Quantifying the Value of Sustainability Going Forward

Lucas Hamilton

As we continue to improve energy performance, acoustics, comfort and aesthetics in our buildings, we are left with the challenge of quantifying the impact of these practices and how much they influence our quality of life.

This is a needed validation of sustainability – evaluating the effects that improving systems has on the occupants over a period of time.  While we are preaching the gospel to improve the performance of our buildings by including more natural light, better indoor air quality, improved acoustics and overall comfort are we quantifying how these changes improve employee or student performance in an improved environment?

For example, we have a need for connectivity. Older buildings were not built to provide ample natural light needed by people. Workers who sit in cubicles with no window tend to feel disconnected because they lack connectivity. Think about it when you enter a room, do you take a seat that enables you to look out a window?

Are we adequately documenting whether:

  • Students test scores improved because they could hear the teacher better?
  • Worker productivity increased because they had access to natural light?
  • Absenteeism decreased because of improved indoor air quality?

Some decision makers will argue that there are only two kinds of decisions: rational (based on facts) and irrational (not based on facts.) I would suggest they change these terms to fact-based and faith-based. In our private lives we make decisions based upon faith all the time and we are completely comfortable doing so. I think we need to develop more data to help less confident decision makers defend their faith- based decisions with some facts. If we are successful, eventually some of these decision makers will develop enough confidence to be truly innovative.

Are there other ‘quantifiables’ that we should consider to justify the decisions we are making now and in the future? I would like to hear your thoughts?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

School Districts Are Embracing LEED Buildings

Lucas Hamilton

Large urban and smaller sub-urban districts alike are increasing their focus on building schools that are certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program because this practice results in more state funding.  Schools get funding based upon population – the actual number of students that they teach every day- not the number of school age children living in their district.  That is a number that is taken daily called attendance. 

If  40 percent of  a school district’s population is not showing up, that district will receive 40 percent less state funding than may be deserved. While the goal of the school district may be to educate our children, the first task is to get kids to show up. This is not just for all the right reasons, such as, the importance of learning and that it is in the best interest of society in general but also because that is the way the school district gets paid.

Statistics show that building more sustainable spaces results in increased student attendance over schools constructed with outdated techniques and materials (and decreased staff absenteeism due to illness).  Building sustainably also improves the acoustics and indoor environmental quality of the building. Incorporating acoustical ceilings, noise reducing gypsum wallboard and adequate levels of insulation contributes to the creation of optimum learning environments. Recent studies have shown that optimizing learning space acoustics ultimately improves student retention and test scores (another critical metric by which schools are judged).

For some urban school districts, the school buildings themselves may be the nicest spaces that the child will be in all day. While this is considered collateral benefit, it’s well worth it for the school district to invest in sustainable spaces because the children feel better, they are healthier, more positive about the experience and will be in the classroom on a more consistent basis.

If you look at the upfront costs to build a school, why would a school district strapped for cash build a school above and beyond code?  Because it will pay for itself!

 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

Designing Environments for Sound Control

Stan Gatland

Traffic, door slams, vacuums, toilet flushes, TV’s – these are just some of the everyday noises that can affect your comfort.

Acoustical comfort, created through effective sound control, should be considered in all buildings. Many practical and economical solutions to sound-related problems are currently available to architects, engineers, contractors and building, and home owners.

Most noise control situations can be managed whether it’s from airborne sounds – sound that is directly transmitted from a source into the air like outside traffic, music or voices,- or structureborne sound – sound that travels through solid materials like footsteps, door slams, or plumbing vibrations.

There are four goals to providing a superior acoustic environment:

  • Reduce sound reverberation time (echo factor)
  • Limit airborne noise (sound transmission from space to space)
  • Reduce impact noise
  • Minimize background noise

The reduction of sound reverberation time is accomplished by employing sound-absorbing surfaces, such as fabrics, carpeting and acoustical ceilings. The best plan is to configure those spaces to reduce, rather than amplify the sound energy.

When limiting airborne noise, one important consideration is to design high sound transmission class (STC) assemblies. STC is a laboratory measurement used to study the resistance of a wall, ceiling, or floor to the passage of sound. The higher the STC number, the more the sound is deadened. Also, try to enclose or separate spaces with group activities that may create chatter from common areas, using acoustically efficient walls.

To reduce the transmission of impact noise, you can design high-impact insulation class (IIC) assemblies. Isolate finished floors and ceilings by installing resilient underlayments, by using sound-absorptive floor coverings and by using resilient ceiling suspension systems that include sound-absorbing cavity insulation.

Design your HVAC systems to absorb energy and reduce background noise so airborne noise isn’t transmitted through the ductwork. Mechanical equipment should be isolated using vibration dampening techniques and high sound transmission reduction enclosures.

Creating a quiet environment makes for happier homes and offices.

Stan Gatland is Manager of Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation

Combine Fiberglass and Mineral Fiber Ceiling Panels for Top-Notch Acoustic Control

Choosing the right ceiling panel material for a project makes a huge difference in managing the acoustical response of a room. An acoustical design strategy needs to include an adequate balance of both sound absorbency and sound attenuation.

Derived from ASTM C 423, which is the predominant standard for sound absorption in the U.S., noise reduction coefficient or NRC is a scalar representation of the amount of sound energy absorbed by a particular test sample. It is calculated as an arithmetic average to the nearest 0.05 over a limited frequency range (250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz and 2,000 Hz). In a simplification of the concept, an NRC of 0 indicates total reflection, while an NRC of 1.00 indicates total absorption.

Ceiling attenuation class or CAC is the measurement of the ceiling’s ability to block sound in a closed space from passing up into the plenum and transmitting back down into a neighboring closed space under the same plenum. The single number for CAC is derived from ASTM E1414. Ceilings with a CAC less than 25 are rated as lower performance, while those with a CAC greater than or equal to 35 are considered higher performance.

Fiberglass is more effective at quieting a room than is mineral fiber, as it performs well in both high and low frequencies. Mineral fiber tends to excel in high frequencies but lose absorption in lower frequencies. Yet, the low density of fiberglass ceiling panels, which makes them extremely resistant to moisture and sagging, at the same time limits their ability to contain sound. Consequently, fiberglass ceiling panels typically have a very high NRC, but a CAC that is on the low end.

Mineral fiber ceiling panels are denser and heavier than those made from fiberglass. It is that higher level of density that make them reasonably effective sound attenuators (meaning they impede the transmission of sound from room to room). With good sound attenuation and average sound absorption, mineral fiber ceiling panels tend to have a higher CAC and lower NRC than their fiberglass counterparts.

Building and design professionals can maximize acoustic control by combining a sound-absorbing ceiling panel with one that halts the transmission of sound waves; hence the composite ceiling panel.  With a composite panel, manufacturers such as CertainTeed laminate a layer of sound- absorbing material [fiberglass] to a layer of sound-attenuating material [mineral fiber]. The resulting product is sold and installed as a single ceiling panel. This greatly simplifies operations for the architect and contractor and provides the end user with the best of both worlds in acoustic control for many years to come.

Individually, fiberglass and mineral fiber ceiling panels have their own ways of controlling excess noise. However, when used together they produce top-notch acoustical results in a space. Whenever acoustics is a design requirement, allowing fiberglass and mineral fiber to work together in the form of a composite panel is an excellent choice.

Robert Marshall is Technical Services Manager, Ceilings for CertainTeed Corporation

It’s About Systems Not Just Products at Greenbuild

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

I’ve noticed a trend in trade show booth design incorporating computers that show visitors products via websites. This technique cuts down on the amount of materials being shipped to and from show sites.  CertainTeed has tried that as well.

But as I watch and talk to people at trade shows, I’ve noticed that they want to see and more importantly, touch products.  So CertainTeed has decided to go in a different direction with our booth (921) at Greenbuild, November 11-13, in Phoenix, AZ.

In our booth, we are constructing wall and roof systems from our materials, and instead of just having a panel that shows insulation systems or a panel that shows roofing systems, we are building the walls and roof to show those materials from the inside out and the outside in. We want visitors to see how high performing, very green materials can be used to assemble sustainable systems. CertainTeed is unique because we manufacture everything in these constructions but the 2 x 4 framing.

We’ve always had sustainable materials in construction but we were not using them to their maximum potential because we viewed them as individual components.  It’s not about materials alone.  It’s about creating systems and assemblies that not only come from sustainable resources but that perform in a manner which both reduces the energy consumption of a building and extends its life-cycle.  As a manufacturer, we are conducting our research on performance and product interaction. We think about products in terms of systems and want to help design professionals and builders to put together products in a green or sustainable way?

That’s what I like about our booth at Greenbuild: we enable visitors to not only feel the difference between an insulated backed vinyl siding product compared to a fiber cement siding but then show how they perform within an assembly. 

 Another aspect of sustainable systems is the indoor environmental issues like acoustics, ventilation/air quality, and durability.  Depending upon where you live, you want to create systems with appropriate products to meet your maximum goals for R-value, moisture management, ventilation and other variables. Properly designed ceiling products are critical to controlling the acoustics and light reflectance which also contribute to indoor environmental quality, comfort, and visually pleasing aesthetics.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, retrofitting existing structures to make them more energy efficient is a major challenge.  How do we go back and fix them and make them last longer and perform better?  Dennis Wilde from Gerding Edlen Development Company will share the success they are having with their Sustainable Solutions program at our CertainTeed-sponsored luncheon at Greenbuild. They are mastering the process.  The challenge with green and sustainable building is that everyone is afraid of the learning curve. Everybody wants to be on the leading edge but they don’t want to be on the bleeding edge.  Gerding Edlen has bled the blood and figured out how to do it. They have paid the price in pain and it is a great gift that they are willing to educate the rest of us. 

The room is filling up fast so if you want to attend the luncheon at Greenbuild, email Kristen Harter, Kristen.M.Harter@saint-gobain.com.

Remember: a building that lasts twice as long is twice as green. Stop by and see us at Greenbuild Booth 921!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications, for CertainTeed Corporation

Pushing the Boundaries in Ceiling Design

Hello, my name is Jim Church and I am the Sales Manager – North America for Decoustics Ltd., a division of CertainTeed Ceilings.

ChicagoArtInstituteLight and acoustics are certainly key elements in a building project, but when you are showcasing valuable artwork, they are most critical.

The Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop along with architect of record, Bob Larson, Interactive Design, Inc, Chicago provided a special opportunity to expand our capabilities as a ceiling manufacturer. The new wing consists of six separate, distinct exhibit spaces that encompass 264,000 square feet. The innovative use of ceilings and wall panels for optimum light and sound absorption in the design created a unique challenge for our team.

This project required the use of a custom manufacturer to develop solutions for designs that pushed all boundaries of the commercial ceiling industry, specifically in the areas of size of panels, accessibility and translucency.

The project design called for the creation of ceiling panels 40% larger than the standard panel (over 14’ long.) A requirement for accessibility forced new thinking in what was possible with panels of that size. 

Vellum (scrim) translucent panels were the fourth of a four-part building design that Renzo Piano developed to bring natural, north light into the museum’s main galleries. The flying carpet structural canopy, the glass roof, an ultraviolet layer and then Decoustics vellum panels completed this design.

After months of product development we were able to create solutions that tackled the unique engineering aspects of stretched vellum, aluminum frames, unique invisible stabilizers, colossal panel sizes and accessibility.

The design of the exhibits required meticulous installation to ensDecoustics ceiling in Chicago Insititute of Arture proper alignment of the ceilings with the walls. The Claro® ceiling panels installed in the building offer superb sound absorbing properties and provide for the infiltration of natural light without exposing conduit, piping and mechanical systems installed above the ceiling panels. Quadrillo® ceiling panels were installed in the main conference room, bringing a warm aesthetic to the modern design. 

No other manufacturer in our industry has the product range, engineering capabilities and proven accessible ceiling systems to have tackled such a project.

This project has received a great deal of attention including a large article in Architectural Record and a video from a recent visit to the museum by McGraw Hill Construction.

It was an honor working with Renzo Piano and Interactive Design on such a prestigious project.