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

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

Indoor Air Quality Has A New Champion

Improving the indoor air quality of buildings is a large part of the sustainability movement and as we continue to address energy efficiency through air tightness in assemblies, the issue of indoor air quality will continue to be a focal point.

People spend about 90 percent of their time indoors so the quality of the air around them, where they live, work and play is very important.  Educational and health care environments draw even greater scrutiny due to the sensitivities of the young and those with potential respiratory issues.Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and other aldehydes, are seen as common compromises to air quality.  VOCs are all around us, come from many sources, and often move freely in and out of building components. People, themselves, carry VOCs into buildings through the wearing of permanent-press clothing and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Fortunately, there is a first-of-its-kind wallboard, called AirRenew™.  AirRenew is designed to clean the air and remove a particular family of VOCs by drawing them into the board, trapping them, and utilizing a patented technology to break down these VOCs into inert compounds. Those inert compounds will stay in the gypsum board for the service life of the board.  These inert compounds created inside the core are not harmful and the original VOCs will never be released back into the air. 

This revolutionary gypsum board, which will be available soon, will have a positive impact on public buildings, especially when qualifying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED ™) or other green rating program certifications.  Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) strategies incorporating AirRenew meet the intent of the sustainability Triple Bottom Line of economic prosperity, social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

AirRenew has undergone a battery of independent testing. Preliminary tests show that AirRenew maintains its performance when painted with a permeable paint. Finishing that results in an impermeable surface, such as vinyl wallcoverings, would reduce the porosity of the board surface and are not recommended. Permeable paints currently serve over 70 percent of the interior wall coatings market. Since most sustainable and LEED models are moving away from solvent based coatings, this is not perceived as a limitation.

LEED for Schools Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Credit 3.2 sets a maximum concentration of 27 parts per billion for formaldehyde, however many studies have shown that this is often exceeded. The mold resistance performance of AirRenew also contributes to LEED for Schools IEQ Credit 10 for mold prevention. The GREENGUARD® Environmental Institute has many resources documenting the issues of indoor air quality and the need for reducing VOCs especially in schools.

It has been exciting to work on a product that provides a real solution to an issue that has long needed a champion product.