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!

YouthBuild Akron, Ohio Goes for LEED with CertainTeed

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

CertainTeed and our parent company Saint-Gobain have a three-year partnership with YouthBuild USA providing expertise and products for projects they are undertaking in various cities around the U.S.  Last week, I conducted some training programs for the YouthBuild organization in Akron, Ohio on the building envelope and how to select products to help them meet their LEED goals. YouthBuild helps train young adults in green building techniques and construction practices on hands-on projects in their community.

This project is a renovation of an existing home and based on the information from their design charrette, they may reach LEED Platinum which would be awesome not only for a low income housing project but as far as I can tell it is the first LEED H Platinum project in Akron.  The best part is that the house next to this home was previously rehabbed by YouthBuild and is nearly identical in layout so they should be able to do some comparisons of the energy savings.  Of course, results won’t be as “cut and dry” as we might like because you can’t control the behaviors of the occupants.  However, we should be able to get some relative comparisons as the homes are of identical size with identical orientations.

Based on the products and systems Akron YouthBuild are planning to use, they are hoping to renovate to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 65. This means that the home consumes 35 percent less energy than what is building code standard of 100.  This is a very aggressive score. HERS is a program of the Residential Energy Services Network and a registered HERS rater is working with them on this project.

While not all the products/systems have been selected, during our visit we made some suggestions especially for insulation, gypsum and roofing based on their goals and the building assembly to help with the EPP (Environmentally Preferable Products).  We were also able to add points because of the proximity of CertainTeed plants to the project location.

It is great to see these projects educating builders of the future in green and sustainable techniques. I also believe it sends the right message to the community in that a sustainable habitat is possible for everyone.

Sustainability on Display at Louisiana State University

 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I recently visited Louisiana State University to speak to the Baton Rouge Chapter of Construction Specification Institute (CSI). The sessions were held to assist the Chapter members earning Continuing Education Units for their professional credential renewals.

Steve Tubré who is the program chair for the chapter and Construction Contract Administrator and Director of Quality Assurance for Billes Partners, LLC in Baton Rouge invited me but I had no idea what a wonderful resource I would be introduced to while there.

LaHouse at LSU

LaHouse at LSU

The meeting was held in the LaHouse – Home and Landscape Resource Center which is part of the LSU Agricultural Center.  The house is a research-based showcase of solutions and an educational outreach program designed to help shape the future with homes that offer more comfort, durability, value, convenience, environmental quality, safety and better health with less energy, water, pollution, waste, damage and loss.

Throughout the house, the building envelope has cut-away sections to show the various different layers of construction which were employed in each different systems. Some examples of what you can see are the constituent layers of a stucco wall, and EIFS wall, and an insulated concrete form (ICF) wall.

What a wonderful way to illustrate the concepts of sustainable design and educate visitors about designs and systems to create the homes of the future. The LaHouse Resource Center provides a local and living showcase of solutions for sustainable homes and landscaping. The fact that it is part of the Ag Center and not the school of design was also intriguing.

The LSU Agricultural Center is in view of the football stadium so the next time you find yourself at a Tigers game swing by the LaHouse for some inspiration.

Designing Buildings with the Future in Mind

 

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson is Director, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation

Part of the conversation regarding sustainable design is a move toward improving performance and addressing specific needs of the potential occupants of a particular space.

The building industry has historically designed buildings based only on the need to provide a place for people to live, or go to school or to heal when sick. 

Today, so much more is taken into consideration. Product manufacturers, the design community and even building owners are much more focused on asking “What problem are we trying to solve” or “What elements need to exist in a building to help address performance based criteria such as, learning, healing, innovating and working.

Creating unique spaces is becoming more the norm even within what we refer to as vertical markets or niche markets which meet the needs of a particular industry.  Standards for design or performance may exist within a vertical market such as educational facilities or healthcare facilities but each project will have specific needs driven by geographical and environmental conditions, uses for the spaces, aesthetics and building owner preferences.

Some of the areas most critical to building sustainable and performance-based structures are thermal and acoustical comfort which is not seen but does affect our physical comfort and wellbeing.  Visual comfort speaks to our need for natural light.  Innovations in glass products are revolutionizing the industry.  Indoor air quality is crucial in all buildings and systems, and products are available to address most concerns for creating clean indoor air.

In the end, the efforts made to design and build high-performance, sustainable, buildings with solution based systems will provide significant savings for the end users.

When it Comes to Air Tightness in Buildings – Don’t Forget the Garage

 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Many of our houses have attached garages which are, for the most part, unconditioned space within our habitat.  It is the interface of these two spaces which so often fails in our attempts to conserve energy and have superior indoor air quality. 

For starters, you have to make sure that the garage is air sealed from the rest of the structure because of what you store in that space. You store things in your garage because you want them out of the weather but you don’t want them “indoors.” Very often negative pressure is generated in the home by exhaust fans and dryers. In your home’s attempt to reach a neutral pressure with the exterior, it will often pull air from the garage into the home.  Now all of the gaseous and particulate contamination which is associated with what you are storing and doing in your garage is coming into your home. Think about what is on the other side of these “interior” walls – typically they are the rooms where we spend the most of our waking hours; kitchen and family room. If the separation plane between these spaces is not made air-tight we might as well move into the garage.

One small detail which is best addressed during the time of construction is breaking the continuity of framing chases between the garage and the house typically found in the garage ceiling. As the second floor framing runs continuously across one of the garage interior walls, air-tight blocking needs to be installed between floor framing to close this avenue of air migration. This is obviously easier to achieve with dimensional floor framing or “TJI” (Trus Joist I) than it is with modern trusses. Also ensure that any doors leading from the garage to the living space are properly sealed and air tight. Get a new door sweep if the old one is worn out. One great indicator of an air leaky passage door is a dirt “shadow” in the carpet just inside the sweep. Carpet fibers make excellent air filters and atypical soiling patterns are great indicators of air flows.

Once you’ve decreased uncontrolled air flow between the home and the garage is there added value by adding an insulated exterior garage door?  Absolutely! Any way that you can tighten or insulate the envelop will improve the efficiency. When you are making any changes with regard to air tightness in the home don’t forget to include the garage in your decisions.

Do Your Part to Extend the IRS Section 25c Tax Credit for Home Energy Improvements

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Both homeowners and manufacturers have benefited from the Energy Tax credits offered from 2009 – 2011 for home improvements that improve energy efficiency. For example, adding insulation to attics and basements, replacing drafty doors and windows and replacing a roof with an ENERGY STAR rated roof.  At a time when homeowners have been tightening their belts, this credit helped to sustain the building industry through upgrading and remodeling in the current home inventory.

A large part of the building inventory in the U.S. is over 30 years old.  The building codes where not as stringent back then and what we are learning is that the building envelopes are not as tight as they should be.  Statistics from ENERGY STAR show that homes that have added insulation to attic spaces, basement ceilings, and walls have seen a reduction in their heating/cooling bills over time.

On December 31, 2011, the Energy Tax Credits will expire. Yet, the work to improve the efficiency of homes and buildings is far from over.

As member of the Insulation Contractors Association of America (ICAA) & Council of NAIMA, CertainTeed supports the extension of Energy Tax Credits – IRS Section 25c until 12/31/2013.

Please write your Senator and Congressional representative to:

  • Extend the expiration date to 12/31/2013.
  • Raise the tax credit cap to $1500 from $500.
  •  Include the cost of labor for building envelope components (like insulation) the tax credit calculation.

Please visit www.capwiz.com/insulate/home/  to see the issue and a model letter.  Click the Take Action button – the support letter is already there – fill in the sender information and hit send message.  It’s that easy!

 

 

Tools for Flashing Rough Openings – Not Windows and Doors

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I am struggling with an issue that keeps coming up with regard to the practice of flashing in building construction.  This is one of the most critical issues for ensuring that moisture will not permeate the building envelope. Earlier this year I wrote about the need to return to the construction techniques that our fathers and grandfathers adopted, especially, with regard to flashing

When I am conducting trainings and webinars on moisture management, which I do on a monthly basis, I am continually asked about flashing windows and doors.  I need to set the record straight – we do not flash windows and we do not flash doors –  we flash rough opens.  This is an important distinction.

Windows and doors are stuck onto a building so how can they be flashed?  They are accessories. The flashing is part of the rough opening in the wall assembly in addition to whatever features the window itself may have.

There are significant documents which clarify window installation practices such as ASTM E2112 which shows how to execute proper installation along with the proper flashing.  One of my favorite resources regarding flashing techniques in general is through SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association). Their manuals give clear step by step instructions for folding materials to make various flashing shapes with minimal cutting.

Do not depend on glues and adhesives to prevent water intrusion.  Chances are they will not be permanently maintained by a building owner.

Stick to solid pieces of material that are installed in a shingle-like manner to continuously shed the water to the exterior and allow gravity an surface tension to drain the water from the building.

The U.S. Green Building Council Beefs Up LEED 2012 Standards

Lucas Hamilton

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

Do you remember the Wendy’s ads that featured an old woman walking up to the counter of a burger joint and asking “Where’s the Beef?” Well there are times when I feel the same way about our efforts in the U.S. to really advance energy efficiency.

I am glad to see that the U.S. Green Building Council is upgrading the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.  The bar needs to be continually raised especially with regard to measuring the long-term results of energy upgrades.  But will they have gone far enough and are there tools available now to accurately measure performance?

The retrofit market clearly needs to be encouraged to improve energy efficiency.  One way that this is happening in major cities is through mandates.  New York and San Francisco have such mandates but there are a great many cities and towns between those that are not even ready to mandate LEED on new construction.

Even with a stalled economy with regard to new construction, manufacturers continue to develop products that propel us into sustainability: wallboard that removes formaldehyde from the air; insulation that minimizes its environmental impact; and solar roofing to harness power from the sun instead of the grid.  But without real incentives or mandates we continue to be a nation of obvious consumption because the cost of energy is still reasonable, for now.

The new LEED rating systems do include more stringent requirements regarding the sharing of data on a building’s energy use and owners of LEED certified buildings will have to re-apply for certification every five years.  This is crucial because maintaining the systems is just as important as installing them in the first place.

In a previous blog, I discussed the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) Energy Quotient which rates buildings on energy consumption.  Making these tools standard practice will drive us as consumers to improve the efficiency in our homes and buildings.  It supports the “buyer beware” far beyond the current home inspection process.

More and more professionals are getting credentialed in building energy rating which will increase the ability to test buildings and make recommendations.  These are the green jobs that are coming on line. Now we need to add more ‘beef’ and some incentives (not necessarily hand-outs) to help building and home owners choose a sustainable future.

Living Inside a Cooler – The Challenges of the Net-Zero Building Envelope

Lucas Hamilton

Can we live inside a cooler? We’re going to find out.

As we respond to the challenges of energy and resource depletion through the construction of super efficient and sustainable buildings we must remember why we are constructing buildings in the first place- it’s for people. The net-zero envelope is like a portable cooler – super tight, thermally efficient, and breathes no air.  The easiest was to create super efficient buildings is to just copy a portable cooler and then shove people inside. However, a building’s primary function is to provide a safe and healthy habitat for people. The success of any building technique or approach should be judged by this criterion first.

When struggling to find motivation for doing the right thing – good indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in this case – we have a strong incentive when it comes to our homes.  We love our families and want them to have the best environment we can provide.

In a commercial setting, since some of us don’t love our co-workers, we need to find a different motivation. A really smart guy I know (no name dropping here) explained to me that when a building occupant such as a large corporation considers where they are spending their operational costs, the break-out is 15/85. 15% goes to operation of the space; the rent, the light bill, the toner cartridges, etc. 85% goes to Human Resources (salaries, benefits, etc.). Perhaps it is here that we find good cause for doing right.

In this sort of space we can create a more financially based argument by focusing on the impact of good IEQ on worker productivity and related issues. We know that IEQ leads to better problem solving, increased productivity, lower absenteeism and lower health care expenses. I would also suggest that it leads to a greater sense of happiness and accomplishment.

Now let’s get the building envelope dialed in. We can do zero energy. We can do zero carbon. We’ve gone from negative to neutral. The challenge now is can we do this so that it has a positive effect on people?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

JLC Live Residential Construction Show Stuns with Volume of Exhibitors and Attendees

Myron Ferguson clinic on drywall finishing

Why on a sunny, cool, dry, Rhode Island day would nearly 6,000 residential construction professionals from all over New England – and beyond – take a couple of days off, after the most brutal winter in New England history, to attend a trade show?

Why would manufacturers from all over the country flock to Providence, Rhode Island to exhibit at this trade event and why is there a higher demand for exhibit space at this show than the capacity to exhibit?

Why is this show one of the few trade events in the last three for four years to have growth as a problem?

Why? Because JLC Live, presented by The Journal of Light Construction, Remodeling, and Tools of the Trade magazines published by Hanley Wood delivers one of the highest trade show values – pound for pound, dollar for dollar – in the industry!

This show’s attendance increased by nearly 10 percent from 2010 to 2011 and the exhibitor participation increased by 15 percent.  This is extraordinary in a down economy!

Today, building technology is changing at a rapid rate. The beauty of JLC Live is the marriage of the practical side with the science/theory side attracting installers, applicators and remodelers who are eager not only to see the latest products but who want to see the science/theory and best practice applications in action by attending hands-on clinics.

Two examples of the show’s clinics supported by CertainTeed (both packed) were:

  • Drywall Trade Secrets – Gypsum drywall finishing clinic conducted by Myron Ferguson, Building Specialist, demonstrating best practices of drywall installation and finishing using a new gypsum product, AirRenew™ that removes volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from the air improving the indoor air quality.
  • Home Performance SolutionsBill Robinson, Building Specialist discussed the opportunities of bringing energy efficiency to older homes.  The retrofit market will continue to grow as homeowners seek to improve the efficiencies of their building envelop. It is expected that, over the coming years, the remodeling market will grow by an annual rate of 3.5 percent.

From CertainTeed’s perspective, the benefit of an event like this is that the attendees are so excited by what they see and learn they will leave the event and go out and buy building products.  The impact is that quick.  In this economy the construction industry is a highly competitive place. Contractors and remodelers knowing they need to differentiate themselves waste no time in adding new ‘tools’ to their toolbox.

At a time when we are not ‘out of the woods’ as an industry,  it is obvious that building professionals find this show a significant value proposition making it well worth their time and resources.

If you were at JLC Live, let me know what you thought of the event.

 

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation