Off-Site Manufacturing Could Play a Larger Part in the Building Renaissance

Danny Small

Danny Small

Danny Small is Manager, Building Science Development for CertainTeed Corporation

Lately I’ve been revisiting the benefits of modular or prefabricated home construction, otherwise known as off-site manufacturing (“OSM”). There are several advantages to this method of construction that could be attractive to consumers looking to build a custom home.

This isn’t your daddy’s mobile home we’re talking about here.  The traditional manufactured (“mobile “) home is built to special Housing and Urban Development (HUD) building codes.  These homes are extremely simple, lower-end homes constructed in one or two pieces on a steel frame.

Today’s modular home can be beautiful, complex, exquisitely detailed and of the highest quality.  It’s built in modules or panels, in a clean, climate-controlled facility to meet (and often exceed) standard building codes for the area where the home will be finished.   The modules or panels are then shipped to the construction site, where they are permanently assembled on a full foundation, and the final details are finished.  Once completed, these homes are indistinguishable from site-built homes.  For some examples, check out Haven Custom Homes’ gallery.

While off-site construction has been around for decades, most of the earlier homes fell into that category of mobile (HUD-code) homes.  However, the move toward more sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy homes creates compelling reasons to look at modular as a truly viable method for all construction.

Some of the advantages of offsite construction are:

  • Construction can begin while foundation work is done, reducing the overall build time by several weeks.
  • Because building is done indoors in a climate-controlled facility, there are no weather delays.  Crews can work year round with no problem.
  • The home is built dry and clean because the wood is not subjected to dampness or dirt.  This could make for a healthier house.
  • Greater accuracy in cutting is possible because precision equipment can be utilized.
  • Lower costs because of consistency with crews and minimal lost time.  An off-site built home can cost up to 15-20 percent less than the same home built on-site. (Source: NAHB)  Savings for commercial construction can be much higher.
  • Very low waste.  Just about all remnants can be re-used for other projects.  This enables contractors to purchase more wisely.
  • Off-site manufacturers can ship up to 500 miles from their factory.
  • The building envelope is fully customizable, enabling increased energy efficiency in the wall and ceiling systems, as well as design features that meet the needs of the occupants.
  • Modular building, especially in commercial, enables easy expansion to buildings when needed.

Although off-site construction currently accounts for only two percent of construction in the U.S., the industry is gaining popularity.  In Europe, especially countries like Sweden, this type of construction is on the rise and accounts for up to 40 percent of new construction. 

If you are considering building a new home, a vacation home or a small office, do a cost comparison for on-site versus off-site construction.  You may be surprised by what you find.

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.

The 12 Months of Homebuilding by CertainTeed

Mike Loughery

Mike Loughery

Mike Loughery is Director, Corporate Marketing Communications for CertainTeed Corporation

In the first month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, a piece of land overlooking a scenic ravine.

In the second month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, an awesome set of architect house plan drawings.

In the third month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, a Form-A-Drain™ 3-in-1 Foundation footing system for drainage ease.

In the fourth month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, a high quality, two-story wood framed home built to please.

In the fifth month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, CertaWrap™ weather-resistant barrier and Cedar Impressions® Polymer Shake Siding in ivy green.

In the sixth month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, thermally efficient Optima® blown-in wall insulation and Air Renew™ drywall to rid me of those VOCs.

In the seventh month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, Ecophon® Focus Ds acoustic ceiling tiles for my media room and a 70-inch big screen TV.

In the eighth month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, a well-insulated attic filled with InsuSafe® SP.

In the ninth month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, a roof featuring Landmark Solaris™ solar reflective shingles complemented with Apollo Solar Roofing® to make my own energy;

In the 10th month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me, an EverNew® LT Deck and a yard surrounded by a Chesterfield Vinyl Fence for privacy.

In the 11th month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me;  Restoration Millwork Trim® to finish our dream; an EverNew LT Deck and a yard surrounded by a Chesterfield Vinyl Fencefor privacy; a roof featuring Landmark Solaris solar reflective shingles and complemented with Apollo Solar Roofing to make my own energy; a well-insulated attic filled with InsuSafe SP; Ecophon Focus D acoustic ceiling tiles for my media room and a 70-inch big screen TV; thermally efficient Optima blown-in wall insulation and Air Renew drywall to rid me of those VOC’s; CertaWrap weather-resistant barrier and Cedar Impressions Polymer Shake Siding in ivy green; a high quality, two-story wood framed home built to please; a Form-A-Drain 3-in-1 Foundation footing system for drainage ease; an awesome set of architect house plan drawings; and a piece of land overlooking a scenic ravine.

In the 12th month of homebuilding, my true love gave to me:  the keys to a brand new dream home built with CertainTeed….

Happy Holidays from all of your friends at CertainTeed!

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.

Skill and Life Training are Part of the YouthBuild USA Experience

Little did I know that when I accepted the invitation to participate in theYouthBuild USA sponsorship launch in Worcester, Massachusetts that I would actually be put to work! 

My first professional job when I finished college was in Worcester and it was nice to return, especially to take part in an event bringing student skills training and neighborhood rebuilding together.

CertainTeed’s parent company Saint-Gobain recently launched a three-year partnership to support YouthBuild USA projects in Philadelphia, PA; Worcester, MA; Schenectady, NY and Akron, OH. The sponsorship is not just financial but includes product donations, technical expertise and training.

While it is always nice to be part of a check presentation supporting an organization providing valuable service and training to youth, this particular event brought in a new and personally gratifying dimension for me – the opportunity to work along side the teachers and the students from YouthBuild.

I was assigned to a team installing a CertainTeed Evernew® deck and railing on the back portion of the building. Other groups were working on installing CertaWrap™ house wrap and our Weatherboards™ fiber cement siding product.

I don’t usually have the opportunity to get ‘hands on’ with building materials and had forgotten how important math skills and teamwork are in the building trades.  The YouthBuild teacher would ask the students questions about the measurements and checking on the accuracy before cutting product. It was obvious this had recently been part of the classroom instruction for these apprentices.

I also realized that what makes YouthBuild special is that not just the teaching of building skills but the development of life skills that these students experience by showing up every day.  For example, the importance of listening to the instructor or foreman on a worksite, the attention to detail, applying knowledge learned, working well with others, the commitment to completing the job, and the pride in seeing the finished product.

We should all be reminded of the value in an honest day’s work.  I could see it in the accomplishments of these students in Worcester.

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing 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

Getting on the LEED H ‘Cart’ with YouthBuild

YouthBuild design charrette participants

I was privileged to participate in a design charrette which was held at the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School on Broad Street in Philadelphia.  The charrette was conducted as part of the partnership between Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed and YouthBuild USA. The partnership aims to help low-income, disconnected young adults transform their lives and their communities by working towards their high school diploma or GED while learning green construction and job training skills.

The Philadelphia project is a renovation of an abandoned row house in the Germantown area of Philadelphia as a hands-on learning in sustainable design and construction for the students.  The project will be seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes (LEED H) certification.

The concept of a charrette is from the French meaning cart.  In the 1800’s, architecture students created most of their models at home. When their models were due to be reviewed by their professors, the school would send a cart around Paris to pick up their work. Because they were rarely finished with the models or drawings by the time the cart came by, the students would often get on the cart to finish their work while it wound its way back to school. As a result, collaborations between the students started to happen regarding the various design projects.  The collaborations, charrettes, continued, expanded and are currently used when discussing design projects by groups of interested parties.

While I have participated in charrettes working with architecture firms I have never participated in a LEED charrette.  This is a field function of LEED and it is a very comprehensive analysis of the project. The YouthBuild students were able to participate in something that most builders have not experienced unless they are building LEED H homes.

The  key stakeholders in the renovation include a representative from the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, college professors, city officials, sustainability experts, architects, renovation specialists, developers and, of course ,YouthBuild students. The charrette was led by Sustainable Solutions, a Philadelphia area company dedicated to sustainable construction.

This was an incredible opportunity for the students to see a LEED design charrette in action and have hands-on knowledge which will help them immeasurably when seeking employment.  By walking through many of the sustainable aspects of the project –  the site review and preparation, architectural/structural issues, the envelope, materials and systems and finishes/appliances in one continuous process the YouthBuild students saw firsthand how everything on the project is interrelated. Each step in the process is critical to satisfy all the requirements for LEED H.  This will keep all the stakeholders moving in the same direction.  Of course, the charrette ended with “next step’ assignments for all of us.

 

Lucas Hamilton

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

YouthBuild Inspires on a Cold Winter Day in Philadelphia

Current building

At this time of year, many of us are looking for something inspiring to get us in the holiday spirit.  That “something” came for me during a recent partnership announcement between Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed and YouthBuild USA.

It was a very cold day in North Philadelphia. Representatives from Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed, the City of Philadelphia and YouthBuild stood on the street in front of a corner home that had been vacant for 20 years. That vacancy is destined to end soon, because the house will be renovated by the YouthBuild Charter School of Philadelphia with support from Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed. When completed, this building will again be an affordable home that is may be LEED certified, for a first-time homebuyer.

Artist rendering of renovation

But it was not the partnership or the scope of the project that inspired me.  It was seeing and hearing the excitement in the nearly 200 teens and young adults who are part of the YouthBuild Charter School and who will work on this project. These students had dropped out of high school but, realizing that they needed to make a change in their lives, found their way to YouthBuild. Together with the YouthBuild staff, they are studying for their GED and learning skills in the building trades that will help them secure jobs when they finish the program. That was inspiring!

Two of the students shared their stories; teen pregnancy, substance abuse, criminal activity – you get the idea. You could feel that their stories were representative of most of the students braving the cold, winter air.  The spirit on the street was overwhelming and particularly so when Dorothy Stoneman, president and founder of the YouthBuild USA program spoke about their commitment. That was inspiring! 

YouthBuild was started by Stoneman in East Harlem, New York in 1978 to address core issues facing low-income communities – housing, education, employment, crime prevention, leadership development and she has seen the program grow to 273 programs in 45 states, Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands. 92,000 YouthBuild students have built 19,000 units of affordable, increasingly green, housing since 1994.  That was inspiring!

As this partnership develops and our experts, like our main blogger Lucas Hamilton, help train YouthBuild students in green techniques, product knowledge and best practices in building we will share more inspiration.  Have you been inspired recently?