During Energy Awareness Month Take the ENERGY STAR® Pledge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program has launched a pledge project designed to draw awareness on the part of individuals to change their ways and adopt more energy conscious practices. The pledge asks individuals to commit to replacing items in your office or home ranging from light bulbs to appliances and office equipment that carry the Energy Star label to reduce energy consumption. Retrofitting with added insulation is another improvement to consider.

According to the current statistics 2,655,126 individuals have joined the cause and pledged to take small, individual steps that have led to reducing 8,842,303,899 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change.

I want to applaud my fellow employees for taking the Energy Star pledge and committing to reducing their energy consumption.  The EPA estimated that the value of the pledges received by CertainTeed/Saint-Gobain so far equates to more than $1.5 million in energy savings.

You, too, can get involved as an individual or a company and be a part of this national campaign.  Get your company involved by going to Energy Star’s Join our Movement . To register as an individual go to Take the Pledge

This type of awareness is a good starting point to encourage everyone to look at ways to reduce their energy consumption and become more conscious of how they use energy.  We can all do our part.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Tolerance for Moisture Intrusion is a Challenge in Vancouver

Lucas Hamilton

Earlier this week I traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to present the workshop on Mold and Moisture Control in buildings at the final [Be Certain] event.  It has been fascinating to present these workshops in different Northern climates and creating simulations to address the specific challenges faced in these areas of North America.

Previously, I blogged about polyethylene in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the challenges faced in controlling moisture because of the use of exterior insulation. In preparation for my Vancouver workshop, I re-ran the modeling for Vancouver and the results were very interesting.

Polyamide films, like MemBrain™ because it is a breathable vapor retarder can provide additional tolerance for moisture intrusion in many climates, but in extreme climates like Vancouver there is almost no way to survive water intrusion.

In such climates, the best course is to build into the design redundant drainage planes and flash, flash, flash. Expect water to pass your principle line of defense and stop it with a secondary line of defense which will evacuate the intruding moisture to the exterior environment. This would be like a window rough opening being completely wrapped prior to window installation and this rough opening flashing draining water out and onto the face of a water resistive barrier (WRB) which leads to an egress at the base of the wall system.

While there is so much we know about moisture management, there is always more to learn and our thinking must be comprehensive. If we don’t learn from the past, our attempts to build air-tight and moisture-tight buildings will leave us looking more like Wile E. Coyote grasping for the next solution. I am not comfortable with that. Thoughts?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Government Energy Incentive Legislation: Don’t Forget Mechanical Insulation

Mechanical insulation is frequently forgotten when discussing insulating as a means of improving energy efficiency.  This is because Mechanical insulation is very “out of sight, out of mind” as it is installed on systems that are either hidden in accessways and specialized rooms, or in hard to reach places. As a result, when that insulation is missing, damaged or able to be upgraded – it is often not identified by the facility owners for the dramatic energy savings that could be realized.Mechanical insulation encompasses all thermal, acoustical, and personnel and life safety requirements in Industrial and Commercial Building applications, including:

  • Mechanical piping and equipment, hot and cold applications
  • Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC) applications
  • Refrigeration and other low -temperature piping and equipment applications

There are currently two pieces of legislation recommending a tax deduction as a means of encouraging the upgrading of mechanical insulation is new construction and retrofit projects:

House of Representatives Bill 4296 -Mechanical Insulation Installation Incentive Act of 2009:

  • Encourages the use of mechanical insulation beyond the minimums in new construction and retrofit applications,
  • Encourages increased maintenance of mechanical insulation systems

This is based on facts regarding mechanical insulation installation methods, such as:

  • The thickness of mechanical insulation has not substantially changed in 20 years
  • 10-30% of all mechanical insulation is missing or damaged within 1-3 years of initial installation
  • Computer modeling programs for buildings do not include specific modifications to adjust for increased mechanical insulation
  • In a 4-year mechanical engineering program, less than 1 hour is spent on thermal insulation

 Senate Bill 3716 – Bipartisan Mechanical Insulation Tax Bill 

  • Offers a 30 percent deduction over five years for companies that go beyond ASHRAE standards for mechanical insulation in new construction, maintenance and retrofits.

S. 3716 could be included in broader energy tax legislation this fall – the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act of 2010 – which is likely to pass by December.  Senators are more likely to include a tax incentive for mechanical insulation if they hear how this will help business and create jobs.

The beneficial impact to our economy related to the increased use and maintenance of mechanical insulation in commercial building and industrial applications has been overlooked for decades.  That needs to change. 

The National Insulation Association has developed a comprehensive action plan to build support for Senate Bill 3716.  Contact your Senators or the NIA to offer support.

It’s Not What you Spec, It’s What you Inspect

Lucas Hamilton

Maybe it is time for a Federal Building Code for residential construction as a way to level the playing field.

The only thing that guarantees good construction is inspection. When you get below a certain population density construction inspections and code enforcement is lax because money to pay for inspections comes from permitting and plan review fees that building code departments collect.  When a region drops below a certain density level the fee structure falls apart.

The building codes in the United States that are in place range from 1995 to 2009.  Even in states that have model codes there are large areas where there is no enforcement because there are no building code departments.

There is a movement gaining popularity among experts on this subject saying that a Federal Building Code is required. Maybe the time has passed for leaving it to the states as a way to standardize the process.

If we had a Federal Building Code and a structure to pay for its enforcement the impact it would have on American culture would be amazing. It would improve the quality of construction we would have throughout the country, decrease the level of energy consumption in the building envelope and improve the overall energy efficiency of the building in terms of insulation and air tightness.

What do you think?  Is it time for a Federal Building Code to level the playing field?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Is Polyethylene Creating Potential for Mold?

Lucas Hamilton

Last week, I was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for one of CertainTeed’s Be Certain events conducting training sessions on designing for Mold and Moisture control in buildings.  In preparation for the sessions, I ran computer simulations on typical construction models in Calgary.  This gave me a better awareness of how they build as well as scientific understanding of construction practices in the province.

In extremely cold and dry climates like Calgary, which is similar to Colorado, use of exterior insulations is very common.  This practice emphasizes the use of insulation on the outside of the building.  This cuts down the thermal connectivity of the building frame to make the building more energy efficient.

The 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) mandates the use of exterior insulation in cold climates. However, when you do this with traditional materials such as rigid foam plastics, you may reduce the potential to dry a building to the outside.  If a wall gets wet normally, dry air on the outside can act as a reservoir to dry the building. When insulations like extruded polystyrenes are used on the outside of the building, while being extremely energy efficient, they may reduce this drying potential.

Some new computer modeling tools have the ability to create window leaks and other scenarios that could occur from construction defects that would place water into the wall.  In the Calgary scenarios I ran, if a window leaks and the water is not drained to the exterior surface of the water resistive barrier, it becomes trapped between two non-breathing layers – the exterior insulation and the interior traditional vapor retarder polyethylene (which they still use in Alberta.)  The wall can not dry and this creates the risk of growing mold. 

Building scientists and manufacturers have been preaching eliminating polyethylene from our buildings here in the U.S. for quite awhile, and promoting the use of smart vapor retarders as a solution to the problem.

As construction practices change to keep more energy in the building, some of the measures taken may unfortunately alter the traditional moisture balance of the assemblies and actually reduce our tolerance of intruding moisture. We must be very mindful of this as we continue to tighten our buildings while striving for improved indoor environmental quality.

We conclude our Be Certain events in Toronto and Vancouver later this month.  Stay tuned for how mold and moisture affect the building envelope in Ontario and British Columbia.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Can Glass Clean-up The Gulf Oil Spill? InsulSorb® Can!

The BP oil spill has become a focal point for most Americans, including, of course, our children. My daughter’s fifth grade teacher, who is very focused on environmental issues, read the blog we posted about our product InsulSorb and our efforts to bring the product to the Gulf to help with the clean-up efforts.  The teacher then contacted me and asked if I would visit the class to demonstrate the benefits of InsulSorb as a solution to cleaning up the Gulf. 

I viewed this as a great opportunity to use a current crisis taking place to show the students a product that has been developed right here, in their community, that can assist in protecting the fragile marine environment and shorelines impacted by the oil.

First, we discussed insulation and its value in the home and other buildings as the most practical way to save energy.  Then I showed them how fiberglass insulation is made from sand and glass that is melted and formed into glass fibers and finally, the various types of insulation, including fiberglass batts, blown insulation, and spray foam insulation.

For my demonstration, I took some InsulSafe, our blown insulation product, and placed it in a beaker of water and it sank.  Next, I created an oil slick on the water and added the InsulSafe.  While it did absorb the oil, it also absorbed water and sank. 

“What would we need to do to make the insulation work?” I asked the class. After some prompting, they replied, “it needs to float.”

I explained that I challenged our scientists in our Blue Bell, Pennsylvania technical center to develop a way to make ‘glass’ float. Through a series of experiments, they developed a special, proprietary process that enabled the insulation to float.  This became InsulSorb.

We continued the experiment by placing InsulSorb in a beaker of water, and indeed, it floated.  I added oil to the water and placed the InsulSorb on top of the oil. In a short time, the InsulSorb had absorbed all the oil, which could then be easily removed, leaving behind clean water.

So, how would InsulSorb be used in the Gulf? The product can be formed into booms to be used to both contain and soak up the oil or it can be blown on top of the oil slicks and scooped up from boats. It is possible to reclaim the oil by squeezing it out of the fiber, but it will likely be more expedient to incinerate the used product.  This product will absorb 30 times its weight of oil.

The students – future scientists, environmentalists, politicians and consumers – asked some insightful questions.

We continue to work with the decision-makers in the Gulf Coast to have them utilize our product as one, viable, solution to the clean-up effort.

Declare Your Energy Independence

Oil is seen inside protective booms around Queen Bess Island off the coast of Louisiana Monday, June 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

No one is immune from the images and newsfeeds regarding the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.  From all indications, it will be a long time before we recover from the effects that this event has and will have on wildlife, the economy in the Gulf region, the health and beauty of our southern coastal regions and, ultimately, the cost of oil.

So maybe now is a good time to Declare Your Energy Independence. Our dependence on oil could be curtailed if we could find affordable alternative sources of energy. The U.S. is a very large consumer of energy that is affordable unlike many other parts of the world. Now is the perfect time to re-evaluate and re-commit to embracing sustainable, energy efficient practices.  There are several ways to begin to reduce your carbon footprint both in buildings you occupy and in your personal habits:

  • Support research and development of alternative energy sources such as wind or solar technology to lower our dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Conduct an energy audit of your home to determine where energy leakages occur. EnergyStar.gov offers useful information on how to conduct your own audit or locate a professional.
  • Take advantage of the Energy Tax Credit of $1,500 which is available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by improving insulation in attics and walls or reroofing with solar reflective or photovoltaic roofing products to the home.  The tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
  • Show support for the Home Star legislation which provides rebates on energy efficient products and subsidizes audits. The proposed bill referred to as “Cash for Caulkers” includes 13 types of energy efficient retrofits that could be eligible for funding.
  • Walk or ride a bike instead of driving when possible.  Change to LED light bulbs. Dry your clothes outside instead of in a dryer.  Unplug charges and appliances when not in use. Consider adding insulation in your home to increase energy efficiency and reduce your energy costs.

On July 4, 2010 declare you energy independence and share with us your ideas for reducing your carbon footprint.

Mike Loughery is Director, Corporate Marketing Communications at CertainTeed Corporation.

Multi-Comfort House Competition – Global Event of a Lifetime

Philadelphia University students (left to right) David Cremer, Daniel Hitchko and Christopher Anderson

I had the wonderful experience of accompanying the winning architecture students on a trip to Innsbruck, Austria to compete in the Isover/CertainTeed Multi-Comfort House competition sponsored by Saint-Gobain as the U.S sponsor and partner with Philadelphia University.

This competition started in 2005 with nine countries participating. There were now 18 countries represented, 32 universities, 46 projects submitted and 150 participants.  In some cases, submitting universities brought their top three projects. In many universities, the Multi-Comfort House competition is incorporated into the third and fourth year architectural program.

I must admit that since this was my first experience with the International Isover/CertainTeed Multi-Comfort House finals, I was concerned that it would be more like a social event than a serious competition.  I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong. The level of professionalism on the part of the competition organization and the high quality of the projects presented by the students was eye-opening. 

The subject of this year’s competition was the renovation of a five-story warehouse in the Parisian quarter of Pantin. Industrial building renovation to Multi-Comfort House standard was a tough challenge, but participants had the freedom to propose any function for the building. The projects ranged from a hotel, a library, a textile factory, a museum, a shopping mall, a student residence, a vocational training center, a meeting place for young people, to name a few. All were viable and of the highest quality in terms of execution, attention to detail and compliance with Passive House standards.

It was fascinating to see the range of design from both a technical as well as a romantic/creative aspect.  The work that was presented – the concepts and elaborate ideas – was surprising.  The level of knowledge and creative solutions with regard to air-tightness in buildings, increased insulation, moisture management and zero-energy applications employed in the designs were encouraging since these are the architects, designers and engineers of tomorrow.

From the students’ perspective, what an extraordinary experience to meet with global counterparts and exchange ideas, share successes and develop professional contacts.  Two of the American students had never been to Europe; this was life changing for them.

An added benefit for the students was the opportunity to meet and hear from Professor Wolfgang Feist, the founder of the Passive House movement.  He even incorporated comments about the designs that they presented and the techniques employed by the students.

The winning designs came from Austria, Finland, Serbian and Germany, but all of participants were fantastic.  The time they have invested in broadening their knowledge and practice of sustainable design principles, will certainly pay off in their professional life.

I am looking forward to supporting next year’s competition. The finals will be held in Prague and my hope is that we can begin to reach out to other American colleges and universities to participate in this program.

InsulSorb© Could Soak up Oil Spill in the Gulf

InsulSorbThe oil spill in the Gulf has brought out thousands of inventors with ideas and solutions that could, potentially, soak up the oil floating through the ocean, disrupting the delicate balance of sea life, and heading for our southern shoreline.  However, there are some solutions that have been tried and tested but have not been deployed to anywhere near their full potential.

True, the most important action right now is to stop the oil flow and British Petroleum (BP) Oil, as well as agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been working tirelessly to accomplish that goal.

The hope is that whatever solutions they adopt to clean-up the spill will not cause additional environmental problems.

CertainTeed has worked with inventor Jeffrey Brelsford and his company S.E. Squared to develop unbonded, fiberglass blowing wool that can be used in booms and pads (and other methods such as direct application)  that are capable of absorbing oil spills on land or water. This fiberglass product is called InsulSorb©.

Because fiberglass is made from natural sand and rock, InsulSorb is environmentally neutral.  The Booms may also be fastened together for larger spills or the InsulSorb may be directly applied to the oil slick and reclaimed in order to treat very large and high-emergency spills such as the current Gulf spill.

InsulSorb’s other advantages include:

  • Absorbs 70 percent more than polypropylene, the product predominantly used in booms for oil spills today
  • 50 percent lighter than competitors products for easy handling and transport to spill sites
  • Dedicated production facilities for fiberglass
  • Can be recycled
  • Performs well in extreme temperatures

The advantage of this product as a solution for the current spill is that InsulSorb adsorbs more oil, is available in abundant supply and can be blown directly on the oil and collected by boat.  The logistical planning to blow the material onto the spill and collect it is the only possible challenge.

This product is one solution for cleaning up the oil spill that has been tested and used for more than 10 years, but if no one is coordinating the use of such products to begin the clean-up effort, the environmental balance, and the future of the fishing industry and tourism in that part of the country are doomed.

Mark Trabbold is Vice President, Research and Development for Insulation at CertainTeed Corporation

A Glimpse at the Future of Architecture

Purity of Division - winning project from Philadelphia University

I recently judged the international ISOVER Multi-Comfort House Competition for architecture and engineering students from Philadelphia University.  CertainTeed Insulation sponsors this program and takes the winning team to compete with university students from 16 other countries. There were five teams vying for the opportunity to present their projects at the Multi- Comfort House Competition from May 19- 22, 2010 in Innsbruck, Austria.

The competition project was to renovate an existing commercial building that sits on a canal along the Seine River in France.  The teams were to retrofit the existing building to create a sustainable structure.  While the teams were given carte blanche in creating their projects, all were surprisingly viable. 

In general, projects that were offered by engineering students focused more on function and form while architectural students initially approached the project from a design and visual beauty perspective.  The winning project “Purity of Division” balanced the design between a community library overlooking the canal and several living machines that cleaned the canal water, converted CO2 gas into oxygen with a bioreactor and produced algae for sale to the pharmaceutical industry.  

Superior building envelope thermal performance was achieved through high levels of insulation, whole building air tightness, triple-glazed spectrally selective windows and the isolation of thermal bridging.

A comprehensive whole building energy analysis was performed using Energy10 simulation software.  The results predicted 50 to 65 percent energy savings due to the passive house design techniques alone. The buildings HVAC system, a geothermal heat pump, used the canal water in a unique heat exchanger array along the canal wall to reduce electricity needs by an additional 20 to 25 percent.  The winning Team also incorporated roof top photovoltaics and a thermal hot water system.

It was very interesting to judge these projects and each project had different strengths of design or engineering but in the end “Purity of Division” won the day.

There were three major categories for judging which included several components but basically it was:

  • Design and function
  • Multi-Comfort House Criteria
  • Sustainability

All of the projects were creative and comprised very forward thinking concepts. As a Building Scientist, I was very happy at the depth of knowledge illustrated by these projects and based on what I experienced, the future of design and architecture especially with regard to Passive House and sustainability is in very good hands.

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation