Mold: The Unwelcome Houseguest

mold on ceilingMold is a frequent and unwelcome guest in homes across America. So much so that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated September as Mold Awareness Month.

We at CertainTeed agree that mold is an issue worth addressing. As a manufacturer, we are able to help reduce the threat of mold by developing products that discourage its growth. We also devote significant building science resources to keep building professionals apprised of new information on this complex issue. Perhaps it’s this education, which ultimately trickles down to the homeowner that has the largest impact on mold. After all, it’s not just good materials and proper construction that keep a home mold-free. Good home maintenance is a key defense against the pesky guest.

We often refer to mold as the four-legged stool. It grows easily because it only requires air, water, a food source like dust, paint or fabric, and for the temperature to be between 41 to 104 degrees. In a home, these elements come together frequently so mold has the potential to flourish. Flooded basements or attic space beneath a leaky roof are high-risk areas for mold proliferation, but so are less obvious spaces like carpet near a wet potted plant. Mold spores can also enter a home through open doors, windows, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with outdoor air intakes. Spores can even attach to pets and people who unknowingly bring them inside on their bodies, clothes, and bags.

Homeowners are often able to remediate small areas affected by mold. A solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water can remove the unwanted fungus from nonporous surfaces. It’s important, however, that homeowners know to be careful to not mix bleach with other household cleaners and to wear disposable gloves and a protective N95 respirator during the remediation process.

For larger mold removal projects, or those affecting porous surfaces like drywall or insulation, building professionals with a solid understanding of building science should be the ones to clean away the mold. These professionals will also be able to safely remove materials and replace them with mold-resistant materials like fiber glass insulation or mold-resistant gypsum wallboard.

The good news is mold does not have to happen. Our building scientists often tout the five Ds to controlling mold. De-leak fixtures and holes, de-bubble wallpaper, dehumidify the indoor air, dry wet furnishings within 24 to 48 hours, and de-odor or fix the source of musty smells.

For more information on mold or Mold Awareness Month, visit http://www.epa.gov/mold/preventionandcontrol.html.

 

Microsoft Net Zero Carbon Center – A Literal Case of Garbage in Garbage Out

In a previous blog, I talked about the Facebook data storage center in Lapland using a naturally cold area to minimize the energy costs of the facility. I speculated about how we could use the heat coming off such facilities for other uses. Well, here is another article I came across with a creative way to offset carbon.

This article talks about Microsoft building the first zero carbon data center powered by a fuel cell burning 100 percent renewable biogas from a wastewater treatment plant. The new, small prototype 300 kW “Data Plant” is being built outside of Cheyenne, Wyo. at the city’s Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility and will run on methane produced by the facility.

Microsoft reported the $8 million modular data center pilot, which will begin operating next spring, is just a fraction of the size of its other data centers and does not contain any production computing applications. However, if successful, it could be implemented on a megawatt scale at larger data centers in the future.

Buckminster Fuller in Spaceship Earth noted that trash and pollution were just the little bits and pieces we haven’t figured out how to use yet.  Well, looks like someone figured out how to use methane. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activity. This is exciting news since we have so many landfills in addition to water treatment plants that produce methane. This could be a first step is using a gas that is virtually going to waste.

Fuel cells – non-carbon based fuel cells – a perfect solution.  In fact, Saint-Gobain is working on this technology so we do have some skin in the game on this technology.

This is a great example of a company that is using emerging technology to utilize an otherwise squandered resource.  Hats off to Microsoft!

Keeping Things in Perspective

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Recently we have seen a growth in the number of organizations that are asking for reporting of the raw materials which go into the products used to construct our buildings. While I believe that clear and accurate information is critical for evidence based decisions, I’m not sure we are always prepared to evaluate all of the information we are bombarded with in the appropriate perspective.

An example of this is a recent conversation I had with a designer friend on the West Coast who stated that he felt that lead exposure or more accurately over-exposure continued to be a critical health issue and he wished to specify a building constructed of entirely lead free products. This meant going well beyond the traditional concerns for coatings like paints and looking at everything in the building.

I asked if he had good data for the base-line lead levels of the soil where the job would be constructed. I pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sites lead contaminated dust and lead contaminated residential soil as two of the top three most common sources of lead poisoning (http://epa.gov/lead/index.html ).

It turns out that some of the products my friend was concerned about had lead levels that were less than 1 percent compared to  the background lead levels for the geographic area for his design project. That helped put the data into perspective. Obviously keeping the lead levels in the building low is going to involve a lot more than just specifying lead free products.

As we enter the age of Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations and other labels for our buildings and building products, I hope we can all resist the temptation to run with a little information and take the time to truly understand how this fits into the “big picture.”

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.

Kicking the Energy Issue up a Notch – The Green Power Community Challenge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just launched a year-long nationwide campaign called the Green Power Community Challenge to encourage communities throughout the nation to utilize renewable energy as a means of helping address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The Green Power Community Challenge aims to double the amount of renewable energy sourced electricity used by participating EPA Green Power Communities collectively. Throughout the year the EPA will track and report the standings of the communities participating on a quarterly basis.  

In order to participate, communities need to join EPA’s Green Power Partnership and buy or produce approved forms of green power (such as solar power) on-site. All the communities currently participating are listed if you want to check the communities in your area.

This program not only focuses on the use of renewable energy but also encourages generating energy on site as a means to cut down on our net annual fuel consumption.  Communities can either reduce as much energy as possible or identify ways to create power to subtract from their total consumption. 

One resource that can help communities and individuals meet the challenge is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiencies (DSIRE). This site lists all the incentive and rebate programs by state. This is important because the incentives do vary from state to state.  In some cases, the incentives or rebates can help you recoup almost half of the cost to install photovoltaic roofs.

At the conclusion of the Challenge, the community that has the highest green power percentage and the community that uses the most kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power will receive national recognition and special attention from the EPA.

It is exciting to see this type of involvement in reducing energy consumption on the community level.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

During Energy Awareness Month Take the ENERGY STAR® Pledge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program has launched a pledge project designed to draw awareness on the part of individuals to change their ways and adopt more energy conscious practices. The pledge asks individuals to commit to replacing items in your office or home ranging from light bulbs to appliances and office equipment that carry the Energy Star label to reduce energy consumption. Retrofitting with added insulation is another improvement to consider.

According to the current statistics 2,655,126 individuals have joined the cause and pledged to take small, individual steps that have led to reducing 8,842,303,899 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change.

I want to applaud my fellow employees for taking the Energy Star pledge and committing to reducing their energy consumption.  The EPA estimated that the value of the pledges received by CertainTeed/Saint-Gobain so far equates to more than $1.5 million in energy savings.

You, too, can get involved as an individual or a company and be a part of this national campaign.  Get your company involved by going to Energy Star’s Join our Movement . To register as an individual go to Take the Pledge

This type of awareness is a good starting point to encourage everyone to look at ways to reduce their energy consumption and become more conscious of how they use energy.  We can all do our part.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Mold Awareness Month: The Five “D’s” to Controlling Mold

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 50 percent of schools nationwide have issues linked to poor indoor air quality.  In many cases, this condition is linked to mold growth in buildings. Mold poses a serious health risk to individuals with respiratory health issues.

This has been a summer of record high temperatures and humidity across the country. This is a perfect storm for the propagation of mold.  As I discussed last year, mold is like a four legged stool.  Mold needs four things in order to grow:  food, water, oxygen and temperature between 41 and 104 degrees.  It is almost impossible to eliminate the potential for molds and mold spores to infiltrate an environment unless you control the elements that give mold it’s ‘legs.’

Controlling the moisture in and around a building is one of the best methods for maintaining a mold-free environment.  By following the five “D’s” you can protect against any opportunity for mold growth or infiltration:

De – Leak – Check for leaky roofs, walls, windows, foundations, facets and pipes regularly and repair them as soon as possible.

De – Bubble – Moisture trapped behind wallpaper paired with wallpaper glue is a perfect recipe for potential mold growth.

Dehumidify – Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners, especially in hot, humid climates to reduce moisture in the air.  Exhaust fans should be used in bathrooms and kitchens to remove moisture to the outside.

Dry – Clean and dry any damp furnishings within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.

De – Odor – Keep in mind, if you have had a leak, the first sign of mold may be musty or moldy odors. But do not sniff or touch mold.  If you suspect mold, contact a certified mold inspector.

Mold has a long history and a survival instinct that is almost unmatched in nature.  But let’s keep mold outside by making sure that moisture is managed in our buildings.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

EPA Lead-Safe Program Takes Effect – Contractors Beware

Matt Gibson

While attending a proDialog contractor focus group in Denver earlier this year, the contractors were in heavy discussions about the new EPA Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP) and the certification program which takes effect April 22.  I had first heard of the issue 6 months earlier and had dismissed it, thinking that it did not apply to the type of work that our contractors perform.  The excitement of the attendees at the Denver proDialog meeting prompted me to revisit the policy and enroll in a local training class for contractors to learn lead-safe work practices.  The class experience and the implications for the renovation industry were eye-opening, to say the least.

Beginning April 22, when a contractor is quoting work to be performed on homes, child care facilities and schools built prior to 1978, they are required to test the work surfaces for lead paint.  If testing shows the presence of lead paint, an informational brochure entitled Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools outlining the practices and procedures required during the work needs to be provided to the property owners to review and sign before the work can begin.  Currently the homeowner can potentially opt out of the required work practices if they meet certain conditions. There are very stringent requirements in the policy that outline practices to be taken before, during and after work is to be performed. These requirements apply to both interior and exterior projects, and can significantly increase the labor and material costs of a project.

Over the last three months, I have seen an increase in the awareness level regarding this issue, but there are still many contractors and installers who may be at risk because of lack of awareness. This is a mandatory policy affecting contractors performing renovation work on homes built prior to 1978. Contractors and remodelers need to be aware of this policy because it may pose adverse health risks to the contractor and building occupants and the penalties for non-compliance can be costly to both the company and the individual performing the contracting work, and can include jail time.

For some contractors they see this as a way to get out ahead of their competition by signing-up early but for others, they prefer to take a “wait and see” attitude.  One contractor in Colorado who is very well versed in this policy said he planned to avoid contracting jobs on homes built prior to 1978 for at least six months after the policy goes into effect to see what types of legal actions arise.

This policy has really hit home with our siding contractors because it directly affects work with replacement windows. While both interior and exterior work have square footage minimums that need to be met prior to implementing the procedures, all window replacement work undertaken requires compliance with this policy. While our industry as a whole has suffered in the last few years, the Energy Tax Credit has been critical in driving the sale of replacement of windows to improve energy efficiency.  The contractors I have spoken with recently agreed the impact of this policy will increase the prices charged for replacement window installation, potentially by as much as 30 percent.

While we applaud the efforts that the EPA has made in writing this policy, we encourage them to continue to evaluate and refine it further. Many industry experts that I have spoken with agree that there are elements of the policy that are inconsistent or unclear and could use further clarification.

As a building materials manufacturer, we urge building professionals to understand and comply with this new ruling.  We will be following this issue so watch for future posts.

Matt Gibson is Manager, Contractor Programs for CertainTeed Siding Products Group

Are Buildings Living Up to LEED Label?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

On August 31, the New York Times ran a story entitled Some Buildings Not Living Up to Green Label by Mireya Navarro. The building referenced in the article was the Federal Building in downtown Youngstown, Ohio. When the building didn’t qualify for the Energy Star label granted by the Environmental Protection Agency based on its annual utility bills, it was suggested that buildings like these, which carry the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation, should have that certification taken away since, once they earn it, there’s no further incentive to continue to monitor and improve energy efficiency.  The problem is that the qualifications for LEED and the qualifications for Energy Star are two different animals.

 One could assume that articles like this are trying to throw stones at the LEED program but, in fact, there are many reasons why a building could be classified LEED but not perform at a level to qualify for Energy Star. For starters, LEED is rewarding building design for a wide variety of things like rain water management, redevelopment of brownfields, and proximity to public transportation. It hasn’t focused on details like tightness of the air duct system. Energy Star is principally focused on energy. I am not surprised to find out that some LEED accredited buildings are not living up to Energy Star standards because that was not the principal emphasis on the part of designers and builders.

 So much of energy consumption falls outside of the building design and falls under building operations.  There is only so much a designer can do to help manage the building operation. You can make the most efficient envelope possible, you can employ the best mechanical heating and air conditioning systems possible, but in the end, if the building operators leave the lights on at night and leave computers on all the time, there is nothing you can do. 

 This is one of the aspects I really admire in the Living Building Challenge. I am referring to the requirement for an educational component to make building owner/operators and occupants knowledgeable about best practices for energy efficiency.  They also invite the public into the building to provide education on how the building and it occupants are reducing our consumption of energy and dependency non-renewable resources.  A building designer can require infrared sensors be installed to automatically turn off lights but it is down to each of us in the end.  We all need to develop better habits that we can implement both in the home and in our work environment to conserve energy and this is where education is the key.

 It is important to remember that a program like LEED is adjusting itself to address these issues.  The entire Green Movement is an organic process and it has to learn and adapt or it dies.  The fact that LEED is now going to require a review of the energy bills over a five year period is a positive thing.  There are tools in the marketplace that can help you measure and compare the changes to your energy consumption as you make changes to your daily practices.  DOE-2 for example is an hourly, whole-building energy analysis program calculating energy performance and life-cycle cost of operation.  It is a great tool to measure you own energy efficiency.  No matter which method you choose to evaluate energy consumption, the important thing is to get started.