Spray Polyurethane Foam for Building Insulation Webinar

I was just reviewing plans for a YouthBuild USA project that together we will be renovating in Worchester, MA this year and I was struck by the reality that even in a rehab like this, we don’t use the same methods or systems for insulating that we traditionally have used.

Spray foam insulationWhen we insulate new or existing structures today there is no ‘one size fits all’. There is no one material that can be used in all places in a cost conscious manner. To be efficient and effective, we need to combine materials. One product that we reach for to control air leakiness in colder climates is spray foam insulation.

It’s important to understand the properties of spray foam if you are going to use them as part of a combined system to achieve the required performance. Before you choose a spray foam, get familiar with the material and how to combine it with other insulation products so that you can control heat flow without causing other problems.

If you are interested in learning more about spray foam insulations, I am conducting a webinar on this subject on Wednesday, April 23 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM EST. You can register right here. And this course qualifies for CEUs!

You will leave this webinar with the knowledge to:

  • Understand Polyurethanes Background – The History of Spray Foam Insulation -Insulation Applications
  • Compare the Differences of Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation -Market Trends / Energy Efficiency Demands -SPF Overview -Open Cell / Closed Cell –Properties
  • Review Building Envelope Considerations
  • Distinguish the Differences Between Residential and Commercial Building Applications

Bring your questions – I will be ready!

 

The Greening of the 2012 Building Codes: Air-tightness Testing – A Must Have for Consumers

 

Blower Door Testing

Blower Door Testing

The 2012 energy code, which we are very excited about because it is very advanced compared to the 2009, requires two things which have never been required by aU.S. code before.  These are:

  • Blower door testing of houses
  • Duct pressure testing for leakage

These two things are extremely influential on energy efficiency and have always been assumed were part of best practices. We have seen changes in the codes saying “install air barriers or tighten up your duct work” but they never required that these tests be conducted to ensure that the house is airtight.

These are two physical tests that need to be conducted on every new home if the 2012 building codes have been adopted by a state. While this is one of the best ways to ensure efficient thermal comfort for home owners, the potential impact on the builder must be understood. If you are building a house in say 120 days scheduling someone to come out to conduct this testing could severely impact the building schedule: these tests need to be conducted before installing the drywall. No drywall until you have passed the inspection- imagine it.

But who conducts this testing?  Code officials are not typically trained or funded to execute this type of testing.  This testing has been done in the past for NAHB, Energy Star and other programs by internally or externally certified raters. Home Energy Rating System (HERS) raters are a great example of one group that is trained to do this testing.

However, there is no organized resource, clearinghouse or national database for building professionals to find all of the various local professionals who can conduct these tests. To ensure that these tests are conducted and that states do not “opt out” of this requirement, a national database needs be developed so that third-party testers can be easily found and scheduled.

This is an important part of the 2012 code that qualifies for the consumer that the home is energy efficient and that some of the most critical passive elements of that efficiency were done right.  It’s not what you spec; it’s what you inspect.

 

When You Build it Tight You Have to Ventilate Right

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

If changes are made to an existing home in terms of tightening the building envelope and you see changes other than your utility bills going down, pay attention to the details because they may be a warning sign that you have not properly ventilated the home.

Lack of adequate ventilation in a home can result in serious problems.  The more obvious one that appears in obvious places is elevated humidity. If you are sweating the inside of new insulated glass windows in the winter when you didn’t before then your interior humidity has gone too high.  Another warning sign is dirt stripes appearing on the walls in front of the studs.  Musty odors, sweating or condensation, or unusual patterns on your walls could be indications of a ventilation problem.

However, moisture is not the only concern.  You also need to be concerned about gas concentrations in the air because of the dangers associated with them and the build up of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted from many products that exist around the home but if you tighten up a home and don’t provide adequate fresh air, they are now being trapped within the home.  Many volatile organic compounds breakdown with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light outside the home – formaldehyde for example has a half-life of about 14 days – but inside the home UV light is diminished and so has little affect on the concentration of the VOCs. VOCs could be coming off of products which you would never suspect.  For example, some citric acid cleaners that smell like orange can have amazingly high VOC concentrations. Remember, what has changed in the equation is the amount of fresh air that had been there before that helped evacuate these things from the home. The standard furnace filters we employ do not filter out gasses – they filter particles.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (AHRAE) has very specific guidelines on how much fresh air is needed for a healthy environment.  ASHRAE 62.1 references the calculations for commercial buildings and ASHRAE 62.2 is for residential buildings. It is critical to review these guidelines in order to properly ventilate the building envelope especially if you are making changes. When homes are tightened for energy efficiency you must make sure that adequate fresh air ventilation is taken into consideration.  There are many ways to do this that are compliant with the ASHRAE recommendations. And remember, if you find signs of moisture it’s like the canary keeling over in the coal mine.  Heed the warning!

Don’t Forget the Fireplace When Winterizing Your Home

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

One home feature that is popular because of its charm is the fireplace.  While many homeowners like to have one to provide a cozy room on cold, damp winter days you also have to remember that a fireplace represents a big hole leading up to the sky in your building envelope. If the chimney is not properly sealed when you are winterizing your home your indoor heat will simply go straight up the chimney.

In many homes, the chimney actually accounts for more air leakage than windows and doors.

Many homeowners, like me, don’t use their fireplace during the heating season because it is easy to create a back draft from the fireplace in an air tight home.  If I am using my fireplace and my furnace kicks on it will cause the smoke to back up into the house unless a window in the room is kept open a crack.

When you are not using your fireplace you should make sure that you have a system in place to seal the chimney and make it air tight.  Standard chimney dampers are simply not air-tight enough. There are two methods that could help tighten your chimney:

  • Install a chimney cap that will snug down on the top of the chimney that can be closed and opened by reaching into the chimney and pulling the chain to secure the cap – or release the cap – on the top of the chimney.
  • Install a bladder-like devise that – using the reverse air feature on your shop vacuum – will fill the bladder and create an air barrier.

There are dozens of common sense ways to deal with air leakage from your fireplace.

However, if you do choose an air tightening devise remember to remove it before you use your fireplace or you will have a major smoke event in your home!

Remember, you don’t have to sacrifice charm or aesthetics when working toward high efficiency in the home but you do need to minimize air loss everywhere you can.

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.