Don’t Forget the Fireplace When Winterizing Your Home

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

One home feature that is popular because of its charm is the fireplace.  While many homeowners like to have one to provide a cozy room on cold, damp winter days you also have to remember that a fireplace represents a big hole leading up to the sky in your building envelope. If the chimney is not properly sealed when you are winterizing your home your indoor heat will simply go straight up the chimney.

In many homes, the chimney actually accounts for more air leakage than windows and doors.

Many homeowners, like me, don’t use their fireplace during the heating season because it is easy to create a back draft from the fireplace in an air tight home.  If I am using my fireplace and my furnace kicks on it will cause the smoke to back up into the house unless a window in the room is kept open a crack.

When you are not using your fireplace you should make sure that you have a system in place to seal the chimney and make it air tight.  Standard chimney dampers are simply not air-tight enough. There are two methods that could help tighten your chimney:

  • Install a chimney cap that will snug down on the top of the chimney that can be closed and opened by reaching into the chimney and pulling the chain to secure the cap – or release the cap – on the top of the chimney.
  • Install a bladder-like devise that – using the reverse air feature on your shop vacuum – will fill the bladder and create an air barrier.

There are dozens of common sense ways to deal with air leakage from your fireplace.

However, if you do choose an air tightening devise remember to remove it before you use your fireplace or you will have a major smoke event in your home!

Remember, you don’t have to sacrifice charm or aesthetics when working toward high efficiency in the home but you do need to minimize air loss everywhere you can.

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.

When it Comes to Air Tightness in Buildings – Don’t Forget the Garage

 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Many of our houses have attached garages which are, for the most part, unconditioned space within our habitat.  It is the interface of these two spaces which so often fails in our attempts to conserve energy and have superior indoor air quality. 

For starters, you have to make sure that the garage is air sealed from the rest of the structure because of what you store in that space. You store things in your garage because you want them out of the weather but you don’t want them “indoors.” Very often negative pressure is generated in the home by exhaust fans and dryers. In your home’s attempt to reach a neutral pressure with the exterior, it will often pull air from the garage into the home.  Now all of the gaseous and particulate contamination which is associated with what you are storing and doing in your garage is coming into your home. Think about what is on the other side of these “interior” walls – typically they are the rooms where we spend the most of our waking hours; kitchen and family room. If the separation plane between these spaces is not made air-tight we might as well move into the garage.

One small detail which is best addressed during the time of construction is breaking the continuity of framing chases between the garage and the house typically found in the garage ceiling. As the second floor framing runs continuously across one of the garage interior walls, air-tight blocking needs to be installed between floor framing to close this avenue of air migration. This is obviously easier to achieve with dimensional floor framing or “TJI” (Trus Joist I) than it is with modern trusses. Also ensure that any doors leading from the garage to the living space are properly sealed and air tight. Get a new door sweep if the old one is worn out. One great indicator of an air leaky passage door is a dirt “shadow” in the carpet just inside the sweep. Carpet fibers make excellent air filters and atypical soiling patterns are great indicators of air flows.

Once you’ve decreased uncontrolled air flow between the home and the garage is there added value by adding an insulated exterior garage door?  Absolutely! Any way that you can tighten or insulate the envelop will improve the efficiency. When you are making any changes with regard to air tightness in the home don’t forget to include the garage in your decisions.

The SAVE Act – Sensible Accounting to Value Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

We are seeing an increase in legislation to drive the energy consumption and retrofit message to homeowners.  One that can make a huge impact is The SAVE Act.  This legislation instructs federal loan agencies to assess a borrower’s expected energy costs when financing a home.  The average U.S. homeowner energy costs in 2008 were $2,278/year.  This exceeds the average property taxes where on average were $1,897.

The basic goals of this Act are to:

  • Enable better mortgage underwriting
  • Reduce utility bills for American homeowners
  • Provide affordable financing for home energy improvements
  • Spark job creation in the housing industry

There are several key supporters of this legislation within the build industry.  These are the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), International Code Council (ICC), Green Builder Coalition (GBC), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and The Residential Energy Services Network, Inc (RESNET).

The two major components of the Act are the:

  • Affordability Test which accounts for expected energy costs along with other recurring payments in the debt-to-income qualifying ratio. So lenders would now be evaluating Principle + Interest + Taxes + Insurance + Energy, and
  • Loan to Value Adjustment which will ensure that the underwriting process consistently and accurately captures the added value of energy saving features, allowing homeowners to finance the cost of efficiency improvements as part of their mortgage.

The average home’s energy cost over the life of a 30-year mortgage is $60,000 and homes are responsible for nearly 25 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S.  The majority of our building inventory seriously needs energy upgrades to be current with the building codes.  Making it easier for homeowners to secure the financing to make energy updates is the best way to move the needle which we discussed in a blog last year.

Do you have any thoughts about The SAVE Act?

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!

Cut Energy Bills at Home Act

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The mobilization of homeowners to make energy efficient updates continues to be a challenge in the drive to reduce energy consumption.

A newly proposed bill to provide tax incentives for home performance upgrades has been introduced by U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) an Dianne Feinstein (D-California) entitled Cut Energy Bills at Home Act.  

This new tax credit is based on the annual predicted energy cost savings from improvements to heating, cooling, hot water, and permanent lighting in a taxpayer’s primary residence. The value of the credit begins at $2,000 for a 20 percent reduction in the energy consumption of a residential home for heating, cooling, water heating and permanent lighting.  The credit increases by $500 for every additional 5 percentage point increase in energy savings, up to $5,000 and the credit is capped at 30 percent of the cost of the improvements which includes labor, diagnostics and modeling costs.  Improvements would have to be “designed, implemented, and installed” by a contractor accredited by the Building Performance Institute (BPI), Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), or a similar program approved by the Treasure Department.

This requirement is a positive one for building professionals but also insures that the work done will provide the necessary end result to qualify the building for the credit. This bill does go a bit further in scope than the previous tax credit. If there is a move to label homes for energy efficiency in a similar way to the energy rating of appliances (as we have spoke of before), then this program will be an invaluable proving ground for the methods, financing, and human resources needed for the retrofitting of older buildings to bring them up to current codes. With a majority of our building inventory more than 30 years old (say 100 million buildings out loud), we need to focus on bringing these buildings up to current standards if we hope to reach our national energy goals as outlined in the Architecture 2030 Challenge.

This bill may not be perfect but it does provide stimulation to the building community and continues to encourage building owners to reduce energy consumption.

Do Your Part to Extend the IRS Section 25c Tax Credit for Home Energy Improvements

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Both homeowners and manufacturers have benefited from the Energy Tax credits offered from 2009 – 2011 for home improvements that improve energy efficiency. For example, adding insulation to attics and basements, replacing drafty doors and windows and replacing a roof with an ENERGY STAR rated roof.  At a time when homeowners have been tightening their belts, this credit helped to sustain the building industry through upgrading and remodeling in the current home inventory.

A large part of the building inventory in the U.S. is over 30 years old.  The building codes where not as stringent back then and what we are learning is that the building envelopes are not as tight as they should be.  Statistics from ENERGY STAR show that homes that have added insulation to attic spaces, basement ceilings, and walls have seen a reduction in their heating/cooling bills over time.

On December 31, 2011, the Energy Tax Credits will expire. Yet, the work to improve the efficiency of homes and buildings is far from over.

As member of the Insulation Contractors Association of America (ICAA) & Council of NAIMA, CertainTeed supports the extension of Energy Tax Credits – IRS Section 25c until 12/31/2013.

Please write your Senator and Congressional representative to:

  • Extend the expiration date to 12/31/2013.
  • Raise the tax credit cap to $1500 from $500.
  •  Include the cost of labor for building envelope components (like insulation) the tax credit calculation.

Please visit www.capwiz.com/insulate/home/  to see the issue and a model letter.  Click the Take Action button – the support letter is already there – fill in the sender information and hit send message.  It’s that easy!

 

 

Walking the Walk with the Better Buildings Challenge

John Marrone is Vice President, Energy Initiatives for Saint-Gobain North America

On December 2, 2011, 60 key employers in America were invited to participate in a roundtable panel regarding the Better Buildings Challenge.  The Better Buildings Challenge is part of the Better Buildings Initiative that President Obama launched in February 2011.  Led by former President Bill Clinton, through the William J, Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, together with the President’s Council on Jobs and Competiveness, the Better Buildings Challenge supports job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial building and industrial facility updates to make America’s buildings 20 percent more efficient over the next decade and save American businesses about $40 billion per year on their energy bills.

One of the key objectives of the round table was to share ideas about how to improve energy efficiency while helping to stimulate the economy and promote jobs creation.  There were a number of valid ideas presented to the Department of Energy (DOE) and Presidents Obama and Clinton during the meeting. But what was most impressive was that the focus was on both Clinton and Obama asking questions and listening to the business leaders.

The challenge is that companies must work with both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on regulatory issues and with the DOE on the energy initiatives and often these two entities are on different sides of the conversation. The government needs to understand the impact on business to balance compliance to regulatory issues while improving energy especially for the manufacturing sector and this meeting was a good and productive first step.

While Saint-Gobain is certainly interested in promoting the objectives that come out of the Better Buildings Challenge, I feel that the critical issues are:

  • Creating stronger building codes to promote energy efficiency
  • Freeing up the capital for investments in energy improvements
  • More prominent branding of the Better Buildings Challenge to encourage wider support, commitment and participant recognition 

Companies need to be recognized in an ongoing, visible way for making the changes to conserve energy and natural resources.  This is not a short term, quick fix.   Energy efficiency needs to be a cultural change that takes place over time and becomes imbedded in the fiber of a business. With the commitments made by these initial employers, we are making a significant first step.

Tips for Optimum Efficiency of Solar and Cool Roofs

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

While conducting a webinar recently on thermal performance in building envelopes I was reminded about a very important issue related to both commercial cool roofs and photovoltaic roofs.  They must be cleaned!

If you do not clean your solar panels and cool roofs their efficiency plummets.  Roofs are out of sight but it is important to not forget about them.  Cool and photovoltaic roofs should be inspected every six months to insure that they are performing properly and providing the maximum benefit of the product.

Reminder! No one should work on a roof but a roofer. The integrity of the roof is very important and the correct tools and cleaning agents much be used to properly clean a cool or photovoltaic roof without damage. I cannot stress this point enough – any cleaning to be performed must be done in accordance with the recommendations of the roof or photovoltaic manufacturer. Inspections should also be conducted only by a roofer or the manufacturer.

If you would like to read a great paper on the economic viability of cleaning cool roofs just follow this link: http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/staff/papers/new_51.pdf.

The U.S. Green Building Council Beefs Up LEED 2012 Standards

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.

Do you remember the Wendy’s ads that featured an old woman walking up to the counter of a burger joint and asking “Where’s the Beef?” Well there are times when I feel the same way about our efforts in the U.S. to really advance energy efficiency.

I am glad to see that the U.S. Green Building Council is upgrading the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.  The bar needs to be continually raised especially with regard to measuring the long-term results of energy upgrades.  But will they have gone far enough and are there tools available now to accurately measure performance?

The retrofit market clearly needs to be encouraged to improve energy efficiency.  One way that this is happening in major cities is through mandates.  New York and San Francisco have such mandates but there are a great many cities and towns between those that are not even ready to mandate LEED on new construction.

Even with a stalled economy with regard to new construction, manufacturers continue to develop products that propel us into sustainability: wallboard that removes formaldehyde from the air; insulation that minimizes its environmental impact; and solar roofing to harness power from the sun instead of the grid.  But without real incentives or mandates we continue to be a nation of obvious consumption because the cost of energy is still reasonable, for now.

The new LEED rating systems do include more stringent requirements regarding the sharing of data on a building’s energy use and owners of LEED certified buildings will have to re-apply for certification every five years.  This is crucial because maintaining the systems is just as important as installing them in the first place.

In a previous blog, I discussed the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) Energy Quotient which rates buildings on energy consumption.  Making these tools standard practice will drive us as consumers to improve the efficiency in our homes and buildings.  It supports the “buyer beware” far beyond the current home inspection process.

More and more professionals are getting credentialed in building energy rating which will increase the ability to test buildings and make recommendations.  These are the green jobs that are coming on line. Now we need to add more ‘beef’ and some incentives (not necessarily hand-outs) to help building and home owners choose a sustainable future.