The Art of Building Science – Soup to Nuts Webinar Series

We are trying something new that we hope is helpful for those of you who would like to take a deeper dive into Building Science but can’t take time out of a nutty work day to do so.

Because I live Building Science every day, I occasionally lose sight of the fact that not everyone sees how all of this information works and fits together.  Sadly we live in a bullet point world so let’s give the big picture the opportunity to talk. Let’s give the silent masses the opportunity to ask questions and engage with folks who work with this knowledge on a daily basis in real world scenarios.

The early evening timeframe for this series may have particular value for younger architects and building professionals who do not get to take time out of billable hours but could jump online at the end of the day.

We are offering the opportunity to see the Big Picture of Building Science through a series of three webinars starting at 5:30 pm EST over the next three months that will take you through topics such as Heat Flow, Moisture Flow, Air Flow, Indoor Air Quality, Evaluating HVAC or Mechanical Systems in the Building Envelop and Sound Control Problems.

Be forewarned, each webinar is a half hour longer than the last.  It is like a three course meal that will leave you both full and wanting more.

The first session will be held on Wednesday, March 12 from 5:30 – 6:30 pm EST.  If you are looking to expand your knowledge of Building Science, this accredited course is for you!

Register and join me for The Art of Building Science Part I.

Don’t Stop at the Surface with Moisture and Mold Damage

1316551358_254450912_4-Residential-and-commercial-Flood-Water-Damage-services-free-est-8888110187-ServicesMold Awareness Month Tip #2: When you see signs of moisture damage either on the exterior or interior you can’t just address this at the surface.  You have to keep digging until you get to dry materials.  If that means tearing out the drywall and the insulation until you get to something dry, so be it. You can’t just fix the surface because it was wet. If you have to replace materials following moisture damage consider using a mold and moisture resistant drywall and a smart vapor retarder with your insulation to add protection to your wall assembly. You will be building in more robustness to an area of your home that is apparently susceptible to moisture intrusion.

That’s from the outside too.  If you find some water damage around your window and you tear it out you can’t stop there.  Take your screwdriver or awl and probe the wood behind it to find out how far the damage goes. If you don’t correct the problem at the source and replace all the damaged materials, the chances of mold occurring in this area are very good..

So, don’t stop at the surface or just treat the symptoms.  You have to exhaust the symptoms and get to the source.

Remember, if you see moisture damage whether inside or outside the building don’t stop digging and probing until you get to dry.

If It Smells Bad It Is Bad

 September is Mold Awareness Month and I thought it would be a good time to provide some helpful tips about mold.  This was prompted by a discussion that came up the other day when I was conducting a webinar on “The Future of Building Materials and Their Impact on How we Build”.  Mold is not always visible but early detection of a mold problem is critical to the health of a building.

Mold-in-basement2Mold has a long history, in fact, references about mold can be found in the Bible (Leviticus 14: 33-53). When you are dealing with living things that have that much staying power, it is clear that you can’t or won’t get rid of them easily.  In a previous blog, I discussed the four things that mold needs to grow: the right temperature, sufficient water, oxygen and food.  But you can control the growth by eliminating one of the elements. If the problem is moisture in the wall cavity you need to remove all the wet insulation and drywall and thoroughly dry the assembly.

One of the best ways to identify a mold problem early is through smell. Often you can smell it before you see it. If you smell something that doesn’t smell right, trust your instincts and check it out.  This is your learned response to protect you from dangerous materials.

If you think you may have mold, get on your hands and knees and sniff around the outlets in your walls. If you have it – you will smell it.  Also, check areas that do not have adequate ventilation (closets or other spaces with no vents or registers).

If you smell it that means the mold spores are airborne and that is when they present the most health risk. When it’s dormant you are not going to smell it but if the spores go aerosol, you need take action.

 

Glass Bottle or Paper Bag?

If you wanted to keep something for 50 years would you keep it is a paper bag or a glass bottle?

This question came from a recent architect training I conducted in New York. I was engaged in a conversation about wall systems and sustainability with this group and the discussion moved to durability in relation to sustainability.

I posed that question and the response was a glass bottle. However, a case can be made for both.

Many of the passive energy saving measures we employ in our buildings can only be accomplished effectively during initial construction.  As an example; it is very difficult to add insulation to side walls over time because the cavity is designed, constructed and closed in.  If you want durability and longevity you better be building something upfront that will last at least 50 years.

To that end, do not employ difficult to replace materials that are not intended to last as long as the wall you are building. If you haven’t figured it out yet we were talking about different types of insulation.

If you can’t see it, inspect it, or fix it, you had better be sure it’s going to be around longer than you are.

Your thoughts are always welcome.

Building Knowledge at AIA 2013 — Expertise that Inspires

LucasAIA13Upon completion of a CEU Course at AIA 2013 on “The Future of Building Materials and Their Impact on How We Build”, Building Scientist Lucas Hamilton was asked the following question:

“What does air tightness have to do with air quality? How does the tightness influence the air inside?  It doesn’t make any sense?”

When the building envelope was leaky, we had three to four times the volume of the building being changed every hour by fresh air from outside — uncontrolled in the building envelope. Now, with tighter buildings we don’t allow that.  So, you have lost all the fresh air you had coming through the walls. That’s why it is so important. That is the influence today.

If you’re at AIA, stop by booth #2108 to continue the discussion with Lucas and our team of Building Knowledge experts. Also, feel free to add your thoughts below — comments and questions are always welcome!

A Tip for New Home Buyers – Consider What is Behind the Walls

Hybrid insulation installDuring the 2013 International Builders’ Show I had the chance to speak with a regional manager for a national builder about the challenge of helping consumers understand the features, benefits and return on investment (ROI) on the hidden features in a home. 

When a potential homeowners speaks to a builder they are usually more focused on considering upgrades that are visible to the eye than considering what’s underneath the walls of the home. What they don’t consider is how upgrading the R-value in their walls will save them money on heating and cooling over the life of the home or if they plan on selling the home in the future, how this improved performance may help them compete against homes that will be built between now and then.

The challenge that is faced by a builder as well as a solution provider is to create ways to have that very conversation with the consumer in a clear and relatively quick manner. The reality is that a builder only has so much time with a prospective buyer of a new construction and they do have a great deal of ground to cover.  It is usually easier to focus on what is visible than what is not.

During our chat, we discussed creating scenarios of building a house three different ways to maximize the efficiency of the home and how to show that to a prospective buyer.  You could have partially finished walls in the garage of a model home which show building and insulating a wall to code vs. improved materials and techniques.  You could then show various types of wallboard – yes there are varieties of wallboard that address noise reduction, mold and moisture control and volatile organic compound removal.  This could be a chance for people to actually see and understand what is usually hidden behind the finishes they have been focused on.

Truth is, potential homeowners seem more interested in talking about the aesthetics of countertop materials than increasing the efficiency of their wall systems. Why are we so comfortable being ignorant about one the most important investments of our life? I would bet that more people have researched the features and benefits of their next car in terms of gas mileage, horsepower, etc.  than researching the type of insulation and wallboard to use in their home for optimum comfort and health.

Does anybody have any ideas of how we can engage homeowners in the conversation about the energy efficiency options in homes that will lower their operating costs over the life of a home? If you are a realtor, what do you do?

Take Advantage of the Extended Energy Tax Credits

cit5glamourimagesmallAs you know, at the end of 2012 our Nation averted falling off what was referred to as the “fiscal cliff” by passing last minute budget legislation.  Homeowners and homebuilders became the winners with that vote because one of the provisions was to extend the Energy Tax Credit which was designed to help them upgrade the efficiency of the building envelop and reduce their energy usage.

There were two key components of that action. Congress extended a tax credit for energy efficient retrofits through Dec. 31, 2013 and retroactively to Jan. 1, 2012. The credit allows homeowners to claim 10 percent of the cost of qualified energy-efficient building materials, such as insulation, up to $500. They also revived a business tax credit of up to $2,000.00 for builders that construct or significantly renovate “dwelling units” (e.g. apartments, condos or single-family homes) that meet certain energy efficiency standards.

I strongly recommend that to make the best decisions for improving the energy efficiency of an existing home that you conduct a home energy audit. This is an important first step in identifying where updates are most needed and how to get the greatest return from a renovation budget. ResNet is a great resource that helps connect homeowners with trained auditors in their community. For more information, visit www.resnet.us.

That being said, it is fairly easy to identify one of the greatest sources of energy loss even if you are not handy with energy modeling programs – the attic. Take a look up there. If the tops of the ceiling  joists are visible then you will definitely need to add more insulation to reach the current recommended R-value. This is typical of homes built more than 30 years ago.

ainsulatticblow1webdsmallAccording to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average homeowner can save as much as 30 percent on energy bills related to comfort simply by having the right amount of insulation throughout the home. For attics, applying a premium fiberglass blowing insulation is the best solution for adding thermal performance in an attic and in keeping a home warmer in the winter and cooler during the summer (without concern for compressing what insulation already exists  – a real issue with some other types of loose-fill insulations available). And the best part: it is easy to access and an inexpensive way to achieve great results year round.

There are tools available for homeowners that help recommend R-values for different areas of the home, provide estimates of potential savings, and identifies incentives for completing insulation projects from this federal tax credit down to local utility programs.

The most important thing is that you act now and don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of the Tax Credits while you can.  This might really be your last chance for a bite of the apple. The reality is older homes will need to be upgraded to remain competitive is the marketplace as newer construction comes online.  It is only a matter of time before energy efficiency labels will be placed on buildings.  Don’t let your single most valuable investment fall behind!

It’s Easy to Lower Energy Bills – Insulate!

BuilderLiveI continue to be amazed at tradeshows how attracted attendees are to photovoltaic (PV) products. It is admittedly an exciting technology and I saw this again at the Greenbuild and the International Builders’ Shows.  At this past IBS show, our Builders’ Resource Center answered many questions on many topics but clearly the most interest was again regarding integrated photovoltaic roofing and PV panels.

I guess what I find so amazing is how much time people will dedicate to evaluating the return on investment (ROI) for PV while remaining so unwilling to spend even a little effort going after low hanging fruit that might not be as exciting or visible. PV can be a good investment for many folks but it could be a great investment if they improved their baseline consumption first.

Insulate, tighten up that ductwork and envelope while ensuring proper fresh air and then the same PV investment can go from providing say 50 percent of your power needs to providing 75 percent. There’s an old African proverb that says: “if you want to go fast go alone but if you want to go far go together.” Nothing could be truer in a situation such as this. Every little effort you make can combine to have an impact greater than the sum of the parts.

Another thing I often hear during trade show discussions about solar is that folks are going to wait a little longer until they get into the PV roofing (they have a new roof they don’t want to disturb just yet, they are waiting for the right client to force their hand, they heard that prices are going to keep dropping as more folks get into it, etc…). I understand. It’s not a small investment and so it should be done with prudence.

But…. adding insulation and improving the building envelope need not wait. Material prices for these types of products are near historic lows and labor is trained, willing, and eager to do the job. You will begin saving money on your energy bill immediately and perhaps your new cash flow properties will actually allow you to get that super sexy solar even sooner.

 

NAHB International Builders’ Show – Where New Products and Learning Collide

CertainTeed booth at IBS 2013

CertainTeed booth at IBS 2013

I am in Las Vegas for the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show 2013.  I truly enjoy this show because it is a great opportunity to ‘kick the tires’ on products and learn about best practices taking places in the build community. 

With the new 2012 Building Codes that are starting to be adopted by states, it is critical that build professionals know the changes to the code requirements where they are building. It is also important to hear about best practices for achieving airtight assemblies and the best solutions for achieving maximum energy efficiency in the building envelope.

For IBS 2013, CertainTeed is focused on building knowledge. To assist with this, CertainTeed is incorporating in its booth (C2126) a Builder Resource Center making available building science and technical experts to share best practices but also to answer questions from show participants. If you come to our Resource Center you will be eligible to win a full day consultation by a building scientist on your construction site. 

At the booth, we will also have technical experts hosting “Ask the Expert” interactive sessions centered on building science, roofing, insulation, siding, gypsum and foundations. With the extension of the Energy Tax Credit as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, contractors and developers who construct or renovate “dwelling units” (apartments, condos or single-family homes) that meet certain energy efficiency standards have access to a tax credit of up to $2000.

If you are attending IBS, make sure to stop by booth C2126 and pick our brains. I guarantee you will have a great learning experience as well as a fun time.

Building America Solution Center a Great New Resource for Consumers and Residential Builders

The U.S Department of Energy has launched the Building America Solutions Center website.  Building America is a program that is operated by the Department of Energy to investigate best practices for residential construction.  They have accumulated a great deal of information from the field and done several experiments that up until now have only generally been shared within the Building Science community. It is a wonderful resource for building professionals and consumers who want to make the best choices when improving the energy efficiency in residential construction.

The Solution Center website shares best practices and other project resources to help plan, implement and measure energy efficiency programs for residential buildings and homes. The site includes resources to answer questions regarding new energy efficient technologies, projecting savings, financing home improvement projects.

This is public / private partnership funded research and everyone should be aware that it exists so they can make the best choices as we all move toward improving the energy efficiency of our buildings.

Spread the word about this great resource!