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!

Don’t Forget the End Users When Building for Energy Efficiency

While at Greenbuild 2012 I was asked “What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?” My answer was posted on our Blog but there is more I want to say about this so here we go!

Users or occupants of high efficiency buildings need to understand and be a partner in the process because  ultimately they influence the  success or failure of a building’s efficiency over time. For example, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes will give you credit for and requires Energy Star performance which means certain insulation levels, certain air tightness and certain efficiencies on the mechanical systems (among other issues). The energy efficiency of the building is based upon a combination of highly efficient equipment and permanent passive systems.

When the active system wears out, if the consumers don’t appreciate the importance of the efficiency of that system on the overall performance of the habitat they are unlikely to take that into consideration when they have to replace equipment.  They can go from a high efficiency piece of equipment that made their sustainable building sing beautifully and perform wonderfully and stick in something that is on sale or is perhaps promoted by their contractor but with a whole different efficiency rating.  Now the building goes from being a Prius to being a Hummer simply because the driver wasn’t told the difference between the two.

In sustainability circles we often talk about “the Prius effect”.  This comes from the engagement of the driver with the car.  Once the driver understands the savings due to the offset of the electrical to the fuel and you give them real-time feedback, they began to drive against the machine to improve the efficiency. The build community needs to develop dashboards or other tools for high efficiency buildings so that end users can see the benefits provided by the systems.  That buy-in is critical to sustaining efficiency over the life cycle of the building.

There is no point in doing a sustainable building for someone unless you teach and show them how to maintain it. That is one aspect I especially admire about the Living Building Challenge. The Beauty petal has components which include inspiration and education. Couldn’t we all use a little more of both?

Tips For Rebuilding Following Hurricane Sandy

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Many of us in the Philadelphia area have been recuperating from Hurricane Sandy although we did not get hit as hard as our neighboring state, New Jersey. Some of our co-workers do have family members with shore homes so I have had a chance to look at the building codes and other guidelines for rebuilding in flood prone areas. I wanted to share some information about rebuilding and the things you need to keep in mind.

Many of the houses have damage to the first floor and what we are seeing it is not the ‘business as usual’ building codes that have previously been acceptable in New Jersey. There are new building codes that are in effect that follow more closely the FEMA guidelines. For example, the guideline requires that you:

  • Remove the drywall and insulation to two feet above the high water mark.
  • Dry out and treat the entire cavity.
  •  Following the gutting of the cavity – remove all the drywall and insulation exposing all the studs to the back side of wood sheathing or house-wrap – this area must be treated with a mold inhibitor.
  • When you reconstruct the wall you can only us certain insulations:  either closed spray foam insulation or extruded polystyrene foam boards foamed into placed.  While anyone can install the extruded foam panels (if they can find the right thickness- remember you need to be an R13 in New Jersey now so that will be an XPS board at least 2.6” thick).  Spray foams need to be installed by a certified contractor.
  • The wall needs to be finished with a paperless drywall – it can’t be the mold and moisture resistant drywall – and the drywall needs to be stopped with a ½ inch space between the new and old drywall to create a capillary break. The gap can then be finished off with a chair rail or other element to hide the wallboard gap. I think the reason they are requiring a gap is so that in the event that a flood happens again, the water can’t wick up the wall and affect the old wall structure.

When I saw this I thought ‘this is not normal.’  Because it isn’t normal – it is an exceptional code being applied to flood prone areas as designated by FEMA. These are what townships are putting into place to minimize the damage if another storm hits.

It is clearly not business as usual for East Coast communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.

 

 

 

Managing Your Expectations

Lucas Hamilton

When you are considering remodeling activities and the impact that those activities will have on the energy consumption of the home, a very good place to weigh the benefits of one activity over another is the Federal Energy Management Program.

Under this program there are a variety of things but the one I thought most interesting is the Technology Deployment.  This focuses on market-driven technologies and creating market pull for new and underutilized technologies.

If you look at the Building Envelope section you will see what activities will give you a great impact on reducing your energy consumption.  Activities such as using a cool roof or a green roof, installing window films or replacing older windows with high R value windows are rated so that the end user can identify which remodeling activities will give the biggest bang for the buck. You can also look at the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning and see that commercial ground source heat pumps, for example, have a huge impact.

This in a wonderful way for consumers to get to the bottom line and be able to make smart choices when remodeling in order to reduce energy consumption especially in older homes.

It is also a great way to avoid being disappointed because you were told by some radio advertisement that installing new windows will cut your energy bill in half. You will be smarter than that!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed

If You Suspect Mold in a Building – Remember the Hindenburg!

Lucas Hamilton

If you have had some moisture damage in your building and suspect or see that you have some mold, remember The Hindenburg

Before you cut into the wall, compartmentalize and put the space under a negative pressure.  The last thing you want to do in a building when you think you may have had a moisture issue and suspect that mold could be growing behind the wall is to disturb it and have the mold spores release into the air within the building. If you think you may have a problem and need to cut into the wall take these steps to create negative pressure in the room:

  • Close the door
  • Open a window
  • Put a fan in the window blowing out to create negative pressure in the room
  • Then you can safely cut into the wall to treat the mold

The lesson we learned from the Hindenburg relates to the smoking lounge.  The lounge was kept under positive pressure and the smoke leaked out into the rest of the dirigible so that if there was a gas leak in the envelope of the dirigible, the gas could not flow into the smoking lounge to get ignited by a pipe or a lighter.

You are doing the same thing here but in reverse.  You are putting the space into a negative pressure before you disturb the space so that contaminants could not possibly flow into the building.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

What if We Could Make Buildings Sweat?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Following up on the previous post “Can We Design Buildings for Heat and Cooling that Mimic the Human Body”, a similar question popped into my head regarding making buildings sweat.

The evaporation of water is an endothermic process that cools a surface. Evaporation of sweat from the skin surface has a cooling effect due to this phenomenon. Hence, in hot weather, or when the individual’s muscles heat up due to exertion, more sweat is produced in response to your rising internal thermostat. Why couldn’t this same process be applied to buildings?

What if there was a way to take the condensation that often occurs at sunrise, capture it and re-release it as needed.  Could we create materials, while not letting moisture intrude into the building, that could capture the moisture that naturally occurs and evaporate it off in the daytime when the sun hit the walls to cool it off?  

Obviously this would be a benefit in climates where we are using a great deal of cooling. We don’t want this occurring in cold climates for a variety of reasons. That’s a discussion for another day.

Are there any ideas out there?  When people get hot, they sweat and it cools them off.  Is it possible to apply this concept to buildings?

Can We Design Buildings for Heat and Cooling that Mimic the Human Body

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I spend lots of time thinking about buildings. Sad; I know. Lately I have been wondering how we wound up in such a confusing state. It’s like looking under your car hood. Have you looked under your hood lately? It looks like a building design. Who in their right mind would have started out to design such a complicated mess? No wonder we need so many building scientists and we pay a hundred bucks an hour to get our cars fixed. Can we step back for a minute?

Thermal comfort in the built environment needn’t be so complicated. If we could start from scratch and try to make buildings comfortable based upon our own organic experience, what would we do? I live in Philadelphia.  If I go outside in the winter and try to passively stay comfortable – passively meaning to not use any outside energy sources – I would use lots of layers of clothing, would zip up tight and cover my skin.

Coincidentally that is what we require in our cold climate building codes.  Lots of layers of clothing means R-value. When you wear lots of layers of clothing you are trapping gas inside layers.  The gas is the insulation – gas gives you resistance to conductive energy heat flow – that’s R-value.  So when you are wearing lots of layers you are wearing R-value. When we say zip up – that’s getting air tight. We finally woke up and added that one to the cold and mixed climate codes as well.

The problem comes in the summertime. To stay cool, you would take off those layers, wear light colors and try to get air flow around you.  You would wear airy fabrics to release as much heat from your body as possible and light colors which don’t get hot in the sun. If you were stuck wearing lots of layers and were zipped up tight, you would have to blow cold fresh air into that outfit to stay comfortable. Our goal should be not to do that. Remember, passive technologies rule and active technologies cost $$$.

We need to find ways to help a building be warm in the winter and stay cool to begin with in the summer. I am looking for changes to our practices that will enable us to do to buildings what we do to ourselves. How would you build your building differently?

If you can’t strip off all the layers of clothing the very least you will do is unzip so can we figure out a way to unzip our buildings? I know we want to be air tight in the winter but can we figure out a way to use air to remove surface heat in the summer? I think ventilated claddings may be one answer.

Can you think of some others? To go back to the car analogy, let’s stop bolting more stuff onto the internal combustion engine to make it more efficient and drop in an electric motor. It needn’t be so complicated.