Engage! – The Challenge for Building Science Webinars

Lucas Hamilton

CertainTeed recently launched a series of free Building Science webinars geared to architects and building professionals.  The series qualifies for Continuing Education Units with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and kicks off with a series on A Systems Approach for Residential Buildings

We received very positive feedback about the content but what the audience did not like was the platform for the webinar.  Participants were required to call in on the phone for the audio which tied up their phone lines. They preferred a voiceover internet protocol.  As a result, we researched and moved to a new platform to correct this situation and it has had a positive effect for all.

Since many of you may have experience with holding and/or participating in webinars I am asking for your input on some best practices with regard to platforms and content. Such as:

  • Are there types of webinars or subjects of webinars that have been more impactful or of greater value for you?
  • Are there platforms that are more impactful?

CertainTeed wants to improve the connection we are making with the audience and ensure that the content is being shared as fully as possible and that requires engagement. The challenge with a webinar over an in person presentation is in the ability to engage the audience.

The engagement is a critical aspect of the webinar because it is often in the engagement that the real ‘chestnuts’ fall from that engagement – not what is on the slides – and provides the most valuable application of the content.

Does anyone have any experiences to share on engaging audience during webinars? I would love to hear from you.

I invite you to join me for the webinar series and look forward to your feedback.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Friendly Sparring with Ecoman and the Skeptic on the Radio

Lucas Hamilton

Sustainability experts Rob Fleming, associate professor of architecture and director of the M.S. in Sustainable Design program, and Dr.Chris Pastore, professor of engineering, both from Philadelphia University host an innovative radio show called Ecoman and the Skeptic, the first green radio program to broadcast live from a college or university. The show is broadcast on Thursdays at noon from the ”fishbowl” in the Kanbar Campus Center at Philadelphia University and then syndicated through Voice of America’s Green Talk Network

The show is designed to educate, inform and entertain listeners on a wide range of topics relating to sustainability with a broad spectrum of special guests.

I recently served as a guest on the show. The topic was Building a Better Building and we discussed current issues regarding sustainability, energy efficiency, new products that are available and how manufacturers are working to meet the needs of the marketplace to build a better envelop.  The format is rather loose so the topics covered are not set in stone.

The great thing about the show is that you have two hosts with opposing points of view. Rob is Ecoman, the idea guy, thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo and finding inventive ways of doing things and Chris, the engineer, is the Skeptic bringing a more practical, grounded perspective, routed in reality.  You need both of these viewpoints, especially when looking at new, innovative concepts and creative solutions.

You can listen to Building a Better Building here.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

School Districts Are Embracing LEED Buildings

Lucas Hamilton

Large urban and smaller sub-urban districts alike are increasing their focus on building schools that are certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program because this practice results in more state funding.  Schools get funding based upon population – the actual number of students that they teach every day- not the number of school age children living in their district.  That is a number that is taken daily called attendance. 

If  40 percent of  a school district’s population is not showing up, that district will receive 40 percent less state funding than may be deserved. While the goal of the school district may be to educate our children, the first task is to get kids to show up. This is not just for all the right reasons, such as, the importance of learning and that it is in the best interest of society in general but also because that is the way the school district gets paid.

Statistics show that building more sustainable spaces results in increased student attendance over schools constructed with outdated techniques and materials (and decreased staff absenteeism due to illness).  Building sustainably also improves the acoustics and indoor environmental quality of the building. Incorporating acoustical ceilings, noise reducing gypsum wallboard and adequate levels of insulation contributes to the creation of optimum learning environments. Recent studies have shown that optimizing learning space acoustics ultimately improves student retention and test scores (another critical metric by which schools are judged).

For some urban school districts, the school buildings themselves may be the nicest spaces that the child will be in all day. While this is considered collateral benefit, it’s well worth it for the school district to invest in sustainable spaces because the children feel better, they are healthier, more positive about the experience and will be in the classroom on a more consistent basis.

If you look at the upfront costs to build a school, why would a school district strapped for cash build a school above and beyond code?  Because it will pay for itself!

 Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Traditional Flashing Techniques Still Rule

Tom Silva from This Old House at CertainTeed's IBS booth

At the International Builders’ Show in Orlando, January 12 – 15, Tom Silva, general contractor for This Old House answered questions in the CertainTeed booth. One of the recurring issues that Tom discussed was flashing and the importance of proper flashing as a water barrier.  He really believes that barriers need to be constructed and maintained. 

At one point, he was talking about Fiber Cement siding and was asked what he does with the butt joints.  He said that you have to flash with physical materials and use traditional flashing techniques at all times.  He said that he flashes behind the butt joints and back caulks the boards to the flashing to prevent water from running laterally at the butt joints.

He obvious believes in traditional methods and good solid construction practices and flashing is one that is critical.  It occurs to me that we are at a low point in our cyclical knowledge process with regard to flashing. We are seeing more moisture issues because of incorrect flashing that has enabled water to penetrate. Often, we depend on newer materials to get the job done rather than using the time tested practices.  It’s funny because at one point during our discussions with Tom I mentioned SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ Association) and you could immediately tell who the seasoned builders were in the audience.  The SMACNA Manual is the sheet metal workers bible. It illustrates how to fold any piece of metal into any shape so that you don’t have to cut it. It is like origami for sheet metal. It seams that buildings constructed using the types of flashing shown in that manual have fewer moisture issues than their newer neighbors.

There are many traditional building practices that we forget and flashing is one of them. When all the failures to keep moisture out of the wall assembly point back to that simple interface between two dissimilar systems and how they should have been closed with a piece of good flashing, it becomes obvious that the basics will still work. You can’t ignore them! For example, why continuous nailing fins on a window is considered self flashing is beyond me.  You haven’t flashed anything. You have just sealed the eventual window leak into the wall.  You have not flashed and redirected to the outside. After all, it’s not the window that needs to be flashed, it’s the rough opening!

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

IBS 2011– The Builders’ Land of Oz

Tom Silva from This Old House at CertainTeed's IBS booth

I spent January 12 – 15 at the International Builders’ Show (IBS) in Orlando, Florida. This annual event is sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). I was amazed how global the show has become over the years not only with exhibitors but with attendees as well.  While the show is not as large as it has been in the past and the attendance is down, attendees were there with projects. Hopefully this is an indication that industry recovery is on its way.

This show is truly the Land of Oz for builders who’ve survived the poppy fields of the past three years. The show booths are exquisitely designed and display products and processes that improve the quality of and the efficiency of the building envelope.  But it is not just products that make the difference in the design, execution or renovation of projects; it’s the interaction of the products in the assemblies and the knowledge to execute the construction correctly.

To this end, many exhibitors included training and demonstrations as part of their exhibits.  Providing the knowledge of how to correctly create systems for efficiency in the envelope is key to successful tightening of a building. I presented a series of trainings on “Sustainability and the National Green Building Code”, “Selling Energy Efficiency”, and “Moisture and Mold Prevention in Building Assemblies” at the CertainTeed booth.  We were honored to have Tom Silva, general contractor for This Old House speak at our booth again this year.  Tom answered questions from the audience and shared some great information for professionals. Some of the issues that Tom discussed will be featured in future blogs.

Among the high interest products and systems in our booth this year were AirRenew™, a wallboard that removes formaldehyde and other aldehydes from the air;  Diamondback Tile Backer a high-performance tile backer that features a bonding technology that makes tile installation simpler, faster and less costly;  EnerGen™, a photovoltaic solar power roofing product that integrates with traditional asphalt roofing and our hybrid insulation system, discussed in a previous blog, which combines spray foam insulation, blown insulation and a vapor retarder to create a cost-effective way to create a thermally superior airtight seal in the wall systems.

With more that 1,000 exhibitors at the convention it was a bit like stepping out of the dark woods of the past three year construction market and into a bright and sunny field of poppies. As tempting as it was to inhale deeply and lay down for a rest, we know that it takes friends, courage, heart, and wisdom to make it all the way to the Emerald City.  For this weary traveler, at the end of these events, there’s no place like home.

Stay tuned for future blogs which may discuss how Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon predicted our recent construction slump and what it says about future housing starts.

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Hybrid Insulation Systems Give Best of Both Worlds in Performance

While making a presentation recently at the Oakland Space and Science Center in California, the topic of fiberglass versus spray foam insulation came up and was quickly followed by questions about hybrid insulation systems. It seems like a lot of people have hybrids on their mind these days.

One of the positives about spray foam is that the insulation itself is air resistant.  The gas or air which does the majority of actual insulating is trapped in bubbles inside the plastic foam matrix and can’t be washed out by air flow.  Now that we recognize the influence of air leakage on a home’s energy consumption, many builders and homeowners are trying to get their houses as “tight” as they can. Installing spray foams where air is leaking through the building envelope can reduce that flow rate. One of the issues people struggle with when considering foams as a solution has been their cost- they can have a significantly higher installed cost than fibrous insulations.

For this reason, in some markets, contractors are turning to hybrid insulation systems often referred to as flash and batt insulation. To fill a 2 x 6 inch empty wall cavity, first add a flash coat of closed cell foam on the exterior wall to a thickness of 1 -2 inches then take a low density batt to fill in the space before the drywall is installed. What you get is the best of both worlds – the inexpensive high R-value of the fiberglass batt combined with a smaller amount of foam which gives you the air tightening effects desired. 

An even more effective option is using loose fill insulation such as OPTIMA® in the hybrid system instead of fiberglass batts.  This is a cost efficient, high R-value, well performing system. A challenge for the hybrid approach lies in very cold climates. Fiberglass is a very efficient insulating material so if too much is used with the foam it will make the foam cold and moisture can form in the wall assembly. That needs to be avoided at all costs. For colder climates there are very specific recommendations for the amount of foam you need to use in the wall constructions before you can eliminate the need for a vapor retarder on the warm-in-winter side of the insulation. We have recommendations for hybrid insulation systems, as does the Blow-in Blanket Contractors Association (BIBCA), designed to create the appropriate foam to fiberglass ratios which will prevent this from occurring. If you choose to install less foam and more fiberglass or if you have any lingering concerns about moisture in these assemblies, I recommend installing a Smart Vapor Retarder such as the MemBrain™ product. As an example, the First LEED Platinum Home in Colorado applied the hybrid system using CertainTeed products.

If you are using a hybrid insulation system in your construction projects I would love to hear your experiences.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

How the Customer of the Future Will Affect the Home Improvement Industry

Rosemary Hayn

Rosemary Hayn

I recently attended the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) Conference in Chicago, Illinois.  HIRI is a membership based, independent, not-for-profit organization of manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and allied organizations in the home improvement industry.  Its mission is to be recognized as the primary authority for effective, useful information about home improvement products and services in North America.

One of the sessions shared results of a study on consumer trends conducted with HIRI and The Futures Company a leading consumer research company.  The purpose of this study was to provide building professionals with consumer lifestyle wants and needs for the home.  The survey group included 26 – 41-year-olds. The results provide food for thought for manufacturers, retailers and building professionals in selling to the changing consumer:

There were five key trends that emerged from the survey:

  • More savvy, intelligent consumers, want products customized; want best deals; seek reviews and recommendations; focus on real, tangible benefits; want luxury at accessible prices. This is considered Consumers in Control.
  • Return to simple, less ostentatious living; products that withstand the test of time; making old classics with modern production standards; value transparency as mark of trust; interested in people behind the products. This illustrated The Genuine Article.
  • Focused on waste reduction; recognize challenge of a resource-constrained world; better solutions without compromise on performance or price; making positive contribution to community. This translated to Making a Difference.
  • Rediscovering life’s simple pleasures; desire intensified sensory experiences; solutions that save time and make life easier; maximizing performance of body, mind and spirit to attain goals. Referred to as Life, Well Lived.
  • Turning to trusted networks; coming together to share knowledge; connecting with local communities; value traditional forms of connection; mix of new influences on identity and tastes. Examples of Cultivating Connections.

Consumers clearly desire to have conveniences in the home to make living easy but are very focused on reducing waste and having more efficiency in their building envelope and appliances.

As I reviewed the statistics associated with the preferences, I discovered some interesting trends: 

  • Consumers say an important reason for them to do home improvement is to make their home better fit their lifestyle. (83%)
  • Say that price is more important than brand name. (76%)
  • Are doing more comparison shopping before buying – this includes those whose household income is $100,000+. (62%)
  • Wish they knew more about the home improvement products they purchased and how to maintain them. (73%)
  • Say their happiness doesn’t depend on how many possessions they have. (78%) 
  • Have learned, through the recession, to improve their home without spending a lot of money. (65%) 
  • Agree that you can depend on brands that have been around for a while. (87%) 
  • Feel it is important to know what is in a product in order to make a buying decision. (69%)
  • 52% have installed energy efficient appliances and 16% plan to.

This is just scratching the surface of the information in this study.  This information is very valuable in determining what products as well as product features and benefits the consumer of the future will expect and prefer. 

Are you starting to see these trends among clients or potential clients?

Rosemary Hayn is Manager, Market Research and Planning for CertainTeed Corporation

Making Low Income Homes Energy Efficient

Lucas Hamilton

Last weekend, not only did we celebrate Halloween but the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) celebrated National Weatherization Day recognizing the work being done to save money for America’s homeowners by investing in energy efficiency.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act weatherization program has assisted over 245,000 low-income families conduct energy audits, upgrade their homes and lower energy consumption by installing insulation in the attic and basement, weather stripping on the doors and roof ventilation.

The weatherization program has also put Americans to work to complete these upgrades.

This video documents the work that DOE is doing and also provides some great tips for DIYers for ways to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Not all Building Wraps are Created Equal – Technology and Common Sense Must Go Hand-in-Hand

Building wraps are now required behind all cladding by the International Residential Code. If you are building over a wood frame you must use a secondary water resistive barrier (WRB). Recent research has shown that as much as 10 percent of the wind driven rain is getting past the cladding onto the back-up layer. Intruding water must be redirected toward the exterior and not allowed to accumulate within the wall assemblies. This is the function of the water resistive barrier.

When selecting a building wrap you need to consider:

  • Install-ability – Is it tough enough to withstand exposure to the elements over a period of time?  Building wraps need to hold up to winds, not rip over staples and stay in place once installed.
  • Balanced set of physical properties – Select a material that is somewhat vapor open but not too vapor open.  There is a relatively healthy balance for a variety of cladding assemblies based on what the appropriate permeance is at that layer.  Much of the computer modeling that I have done over the years indicates a good general number for the permeance is between 10 – 20 U.S. perms for most U.S. climates.
  • Always install in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations –  This becomes your principle means of defense for moisture.  Moisture intrusion must stop at this line.

Building wrap needs to be installed in a shingle-like manner, so that it sheds water to the outside. It should also be installed in coordination with flashings and other accessories to ensure that any moisture that does intrude the assembly gets stopped at this layer.  It must then be redirected to the exterior and not become entrapped within the wall somewhere else.

Common sense is something that our fathers and grandfathers did far better than we do today.  Today the tendency is to rely on the silver bullet of technology to help pull us out of the fire.  The fact is, if you take these materials and install them with a great deal of common sense and construction knowledge, as older tradesmen did, then they work really well. In the best circumstances, the marriage of good technology and practical knowledge coincide and we construct durable and sustainable buildings. The correct application of a proper water resistive barrier is an example of such an installation. It’s not rocket science, it’s good building science.

 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Tolerance for Moisture Intrusion is a Challenge in Vancouver

Lucas Hamilton

Earlier this week I traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to present the workshop on Mold and Moisture Control in buildings at the final [Be Certain] event.  It has been fascinating to present these workshops in different Northern climates and creating simulations to address the specific challenges faced in these areas of North America.

Previously, I blogged about polyethylene in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the challenges faced in controlling moisture because of the use of exterior insulation. In preparation for my Vancouver workshop, I re-ran the modeling for Vancouver and the results were very interesting.

Polyamide films, like MemBrain™ because it is a breathable vapor retarder can provide additional tolerance for moisture intrusion in many climates, but in extreme climates like Vancouver there is almost no way to survive water intrusion.

In such climates, the best course is to build into the design redundant drainage planes and flash, flash, flash. Expect water to pass your principle line of defense and stop it with a secondary line of defense which will evacuate the intruding moisture to the exterior environment. This would be like a window rough opening being completely wrapped prior to window installation and this rough opening flashing draining water out and onto the face of a water resistive barrier (WRB) which leads to an egress at the base of the wall system.

While there is so much we know about moisture management, there is always more to learn and our thinking must be comprehensive. If we don’t learn from the past, our attempts to build air-tight and moisture-tight buildings will leave us looking more like Wile E. Coyote grasping for the next solution. I am not comfortable with that. Thoughts?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation