What Ferrari Knows Can Help With Insulating Homes to Reduce Utility Bills

ferrari_192319It makes sense to “lightweight” automobiles, even though it costs more to use premium materials such as aluminum or magnesium than to use steel. The general rule of thumb in the auto industry is that you save about seven percent fuel economy for every 10 percent vehicle weight that you reduce. Reducing vehicle weight impacts almost every other attribute in a positive manner:

  • it burns less fuel,
  • lowers emissions into the atmosphere,
  • accelerates and brakes better,
  • provides less “wear and tear” on load bearing parts in the suspension and brake systems and,
  • is more nimble in handling.

 The aluminum alloys in the automobile industry perform equal or better to steel in dent resistance. Finally, pound for pound, aluminum absorbs twice the crash energy as steel, helping the all-aluminum Audi A8 achieve 5-star crash performance levels.

 Despite this, mainstream automakers continue to address fuel economy issues by improving powertrains, shrinking vehicle size, or a host of other band-aid fixes. A lighter weight vehicle is more efficient (efficiency improvement per unit cost) than most of these other approaches and it improves the performance of these other approaches in the process!

 Traditionally, it was high price tag vehicles (Audi, Ferrari, etc.) that were made from lightweight materials. Later this year, the 2015 Ford F-150 will launch with an all-aluminum body structure. The F-150 is one of the highest production volume vehicles in the world, so this is a game changer not just for Ford, but for the global auto industry. For the above-cited performance reasons, Ford wants you to equate an aluminum F-150 with other aluminum vehicles like the Space Shuttle or the battle-tested Army Humvee, not a soda can.

 So what does this have to do with insulation? We often hear homeowners being urged to switch to more efficient light bulbs, windows, doors, appliances, etc. to address utility bills. Yet millions of homes are under insulated.

 Like vehicle weight, insulation in a house is not very visible or exciting – at least not in the same way that a new stainless steel Energy Star refrigerator might be. Yet, like vehicle weight, improving insulation in a house is one of the smartest things you can do to lower your operating costs. Adding insulation helps improve the performance of things like high-efficiency HVAC equipment/systems, new appliances, or windows that are touted for their energy saving potential.

 We should all learn a lesson from the auto industry: it may not be as cool as an 8 speed transmission (new windows), but reducing vehicle weight (adding home insulation) is the smart move to make before you invest in other energy savers.

 

Thermal Control in Building Envelopes

Like so many things we encounter in our lives when it comes to thermal comfort in a building, it is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.  That is why it is so important to understand the thermal performance of materials but also their water vapor and air resistance properties and how they will interact in the wall assembly.

Whether specifying materials for a new construction or for a renovation it is important to have a thorough understanding of how all the components in a wall assembly will play together to get the desired outcomes for the building.

Indoor comfort is critical for human health and performance and so starting with a space that has been designed for optimal thermal performance is crucial.

Join me on Tuesday, June 3 at noon for a deep dive into Thermal Control in Building Envelopes.  After this 90 minute free webinar you will be able to:

  • Describe the three modes of heat transfer
  • Understand the thermal properties of building materials
  • Describe how to calculate the thermal performance of insulated wall assemblies
  • Describe how to insulate different types of wall assemblies
  • Describe ways to increase the thermal performance and moisture durability of roofing assemblies
  • Understand the thermal performance attributes of fenestration products – windows, curtain walls, and doors
  • Understand how thermal control in building envelopes can help earn points in the LEED rating systems

This course is GBCI approved and AIA approved for 1.5 LU.  Remember to bring your questions!

 

Don’t Confuse Product R-value with Assembly R-value

Martin Holliday

Martin Holliday

In his Blog, Musings of an Energy Nerd , in the Green Building Advisor Martin Holliday, who has been in the industry for a very long time, revisits an old topic regarding the performance claims of a certain type of insulation that we call bubble wrap. The performance claims are greatly misunderstood by most people due to the ignorance of even semi-professionals to the specifics upon which these claims are based.

The bubble wrap claim of an R-value of 8 is usually based upon its performance in an assembly not as a material by itself. They do not usually describe the assembly in which this rating is achieved when they state that performance. These products have a radiant barrier component to them and if you attend my webinars where we discuss heat flow, air flow and moisture flow – this is one of three modes of heat flow – you know that radiant barriers only work when installed adjacent to an air space. When you look at a project where they say that the product has a R-value of 8 they may have failed to mention that it was installed over spacers over a 2 inch air space when it was tested. You may not have that same scenario in your assembly.

In his article, Martin provides examples of claims that have been proven false. What was insightful to me regarding these claims is that the false claims are being repeated or made by the big box retailers who carry significant weight with consumers and DIYers. This is problematic because claims being made by a large influencer means consumers are being misled and installing a product that they think is an R-8 material when it is really an R-1 material. When their energy bills skyrocket, they are forced to redo the work and pay again to make it right.

The manufacturers have been held accountable for false claims, but who is monitoring or holding accountable, outside of Martin, when false claims or misleading information is being given to consumers at a retailer?

That is one of the reasons that using a professional contractor or installer is money well spent.

IBS Insights: Keeping Moisture out of Walls

KellyWarrenKelly Warren, CertainTeed Insulation Product Manager, participated in a live Q&A session at the International Builders’ Show. Here’s a recap of the discussion:

Q: Are there new approaches builders can use to reduce the liability of moisture and mold in wall cavities?

Yes, one of the main concerns we hear from builders is how to keep moisture out of your walls. And that’s what our new product SMARTBATT does. It is a kraft-faced fiberglass batt insulation that has an integrated smart vapor retarder — which offers additional, enhanced drying capabilities in the wall cavity. In the summer, when it’s warm, moisture tries to get into your house. When it’s winter and it’s cold outside moisture tries to escape. The smart vapor technology that is incorporated into SMARTBATT opens and closes in the right areas and keeps moisture out. And, it rounds out the complete equation when it comes to comfort — thermal efficiency, air tightness, moisture management, and acoustics.

 

The 12 Months of Homebuilding by CertainTeed

140ja0hIn 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!

 

 

 

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?

 

Don’t Stop at the Surface with Moisture and Mold Damage

1316551358_254450912_4-Residential-and-commercial-Flood-Water-Damage-services-free-est-8888110187-ServicesMold Awareness Month Tip #2: When you see signs of moisture damage either on the exterior or interior you can’t just address this at the surface.  You have to keep digging until you get to dry materials.  If that means tearing out the drywall and the insulation until you get to something dry, so be it. You can’t just fix the surface because it was wet. If you have to replace materials following moisture damage consider using a mold and moisture resistant drywall and a smart vapor retarder with your insulation to add protection to your wall assembly. You will be building in more robustness to an area of your home that is apparently susceptible to moisture intrusion.

That’s from the outside too.  If you find some water damage around your window and you tear it out you can’t stop there.  Take your screwdriver or awl and probe the wood behind it to find out how far the damage goes. If you don’t correct the problem at the source and replace all the damaged materials, the chances of mold occurring in this area are very good..

So, don’t stop at the surface or just treat the symptoms.  You have to exhaust the symptoms and get to the source.

Remember, if you see moisture damage whether inside or outside the building don’t stop digging and probing until you get to dry.

Glass Bottle or Paper Bag?

If you wanted to keep something for 50 years would you keep it is a paper bag or a glass bottle?

This question came from a recent architect training I conducted in New York. I was engaged in a conversation about wall systems and sustainability with this group and the discussion moved to durability in relation to sustainability.

I posed that question and the response was a glass bottle. However, a case can be made for both.

Many of the passive energy saving measures we employ in our buildings can only be accomplished effectively during initial construction.  As an example; it is very difficult to add insulation to side walls over time because the cavity is designed, constructed and closed in.  If you want durability and longevity you better be building something upfront that will last at least 50 years.

To that end, do not employ difficult to replace materials that are not intended to last as long as the wall you are building. If you haven’t figured it out yet we were talking about different types of insulation.

If you can’t see it, inspect it, or fix it, you had better be sure it’s going to be around longer than you are.

Your thoughts are always welcome.

A Tip for New Home Buyers – Consider What is Behind the Walls

Hybrid insulation installDuring the 2013 International Builders’ Show I had the chance to speak with a regional manager for a national builder about the challenge of helping consumers understand the features, benefits and return on investment (ROI) on the hidden features in a home. 

When a potential homeowners speaks to a builder they are usually more focused on considering upgrades that are visible to the eye than considering what’s underneath the walls of the home. What they don’t consider is how upgrading the R-value in their walls will save them money on heating and cooling over the life of the home or if they plan on selling the home in the future, how this improved performance may help them compete against homes that will be built between now and then.

The challenge that is faced by a builder as well as a solution provider is to create ways to have that very conversation with the consumer in a clear and relatively quick manner. The reality is that a builder only has so much time with a prospective buyer of a new construction and they do have a great deal of ground to cover.  It is usually easier to focus on what is visible than what is not.

During our chat, we discussed creating scenarios of building a house three different ways to maximize the efficiency of the home and how to show that to a prospective buyer.  You could have partially finished walls in the garage of a model home which show building and insulating a wall to code vs. improved materials and techniques.  You could then show various types of wallboard – yes there are varieties of wallboard that address noise reduction, mold and moisture control and volatile organic compound removal.  This could be a chance for people to actually see and understand what is usually hidden behind the finishes they have been focused on.

Truth is, potential homeowners seem more interested in talking about the aesthetics of countertop materials than increasing the efficiency of their wall systems. Why are we so comfortable being ignorant about one the most important investments of our life? I would bet that more people have researched the features and benefits of their next car in terms of gas mileage, horsepower, etc.  than researching the type of insulation and wallboard to use in their home for optimum comfort and health.

Does anybody have any ideas of how we can engage homeowners in the conversation about the energy efficiency options in homes that will lower their operating costs over the life of a home? If you are a realtor, what do you do?

Take Advantage of the Extended Energy Tax Credits

cit5glamourimagesmallAs you know, at the end of 2012 our Nation averted falling off what was referred to as the “fiscal cliff” by passing last minute budget legislation.  Homeowners and homebuilders became the winners with that vote because one of the provisions was to extend the Energy Tax Credit which was designed to help them upgrade the efficiency of the building envelop and reduce their energy usage.

There were two key components of that action. Congress extended a tax credit for energy efficient retrofits through Dec. 31, 2013 and retroactively to Jan. 1, 2012. The credit allows homeowners to claim 10 percent of the cost of qualified energy-efficient building materials, such as insulation, up to $500. They also revived a business tax credit of up to $2,000.00 for builders that construct or significantly renovate “dwelling units” (e.g. apartments, condos or single-family homes) that meet certain energy efficiency standards.

I strongly recommend that to make the best decisions for improving the energy efficiency of an existing home that you conduct a home energy audit. This is an important first step in identifying where updates are most needed and how to get the greatest return from a renovation budget. ResNet is a great resource that helps connect homeowners with trained auditors in their community. For more information, visit www.resnet.us.

That being said, it is fairly easy to identify one of the greatest sources of energy loss even if you are not handy with energy modeling programs – the attic. Take a look up there. If the tops of the ceiling  joists are visible then you will definitely need to add more insulation to reach the current recommended R-value. This is typical of homes built more than 30 years ago.

ainsulatticblow1webdsmallAccording to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average homeowner can save as much as 30 percent on energy bills related to comfort simply by having the right amount of insulation throughout the home. For attics, applying a premium fiberglass blowing insulation is the best solution for adding thermal performance in an attic and in keeping a home warmer in the winter and cooler during the summer (without concern for compressing what insulation already exists  – a real issue with some other types of loose-fill insulations available). And the best part: it is easy to access and an inexpensive way to achieve great results year round.

There are tools available for homeowners that help recommend R-values for different areas of the home, provide estimates of potential savings, and identifies incentives for completing insulation projects from this federal tax credit down to local utility programs.

The most important thing is that you act now and don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of the Tax Credits while you can.  This might really be your last chance for a bite of the apple. The reality is older homes will need to be upgraded to remain competitive is the marketplace as newer construction comes online.  It is only a matter of time before energy efficiency labels will be placed on buildings.  Don’t let your single most valuable investment fall behind!