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.

Can Mapping Urban Albedo Help Control Urban Heat Island Effect?

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Urban temperatures are rising and it has a great deal to do with the types of materials we choose to construct our habitat. Historically, our construction materials have been great absorbers of infrared and near infrared solar radiation. As our urban centers have grown they have accumulated an excess potential for heat absorption which has put them out of balance compared to more rural areas. This is what is called the heat island effect.  The good news is that every urban surface exposed to the sun becomes a potential location to reverse this process and restore the balance.

While researching maps of Philadelphia (my home) for a previous blog on billing property owners for impervious surfaces that contribute to the rainwater run-off pouring into co-mingled storm/sewer systems, I came across the map used to identify these properties by the City (http://www.phila.gov/water/swmap). 

The interactive map shows the relative water permeability of surfaces delineating between general materials such as roofing, parking areas, roads, and open spaces. I started to think about how we could use similar technology to identify the albedo of the surfaces – a material’s natural ability to reflect or absorb radiant heat gain from solar radiation.

Some creative person (with a lot of time on their hands) should be able to use tools like Google Earth, identify the nature of the surfaces they see, and draw from a database of Solar Reflective Index (SRI) values to identify the potential targets for improvement. How can we influence global cooling?  By using technology that is available to identify the albedo of existing buildings. Once identified, municipalities can incentivize people to change to cool roofs or to living roofs where appropriate. The city could encourage the re-planting of native trees in unusable areas. There are all kinds of things each property could do to make a difference.

I would love to hear what other ideas may be out there to address this issue.  Any takers?

Living Building Challenge Alive and Rising in Seattle

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

In the early days of my blogging, I talked about the Living Building Challenge and the early adoption taking place in Portland, Oregon. The Challenge aims to certify green buildings around seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty. It is so comprehensive that it is “whole-istic”. Sorry.

An exciting “Living Building” project is currently underway in Seattle that was highlighted in U.S News on MSNBC  on March 20, 2012. This could be a true showcase for the ultimate in sustainable office buildings. There is also a slide presentation in the link that is worth reviewing.

Denis Hayes, who co-founded Earth Day with Gaylord Nelson, now heads the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation.  He is partnering with architect Jason McLennan, who is CEO of the International Living Future Institute on this project.

With everything from harvested rainwater to geothermal wells, solar energy and lots of natural light, this building has no parking lot on the premises but is accessible by bus, bike or on foot. One day this could truly become the standard for new urban construction but in the meantime it can also provide valuable data to fuel the movement on retrofitting existing buildings.

Great project with great potential!

The NAHB International Builders’ Show – A Constant in a Changing Landscape

Mike Loughery

Mike Loughery is Director, Corporate Marketing Communications for CertainTeed Corporation

Here we are once again, heading to the International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Florida.  In the days of the housing boom, you could get a feel for the attendance and enthusiasm by how packed the plane was and the fact that it was filled with builders and contractors.

The past few years have been tough though.  Attendance, which once peaked in the low one-hundred thousands, was a mere shadow of itself a year ago with about 47,000 walking through the turnstiles. 

What will this year hold?  Well, I’m sitting on the plane.  It’s packed and a good number of the folks seem to be in the building trades (albeit for the few families headed you know where!).  Enthusiasm?  Well, not sure yet on that one.  But I know that tomorrow I will enter the hall, see all the displays, and hear the buzz of business taking place.  There is nothing as gratifying as spending four days talking with the trades about the latest products and innovations in the marketplace. 

The temptation for some might be to shrink away and not exhibit.  However, we all have businesses to run and CertainTeed representatives find talking to an engaged audience, whether it’s 50,000 or 100,000 an excellent opportunity to showcase some of the industry’s most innovative new products.  Products that improve indoor environmental quality, energy efficiency, comfort and aesthetics will be showcased as well as our team of building scientists will be available at booth W4051 to answer your most challenging questions.

Feel like swinging a hammer or learning from our experts?  We have product installation demos going on outside in P3, showcasing blowing and spray foam insulation, decking, siding and solar roofing

Can’t make it to the show this year?  Well, you can still be part of the action through a special webpage dedicated to the IBS show which will have a live Twitter feed that you can follow.  You may want to bookmark www.certainteed.com/ibs  so you can refer to it over the next few days.

If you’re in Orlando this week, stop by and say hi.  Let us know how things are going for you in your market.

Solving an Acoustical Problem in a Retrofit Environment

 

Stan Gatland

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation

It can be a challenge to control the acoustics in older buildings when they are repurposed for multiple business uses.  One example is a call center situated in the middle of an office building, surrounded by cubicles of other workers and offices with many hard surfaces – glass, wallboard and wood doors. The perimeter of the call center has a low suspended ceiling with a decorative hard wood finish that amplifies and reflects the various sounds typical in an open plan office setting – loud telephone conversations and office equipment – carrying the disruptive noise throughout the floor.

The building owner had some ideas on how to improve the space but decided to work with an acoustical consultant to confirm the noisy conditions with measurements, as well as make recommendations on how to improve the space acoustically.

Acousticians commonly refer to highly sound reflective rooms as “live” or “reverberant.” Open plan office space should be designed for both good speech privacy and poor speech intelligibility.  Typically, you design for privacy at work stations and make speech unintelligible between adjacent areas by controlling background noise levels and reverberation time – the length of time it takes for a sound pressure level to decay or dissipate.

The results confirmed that background noise levels were high and intermittent and reverberation times exceeded the maximum recommendation of 0.60 seconds at most locations on the floor.

Another metric that was used to characterize the space was the speech transmission index (STI). STI is a measure of the ability to understand speech in a given space with the sound source coming from different directions or locations.

In open plan office settings, you want STI values to be low or poor meaning that people can’t understand each other from different locations.  Most locations had fair to excellent ratings creating a poor acoustical environment.

The recommendations provided by the consultant to solve the problem in this office space were:

  • Change the entire ceiling to high absorption suspended tile or use functional absorbers (hanging panels in the box like orientation)
  • Add some absorptive treatment to office doors or walls facing the open office
  • If not enough, use background masking noise.

It is expected that if the summary improvements were made it would improve comfort and maybe morale and productivity for the employees.

Time will tell. Do you have any examples of acoustical retrofit to share?

A Fistful of Pencils – Measuring Solar Radiation on a Building

Lucas Hamilton

Earlier this week during a webinar I conducted on working with solar radiation, I gave an example to help people visual how the energy of solar radiation strikes a building or object. 

In physics and mathematics we would picture this energy as a vector component. I know that is not clear to a majority of non-science or non-mathematics practitioners so I often use an example with a fistful of pencils to help people visualize exactly what this means.  This is a fun little exercise but is not meant to be a scientific determination of the impact of solar radiation on a surface. This is simply a way to visualize the invisible.

Imagine the sunlight or energy coming across space and beating down on the surface of the roof at a normal angle which is a mathematical term for a 90-degree or right angle. To understand the impact of the solar radiation on that roof, take a piece of paper and draw a 1-inch square. Take a fistful of pencils (as many as will fit comfortably in your hand) making sure all the tips are even and bring your fist straight down on the paper striking it within the square.  Then count the number of strikes within that box and if you imagine each one of those strikes as being a unit of energy it gives you some idea of the impact of solar radiation on your roof.

If you want to imagine how that same sunlight is striking your wall, picture the angle that your wall is from that sun – usually about a 45-degree angle give or take.  Take the pencils in your hand and while sliding them to keep them flat to the paper turn your hand to a  45-degree angle and strike them into a 1-inch square box, you can see the number of strikes and what that impact would be significantly less. So if you again imagine that the pencil points are units of energy, you can see that only a fraction of the energy hits your wall compared to the roof.

This can be done with any angle and it gives you a very general idea of the solar energy impact on a surface.  While this does not give you scientific data to help you determine where your peak power would occur, it is one method that can be used to help visualize the best angle for solar panels on a roof. 

There are some online tools that can help calculate the intensity of the solar radiation based on geographic location. One example of such a tool can be found at: http://www.kahl.net/solarch/.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Embodied Energy Versus Operational Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Recently during a webinar I was conducting, the topic came up of embodied energy versus operational energy.  This topic continues to come up as building scientists evaluate systems with regard to their sustainability.

There are two things that can make a product green. It can be green in its manufacture or it can be green in its application.  One of the important topics for understanding the manufacture or delivery of a product is the concept of embodied energy – how much cumulative energy went into the extraction of the raw materials, the manufacture of the product and the transportation of the product to its final application.  This is the concept of embodied energy. Operational energy relates to how much energy the product uses or can save once it has been applied or installed into a system. 

For instance, look at insulation. Many types of insulation are actually very energy intensive in their manufacture, however once they are installed they can save many times over within the very first year of their application. A perfect example of operational energy is fiberglass insulation. In its first year of use, fiberglass insulation can save 12 times the amount of energy it took in making and transporting the product.

So let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes, material that is superior in performance with regard to the life cycle of a building may have a little bit of negative upfront energy costs, however in its use can be very positive. 

So don’t make a judgment solely based on the embodied energy but rather on the life cycle of the project to determine if it is positive or negative for the project itself.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Human Comfort is Best Delivered by Water Not Air

Lucas Hamilton

While attending the Regenerative Network conference in California, I spent time in a LEED platinum certified building which is radiantly heated and cooled.  Recently, I have been giving presentations on human interactions with their environment. This has caused me to consider how differently the radiant heating and cooling system in the David Brower Center influences our perception of comfort.

We understand certain things about human senses such as how temperature, humidity, air speed and radiation are inter-related and together influence our perception of our surroundings.  These are the four things that will dictate how comfortable you are.  Because these things are inter-related, the way that heating and cooling is delivered has a huge influence on how you perceive your comfort level. As background and in simplified terms, these energy delivery methods are conduction, convection and radiation. A pot on the stove is conducting heat, when you pull out the spoon and blow on it to cool it is convection, and radiation is when you can stand a few feet away from the pot and feel the heat.

We traditionally heat and cool our buildings with air.  This is a most inefficient method. The idea of trying to store energy in something that has little mass makes little sense.  Using water to deliver energy as a way to comfort is very, very efficient.  This gives you radiated comfort as opposed to convection or conducted comfort.

To achieve the desired goals in energy savings delivering comfort by air may be on its way out. Using water to heat and cool buildings is a far more efficient method and it will save lots of energy going forward. But, we will have to make some personal sacrifices to accommodate this change. We may have to give up on instant gratification and develop patience through acceptance.

If you are outdoors on a cold day and enter a warm building, it will take awhile for the body to warm again to where you would say you are comfortable. However, after walking outdoors on a hot, humid day and entering an air conditioned building the cool rushing air will evaporate the sweat on your body and you cool off very quickly.  It’s like the building is blowing on the hot spoonful of soup.  When you condition a building space using surface temperatures, the energy exchange between the building and the person becomes largely dominated by radiation. While this will cool you down by allowing excess energy in the form of heat to flow out of your body and into the building through radiation, it will not be nearly as quick a process as having cold air blowing across your sweaty skin. Chances are you will continue to sweat for a few minutes after you have come inside so be ready for it.

Being patient and waiting for the comfort to occur is a small price to pay in order to make our energy go further. It sounds like a contradiction to say “exercise patience” but there you have it.

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

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