IBS Insights: Keeping Moisture out of Walls

KellyWarrenKelly Warren, CertainTeed Insulation Product Manager, participated in a live Q&A session at the International Builders’ Show. Here’s a recap of the discussion:

Q: Are there new approaches builders can use to reduce the liability of moisture and mold in wall cavities?

Yes, one of the main concerns we hear from builders is how to keep moisture out of your walls. And that’s what our new product SMARTBATT does. It is a kraft-faced fiberglass batt insulation that has an integrated smart vapor retarder — which offers additional, enhanced drying capabilities in the wall cavity. In the summer, when it’s warm, moisture tries to get into your house. When it’s winter and it’s cold outside moisture tries to escape. The smart vapor technology that is incorporated into SMARTBATT opens and closes in the right areas and keeps moisture out. And, it rounds out the complete equation when it comes to comfort — thermal efficiency, air tightness, moisture management, and acoustics.

 

Wall Assemblies for Maximum Efficiency: How Many Layers is Too Many?

SimplexOPTIMABuilding professionals spend a lot of time dealing with production construction which has dialed in efficiencies and productivity to provide the maximum assembly for the cost per square foot.  The reality is in standard construction you build things in five or six layers. This is the standard in terms of building a wall system more efficiently and we have gotten it down to a science.  Generally a six layer home will give you a solid, energy efficient, comfortable home.

Occasionally, I work with builders on projects that remind me of possibilities beyond what is the status quo.  I recently had an opportunity to work with a builder who was building a custom home whose wall systems had 13 layers.  This wall had so much redundancy and robustness built into it that I just had to ask for a chance to visit the project and see this masterpiece being built.

This was the homeowner’s instruction: They wanted a thick wall, they wanted a silent wall, they wanted a highly efficient wall for them to own.  That’s one of the key’s to this discussion- the owner is focused on what comes afterwards- not what happened before. To achieve this goal the builder is employing a combination of traditional masonry materials and cutting edge products and systems.   

In a similar fashion, a project that CertainTeed has been involved with at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia with Penn State achieves a similar goal but in a lighter and perhaps less massive assembly – to create a highly efficient wall system that can provide comfort, improve indoor air quality, better acoustics but, and here’s the rub- to still be affordable by more typical consumers.  This was done by using a 2 x 8 construction – providing a deeper wall cavity – A Blown-in-Blanket Insulation System, Weather Resistant Barrier, a Smart Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier System, a Wallboard Solution, Rigid Insulation on exterior and Insulated Vinyl Siding. This created an R30.5 exterior wall.

In both homes, products were used to address acoustics, indoor air quality and moisture control.  Do you need 13 layers?  Probably not but the pressure is certainly going to be on what layers remain to do more than they have in the past.

Thoughts?

 

Small is Beautiful in this Contemporary Cabin from Simplex Homes

When you start to think about downsizing  you may want to consider modular construction if you are building.  At Greenbuild this year, the Green Zone exhibited a wonderful option.Simplex House

The Greenbuild Cabin, designed by Resolution:4 Architecture and built by Simplex Homes, was an excellent example of more efficient living similar to the types of residential options you would see at the Solar Decathlon.  Attendees at Greenbuild could see products at work in a modular one-room retreat that was aesthetically very pleasing.

The 806-square-foot cabin is designed to have a strong connection to the exterior, with abundant natural lighting achieved through low-e, Argonne-filled, double-pane glass. With a LEED Platinum certification as the goal, the cabin employs a number of green technologies, including rainwater collection, a greywater system, photovoltaic array, EPDM rubber membrane roofing system and a super-insulated envelope.

The cabin houses a fully functional kitchen and, through its creative use of space and natural lighting, invites residents to live large.  

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.

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.

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?

Can We Make our Homes Energy Efficient without Radical Changes to Lending Practices? Part 2

homeeemortgagecoverIn the first blog on this topic, I gave an overview of the UNC Center for Capital Research Report – Home Energy Efficiency and Mortgage Risks.

This second blog addresses the Report’s findings regarding financing energy efficiency and the challenges that face consumers when seeking additional dollars to make energy upgrades in their homes.

According to the Report, the U.S housing stock is valued at about $14.5 trillion. To even devote 2% to energy efficiency improvements would require an investment of nearly $300 billion.  While there are federal, state and local energy efficiency loan funds and other mechanisms in place to provide assistance, they can’t possible cover what is required.

The most widely used mechanism is direct borrowing in the form of consumer loans, home equity loans and traditional or specialized mortgages.  Most of these financing options require consumers to have either substantial equity in their existing home, the personal reserves to pay any added costs out-of-pocket or larger down payments for a home purchase. Many homeowners have seen the equity in their homes diminish over the last few years due to the struggling economy. 

For many first-time homebuyers or moderate-income borrowers who do not have these financial resources there are energy-efficient mortgages (EEM) which offer lenders flexibility in the debt-to-income and other underwriting considerations so borrowers can qualify for larger loans or lower interest rates. However, few lenders currently offer these.

If we are going to see significant improvement in the retrofitting of existing buildings for energy efficiency, owners need to be incentivized. This usually manifests itself as access to affordable capital.  While it is a good start, it is not enough to offer tax incentives especially for homeowners who do not have cash resources to make some of the more pricey upgrades to older homes.

This debate is going to Capitol Hill and groups like the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) are lobbying to encourage underwriting flexibility on energy efficient homes and to promote energy efficiency to consumers – particularly for moderate- and middle- income borrowers seeking financing for energy efficient upgrades.

It’s apparent that business as usual will not get us where we need to go.  This Report is a reminder of a prevailing situation that continues to be raised but not resolved.  Is there money available that we don’t see?  Are there resources somewhere that could be re-allocated to move the green needle and help moderate- and middle- income borrows obtain the financing needed to make necessary energy upgrades?

We, as consumers, cannot strive to be sustainable nor can cities strive to be the ‘greenest’ cities without resources to make this happen.  Are the gloves off?  Can we really move the needle this time?

Can We Make our Homes Energy Efficient without Radical Changes to Lending Practices? Part 1

homeeemortgagecoverA recent study by the University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital/Institute for Market Transformation puts forth some very interesting data regarding energy efficient home building, mortgage lending and the state of the lending industry. This report, Home Energy Efficiency and Mortgage Risks has some interesting findings that I plan to address in a few blogs.

The study includes:

  • National sample of 71,000 home loans from 38 states and the District of Columbia
  • Variables examined for the homes included age of the house, square footage, FICO (credit) scores, ZIP code average incomes and unemployment rates, typical time to default, sale price, heating/cooling degree days and electricity prices 
  • Average home price in sample was $220,000

The study finds that default risks are on average 32 percent lower in energy-efficient homes.  There is, perhaps, a mixed message in this premise.  We have seen over the last decade that the early adopters of energy efficiency are more educated, probably make more money and most likely live in more urban locations. People in more rural parts of the country may not have local resources for information or education about energy upgrades and may not have access to capital from lenders to make these upgrades.

The study says that the amount of money homeowners spend on energy annually equates to 15 percent of the cost of home ownership. While these costs vary around the country, rural households pay $400 more on average than urban household. There could be many reasons for this. Is it the nature of construction?  Is it utility costs?  

Are the resources to make energy improvements to these homes available?  We have blogged before about the fact that if you have a home built prior to 1980 you should consider energy upgrades and if you are refinancing include them as part of your lending conversation.

The heart of the problem lies in the valuation of homes and the lack of information regarding mortgage lending options.

Think about it. Is your home worth more or less than it was five years ago? Slim chance of any “magical” home equity showing up to be cashed in and spent on upgrades.

The only way we can move the needle to upgrade existing homes and buildings so they are more efficient is to rationalize the underwriting process and include energy upgrades as part of the mortgage.

Stay tuned. There is more to come on this study.  If you have any thoughts on this subject, I would love to hear them.

Green Leasing: A Collaborative Approach to Energy Efficiency

Brandywine Realty property outside Philadelphia

Brandywine Realty property outside Philadelphia

You’ve probably seen this stat before —buildings account for 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in the U.S.  We all know that reducing energy consumption is imperative for the future sustainability of our country, but when it comes to putting words into actions, we sometimes get stuck.

 Case in point: the potential for gridlock in traditional lease agreements— where the benefits of reduced energy usage or building upgrades do not “flow” to the person who pays for the transaction. For example, if a tenant is not responsible for monthly utility bills, then there is no financial incentive to reduce energy use.

 The good news? Companies such as Brandywine Realty Trust are bringing a fresh perspective to energy efficiency through green leases, which help align the financial and energy incentives of building owners and tenants.

 Specifically, property owners can charge tenants for measures that result in operational savings, such as energy-efficient lighting or chiller retrofits, as long as the savings are greater than the cost of the measure. The tenant benefits from reduced monthly utility costs and the building owner is able to increase the value of the building. Most importantly, the lease agreement instills a spirit of collaboration and mutually beneficial financial incentives to reduce energy consumption.

 Best of all, green releases are generating formidable results. Brandywine Realty Trust and its tenants have reduced energy costs by roughly 46 percent in a 93,000 square foot, 1980s era, building in suburban Philadelphia. And, the building’s energy cost per square footage is approximately 38 percent lower than the area average. With such a great return on investment, it truly begs the question — why aren’t more real estate companies getting on board with green leases?