It’s Easy to Lower Energy Bills – Insulate!

BuilderLiveI continue to be amazed at tradeshows how attracted attendees are to photovoltaic (PV) products. It is admittedly an exciting technology and I saw this again at the Greenbuild and the International Builders’ Shows.  At this past IBS show, our Builders’ Resource Center answered many questions on many topics but clearly the most interest was again regarding integrated photovoltaic roofing and PV panels.

I guess what I find so amazing is how much time people will dedicate to evaluating the return on investment (ROI) for PV while remaining so unwilling to spend even a little effort going after low hanging fruit that might not be as exciting or visible. PV can be a good investment for many folks but it could be a great investment if they improved their baseline consumption first.

Insulate, tighten up that ductwork and envelope while ensuring proper fresh air and then the same PV investment can go from providing say 50 percent of your power needs to providing 75 percent. There’s an old African proverb that says: “if you want to go fast go alone but if you want to go far go together.” Nothing could be truer in a situation such as this. Every little effort you make can combine to have an impact greater than the sum of the parts.

Another thing I often hear during trade show discussions about solar is that folks are going to wait a little longer until they get into the PV roofing (they have a new roof they don’t want to disturb just yet, they are waiting for the right client to force their hand, they heard that prices are going to keep dropping as more folks get into it, etc…). I understand. It’s not a small investment and so it should be done with prudence.

But…. adding insulation and improving the building envelope need not wait. Material prices for these types of products are near historic lows and labor is trained, willing, and eager to do the job. You will begin saving money on your energy bill immediately and perhaps your new cash flow properties will actually allow you to get that super sexy solar even sooner.

 

NAHB International Builders’ Show – Where New Products and Learning Collide

CertainTeed booth at IBS 2013

CertainTeed booth at IBS 2013

I am in Las Vegas for the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show 2013.  I truly enjoy this show because it is a great opportunity to ‘kick the tires’ on products and learn about best practices taking places in the build community. 

With the new 2012 Building Codes that are starting to be adopted by states, it is critical that build professionals know the changes to the code requirements where they are building. It is also important to hear about best practices for achieving airtight assemblies and the best solutions for achieving maximum energy efficiency in the building envelope.

For IBS 2013, CertainTeed is focused on building knowledge. To assist with this, CertainTeed is incorporating in its booth (C2126) a Builder Resource Center making available building science and technical experts to share best practices but also to answer questions from show participants. If you come to our Resource Center you will be eligible to win a full day consultation by a building scientist on your construction site. 

At the booth, we will also have technical experts hosting “Ask the Expert” interactive sessions centered on building science, roofing, insulation, siding, gypsum and foundations. With the extension of the Energy Tax Credit as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, contractors and developers who construct or renovate “dwelling units” (apartments, condos or single-family homes) that meet certain energy efficiency standards have access to a tax credit of up to $2000.

If you are attending IBS, make sure to stop by booth C2126 and pick our brains. I guarantee you will have a great learning experience as well as a fun time.

The Greening of the 2012 Building Codes: Air-tightness Testing – A Must Have for Consumers

 

Blower Door Testing

Blower Door Testing

The 2012 energy code, which we are very excited about because it is very advanced compared to the 2009, requires two things which have never been required by aU.S. code before.  These are:

  • Blower door testing of houses
  • Duct pressure testing for leakage

These two things are extremely influential on energy efficiency and have always been assumed were part of best practices. We have seen changes in the codes saying “install air barriers or tighten up your duct work” but they never required that these tests be conducted to ensure that the house is airtight.

These are two physical tests that need to be conducted on every new home if the 2012 building codes have been adopted by a state. While this is one of the best ways to ensure efficient thermal comfort for home owners, the potential impact on the builder must be understood. If you are building a house in say 120 days scheduling someone to come out to conduct this testing could severely impact the building schedule: these tests need to be conducted before installing the drywall. No drywall until you have passed the inspection- imagine it.

But who conducts this testing?  Code officials are not typically trained or funded to execute this type of testing.  This testing has been done in the past for NAHB, Energy Star and other programs by internally or externally certified raters. Home Energy Rating System (HERS) raters are a great example of one group that is trained to do this testing.

However, there is no organized resource, clearinghouse or national database for building professionals to find all of the various local professionals who can conduct these tests. To ensure that these tests are conducted and that states do not “opt out” of this requirement, a national database needs be developed so that third-party testers can be easily found and scheduled.

This is an important part of the 2012 code that qualifies for the consumer that the home is energy efficient and that some of the most critical passive elements of that efficiency were done right.  It’s not what you spec; it’s what you inspect.

 

Building America Solution Center a Great New Resource for Consumers and Residential Builders

The U.S Department of Energy has launched the Building America Solutions Center website.  Building America is a program that is operated by the Department of Energy to investigate best practices for residential construction.  They have accumulated a great deal of information from the field and done several experiments that up until now have only generally been shared within the Building Science community. It is a wonderful resource for building professionals and consumers who want to make the best choices when improving the energy efficiency in residential construction.

The Solution Center website shares best practices and other project resources to help plan, implement and measure energy efficiency programs for residential buildings and homes. The site includes resources to answer questions regarding new energy efficient technologies, projecting savings, financing home improvement projects.

This is public / private partnership funded research and everyone should be aware that it exists so they can make the best choices as we all move toward improving the energy efficiency of our buildings.

Spread the word about this great resource!

Don’t Forget the End Users When Building for Energy Efficiency

While at Greenbuild 2012 I was asked “What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?” My answer was posted on our Blog but there is more I want to say about this so here we go!

Users or occupants of high efficiency buildings need to understand and be a partner in the process because  ultimately they influence the  success or failure of a building’s efficiency over time. For example, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes will give you credit for and requires Energy Star performance which means certain insulation levels, certain air tightness and certain efficiencies on the mechanical systems (among other issues). The energy efficiency of the building is based upon a combination of highly efficient equipment and permanent passive systems.

When the active system wears out, if the consumers don’t appreciate the importance of the efficiency of that system on the overall performance of the habitat they are unlikely to take that into consideration when they have to replace equipment.  They can go from a high efficiency piece of equipment that made their sustainable building sing beautifully and perform wonderfully and stick in something that is on sale or is perhaps promoted by their contractor but with a whole different efficiency rating.  Now the building goes from being a Prius to being a Hummer simply because the driver wasn’t told the difference between the two.

In sustainability circles we often talk about “the Prius effect”.  This comes from the engagement of the driver with the car.  Once the driver understands the savings due to the offset of the electrical to the fuel and you give them real-time feedback, they began to drive against the machine to improve the efficiency. The build community needs to develop dashboards or other tools for high efficiency buildings so that end users can see the benefits provided by the systems.  That buy-in is critical to sustaining efficiency over the life cycle of the building.

There is no point in doing a sustainable building for someone unless you teach and show them how to maintain it. That is one aspect I especially admire about the Living Building Challenge. The Beauty petal has components which include inspiration and education. Couldn’t we all use a little more of both?

Greenbuild 2012 is a Wrap! Philadelphia Here we Come!

San Francisco is among the top sustainable cities in the U.S. so it was exciting to be out there for Greenbuild this year.  The expo portion of the conference was only two days this year but from the beginning of the first day the show floor was packed with attendees who were really engaged. In fact, it was the most engaged audience I have seen since the recession began.  Hopefully, that is an indicator that the building market is returning.

NOVA speed dating

NOVA speed dating

In my travels around the show, I was surprised that I really didn’t see too many new innovations. There was nothing that stood out as a bright, new product or very innovative with the exception of the Saint-Gobain NOVA Innovation Competition.  The NOVA External Venturing division of Saint-Gobain rewards start-ups offering the most innovative solutions in the field of habitat, energy and the environment.  This was the first time the competition has taken place in the U.S. Over the last several months Saint-Gobain reviewed and selected eight finalists who would come to Greenbuild for a final interview process during the show days.  From those eight, three entrepreneurs where awarded cash prizes, however, all the contestants will have the opportunity to partner with Saint-Gobain in exploring potential joint development, licensing and other collaboration.

It was amazing the buzz that was created on the show floor by the NOVA Competition.  The final eight entrepreneurs participated in what might be referred to as a “speed dating” round.  These innovators were pitching their ideas to some of the best business leaders in our industry. It was exciting during the speed dating and a large crowd gathered for the announcement of the winners.  The top winner was Heliotrope, a developer of energy-efficient electrochromic glass that that switches reversibly between three states:  solar transparent, heat blocking, and heat and light blocking or darkened.  The second place winner was PlanGrid, a complete collaborative platform for construction information and the fastest PDF viewer in the universe.  Third place went to SmarterShade, a unique approach to the emerging technology being called “smart windows.”

Greenbuild 2013 is coming to Philadelphia – CertainTeed’s neck of the woods.  But, for Philadelphia, following San Francisco is like having the Beatles as a warm-up band.  While many folks who are into urban sustainability are aware of the great progress made my our Mayor Nutter and his team, just how far and how quickly Philadelphia has transformed its sustainable future may come as a surprise to some of our visitors next year. I’m certain that none of this would be possible without the support and efforts of groups like the Delaware Valley Green Building Council who is hosting GreenBuild for 2013. There are some very exciting projects taking place in Philadelphia and we are eager to share them with the green world.

I hope to see you in Philadelphia for Greenbuild 2013!

 

 

GREEN BUILDING GURU: Lucas Hamilton, CertainTeed Building Science

Lucas Hamilton

What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?

In order to achieve and maintain a healthy, sustainable built environment we need to educate the end users of these buildings.  The people who use the buildings need to be a partner in the process and be educated because they figure strongly in the success of the sustainability of the building. Only if the end users understand that their behaviors contribute to the success or failure of highly efficient systems can we ensure a healthy, sustainable built environment. There isn’t a life cycle without that three-quarter part of it – the people using and maintaining it. The Living Building Challenge is doing it right because they include an education component to the process.

What is your business doing to support this goal?

What we are doing is to educate, educate, educate – through training, webinars, and providing information to all audiences. We need to help end users understand that they are a critical part of the process. 

A New Perspective on Environmental Impact

From a product standpoint, conducting life cycle assessments has become a fairly standard practice. Building industry professionals as well as end users expect this kind of transparency and want to be equipped with information on how products are manufactured, the raw materials that are used, and their ultimate fate at the end of their useful life. This is all good (actually it’s great), but what if we also look at the environmental impact of an installed product from a broader, collective perspective? For example, there’s a whole range of products that can save — and even generate — energy for homes and buildings. This energy savings and generation can equate to significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Working in conjunction with Sustainable Solutions, we set out on a mission to further explore this idea. Using Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products —  such as fiberglass insulation, solar window film and photovoltaic roofing systems — we created a model based on data from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. What we learned is that the carbon reductions of installed Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products on an annual basis equates to the carbon dioxide emissions produced by more than 300,000 passenger vehicles or the amount of electricity needed to power more than 189,000 homes. Ultimately, these types of products have a long-lasting impact on the built environment and we take great pride in that…

Interested in learning more? Stop by the Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed exhibit #4359 at Greenbuild 2012.

Net Zero Test House a Great Experiment for Energy Efficiency

Lucas Hamilton

October is Energy Awareness month and what better way to start it off than to talk about a great project underway in Virginia. CNN recently ran a story about the Net Zero house that was built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as a test facility to experiment with alternative energy high-efficiency systems. 

The 2,700 square foot home on NIST’s property in Gaithersburg, Virginia is home to a “virtual” family – Father, Mother and two children. The house is powered by solar panels and geothermal systems while hundreds of devices that actually simulate the family’s energy use.

While the home looks like a standard middle class home that you might find in any suburban neighborhood the home cost about $2.5 million to build.  That is mostly due to the elaborate systems being utilized and tested.  The appliances, plumbing and heating systems are programmed to turn on and off based on the time of day.  For example at 6:15 am, a computer that is housed in the garage which is ‘control central’ triggers the valves in the basement to turn on the water flow to the showers. Of course, it doesn’t take into account Johnny leaving the lights and TV on his bedroom all day.

One very cool aspect of this project is that everything in the home, except one small devise, is manufactured in the U. S. and is able to be purchased and used in a typical residence.

Other facts about the construction of the house such as geothermal loops that extract heat from earth as opposed to the air and walls constructed to reduce energy loss and keep the home at a comfortable temperature will provide great data that can be used in future construction.

There are net-zero homes that are being built in parts of the U.S. but this home will provide incredible research that can be applied to construction standards going forward.  Watch the video for a full review of the project:

http://youtu.be/xSzu83fyQaQ

I think we will learn a great deal from this project and it will help us in the quest for net-zero homes but… how do you feel about using a virtual family? I think we’re going to miss out on learning about behavior and this is an area which we may understand the least.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed

How Can We Harness the Heat from Server Farms or Can We?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I was recently reading about the new Facebook server farm being built in Luleå, on the coast of Swedish Lapland.  This facility will service Europe. These server buildings are giant heat sources because of electrical inefficiencies that cause servers to give off a great deal of it. I applaud them for designing a building and placing it in the Arctic north where they can use the ambient air temperature outside to cool the building rather than having to pay for electricity to cool the building. It’s great news for Facebook since these server buildings are about the length of 11 football fields.

But while that is great – what a waste of heat?

Facebook is just one of several companies building and maintaining server buildings around the globe. This poses an interesting question. Isn’t there something we can do with these server buildings as an energy source?

Wouldn’t it be cool (some pun intended) if the heat generated from the running of the servers could be captured, stored in a fluid, transported and used as an energy source in a location that needs it? As we know, putting energy into fluids can be very efficient. Why not build such projects closer to population? Maybe put the servers under an urban farm and use the heat to make growing of vegetables inside a cold climate city even more efficient. What if the project were located closer to hydroelectric sources to reduce additional losses to “the super grid” (a whole other rant there)? How cool will that be; the virtual community powered by falling water and built close to those who use it the most- warm climate peoples have nice weather and don’t seem to visit as often.

We have been using cogeneration for a long time and with great success. Cogeneration is a thermodynamically efficient use of fuel. In separate production of electricity, some energy must be rejected as waste heat, but in cogeneration this thermal energy is put to good use. A pretty good lesson there: at what point does it stop being a system? Uh, never? Then how creative can we get? How many other ways can we come up with to capture and re-use energy? A good example is Philadelphia’s plan to capture power from subway trains and reuse it to launch trains back out of the stations, saving an estimated 40 percent on their electric bill.

If we can’t find a way to stop generating heat when we turn something on, them how can we put our ignorance to use?