The Sound Around You

HIPHN_El Paso Corp_Cafe_1_2000Improving acoustical performance in interior spaces is part of our everyday discussion, and raising awareness of the impact of noise on people has become a leading passion of mine. In the architectural and building industries, research provides clear evidence that exposure to noise impacts healing and productivity. This research influences how we design buildings for the people who spend the majority of their time in these places — the students in a classroom, patients in a hospital, or employees in an office. However at a personal, individual level, there is great value in better understanding acoustics in our daily lives.

Most interior environments should be safeguarded against decibel levels that would harm your ability to hear, however, how does excessive noise affect your ability to concentrate and overall stress level?

Measuring the decibel level of activities throughout the day is quite easy to do by simply installing a mobile app on your smartphone, such as Decibel 10th. I encourage you to use one of these tools to monitor fluctuations in the noise around you throughout the day and take note of how you respond. Do your muscles tense while struggling to have a conversation in a loud restaurant (or does your dinner-mate wonder why you are screaming at them over a simple decision as to what wine to select)? Are you more focused at work wearing sound-canceling headphones or “squatting” in an unoccupied conference room?

As you experience different noise levels, take note of how the sounds around you measure up to these average decibel levels:

Decibel Level (dB) Activity
0 Threshold of what a healthy ear can hear
10 Soft wind
20 A peaceful apartment in the city
25-35 Leaves rustling in the wind
40 Typing on a keyboard
50 Talking in a low voice
60 Conversation
65 Sitting in a small car with motor idling; normal office noise
75-90 Traffic noise

Taking an inventory of excessive noise in our daily lives is the first step toward a more productive and healthy society. For example, a study by the Danish Cancer Society that monitored the effect of traffic noise reports that for every 10-decibel increase, the risk of heart attack went up 12 percent with increases in risk starting at only 40dB. This is one statistic of many that are shedding light on the impact of noise in our lives. How does excessive noise or poor acoustics impact your daily life? We encourage you to share your story at www.nonoisenow.com.

The Art of Building Science – Soup to Nuts Webinar Series

We are trying something new that we hope is helpful for those of you who would like to take a deeper dive into Building Science but can’t take time out of a nutty work day to do so.

Because I live Building Science every day, I occasionally lose sight of the fact that not everyone sees how all of this information works and fits together.  Sadly we live in a bullet point world so let’s give the big picture the opportunity to talk. Let’s give the silent masses the opportunity to ask questions and engage with folks who work with this knowledge on a daily basis in real world scenarios.

The early evening timeframe for this series may have particular value for younger architects and building professionals who do not get to take time out of billable hours but could jump online at the end of the day.

We are offering the opportunity to see the Big Picture of Building Science through a series of three webinars starting at 5:30 pm EST over the next three months that will take you through topics such as Heat Flow, Moisture Flow, Air Flow, Indoor Air Quality, Evaluating HVAC or Mechanical Systems in the Building Envelop and Sound Control Problems.

Be forewarned, each webinar is a half hour longer than the last.  It is like a three course meal that will leave you both full and wanting more.

The first session will be held on Wednesday, March 12 from 5:30 – 6:30 pm EST.  If you are looking to expand your knowledge of Building Science, this accredited course is for you!

Register and join me for The Art of Building Science Part I.

The Transparency Movement Sets a New Standard

Think about it, metrics for sustainability provide fact based defenses for faith based decisions. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on an individual product is an example of a fact based defense for choosing a specific material.

For example, say that you set a criterion of global warming potential as your decision making criteri0n. How could you compare vastly different types of material to learn which has a greater impact? Now you can because the LCA provides that level of information. 

Now, if you look at sustainable buildings as opposed to sustainable materials the LCA is the natural way of taking the information and expanding it to the building level. Setting the correct discrete limits up front creates a potential for the limitless. We can take this same measurable – global warming potential – and expand it across the whole building assembly.  Can we say that this building is more sustainable than another?  Absolutely we can – the metrics are in place. Simply pick what is important to you.  After all, sustainability means different things to different people.

There are a whole range of important metrics that people can use in their consideration process. All the information is available and there are systems in place to be able to expand across the building such as the LCA.

So it is now possible to defend your faith in sustainability with facts; as long as you understand the systems like LCA and the information that is available.  Maybe faith is making a comeback.

What do you think?

 

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).

 

IBS Insights: Water Damage Woes

NormAbramNorm Abram from This Old House made a special visit to the CertainTeed booth today and answered questions from IBS attendees, which included the question:

What is the number one downfall that destroys homes?

Water. And it’s not just homes that are built with wood. There are buildings that I have seen over the years that were made out of metal and because of moisture they are destroyed. In some ways, you really need to treat a house like a human being. It’s similar to the clothes we wear that keep us warm or the athletic wear that wicks water away. Why not learn from that?

We agree wholeheartedly with Norm, which is why CertainTeed had a dedicated building science team to tackle moisture management issues. And, there’s a host of resources at www.certainteed.com/buildingscience to help builders address the mayhem caused by unwanted moisture.

IBS Insights: Building Science Snapshot

Lucas Hamilton, Building Scientist Application Specialist, participated in a live Q&A session at the International Builders’ Show. Here’s a recap of the discussion:

Q: What is building science and what does it mean for the future of the building industry?

The underlying purpose of building science is to determine how to make all of the components of a home or building cohesive — so that all products work together effectively. We’re not only thinking about what a product does, but how it influences everything around it.  Using this approach, builders can better ensure the health, comfort, durability and sustainability for the lifetime of the building. Most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors ­— either at home or at the office — so healthy interior environments are extremely important. 

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?

 

Opening the Door to Better Classroom Acoustics

Slatington Elementary ClassroomLast year, I was presented with a unique opportunity to apply our building science research into a real-life application — the renovation of an elementary school in northeastern Pennsylvania. Originally built in 1973, the school was transformed from an open concept interior space into individual state-of-the-art classrooms. Superior acoustical comfort, which can contribute to improved student performance and teacher retention, was a top priority in this field study as well as an analysis of the overall indoor environment that included air quality, thermal comfort and visual comfort measurements.

Our goal was to investigate the impact of installing different, high-performing interior acoustical ceiling and gypsum wallboard system solutions in six new classrooms constructed in the third grade student wing. Acoustical tests were conducted in each classroom to determine sound absorption and interior partition sound transmission levels, as well as major sound flanking paths.

As a leading manufacturer of ceilings and wall products, our team is well versed in the myriad of product specifications and configurations for our products. However, during the testing, I had an a-ha moment of sorts regarding the doorways to the classrooms.

Specifically, I realized that even though it is well known that acoustically isolated, airtight door assemblies improve classroom acoustics when used in conjunction with high-performance gypsum board and ceiling products, these elements are often specified independently rather than a comprehensive acoustical system. This is a challenge that I have always been aware of, but seeing it so clearly in this study led us to ask: what could we do about it?

Our curiosity led us to ASSA ABLOY, the global leader in door opening solutions. Through our alliance, we’ve uncovered easily accessible solutions found in door and frame systems, to address acoustical challenges and reduce the sound reverberation that further complicates noise issues in classrooms.

We look forward to sharing more detailed findings during Greenbuild 2013 through a dedicated education session at the Saint-Gobain Learning Lab. Please join us at the session or leave us a comment below to continue the discussion.

An Unsettling Modular Construction Myth Is Put To Rest

SimplexOPTIMARecently, I had the opportunity to debunk an industry myth that blown-in fiberglass loose-fill insulation is not a viable option for new modular home construction, as it might settle and lose R-value while in transit between the modular home production facility and the jobsite. This was one of the reasons modular home builder Simplex Homes had avoided using blown-in insulation on their projects for years. This year, however, they found themselves working with our OPTIMA® blown-in fiberglass insulation while building a Net Zero Energy demonstration structure at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia as part of Penn State’s GridSTAR Experience Center.

The plan was to build, insulate and roof the shell of the structure, using modular construction techniques, at the Simplex Homes production facility in Scranton, Pa., and ship it by truck to Philadelphia. Having never used OPTIMA in a modular construction application and concerned about the settling rumor, the builder consulted me for assistance in the design and assembly of the high-performance wall assemblies. I designed for them a high-performance 2×8 wood-framed wall assembly, which offered a total insulation R-value of 35.4. A key component of this assembly is a Blow-in-Blanket® System (BIBS) for the wall cavity featuring a 7-1/4-inch-thick layer of OPTIMA insulation.

With on-site assistance from one of our product engineers, the Simplex Homes crew was able to easily build and insulate the wall assemblies. The building’s shell was trucked to The Navy Yard this past spring, where the remainder of the interior finishes were added. An inspection after its arrival confirmed that the insulation had not moved an inch. Simplex Homes was impressed by their first experience installing OPTIMA and is now looking forward to working with the product in future modular construction projects.

The bottom line is that fiberglass loose-fill insulation is naturally inert and therefore will not settle or lose R-Value over the years, as long as it is installed properly at its full designed thickness. Blown-in fiberglass loose-fill insulation is an asset to any modular construction project, offering unwavering superior R-value, fire resistance and acoustic control for the life of a structure.

Now that we’ve put this myth to rest, what topic should we tackle next?