Excessive Wet Weather Can Lead to Mold

Lucas Hamilton

The historic rain that the United States has endured in 2011 has increased moisture levels in places where moisture has never been a problem. I have heard from many people around the country who have never had water in their homes but have recently sustained water damage and are now concerned about potential mold.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, mold needs four things to grow:  moisture (liquid water), food (typically starch or sugar), temperature between 41° and 104° and oxygen.  When water is trapped behind walls or paneling, the other elements will most likely be present and the potential for mold growth will exist. Try to clean and dry areas subjected to water within 48 hours to help prevent mold growth. After cleaning and drying, continue to be sensitive to musty odors in the affected area.

Check the exterior of homes and building regularly for accumulating ground water.  Many parts of the country have far exceeded saturation and mold can begin for form outside and find its way inside. If water is accumulating against your foundation, take measures to drain the water away from your building. Keeping things dry is the key to preventing mold growth.

There are many products available today to help protect the home or building from moisture infiltration and mold growth.  There are coating products that can be applied to dry materials to mitigate any mold growth potentials for that surface in the future. If materials are wet and can’t be cleaned or completely dried, remove them from the building and replace them with new materials which may be more mold resistant. Fiber glass doesn’t have the food needed for mold growth but often when insulation gets wet, the water which intruded into the cavity was dirty and brought food along with it. If you have wet insulation, replace it with new fiber glass.  If replacing drywall, consider selecting a board that that contains mold and moisture inhibitors.

Many people have sensitivities to mold and it can be a health concern.  Make sure that you take extra care to check for mold especially if this is the first time you are dealing with water inside your home or building. Use a mixture of common sense and caution- if it smells or looks bad assume that it is bad and take appropriate measures.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Embodied Energy Versus Operational Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Recently during a webinar I was conducting, the topic came up of embodied energy versus operational energy.  This topic continues to come up as building scientists evaluate systems with regard to their sustainability.

There are two things that can make a product green. It can be green in its manufacture or it can be green in its application.  One of the important topics for understanding the manufacture or delivery of a product is the concept of embodied energy – how much cumulative energy went into the extraction of the raw materials, the manufacture of the product and the transportation of the product to its final application.  This is the concept of embodied energy. Operational energy relates to how much energy the product uses or can save once it has been applied or installed into a system. 

For instance, look at insulation. Many types of insulation are actually very energy intensive in their manufacture, however once they are installed they can save many times over within the very first year of their application. A perfect example of operational energy is fiberglass insulation. In its first year of use, fiberglass insulation can save 12 times the amount of energy it took in making and transporting the product.

So let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes, material that is superior in performance with regard to the life cycle of a building may have a little bit of negative upfront energy costs, however in its use can be very positive. 

So don’t make a judgment solely based on the embodied energy but rather on the life cycle of the project to determine if it is positive or negative for the project itself.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

JLC Live Residential Construction Show Stuns with Volume of Exhibitors and Attendees

Myron Ferguson clinic on drywall finishing

Why on a sunny, cool, dry, Rhode Island day would nearly 6,000 residential construction professionals from all over New England – and beyond – take a couple of days off, after the most brutal winter in New England history, to attend a trade show?

Why would manufacturers from all over the country flock to Providence, Rhode Island to exhibit at this trade event and why is there a higher demand for exhibit space at this show than the capacity to exhibit?

Why is this show one of the few trade events in the last three for four years to have growth as a problem?

Why? Because JLC Live, presented by The Journal of Light Construction, Remodeling, and Tools of the Trade magazines published by Hanley Wood delivers one of the highest trade show values – pound for pound, dollar for dollar – in the industry!

This show’s attendance increased by nearly 10 percent from 2010 to 2011 and the exhibitor participation increased by 15 percent.  This is extraordinary in a down economy!

Today, building technology is changing at a rapid rate. The beauty of JLC Live is the marriage of the practical side with the science/theory side attracting installers, applicators and remodelers who are eager not only to see the latest products but who want to see the science/theory and best practice applications in action by attending hands-on clinics.

Two examples of the show’s clinics supported by CertainTeed (both packed) were:

  • Drywall Trade Secrets – Gypsum drywall finishing clinic conducted by Myron Ferguson, Building Specialist, demonstrating best practices of drywall installation and finishing using a new gypsum product, AirRenew™ that removes volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from the air improving the indoor air quality.
  • Home Performance SolutionsBill Robinson, Building Specialist discussed the opportunities of bringing energy efficiency to older homes.  The retrofit market will continue to grow as homeowners seek to improve the efficiencies of their building envelop. It is expected that, over the coming years, the remodeling market will grow by an annual rate of 3.5 percent.

From CertainTeed’s perspective, the benefit of an event like this is that the attendees are so excited by what they see and learn they will leave the event and go out and buy building products.  The impact is that quick.  In this economy the construction industry is a highly competitive place. Contractors and remodelers knowing they need to differentiate themselves waste no time in adding new ‘tools’ to their toolbox.

At a time when we are not ‘out of the woods’ as an industry,  it is obvious that building professionals find this show a significant value proposition making it well worth their time and resources.

If you were at JLC Live, let me know what you thought of the event.

 

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation

Rules Matter When it Comes to R-Value

Ken Forsythe

We all know there are ‘rules’ that everyone might not follow to the letter: “Speed Limit 55”…”Do Not Remove Mattress Tag Under Penalty of Law”…”Lather, rinse, repeat.”  When it comes to heating and air conditioning ductwork, there’s another rule many insulation contractors rarely follow:  “When installing bubble wrap insulation on ductwork, secure spacers every 24” to 36” around duct before applying wrap.”

While there’s no harm if you skip the “repeat” step when washing your hair, there can be serious utility bill consequences if installers leave out the placement of spacers between a duct and bubble wrap insulation. Bubble wrap insulation needs the thermal break provided by the air space that is created by spacers to achieve advertised R-values.  The actual R-value of improperly wrapped (i.e. no air space) duct with bubble wrap can be as low as R-0.90 to R-1.1.  Building Inspectors and owners need to be aware of what to look for to insure that the product performs properly.

In checking with HVAC insulation distributors to determine if insulation contractors routinely purchase air spacers with their bubble wrap, the answer is often “We’re still on our first shipment of spacers” or an outright, “We never sell any of those.”

Often bubble wrap insulation manufacturers do include spacer instructions with options for installers to create their own spacers by cutting and placing 2” wide strips of bubble wrap around the duct in intervals before applying the wrap around the duct or applying corner spacers specifically made for the purpose at each corner of rectangular duct.  But with so much pressure on insulation contractors to keep labor to a minimum, it’s hard to imagine that the vast majority are taking the time to create or use spacers on every project. Let’s face it: installers care about installing as quickly as possible for the lowest cost.

It’s true that quality bubble duct wrap may have good reflectivity and provides some protection against conductive heat gain or loss – as does fiber glass duct wrap with FSK (Foil-Scrim-Kraft) facing – however, the bubble wrap industry needs to do a better job educating installers and/or HVAC contractors. Educating the industry about the science behind adding air spacers and their integral role in delivering promised R-value is an important first step and is in everyone’s best interests.

 Ken Forsythe is a Senior Product Manager for CertainTeed Mechanical/Industrial Insulation

Make Energy Upgrades Part of Your Refinancing

Lucas Hamilton

As the real estate market begins to come back every mortgage broker and real estate agent should be talking to customers about adding energy upgrades if they are refinancing or changing properties.  If you are touching your mortgage in any way, now is the time to include the energy upgrades into your plans. 

If you are changing properties and moving to a new house get energy upgrades built into the mortgage because it will generate positive cash flow immediately. It’s like buying a rental property and having a tenant in it already.  Also, you are borrowing at a lower rate and getting paid back at a higher rate. Adding insulation and tightening the building envelop in older homes will improve your energy efficiency almost immediately.

I recently participated in a panel discussion about energy upgrades and presented the results of a series of REM / Design simulations that showed what the actual savings would be by adding insulation and making a home more air tight.  I secured a quote from an insulation contractor for a passive upgrade to a house built in the 1980’s to show what the cost versus savings would be, not only upfront, but over time.  It would cost $22 per month in the mortgage but it saved $28 per month in energy costs. These figures are based on today’s energy prices. As energy becomes more expensive, the savings increase. Not only do the upgrades save energy but they also contribute to a healthier indoor environment in the home.

You can never go wrong upgrading an older home to 2009 building code standards because it will enable you to compete with newer, more energy efficient construction when you decide to sell.  As I discussed in an earlier blog, if we begin to label homes with energy ratings it is in the best interest of the homeowner to upgrade so they will have a higher energy rating. 

With mortgage rates as low as they are, it makes perfect sense to make those energy upgrades now.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

IBS 2011– The Builders’ Land of Oz

Tom Silva from This Old House at CertainTeed's IBS booth

I spent January 12 – 15 at the International Builders’ Show (IBS) in Orlando, Florida. This annual event is sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). I was amazed how global the show has become over the years not only with exhibitors but with attendees as well.  While the show is not as large as it has been in the past and the attendance is down, attendees were there with projects. Hopefully this is an indication that industry recovery is on its way.

This show is truly the Land of Oz for builders who’ve survived the poppy fields of the past three years. The show booths are exquisitely designed and display products and processes that improve the quality of and the efficiency of the building envelope.  But it is not just products that make the difference in the design, execution or renovation of projects; it’s the interaction of the products in the assemblies and the knowledge to execute the construction correctly.

To this end, many exhibitors included training and demonstrations as part of their exhibits.  Providing the knowledge of how to correctly create systems for efficiency in the envelope is key to successful tightening of a building. I presented a series of trainings on “Sustainability and the National Green Building Code”, “Selling Energy Efficiency”, and “Moisture and Mold Prevention in Building Assemblies” at the CertainTeed booth.  We were honored to have Tom Silva, general contractor for This Old House speak at our booth again this year.  Tom answered questions from the audience and shared some great information for professionals. Some of the issues that Tom discussed will be featured in future blogs.

Among the high interest products and systems in our booth this year were AirRenew™, a wallboard that removes formaldehyde and other aldehydes from the air;  Diamondback Tile Backer a high-performance tile backer that features a bonding technology that makes tile installation simpler, faster and less costly;  EnerGen™, a photovoltaic solar power roofing product that integrates with traditional asphalt roofing and our hybrid insulation system, discussed in a previous blog, which combines spray foam insulation, blown insulation and a vapor retarder to create a cost-effective way to create a thermally superior airtight seal in the wall systems.

With more that 1,000 exhibitors at the convention it was a bit like stepping out of the dark woods of the past three year construction market and into a bright and sunny field of poppies. As tempting as it was to inhale deeply and lay down for a rest, we know that it takes friends, courage, heart, and wisdom to make it all the way to the Emerald City.  For this weary traveler, at the end of these events, there’s no place like home.

Stay tuned for future blogs which may discuss how Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon predicted our recent construction slump and what it says about future housing starts.

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Hybrid Insulation Systems Give Best of Both Worlds in Performance

While making a presentation recently at the Oakland Space and Science Center in California, the topic of fiberglass versus spray foam insulation came up and was quickly followed by questions about hybrid insulation systems. It seems like a lot of people have hybrids on their mind these days.

One of the positives about spray foam is that the insulation itself is air resistant.  The gas or air which does the majority of actual insulating is trapped in bubbles inside the plastic foam matrix and can’t be washed out by air flow.  Now that we recognize the influence of air leakage on a home’s energy consumption, many builders and homeowners are trying to get their houses as “tight” as they can. Installing spray foams where air is leaking through the building envelope can reduce that flow rate. One of the issues people struggle with when considering foams as a solution has been their cost- they can have a significantly higher installed cost than fibrous insulations.

For this reason, in some markets, contractors are turning to hybrid insulation systems often referred to as flash and batt insulation. To fill a 2 x 6 inch empty wall cavity, first add a flash coat of closed cell foam on the exterior wall to a thickness of 1 -2 inches then take a low density batt to fill in the space before the drywall is installed. What you get is the best of both worlds – the inexpensive high R-value of the fiberglass batt combined with a smaller amount of foam which gives you the air tightening effects desired. 

An even more effective option is using loose fill insulation such as OPTIMA® in the hybrid system instead of fiberglass batts.  This is a cost efficient, high R-value, well performing system. A challenge for the hybrid approach lies in very cold climates. Fiberglass is a very efficient insulating material so if too much is used with the foam it will make the foam cold and moisture can form in the wall assembly. That needs to be avoided at all costs. For colder climates there are very specific recommendations for the amount of foam you need to use in the wall constructions before you can eliminate the need for a vapor retarder on the warm-in-winter side of the insulation. We have recommendations for hybrid insulation systems, as does the Blow-in Blanket Contractors Association (BIBCA), designed to create the appropriate foam to fiberglass ratios which will prevent this from occurring. If you choose to install less foam and more fiberglass or if you have any lingering concerns about moisture in these assemblies, I recommend installing a Smart Vapor Retarder such as the MemBrain™ product. As an example, the First LEED Platinum Home in Colorado applied the hybrid system using CertainTeed products.

If you are using a hybrid insulation system in your construction projects I would love to hear your experiences.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Reshaping the Built Environment Passively

Stan Gatland

The Passive House concept gained a great deal of traction over the past year and the 2010 Passive House Conference, which was held in Portland, Oregon in November, was proof of the growth and interest.  The attendance grew from 250 last year to 350 this year.

It is clear from the growth of the conference that building professionals in the U.S. and Canada are beginning to gravitate to the Passive House Standard. The primary goal of Passive House technology is to reduce your heating and cooling load so that very little energy is needed to maintain comfort.

The people who came by the CertainTeed booth were much more knowledgeable about passive house technologies and had practical experience with regard to designing and constructing passive homes in all parts of the U.S.  That was a significant change from previous years.

CertainTeed remains the only large building materials manufacturer sponsoring the Passive House Conference. The Passive House Institute has created a Passive House Alliance which will work closely with the Institute to promote Passive House building energy efficiency standards and construction in the U.S.  A grassroots effort like this could have significant impact on adopting standards that truly support energy efficient building.

Attendees were very interested in Saint-Gobain’s Isover Multi-Comfort House strategy. This passive house concept has been very successful in Europe. There were several colleges and universities at the conference and we took this opportunity to talk with them about the Multi Comfort House Student Competition which invites teams of architecture and engineering students from around the world to compete in a passive design competition.  Philadelphia University has participated in the past and the hope is that  other U.S. colleges and universities will consider participating in the 2011 competition.  

It was good to talk with designers who are using CertainTeed Optima® insulation with our Membrain™  smart vapor retarder in very deep cavities using TJI joists to achieve the insulation levels needed to meet Passive House standards. We have conducted hygrothermal analysis to assist designers who are using this system.

One of the notable speakers this year was Dr. Robert Hastings, architect and energy consultant from Austria who gave his perspective on this trend.  Dr. Hastings has been involved internationally in sustainable building and solar energy since the 1970’s when the first wave of concern regarding energy consumption hit the mainstream. Unfortunately, the progress that was made in the 70’s was quickly abandoned once oil became readily available again. 

Let’s hope that this groundswell will not be abandoned as in the past. As a nation, we need to continue to move toward energy independence.

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation

Making Low Income Homes Energy Efficient

Lucas Hamilton

Last weekend, not only did we celebrate Halloween but the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) celebrated National Weatherization Day recognizing the work being done to save money for America’s homeowners by investing in energy efficiency.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act weatherization program has assisted over 245,000 low-income families conduct energy audits, upgrade their homes and lower energy consumption by installing insulation in the attic and basement, weather stripping on the doors and roof ventilation.

The weatherization program has also put Americans to work to complete these upgrades.

This video documents the work that DOE is doing and also provides some great tips for DIYers for ways to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Energy Awareness – A Little Effort Can Save You Money

Lucas Hamilton

Colder weather is on its way! Don’t wait to make sure your home is operating efficiently. The Federal Energy Tax Credit will expire at the end of the year.  If you have not taken advantage of the $1500 rebate you may want to do so before December 31, 2010.

The benefits of an energy-efficient home are endless but here are a few:

  • You can reduce monthly utility bills
  • Enjoy a more comfortable home by eliminating cold and hot spots
  • Reduce the home’s carbon footprint by using less carbon based energy sources.  This is increasingly important across many communities in the U.S.

Doing a little homework will increase your results. Conduct that energy audit.  Enlist the help of a professional or visit Energysavers.gov for a helpful check list.  But here are a few things to look for:

  • If you can see floor joists in the attic, you need to add more insulation
  • If you can see daylight around a door or window, there’s an air leak.
  • Run a damp hand along the edges of windows and doors.  If there is a draft, it will feel cool to your hand.
  • Look for dirty paint at the edges of your outlets on exterior walls- they may need sealing.
  • Look for dirty carpet along the base boards of your exterior walls- you may need to seal the drywall to your sub-floor.

Seal leaks, caulk or weather-strip around fireplaces, electrical outlets and door and window frames.

Insulation is the most important addition to a home for improving comfort and savings. Homeowners have options in the type of insulation that would be best in solving the problem:  fiberglass batt insulation, blown-in insulation or spray foam insulation.  The key areas to focus on are:

  • Unfinished basements which can contribute to one-third of a home’s heat loss
  • The attic: especially if the home is more than 30 years old. It is likely it is substantially below current code recommendations for energy-efficiency.
  • Add insulation to exterior walls.  Consult a contractor to drill small holes in the stud cavity and add blown-in insulation.
  • Use insulation backed siding when re-siding your home.

Rob Brockman, marketing manager for CertainTeed Insulation was a guest on Talk Philly sharing tips for Energy Awareness month and making your home more energy-efficient.  You can view the segment here.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation