Free net-zero webinar to provide ways to achieve energy efficiency goals in residential construction

Net Zero Demonstration HouseThanks to the pervasive use of sustainable building practices, the average homeowners’ ability to afford green homes and sustainable systems is finally within reach, as the cost of energy-efficient materials and renewable-energy equipment continues to fall. Case in point, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association the average price of an installed solar-power system has declined more than 50 percent since 2010.

Due to this attainable outlook, the U.S. Department of Energy says their ultimate vision is that by 2030, a consumer will have the opportunity to buy a cost-neutral, net-zero energy home (NZEH) anywhere in the United States — a grid-connected home that, over the course of a year, produces as much energy as it uses. However, this also represents a unique challenge for the architects and builders who will be tasked with creating, constructing and evaluating these climate-appropriate zero energy homes.

Enter CertainTeed’s newest free webinar, Net-Zero Energy Home: Design Strategies and System Optimization. The AIA-accredited online course takes place Tuesday, July 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.

houseJoin me as I explore Pennsylvania State University’s award-winning, LEED Platinum, GridSTAR Experience Center project, completed last year on the grounds of the historic Navy Yard in Philadelphia. During the course, I will cover all aspects of this net-zero modular building that was designed and constructed using a unique combination of building materials, construction methods, energy management strategies and renewable energy sources. Learning objectives include:

  • Design strategies for pursuing a net-zero energy home
  • Describe tools used to create, construct and evaluate a climate-appropriate zero energy home before and after construction
  • Understand how to manage and interpret hygrothermal and demand response data for a single family residential home
  • Learn how innovative public/private partnerships are being used to advance building science research

This one drew a big crowd when I first presented it at AIA a few months ago in Atlanta. Register now, right here for Net-Zero Energy Home: Design Strategies and System Optimization.

Human Comfort is Best Delivered by Water Not Air

Lucas Hamilton

While attending the Regenerative Network conference in California, I spent time in a LEED platinum certified building which is radiantly heated and cooled.  Recently, I have been giving presentations on human interactions with their environment. This has caused me to consider how differently the radiant heating and cooling system in the David Brower Center influences our perception of comfort.

We understand certain things about human senses such as how temperature, humidity, air speed and radiation are inter-related and together influence our perception of our surroundings.  These are the four things that will dictate how comfortable you are.  Because these things are inter-related, the way that heating and cooling is delivered has a huge influence on how you perceive your comfort level. As background and in simplified terms, these energy delivery methods are conduction, convection and radiation. A pot on the stove is conducting heat, when you pull out the spoon and blow on it to cool it is convection, and radiation is when you can stand a few feet away from the pot and feel the heat.

We traditionally heat and cool our buildings with air.  This is a most inefficient method. The idea of trying to store energy in something that has little mass makes little sense.  Using water to deliver energy as a way to comfort is very, very efficient.  This gives you radiated comfort as opposed to convection or conducted comfort.

To achieve the desired goals in energy savings delivering comfort by air may be on its way out. Using water to heat and cool buildings is a far more efficient method and it will save lots of energy going forward. But, we will have to make some personal sacrifices to accommodate this change. We may have to give up on instant gratification and develop patience through acceptance.

If you are outdoors on a cold day and enter a warm building, it will take awhile for the body to warm again to where you would say you are comfortable. However, after walking outdoors on a hot, humid day and entering an air conditioned building the cool rushing air will evaporate the sweat on your body and you cool off very quickly.  It’s like the building is blowing on the hot spoonful of soup.  When you condition a building space using surface temperatures, the energy exchange between the building and the person becomes largely dominated by radiation. While this will cool you down by allowing excess energy in the form of heat to flow out of your body and into the building through radiation, it will not be nearly as quick a process as having cold air blowing across your sweaty skin. Chances are you will continue to sweat for a few minutes after you have come inside so be ready for it.

Being patient and waiting for the comfort to occur is a small price to pay in order to make our energy go further. It sounds like a contradiction to say “exercise patience” but there you have it.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Greening the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island

Statue of Liberty

The federal government took its own advice with regard to energy efficiency when it supported alternative energy by installing a geothermal well on New York’s Liberty Island.

Utilizing the earth as a heat source, geothermal wells provide renewable energy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers geothermal the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean and cost effective space controlling system available.

The purpose for the new well was to provide energy-efficient geothermal power for the heating and air conditioning of the facility which would conserve energy and reduce operational expenses.

The drilling of the Liberty Island geothermal well took five working days but the challenge for the crew was executing this and moving equipment on and off the island without disturbing the flow of tourists. After the drilling was complete the crew installed 260 feet of 6-inch Certa-Lok PVC Well Casing and 1,290 feet of 4-inch Certa-Lok PVC Well Casing for the well’s Porter Shroud.  The crew then installed a submersible pump within the Porter Shroud using 200 feet of 3-inch Certa-Lok PVC Drop Pipe.

As the well operates, the ground water beneath the Statue of Liberty travels at a rate of 120 gallons per minute down the well core and enters the Porter Shroud through perforations at 1500 feet.  It then flows up to the pump and circulates back into heat pumps within the Liberty Island Retail Pavilion.  The heat pumps pull temperature from the 55-degree water and return cold water back to the ground.  During the warmer months, the system reverses, meaning the pump will transfer heat in the building to the water being used and return it back underground. This type of geothermal well is typical in commercial installations where a large heating/cooling demand is present, but the surface area will not allow for a closed-loop well field.

Geothermal systems can be installed in commercial or residential projects. For residential, the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association estimates that these systems can create heating efficiencies of 50 to 70 percent higher than other heating systems and cooling efficiencies of 20 to 40 percent higher than available air conditioners.

Do you have any experiences with these systems that you can share?

What is the Future of Solar Roof Technology? – Part 2

(Left to right) Rob Fleming; Dennis Wilde; Alain Garnier; Mark Stancroff; Jeff Wolfe

As I discussed in the previous Blog, CertainTeed hosted a luncheon and panel discussion at the 2010 Greenbuild Conference and Expo on The Future of Solar Roof Technology.

Jeff Wolfe, co-founder and CEO of groSolar, represented one of the largest installers of residential solar products in the U.S.  Jeff discussed the fact that the rate of adoption of solar in the U.S. is slow but there will come a time when integrated photovoltaics will be the standard.  

The first hurdle is integrating two elements: a roof and electricity. It’s hard enough to install a roof so it doesn’t leak. Now toss PV into the mix and the new assembly requires additional skills, tools, and knowledge. One key to successful applications going forward is to design integrated systems which simplify installation and maintenance.

The next challenge is the question of who are solar roof installers? Are they roofers, electricians, glazers (remember, some systems have a lot of glass in them)? And what department do you go to in City Hall to obtain the permits? Is it a roof or is it electrical? As a country, building codes and processes vary greatly from state to state and having to battle your way through the local building code department for each new application will dissuade roofers and consumers to take on this new technology.

Alain Garnier, Saint-Gobain Solar mentioned that the solar industry is growing by about 40 percent in other parts of the world.  That could be largely due to the energy costs.  Our “cheap energy” has been a hindrance to consumer demand in this arena. As an example; Europe is far ahead of the U.S. with regard to energy efficiency and passive house adoption largely because the economic case was clear.

The expediting of solar adoption in the U.S will most likely be determined by two things; first, energy rate increases that will cause pain to consumers and, two, federal and state incentives that encourage and reward consumers for taking a significant step toward more efficient buildings.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Is there a Future for Renewable Energy?

Lucas Hamilton

An editorial appeared in the New York Times on October 27 entitled Remember Renewable Energy?, which discussed the slow moving progress by Congress (since jumping on board in 2005) with wind, solar and other projects focused on producing 10,000 megawatts by 2015.

It would appear that some of the talk about the White House needing to support alternative energy did not fall on deaf ears since the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved several solar power projects in recent weeks.

This is good news because we need to step up our efforts to keep up with Europe and China who are already investing heavily in wind and solar manufacturing.

Three things are cited in the editorial that need to happen in order for the U.S. to catch up:

  • Generous subsidies or alternative funding for renewable energy projects so they can compete with fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.
  • Faster approvals by agencies such as Minerals Management Service.  Three to five years of negotiations is not acceptable.  As the editorial says, “The bureaucracy now has to deliver.”
  • The expanding and updating of the electrical grid to accommodate new energy sources is crucial to any success.  That will require partnerships and the giving up of control.

What are your thoughts on the future of renewable energy?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Energy is a National Security Issue

Lucas Hamilton

I believe that energy is a national security issue.  We import too much energy and are too dependent on that imported energy.  What we pay for energy is much lower than other places in the world and we have grown accustomed to having all we want when we want it. This fact puts us in a precarious situation with regard to international policies. Do we want to be at the mercy of other nations to meet our energy demand? It is in our best interest to produce our own energy through alternative sources and we need to do this sooner than later.

President Obama also recently talked about energy as a national security issue on a podcast that he syndicates every week. He also discussed a company in the Mojave Desert that will produce solar energy to power 140,000 homes in California. This is progress.  Wind farms are also being built in many parts of the country.  Alone they won’t replace fossil fuels but over time we will identify and perfect these alternative sources  to minimize our dependence on fossil fuels.

I was glad to see that the White House changed its position regarding solar power and acknowledged that the White House needs to lead by example and will put solar panels on the While House.

Given my recent blogs on both the Energy Star Pledge program and the Green Power Community Challenge it is clear that the educational component is kicking into high gear and we are all being encouraged as individuals, communities and businesses to assess our energy consumption and make changes to our lifestyles to lower our carbon footprints.  Things will not change overnight but if we are all focused in the right direction we can make quicker strides to ramping up alternative energy sources.

The two key areas where we can have a significant impact on energy reduction is to create a federal building code and changing our lifestyles with regard to home energy use. If you are making changes or upgrades to your home, consider solar reflective shingles, adding insulation or using programmable thermostats.

Make Energy Awareness Month 2010 your energy independence month and develop a plan to reduce your carbon footprint.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Will Solar Panels Ever Grace the White House Roof?

Lucas Hamilton

A firestorm has once again formed around the White House.  This time it is regarding solar roofing panels. You could say it is a wonderful example of where bureaucracy meets reality.  Bill McKibben an author, educator and founder of, a global organization focused on climate change journeyed to Washington, D.C. to ask President Obama to reinstall solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House roof while serving as President.  The White House declined.

I am not advocating that the President uses 30-year-old solar panels on the White House, but the mission was a noble one. As a building scientist and alternative energy supporter representing a company that is investing in the research and development of solar roofing products, I do feel that considering solar panels on the White House would be a strong statement in support of solar technology. It would provide encouragement and serve as an example for all Americans. Even if it were a part of the White House roof, it would send the right message.

The move to alternative energy sources is generating jobs, helping us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions responsible for global warming.

The Department of Energy is very focused on addressing the issues of climate, reducing carbon emissions, research and development of alternative energy sources  and supporting programs like the Solar Decathlon, which promotes solar power and sustainable, energy efficient construction. But is this too passive a statement of support for solar?

The White House, a significant and very visible symbol of America, would be the perfect place to harness the power of sun.

McKibben, was a guest on David Letterman on September 1, talking about the White House trip, climate change and his October 10, 2010 event Work Party for Energy.

 Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

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. 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.

Alternative Energy Sources Part 2: Technology vs. Humanity


Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Albert Einstein once said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”  It is hard to believe he could have said that in the early 1920s.  What would he say today? I think human beings gamble that we can always figure out how to solve our problems because we are so smart and creative.  We have an inordinate faith in science, technology, creativity and ingenuity to find solutions for any problems we create. 

For example, we could not have developed to where we are without transportation.  But the global nature of business requires that products and people be available quickly.  Look at freight; according to CSX moving freight by rail is three times more fuel-efficient than moving freight on the highway. Trains can move a ton of freight more than 436 miles on a single gallon of fuel.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), freight railroads account for just two percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources.  But if you need it there overnight it will have to go by air.  However, air travel greatly increases our carbon footprint.

When I was growing up traveling on an airplane was a major event.  But within, say, the last 30 years, air travel has become a way of life as opposed to a major life event.

As I said in Part 1 of this discussion on alternative energy sources, we need to diversify and have several, more efficient ways to produce energy.  For example:

  •  Solar has potential because of the amount of energy that enters our atmosphere every day in solar radiation. With deeper understanding, perhaps we can improve our efficiencies and make up for the fact that the Pacific Northwest, upper Midwest and Great Lakes region do not see sun for large periods of time.
  •  Nuclear - we haven’t issued a new permit for a nuclear power plant in the United States since Three Mile Island (TMI), which is a big mistake. We haven’t had a significant nuclear accident since TMI and although that event in 1979 had the potential to be tragic, it wasn’t.  One of the obstacles that day was the fact that there were only two telephone lines into the facility.  The people who knew how to address the problem could not reach the plant.  For nuclear power to be more palatable to the general public however we will need to find a more eloquent solution to handling radioactive waste than simply storing on-site.
  •  Wind – There is definite potential for wind energy but this is a newer focus and is not yet reaching the thresholds needed to support our ever-increasing needs for electricity.

Since cooling buildings is one of the biggest electricity hogs, we need to continue to produce products that can work with alternative energy sources to cut down on electricity consumption.  Products such as solar reflective and photovoltaic roofs, especially on commercial buildings, can help us take advantage of these big spaces and have them work for us, not against us. 

In a previous blog we touched on the fact that we need to improve our existing building stock as well as build smarter from now on. Because we reroof every 30-40 years, it’s a great opportunity to go back to existing spaces and apply products that work with the sun’s energy.  In order to succeed, we have to challenge people to use alternative products without mandating it.  The goal is to find the economic incentive for people to do the “right thing.”  One way to do this is to rephrase our outlook from upfront cost to life cycle analysis. Consumers have to take the long view on energy savings.  We have to change the way we value these things if we are ever going to fund economic incentives to meet the global warming goals of business backed initiatives like the Copenhagen Communiqué.

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

Alternative Energy Sources Part 1: Carbon Footprints -The Amish Have It Right

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

 Energy Awareness Month is the perfect time to talk about identifying alternative energy sources and our need to step up progress on developing these, so I will be discussing it over the next few blog posts.  If you want a role model for reducing carbon footprints and energy consumption, look at the Amish who have traditionally created energy with windmills and still use horses and buggies instead of cars.  I’m not suggesting that we should all turn back the clock, but we’ve got to be wiser in our energy consumption.

Americans are heavy consumers of electricity and that is probably not going to change which is why we need to invest in alternative sources for energy.

I think we can all agree that the US is too dependent on oil. One area in which we can cut back that dependence is in making electricity.  Using oil to make electricity is foolish, when we have others methods to make electricity.

On October 7, 2009 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart featured William Kamkwamba, a young African, who built a windmill to produce power for his home by looking at pictures in a book and using scraps that he found lying around.

Here is a young man in a third world country with limited resources who figures out how to create something to produce energy. Here we are with all types of resources at our disposal but we think that energy is cheap so we just pay for it without considering the environment. 

We are currently building new coal power plants in the US to meet our electricity needs, not for the future, but for today’s needs. Coal power plants are the bane of our carbon existence because they are responsible for high levels of greenhouse gases and increase our carbon footprint.

On the other hand, manufacturing has found a safe way to incorporate fly ash, a by-product of coal power plants, into concrete that actually saves us tons of carbon dioxide.  So, if we can offset the creation of carbon dioxide by 35 percent of the Portland cement by incorporating fly ash from coal power plants, what isn’t green about that?  It’s a tremendous green application of material—taking a byproduct and creating a “beneficial use” as opposed to landfilling the material. For example, CertainTeed includes fly ash in it’s formulation for fiber cement siding which accounts for its 50% recycled content.

I created a carbon calculator to monitor my carbon footprint.  What I found was that I am greener than the average European until I go to work.  My carbon footprint at work is three times my footprint in other parts of my life because of the amount of air travel I do in my job. We need to find ways to travel more efficiently in terms of energy consumption. 

The solution is never one size fits all, that’s just not the way nature works.  It’s a hundred different solutions and it’s what works best in your area and what you can afford to do.

There is a place for nuclear, solar, wind, natural gas, oil and other sources of energy. The trick is to make energy in more efficient ways, with less environmental impact from the mining and collection of the raw materials to the disposal of the waste.  Can we learn from the simple lifestyle of the Amish?  Perhaps, but even if we choose not to, we all need to take responsibility for our own carbon footprint.

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