Rainscreen Technology Featured at 2011 Solar Decathlon

 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The 2011 Solar Decathlon held in Washington, DC in October featured homes designed and constructed by architecture and engineering students from universities worldwide that employ sustainable building solutions and powered by solar energy.

To my surprise, several of the designs, including Team Massachusetts, whom we partnered with, chose to include rainscreen technology in their designs. (Pictured is the fiber cement siding that was cut to accommodate the screen system designed by Team Massachusetts.

Rainscreens are a system which assumes that water will get beyond the outer surface to underlying layers and be managed and evacuated from the building.

It is not a barrier system – it is a water management system and they are great!

However, the market share in terms of the number of applications in the U.S. of rainscreen technology, the last time I checked, was approximately 10 percent. It is not a large part of the market but we are very familiar with versions of the rainscreen in our every day lives.  The brick cavity wall – the space behind the brick that drains the water out is a version of the rainscreen. This is the technique the students utilized with the siding.

Another example is the open rainscreen where panels are suspended off the building with clear passage around the panel.  There are no caulk joints, there’s nothing tight, you can see the underlying layers around the panels.

Rainscreen technology ranges from a drained assembly – to a drain and vented assembly – to a pressure equalized rainscreen which uses compartmentalization to prevent excessive positive or negative pressures from developing due to building orientation and exposure to wind and other elements.

This is an extremely durable system because the outer surface of the building repels the majority of the incident rain, deals with the majority of the solar radiation issues like ultra violet light and weathering.  It protects the underlying waterproofing and working layers of the building and enables them to hold up longer.

Rainscreens are great systems which are easier for a building owner because they are much easier to maintain. Perhaps the increased use of these systems in competitions like the Solar Decathlon will take hold as we continue to adopt new technologies for building assemblies.

Working Smarter with Digital Tools

We are all looking to work smarter. In my role, I frequently survey our customers to gain ideas for products, processes or solutions that would make their life easier in the field.

Last year, I surveyed architects and designers to identify the changes they are undergoing and what methods of information delivery best suited their current process of specifying products for their projects. One of the items that piqued my interest was that 80 percent of architects start their search for product information on the web. 

The need for printed resources such as the “3-ring architect binder” has changed significantly from what it once was; hard-copy binders used to be the primary source for architects seeking product information, installation instructions, technical data, code approvals, and occasionally a bit of inspiration.  More recently, changes in technology combined with the more rapid pace with which products are developed and brought to market have made the internet a natural place to house these types of information.

With the shrinking market in the build community, there is also the reality that many architects have abandoned larger offices for small spaces or home offices.  Some may also have limited access to junior architects or interns to research products and need tools that save them time and resources.  Design professionals in these situations do not have room for large, binder driven libraries.

As a response to these changes, the siding section of the CertainTeed website now has a digital architect binder with product information and specification documents for siding, house wrap, fence, rail, deck and trim products laid out just as they would be found in the traditional 3-ring binder.  The information is easy to find, always current, available 24/7, and does not take up valuable office workspace.

Now that is what I call working smarter.

Architectural Icon Marvin Malecha to Judge Saint-Gobain Multi-Comfort House Competition in Prague

Lucas Hamilton

Each year, CertainTeed’s parent company Saint-Gobain conducts an International Multi-Comfort House Competition. This competition, now in its seventh year invites architecture and engineering students to submit a design that is in accordance with the ISOVER Multi-Comfort-House definition and with passive house components.

This year, I am excited to announce, Marvin Malecha, FAIA and Dean of the College of Design at North Carolina State University has accepted our invitation to serve as a judge for the ISOVER Multi-Comfort House Competition to be held in Prague, Czech Republic and will serve as the lead judge for the competition. Last year,  the lead judge was Professor Doctor Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passive House. Most of the judges are European because the significant work on passive house and higher energy efficient building is truly embraced in Europe.

This year’s task for the Competition is to design a sustainable skyscraper in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in New York. The building has to have the building physics performance of an ISOVER Multi-Comfort House.  This is an exciting task, especially on an International level.

One the students from Philadelphia University who participated in the finals for the Competition last year, mentioned that when they got to the International competition, the technical level of the final projects were so well matched that the aesthetics of the design played a larger part in the judging. The concept of sustainable design values simplicity.  Think of Shaker furniture – the function and design is so simple, so perfect it is naturally beautiful. 

Designing a skyscraper that would, not only, be state of the art in sustainability but also have high aesthetics will be something to see.

I can assure you that we will be blogging further on this year’s ISOVER Multi-Comfort House Competition. Stay tuned!

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

The Solar Decathlon Europe – An Exciting, if Wet, Experience

The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E

The experience of serving as a sponsor of the University of Nottingham Solar Decathlon H.O.U.S.E. is one, I am sure, none of us who were directly involved will soon forget.

This was the first Solar Decathlon held outside of the United States, and Madrid, Spain served as the host. The University on Nottingham was keenly interested in participating and sought a sponsor who manufactured all the primary components they would use in the house. Saint-Gobain was the obvious choice, given the scope of our interior and exterior products that create and promote energy efficiency and sustainability. The Saint-Gobain companies that participated included Isover, British Gypsum, Saint-Gobain Glass, Solaglas, Ecophon , International Timber, Pasquill and Greenworks (Saint-Gobain Building Distribution). The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E design utilized an L-shaped, modular design that could be worked into rows, terraces or stacked.  The Team’s goal was to design and build an affordable, energy efficient house that would appeal to the general population.

During the construction week in Madrid, the H.O.U.S.E team lost several days due to the worst rain storms to hit Madrid in 50 years. The H.O.U.S.E. location was in the lowest part of the Villa Solar, below the water table, and the rain just poured down onto the site while construction was underway.  As the crane was placing the house modules, it slipped and significant damage was sustained.  There was no way to repair the damage to the house completely so the students made some adjustments in order to meet the construction deadline to compete.  While challenges such as this were a learning experience, the judges did not take the adversity into consideration.

The Nottingham team was the youngest team in the competition, with second and third year students while the other teams were fourth year or graduate students. The team that won, Virginia Tech, had participated in two previous Decathlons with the same house.  By perfecting their design and incorporating the feedback they received, they were able to return and win.

We are proud of what the students we sponsored achieved in the design and construction of the house, how they worked through the challenges and emerged able to compete.  They received second place in the sustainability section and were voted the most livable house by the visitors to the Solar Decathlon.  Several Spanish developers, as well as English developers, are interested in using the design for future construction. 

As part of our sponsorship, Saint Gobain provided training at our facilities to teach the students how to construct the house using our products.  This project wasn’t just about the H.O.U.S.E, it was about creating an energy efficient concept that could be mass produced by builders, the training and the solid hands-on skills the students gained that will set them apart when they enter the workforce. 

As for future participation in the Solar Decathlon, the expertise that was gained by participating would be in vain if the University of Nottingham did not participate in future Solar Decathlons especially since the same students could perfect the H.O.U.S.E which was very well received by developers and potential homeowners – the audiences that really count.

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.

Cautionary Tale on Installing Vegetative Roofs

LiveRoof

While presenting a workshop last week in Northern New Jersey hosted by Grubb & Ellis, Inc., a property management firm, I engaged in a conversation with an architect about a learning experience he encountered while installing a vegetative or live Roof.  

Vegetative roofs have been utilized in Europe for about 25 years and are gaining popularity in the United States especially for commercial buildings. From a building science perspective the thing I like about live roofs is the natural property of plants when it comes to resisting solar heat gain from infrared radiation.  The albedo, which is the surface reflectivity of the sun’s radiation, plays a large part in the benefit of a live roof.

On the hottest day in the summer, the average surface temperature of living plants in direct sunlight is only two degrees greater than the temperature of the ambient air. If you measured the temperature of a dark surface it could be as much 20 to 30 degrees higher than the ambient air.  Since plants never get more than two degrees hotter than the ambient air it makes them the obvious cool roof. 

While we are seeing an increase in cool roofs in building design, we can’t lose sight of common sense.  Now back to the architect and his tale.

This architect explained that the construction on the project was delayed which meant that the vegetative roof was installed in the summer.  By the time the plants arrived to be installed on the roof structure it was July, the hottest and driest time of year in northern New Jersey.  As a result, the first three months of the roofs’ life required watering.  The architect never imagined that he would have to water his roof for three months.

The designers and contractors never considered in the scheduling that the vegetative roof would need support if installed at the hottest and driest time of year.  The installation of the living component could have been delayed to more appropriately suit the environmental conditions but the benefit to the building of the vegetative albedo would not have been realized when it was actually needed the most- in the mid and late summer. It’s a great example of one of the many trade-offs we have to evaluate when building sustainably.  

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications 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

Building Information Modeling (BIM) the Next Frontier

Douglas C. Gehring

We all want and need to work smarter and quicker.  A fast-growing trend for building design professionals is the incorporation of Building Information Modeling or BIM objects as a design tool. Similar to today’s film directors moving from 2D to 3D movies, BIM objects are the next generation of drawings and allow building and design pros to easily visualize projects, improve design quality, reduce change orders and improve project scheduling,

BIM enables a project to be shown in a three dimensional model and includes all the additional properties that go along with it – information data sheets, websites for the products in the model and specification documents. It becomes a one-stop-shop for all the resources you need for the design. For architects, BIM is a productivity enhancement tool.

The use of CAD giving you a two-dimensional view could not, for example, show if there was a wall inadvertently intersecting with an HVAC duct. The three dimensional BIM model shows details such as this which saves designers from costly errors. The BIM drawings get sucked into this building information model for the whole project and can automatically generate plan elevations, sections, and other details so when the designer wants to change one element, it changes it within the whole model.

BIM is a growing industry and from its positive reception by the design community is not going away.  There is still standardization that needs to be done with the tool but it is quickly becoming an accepted part of the design process. Architects and general contractors are the largest forces out there pushing for BIM.  Manufacturers will most likely need to provide these models more and more once professionals see the value of BIM.

BIM also includes building performance software, sustainability modules and other efficiency modules evolving frequently to meet the needs of sustainability initiatives in the building community.  BIM objects are available through Reed Construction Data’s proprietary SmartBIM Library™ as well as many product manufacturers’ websites.

Two states, Wisconsin and Texas, have adopted BIM as the design tool of choice for all state projects. When states begin to adopt these tools you know that growth for the tool is imminent.

Now if we could only get James Cameron to create a few Avatar BIM Objects.

Douglas C. Gehring, P.E., CSI is director, marketing technical services for CertainTeed Gypsum

Symposium to Connect with Architects and Designers is a Slam Dunk

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson

Building products manufacturers had a rare opportunity to participate in a symposium that really hit the mark.  The event was sponsored and organized by Tom Miller of Miller Brooks  and was recently held in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

I have been to dozens of these types of events over the years and often come away empty handed or feeling I have revisited information I already knew.  But this event was first class, not only in the quality of the content and the interaction between the speakers and the audience but from the venues.  The opening event was held at the Columbia Club, which was established in 1889 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This set the tone for the event with its elegant architecture, design and its rich history. The symposium was held at the NCAA Hall of Champions which honors all the championship teams of the NCAA collegiate athletics. This was a championship event in a championship facility. It was the perfect venue.

The keynote speaker was Rex Miller who is the Thought Leader for Mindshift, a consortium within the commercial real estate business working toward industry transformation and author of The Commercial Real Estate Revolution.  He discussed today’s economic climate and the rapid changes taking place in society and the business world.  For companies to survive, they must learn the best ways to react to these changes.

One of the concepts he discussed was reverse mentoring.  Knowledge is no longer in the hands of the seasoned professionals.  Knowledge is instant and it’s in the hands of the young. We need to allow our younger employees to bring new knowledge to us especially with regard to engagement and interaction with our changing audiences.

The second part, and the most valuable to me, was a panel of experts in design and architecture, both professionals and providers to the professionals, who fielded questions from the audience. This was a very lively discussion with very valuable content. They were also able to voice their opinions openly about how they want to interact with manufacturers. One key message I came away with was the more expertise that a sales representative can deliver in the form of answers to questions or problems that will save them time – that has real value to them.

At the end of the day it was clear that while this event may have looked liked a thousand others, it was truly one of a kind.

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation.