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?

 

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.

Building Knowledge at AIA 2013 — Expertise that Inspires

LucasAIA13Upon completion of a CEU Course at AIA 2013 on “The Future of Building Materials and Their Impact on How We Build”, Building Scientist Lucas Hamilton was asked the following question:

“What does air tightness have to do with air quality? How does the tightness influence the air inside?  It doesn’t make any sense?”

When the building envelope was leaky, we had three to four times the volume of the building being changed every hour by fresh air from outside — uncontrolled in the building envelope. Now, with tighter buildings we don’t allow that.  So, you have lost all the fresh air you had coming through the walls. That’s why it is so important. That is the influence today.

If you’re at AIA, stop by booth #2108 to continue the discussion with Lucas and our team of Building Knowledge experts. Also, feel free to add your thoughts below — comments and questions are always welcome!

In the Green Zone: Modular Construction  

Once again, sustainable modular construction is being featured in the GreenZone area at Greenbuild 2012. For anyone who missed it last year, the GreenZone, which is spearheaded by Building Design + Construction and Professional Builder magazines, made its debut in Toronto with a prototype for a medical facility. This year in San Francisco, there are two structures available for tour: a net-zero, LEED-designed home and an innovative green classroom designed to meet rigorous indoor air quality requirements. Both prototypes mark the convergence of an outstanding project team, including Bogue Trondowski Architects, Method Homes, Portland State University, Blazer Industries, Pacific Construction Services and Oregon Solutions. (And, yes, we’re very proud to have two CertainTeed products — AirRenew Indoor Air Quality Gypsum Board and Sustainable Insulation — included as well!)   If you are at the show, be certain to stop by the GreenZone located just outside of the North Hall.

That New Car Smell Could Be Killing You Thanks to VOCs

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

If you follow organizations and companies dedicated to sustainable solutions such U.S. Green Building CouncilLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or even this Blog you have probably seen an increased discussion about VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds.  But I am not sure that people, in general, are aware of how pervasive VOC’s are in our lives.

 By definition a Volatile Organic Compound is an organic material with a growing point less than 250° Fahrenheit. For most of us this means that these organic compounds tend to exist as gases.  They are in many products that we buy and they also can occur naturally.  They have a wide range of adverse health effects including eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment in other words, they are not good for you!  Organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Health Canada have clearly spelled out the effects of long-term exposure to elevated concentrations of VOCs.

Most people recognize the presence of VOCs by their smell.  They have a distinctively unnatural smell.  I always tell people if it smells bad it is bad.  We all have a genetic memory in our bodies that identify bad smells.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog about tightening the building envelop, VOCs are all around us. They are found in cleaning products we use, carpeting, paint, lacquers, printing products – there is an exhaustive list. 

When VOCs are part of interior air you only have three methods of reducing them: capture them, kill them off, or ventilate them away. In terms of capture ordinary particle filters do not work. Filters made of activated charcoal are good at capture but these filters don’t work at the high air speeds which occur within our HVAC systems. Emerging technologies, such as AirRenew® which we’ve spoken of before, provide a new means of sequestration which HVAC filters do not. To “kill them off” requires ultraviolet light (UV). Formaldehyde, for example, has a 14 day half life in the presence of UV but we don’t have much UV inside our buildings. This leaves ventilation as a functional option. Providing fresh air ventilation rates in accordance with ASHRAE 62.1 for commercial buildings and 62.2 for residential buildings is a good place to start.

Trust your olfactory system – if it doesn’t smell right you may have a build-up of volatile organic compounds!

Designing Buildings with the Future in Mind

 

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson is Director, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation

Part of the conversation regarding sustainable design is a move toward improving performance and addressing specific needs of the potential occupants of a particular space.

The building industry has historically designed buildings based only on the need to provide a place for people to live, or go to school or to heal when sick. 

Today, so much more is taken into consideration. Product manufacturers, the design community and even building owners are much more focused on asking “What problem are we trying to solve” or “What elements need to exist in a building to help address performance based criteria such as, learning, healing, innovating and working.

Creating unique spaces is becoming more the norm even within what we refer to as vertical markets or niche markets which meet the needs of a particular industry.  Standards for design or performance may exist within a vertical market such as educational facilities or healthcare facilities but each project will have specific needs driven by geographical and environmental conditions, uses for the spaces, aesthetics and building owner preferences.

Some of the areas most critical to building sustainable and performance-based structures are thermal and acoustical comfort which is not seen but does affect our physical comfort and wellbeing.  Visual comfort speaks to our need for natural light.  Innovations in glass products are revolutionizing the industry.  Indoor air quality is crucial in all buildings and systems, and products are available to address most concerns for creating clean indoor air.

In the end, the efforts made to design and build high-performance, sustainable, buildings with solution based systems will provide significant savings for the end users.

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.

It’s Not Just Wallboard Anymore

 

Ashwin Himat

Ashwin Himat

Ashwin Himat is Director of Marketing – North America for CertainTeed Gypsum

New innovations in technology are redefining building products industry-wide. Manufacturers are improving products today based on solutions to environmental concerns and to address indoor environmental quality. Wallboard is no exception.

Historically, wallboard enabled residential and commercial construction to provide better fire protection and a flat, smooth surface that could be easily painted or wallpapered. Because of the recycled content of wallboard, it has always been considered a sustainable product but its function rather than its features were the primary selling point.

The drivers for innovation of wallboard products predominately came from the commercial build community. Earlier innovations in wallboard provided moisture resistance for areas of buildings with high moisture such as bathrooms and kitchens. With increased concerns and claims regarding mold in buildings, a technology was developed to provide mold and moisture resistance to wallboard.  Mold is a potentially serious health issue for people so the ability to include a mold resistant wallboard in a home or building susceptible to mold reduces the potential.

With the rapidly growing awareness of the importance of indoor air quality and its impact on health and productivity, recent technology innovations have led to the introduction of wallboards that clean the air.  By removing volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) such as formaldehyde and other aldehydes from the air and converting them into safe, inert compounds, these wallboards can improve indoor air quality for generations. 

In response to the growing marketplace demand for acoustic comfort, manufacturers have increased innovations in the area of noise-reducing gypsum board, specifically designed for wall systems requiring high STC ratings where acoustic management is needed.

The commercial build community is aware of these advancements in wallboard and they are including them in specifications especially in the educational and healthcare arena. But these wallboards adapt well to residential construction as well especially when designing custom homes that may include home theaters or music rooms.

Homeowners need to be educated about the options they have when either building a new home or expanding an existing one.  Decisions made about the walls and ceilings of a home should be carefully considered because ones overall comfort depends on it.

Wallboard is not a one size fits all product any longer so when it comes to improving comfort and indoor environmental quality remember to consider the best solutions for your walls and ceilings.

Quantifying the Value of Sustainability Going Forward

Lucas Hamilton

As we continue to improve energy performance, acoustics, comfort and aesthetics in our buildings, we are left with the challenge of quantifying the impact of these practices and how much they influence our quality of life.

This is a needed validation of sustainability – evaluating the effects that improving systems has on the occupants over a period of time.  While we are preaching the gospel to improve the performance of our buildings by including more natural light, better indoor air quality, improved acoustics and overall comfort are we quantifying how these changes improve employee or student performance in an improved environment?

For example, we have a need for connectivity. Older buildings were not built to provide ample natural light needed by people. Workers who sit in cubicles with no window tend to feel disconnected because they lack connectivity. Think about it when you enter a room, do you take a seat that enables you to look out a window?

Are we adequately documenting whether:

  • Students test scores improved because they could hear the teacher better?
  • Worker productivity increased because they had access to natural light?
  • Absenteeism decreased because of improved indoor air quality?

Some decision makers will argue that there are only two kinds of decisions: rational (based on facts) and irrational (not based on facts.) I would suggest they change these terms to fact-based and faith-based. In our private lives we make decisions based upon faith all the time and we are completely comfortable doing so. I think we need to develop more data to help less confident decision makers defend their faith- based decisions with some facts. If we are successful, eventually some of these decision makers will develop enough confidence to be truly innovative.

Are there other ‘quantifiables’ that we should consider to justify the decisions we are making now and in the future? I would like to hear your thoughts?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Radon Mitigation Starts with Proper Home Foundations

Lucas Hamilton

The use of foundation drainage systems helps with water control, mold and moisture issues and Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in a building. But, bear in mind that those same remedial efforts, if using the Form-A-Drain system, will also help with radon mitigation. In the same manner that these systems relieve head water pressure on the cold joint of the foundation / footer, they give migrating radon gas a path of least resistance away from the home.

Radon gas is a colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium. Radon gas from natural sources can accumulate in buildings, especially in confined areas such as attics and basements.

Most regions of the U.S. encounter radon gas especially if they have basements or crawlspaces.  It is important to test for radon especially if the basement is part of the living area of the home.

Many homeowners are not aware they have a brewing radon problem until they put the house on the market.  It can, in some instances, be costly to install a radon mitigation system.

Leave in place Form-A-Drain systems pay for themselves not only in their benefits related to the forming of footings and moisture management but the added value of what they provide with regard to radon venting; making the use of Form-A- Drain product for all new construction projects the best ‘drainage’ solution for contractors, architects and builders.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation