An Unsettling Modular Construction Myth Is Put To Rest

SimplexOPTIMARecently, I had the opportunity to debunk an industry myth that blown-in fiberglass loose-fill insulation is not a viable option for new modular home construction, as it might settle and lose R-value while in transit between the modular home production facility and the jobsite. This was one of the reasons modular home builder Simplex Homes had avoided using blown-in insulation on their projects for years. This year, however, they found themselves working with our OPTIMA® blown-in fiberglass insulation while building a Net Zero Energy demonstration structure at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia as part of Penn State’s GridSTAR Experience Center.

The plan was to build, insulate and roof the shell of the structure, using modular construction techniques, at the Simplex Homes production facility in Scranton, Pa., and ship it by truck to Philadelphia. Having never used OPTIMA in a modular construction application and concerned about the settling rumor, the builder consulted me for assistance in the design and assembly of the high-performance wall assemblies. I designed for them a high-performance 2×8 wood-framed wall assembly, which offered a total insulation R-value of 35.4. A key component of this assembly is a Blow-in-Blanket® System (BIBS) for the wall cavity featuring a 7-1/4-inch-thick layer of OPTIMA insulation.

With on-site assistance from one of our product engineers, the Simplex Homes crew was able to easily build and insulate the wall assemblies. The building’s shell was trucked to The Navy Yard this past spring, where the remainder of the interior finishes were added. An inspection after its arrival confirmed that the insulation had not moved an inch. Simplex Homes was impressed by their first experience installing OPTIMA and is now looking forward to working with the product in future modular construction projects.

The bottom line is that fiberglass loose-fill insulation is naturally inert and therefore will not settle or lose R-Value over the years, as long as it is installed properly at its full designed thickness. Blown-in fiberglass loose-fill insulation is an asset to any modular construction project, offering unwavering superior R-value, fire resistance and acoustic control for the life of a structure.

Now that we’ve put this myth to rest, what topic should we tackle next?

Can We Pick Our Future Rather Than Repeating Our Past?

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Version 4 (V4) has been approved and will be become official at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November 2013.  But even after the new version comes out in November, you can register and begin LEED 2009 projects up until the summer of 2015.  This means that for the next two years we will have LEED 2009 projects coexisting beside LEED V4 projects.

These programs are very different especially with regard to transparency issues.  For example, Health Product Declarations (HPD’s), Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) and Life Cycle Assessments (LCA’s) are moved in V4 from where they were in LEED 2009. In LEED 2009 they are classified as pilot libraries but now have been moved to materials and resources, credits two, three, and four. This represents a significant change to the materials and resources credits.

The co-existence of two different programs could, potentially, cloud the issues for the end users.  But making incremental steps can help to keep people focused on a sustainable future without feeling that they have to start all over. But does the potential exist for the momentum of LEED to stall because we are not looking far enough into the future?

Consider the Living Building Challenge which is the gold standard for what some advocates envision for the sustainable future. Have they thrown the target so far down the field that it doesn’t need to be continually updated because the goals are not highly achievable today? It sets the bar very high but it does give us a long range goal for future development.

If you want to change the future you can’t do it based upon the past.  Psychologists tell us that our default reaction to a challenge is based on our experience and history. When presented with a situation we tend to lean on the past.  This causes us to repeat the past and impedes our ability to get to a desired better future.

If you want to get to a future that is different than the past, you have to imagine a future not based on the past.  You have to set your target not based on incremental changes because that just builds on the past.  Let’s start by saying “in 10 years, I want to be over there”- now work back from there until now and NOT forward from now until then. I think you’ll find that you end up much closer to where you want to be this new way than you did with the old way.

I, for one, would not want to see our efforts to move toward energy efficient, sustainable buildings stalled or worse, abandoned, because we failed to see a clear path to that future. If we get too caught up in the process, we could lose sight of the purpose.

Beware How You Finish Your Moisture and Mold Resistant Drywall

CTG_FibaTape_Mold-X10_Details_ImageWhy are you spending all your effort and resources on moisture and mold resistant drywall and then finishing it with a standard, drywall paper tape? 

That is what often happens. In high moisture areas such as bathrooms and kitchens you need to make sure that you do not erode the added value of the drywall by finishing with standard tapes. There are fiberglass mesh drywall tapes that provide the best defense against mold and moisture when used with mold-resistant treated paper and paperless drywall. 

As I have pointed out before, you want to remove the presence of food which is one the four legs needed for mold to grow:  right temperature, oxygen, moisture and food – in this case – the paper drywall tape.

Always keep in mind that everything is a system and you need to consider all aspects of the wall assembly and how you want it to perform or you may not get the outcome you were striving for.

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.

 

Fraunhofer Institute CSE To Showcase Contemporary Sustainable Building Technologies in Real-Life Installations for Building and Design Pros

With the constant flow of new products being developed these days for the sustainable building market, it can be easy to feel like using a new product for the first time is taking a big risk. Sometimes, all you have to go on are the presentation from your manufacturer rep, the manufacturer’s reputation and, if you’re lucky, an endorsement from an industry peer who had positive results with the product. It’s not often that architects and contractors get to a see a new product they’re considering installed in a real-life application before making their final decision. The Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) hopes to help change that in the very near future.

The Fraunhofer CSE is currently remodeling a 100-year-old, 50,000 square-foot warehouse in Boston to be its new headquarters, as well as an important educational outlet for building and design professionals. The retrofitted building will serve as a living laboratory for building product research and demonstration, featuring a wide range of contemporary sustainable building technologies, such as CertainTeed’s AirRenew® M2Tech® IAQ Gypsum Board.

Fraunhofer CSE will evaluate the overall performance of the products after they are incorporated into the building’s various systems and assemblies to help manufacturers give their products a true test run with building-integrated and other applied research methods. The organization also plans to showcase these products in an open-to-the-public exhibition and educational space, using innovative applications, such as smart phone and tablet apps, to call attention to energy saving and/or sustainable construction attributes. This invaluable, unprecedented service will allow everyone, from veteran architects and construction pros to students, to visualize the performance and appearance of the technologies in simulations of real-life installations and learn more about their potential.

Take AirRenew, for instance. An architect or contractor could select it for a project based on the recommendations of others, but being able to experience firsthand how its ability to perpetually scavenge formaldehyde and other VOC emissions from indoor air and trap them inside walls is a huge advantage. This feature greatly improves indoor air quality by removing that very familiar “new-home/building smell” produced by VOC content in finishes and various furnishings, as well as the headaches, nausea and other health issues that sometimes accompany it. By viewing a completed installation of this and other products and learning more about them on-site, the specifier can make more informed, confident decisions, ultimately leading to better results on projects.

Frauhofer CSE is slated to open to the public later this year. For more information, go to  cse.fraunhofer.org. For more information on AirRenew, visit http://www.certainteed.com/products/gypsum.

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.

Cultivating Green Jobs in Solar Energy

GridSTAR_SolarThe Navy Yard in Philadelphia has evolved as an economic development powerhouse, attracting more than 10,000 jobs since the former Navy base began its transformation some 20 years ago. However, did you also know the campus is playing a critical role in supporting the development of green jobs?

For the past two years, I’ve been heavily involved with the GridSTAR Renewable Energy Training Structure, which includes a first-of-its-kind solar training facility. Slated for completion next month, the facility features our Apollo photovoltaic roofing system along with advanced battery solutions from Solar Grid Storage and off-grid power distribution equipment developed by Eaton. Penn State University as well as other project partners will use the facility as a hands-on classroom and research laboratory.

The facility is filling an important void in furthering the adoption of solar technologies. It’s estimated that 40 to 45 percent of power and energy professionals and educators may retire within the next five years. While at the same time, 92 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should develop and use more solar energy. To help fill this gap, projects such as the GridSTAR Renewable Energy Training Structure, will help ensure that roofing contractors, linemen, electricians, power system technicians and engineers are primed and ready to support this demand.

Most importantly, the facility is an excellent example of how public-private collaboration is driving workforce development, innovation and a more energy independent future. Is your community prepared for the next generation of green jobs?

Building Knowledge Experts at AIA2013 – Expertise that Inspires

AIA2013CertainTeed Technical Marketing Manager for Ceilings Bob Marshall conducted a session at AIA2013 on Ceilings in the Health Care Segment.  During the presentation while Bob was discussing the noise levels in hospitals and how it impacts healing, the question was raised:

“Why do we accept higher noise levels in hospitals if we know that it impacts the patients’ ability to heal?”

Two things work in our favor. Acoustical standards and guidelines are well documented and hospital administrators are getting validation regarding just how much acoustics matter and they are starting to make better choices when upgrading their facilities. We have to keep in mind that hospitals are very competitive but we are starting to see changes that have positive effects on patients and recovery. Rooms are painted in pastels now with artwork on the wall so administrators are starting to make the environment more pleasant for the patients.  At some point, they will have to address the noise levels as they relate to healing to continue to remain competitive. There is research that will speak to just about every architectural decision from an interior perspective. We are just validating and giving them the tools to go ahead and sell the acoustical benefits for making these changes.

If you have a question or comment, we would love to hear from you. Although AIA 2013 is over, we know these questions will continue to be raised.

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!