new urban construction but in the meantime it can also provide valuable data to fuel the movement on retrofitting existing buildings.

Great project with great potential!

Walking the Walk with the Better Buildings Challenge

John Marrone is Vice President, Energy Initiatives for Saint-Gobain North America

On December 2, 2011, 60 key employers in America were invited to participate in a roundtable panel regarding the Better Buildings Challenge.  The Better Buildings Challenge is part of the Better Buildings Initiative that President Obama launched in February 2011.  Led by former President Bill Clinton, through the William J, Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, together with the President’s Council on Jobs and Competiveness, the Better Buildings Challenge supports job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial building and industrial facility updates to make America’s buildings 20 percent more efficient over the next decade and save American businesses about $40 billion per year on their energy bills.

One of the key objectives of the round table was to share ideas about how to improve energy efficiency while helping to stimulate the economy and promote jobs creation.  There were a number of valid ideas presented to the Department of Energy (DOE) and Presidents Obama and Clinton during the meeting. But what was most impressive was that the focus was on both Clinton and Obama asking questions and listening to the business leaders.

The challenge is that companies must work with both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on regulatory issues and with the DOE on the energy initiatives and often these two entities are on different sides of the conversation. The government needs to understand the impact on business to balance compliance to regulatory issues while improving energy especially for the manufacturing sector and this meeting was a good and productive first step.

While Saint-Gobain is certainly interested in promoting the objectives that come out of the Better Buildings Challenge, I feel that the critical issues are:

  • Creating stronger building codes to promote energy efficiency
  • Freeing up the capital for investments in energy improvements
  • More prominent branding of the Better Buildings Challenge to encourage wider support, commitment and participant recognition 

Companies need to be recognized in an ongoing, visible way for making the changes to conserve energy and natural resources.  This is not a short term, quick fix.   Energy efficiency needs to be a cultural change that takes place over time and becomes imbedded in the fiber of a business. With the commitments made by these initial employers, we are making a significant first step.

Rainscreen Technology Featured at 2011 Solar Decathlon

 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The 2011 Solar Decathlon held in Washington, DC in October featured homes designed and constructed by architecture and engineering students from universities worldwide that employ sustainable building solutions and powered by solar energy.

To my surprise, several of the designs, including Team Massachusetts, whom we partnered with, chose to include rainscreen technology in their designs. (Pictured is the fiber cement siding that was cut to accommodate the screen system designed by Team Massachusetts.

Rainscreens are a system which assumes that water will get beyond the outer surface to underlying layers and be managed and evacuated from the building.

It is not a barrier system – it is a water management system and they are great!

However, the market share in terms of the number of applications in the U.S. of rainscreen technology, the last time I checked, was approximately 10 percent. It is not a large part of the market but we are very familiar with versions of the rainscreen in our every day lives.  The brick cavity wall – the space behind the brick that drains the water out is a version of the rainscreen. This is the technique the students utilized with the siding.

Another example is the open rainscreen where panels are suspended off the building with clear passage around the panel.  There are no caulk joints, there’s nothing tight, you can see the underlying layers around the panels.

Rainscreen technology ranges from a drained assembly – to a drain and vented assembly – to a pressure equalized rainscreen which uses compartmentalization to prevent excessive positive or negative pressures from developing due to building orientation and exposure to wind and other elements.

This is an extremely durable system because the outer surface of the building repels the majority of the incident rain, deals with the majority of the solar radiation issues like ultra violet light and weathering.  It protects the underlying waterproofing and working layers of the building and enables them to hold up longer.

Rainscreens are great systems which are easier for a building owner because they are much easier to maintain. Perhaps the increased use of these systems in competitions like the Solar Decathlon will take hold as we continue to adopt new technologies for building assemblies.

Tools for Flashing Rough Openings – Not Windows and Doors

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I am struggling with an issue that keeps coming up with regard to the practice of flashing in building construction.  This is one of the most critical issues for ensuring that moisture will not permeate the building envelope. Earlier this year I wrote about the need to return to the construction techniques that our fathers and grandfathers adopted, especially, with regard to flashing

When I am conducting trainings and webinars on moisture management, which I do on a monthly basis, I am continually asked about flashing windows and doors.  I need to set the record straight – we do not flash windows and we do not flash doors –  we flash rough opens.  This is an important distinction.

Windows and doors are stuck onto a building so how can they be flashed?  They are accessories. The flashing is part of the rough opening in the wall assembly in addition to whatever features the window itself may have.

There are significant documents which clarify window installation practices such as ASTM E2112 which shows how to execute proper installation along with the proper flashing.  One of my favorite resources regarding flashing techniques in general is through SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association). Their manuals give clear step by step instructions for folding materials to make various flashing shapes with minimal cutting.

Do not depend on glues and adhesives to prevent water intrusion.  Chances are they will not be permanently maintained by a building owner.

Stick to solid pieces of material that are installed in a shingle-like manner to continuously shed the water to the exterior and allow gravity an surface tension to drain the water from the building.

Working Smarter with Digital Tools

We are all looking to work smarter. In my role, I frequently survey our customers to gain ideas for products, processes or solutions that would make their life easier in the field.

Last year, I surveyed architects and designers to identify the changes they are undergoing and what methods of information delivery best suited their current process of specifying products for their projects. One of the items that piqued my interest was that 80 percent of architects start their search for product information on the web. 

The need for printed resources such as the “3-ring architect binder” has changed significantly from what it once was; hard-copy binders used to be the primary source for architects seeking product information, installation instructions, technical data, code approvals, and occasionally a bit of inspiration.  More recently, changes in technology combined with the more rapid pace with which products are developed and brought to market have made the internet a natural place to house these types of information.

With the shrinking market in the build community, there is also the reality that many architects have abandoned larger offices for small spaces or home offices.  Some may also have limited access to junior architects or interns to research products and need tools that save them time and resources.  Design professionals in these situations do not have room for large, binder driven libraries.

As a response to these changes, the siding section of the CertainTeed website now has a digital architect binder with product information and specification documents for siding, house wrap, fence, rail, deck and trim products laid out just as they would be found in the traditional 3-ring binder.  The information is easy to find, always current, available 24/7, and does not take up valuable office workspace.

Now that is what I call working smarter.

Architectural Icon Marvin Malecha to Judge Saint-Gobain Multi-Comfort House Competition in Prague

Lucas Hamilton

Each year, CertainTeed’s parent company Saint-Gobain conducts an International Multi-Comfort House Competition. This competition, now in its seventh year invites architecture and engineering students to submit a design that is in accordance with the ISOVER Multi-Comfort-House definition and with passive house components.

This year, I am excited to announce, Marvin Malecha, FAIA and Dean of the College of Design at North Carolina State University has accepted our invitation to serve as a judge for the ISOVER Multi-Comfort House Competition to be held in Prague, Czech Republic and will serve as the lead judge for the competition. Last year,  the lead judge was Professor Doctor Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passive House. Most of the judges are European because the significant work on passive house and higher energy efficient building is truly embraced in Europe.

This year’s task for the Competition is to design a sustainable skyscraper in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in New York. The building has to have the building physics performance of an ISOVER Multi-Comfort House.  This is an exciting task, especially on an International level.

One the students from Philadelphia University who participated in the finals for the Competition last year, mentioned that when they got to the International competition, the technical level of the final projects were so well matched that the aesthetics of the design played a larger part in the judging. The concept of sustainable design values simplicity.  Think of Shaker furniture – the function and design is so simple, so perfect it is naturally beautiful. 

Designing a skyscraper that would, not only, be state of the art in sustainability but also have high aesthetics will be something to see.

I can assure you that we will be blogging further on this year’s ISOVER Multi-Comfort House Competition. Stay tuned!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Would People Use the Stairs More if They Were Nicer?

Lucas Hamilton

Think about the stairs in the average building.  They are simply stairwells -very claustrophobic – very unpleasant – very utilitarian.  In general, they are often not attractive spaces.

I recently visited ZGF Architects at the 12 West building in Portland, Oregon which is a LEED Platinum certified high-rise building. One of the really cool features of ZGF’s office space in this tower is the open stairs between floors. If you visit the firm’s web site you can actually see pictures of the stairs under the “interiors” tab.

When you were in these stairs you noticed they were beautiful.  They weren’t wells they were open to the spaces.  The vertical space of the stairs became a connector of the spaces in the building.  They were airy and bright, they also incorporated the environment of the floor in terms of the acoustics and appearance.  You saw people stopping and talking on the stairs.

It made me think ‘If the stairs were more appealing would people be willing to use them?’  The designers of this building thought so and they were right. 

One of the concepts put forward for reducing power consumption in buildings is rethinking how we can incorporate stairs between floors.  Not only does it save energy, it adds to the overall aesthetics in the design.  An unrelated benefit is that it increases the cardiovascular benefits for employees and visitors. As we consider how we might change the ways we think of and incorporate these spaces in our building, we must remain mindful of the science of air flows and how large columns of air behave. There must be an eloquent solution which combines form, function, and efficiency.

Have you seen any examples of the creative uses of stairs in buildings?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Giving Back Feels More Like Getting Back

Habitat for Humanity House, Chester, PA

How often do you get the chance to help two young, deserving families build their dream homes, improve a community and learn to use a product manufactured by the company you work for? A group of us from CertainTeed and Saint-Gobain  had a special opportunity while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Delaware County, Pennsylvania

CertainTeed has a long history of supporting Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the country with donations and volunteers, but the Delaware County Habitat for Humanity twin home in Chester, PA is the first house covered with a brand new CertainTeed weather resistant barrier – CertaWrap™. It was great to be part of the premier installation of this product. We will also be installing CertainTeed Newtown™ vinyl siding over the next few weekends.

But the real “value-add” of this experience was:

Habitat volunteers and families

• Working alongside families who were putting in “sweat equity” in order to realize the American dream of home ownership.

• Teambuilding and relationship building with individuals across departments and making new friends.

• Helping a great organization by doing whatever was needed to be done.

For Lillian Horvitz, one of our crew, who is part of CertainTeed’s Sales Support Group, this hands-on, real life experience will help her answer questions from customers when the product is introduced in the marketplace.

But the best feeling was standing back with a group of new friends after a day of hard work and sweat and viewing the fruits of our labor. I highly recommend it!

Do you have any volunteer stories? Feel free to share them, in the comments section below.

The Solar Decathlon Europe – An Exciting, if Wet, Experience

The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E

The experience of serving as a sponsor of the University of Nottingham Solar Decathlon H.O.U.S.E. is one, I am sure, none of us who were directly involved will soon forget.

This was the first Solar Decathlon held outside of the United States, and Madrid, Spain served as the host. The University on Nottingham was keenly interested in participating and sought a sponsor who manufactured all the primary components they would use in the house. Saint-Gobain was the obvious choice, given the scope of our interior and exterior products that create and promote energy efficiency and sustainability. The Saint-Gobain companies that participated included Isover, British Gypsum, Saint-Gobain Glass, Solaglas, Ecophon , International Timber, Pasquill and Greenworks (Saint-Gobain Building Distribution). The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E design utilized an L-shaped, modular design that could be worked into rows, terraces or stacked.  The Team’s goal was to design and build an affordable, energy efficient house that would appeal to the general population.

During the construction week in Madrid, the H.O.U.S.E team lost several days due to the worst rain storms to hit Madrid in 50 years. The H.O.U.S.E. location was in the lowest part of the Villa Solar, below the water table, and the rain just poured down onto the site while construction was underway.  As the crane was placing the house modules, it slipped and significant damage was sustained.  There was no way to repair the damage to the house completely so the students made some adjustments in order to meet the construction deadline to compete.  While challenges such as this were a learning experience, the judges did not take the adversity into consideration.

The Nottingham team was the youngest team in the competition, with second and third year students while the other teams were fourth year or graduate students. The team that won, Virginia Tech, had participated in two previous Decathlons with the same house.  By perfecting their design and incorporating the feedback they received, they were able to return and win.

We are proud of what the students we sponsored achieved in the design and construction of the house, how they worked through the challenges and emerged able to compete.  They received second place in the sustainability section and were voted the most livable house by the visitors to the Solar Decathlon.  Several Spanish developers, as well as English developers, are interested in using the design for future construction. 

As part of our sponsorship, Saint Gobain provided training at our facilities to teach the students how to construct the house using our products.  This project wasn’t just about the H.O.U.S.E, it was about creating an energy efficient concept that could be mass produced by builders, the training and the solid hands-on skills the students gained that will set them apart when they enter the workforce. 

As for future participation in the Solar Decathlon, the expertise that was gained by participating would be in vain if the University of Nottingham did not participate in future Solar Decathlons especially since the same students could perfect the H.O.U.S.E which was very well received by developers and potential homeowners – the audiences that really count.

Pay Now or Pay Later – Constructed Space per Person

Lucas Hamilton

I recently read a report in the Department of Energy’s 2009 Building Energy Data Book that referenced the amount of constructed surface area per person around the world.  The United States is second only to Canada in the amount of constructed space per person – the U.S. boasts 3,000 square feet per person. This concept of constructed space per person includes home, work, shopping centers, sports complexes – any constructed buildings where we live, work or play. 

This is far more than most of the world. Comparing the United States to the United Kingdom, for example, the average English citizen uses approximately one-third the space of Americans.  Americans have come to expect this right-of-space. But there is a price to pay if society continues to expect large buildings. If the goal is to move toward net-zero buildings we are going to have to become very creative to overcome our need for space.

One example to consider along these lines is the issue of rain water run-off. For the most part, constructed space represents hard surfaces which prohibit rain water from being absorbed into the ground.  This not only overloads our water treatment and sewer systems, as we discussed in a previous blog about Live Roofs, but it effects the sequestration of carbon dioxide. 

The new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes program sponsored by US Green Building Council is penalizing homeowners for having more space in their home than they need.  However, if a 4,000 square foot home for two people is still desired, the LEED program will allow it but will require more energy efficiency components in order to certify the home. This seems reasonable to me.

If Americans wish to build large spaces, designers and developers are going to have to work harder to offset the impact on the environment.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation