It’s Easy to Lower Energy Bills – Insulate!

BuilderLiveI continue to be amazed at tradeshows how attracted attendees are to photovoltaic (PV) products. It is admittedly an exciting technology and I saw this again at the Greenbuild and the International Builders’ Shows.  At this past IBS show, our Builders’ Resource Center answered many questions on many topics but clearly the most interest was again regarding integrated photovoltaic roofing and PV panels.

I guess what I find so amazing is how much time people will dedicate to evaluating the return on investment (ROI) for PV while remaining so unwilling to spend even a little effort going after low hanging fruit that might not be as exciting or visible. PV can be a good investment for many folks but it could be a great investment if they improved their baseline consumption first.

Insulate, tighten up that ductwork and envelope while ensuring proper fresh air and then the same PV investment can go from providing say 50 percent of your power needs to providing 75 percent. There’s an old African proverb that says: “if you want to go fast go alone but if you want to go far go together.” Nothing could be truer in a situation such as this. Every little effort you make can combine to have an impact greater than the sum of the parts.

Another thing I often hear during trade show discussions about solar is that folks are going to wait a little longer until they get into the PV roofing (they have a new roof they don’t want to disturb just yet, they are waiting for the right client to force their hand, they heard that prices are going to keep dropping as more folks get into it, etc…). I understand. It’s not a small investment and so it should be done with prudence.

But…. adding insulation and improving the building envelope need not wait. Material prices for these types of products are near historic lows and labor is trained, willing, and eager to do the job. You will begin saving money on your energy bill immediately and perhaps your new cash flow properties will actually allow you to get that super sexy solar even sooner.

 

Don’t Forget the End Users When Building for Energy Efficiency

While at Greenbuild 2012 I was asked “What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?” My answer was posted on our Blog but there is more I want to say about this so here we go!

Users or occupants of high efficiency buildings need to understand and be a partner in the process because  ultimately they influence the  success or failure of a building’s efficiency over time. For example, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes will give you credit for and requires Energy Star performance which means certain insulation levels, certain air tightness and certain efficiencies on the mechanical systems (among other issues). The energy efficiency of the building is based upon a combination of highly efficient equipment and permanent passive systems.

When the active system wears out, if the consumers don’t appreciate the importance of the efficiency of that system on the overall performance of the habitat they are unlikely to take that into consideration when they have to replace equipment.  They can go from a high efficiency piece of equipment that made their sustainable building sing beautifully and perform wonderfully and stick in something that is on sale or is perhaps promoted by their contractor but with a whole different efficiency rating.  Now the building goes from being a Prius to being a Hummer simply because the driver wasn’t told the difference between the two.

In sustainability circles we often talk about “the Prius effect”.  This comes from the engagement of the driver with the car.  Once the driver understands the savings due to the offset of the electrical to the fuel and you give them real-time feedback, they began to drive against the machine to improve the efficiency. The build community needs to develop dashboards or other tools for high efficiency buildings so that end users can see the benefits provided by the systems.  That buy-in is critical to sustaining efficiency over the life cycle of the building.

There is no point in doing a sustainable building for someone unless you teach and show them how to maintain it. That is one aspect I especially admire about the Living Building Challenge. The Beauty petal has components which include inspiration and education. Couldn’t we all use a little more of both?

Tips For Rebuilding Following Hurricane Sandy

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Many of us in the Philadelphia area have been recuperating from Hurricane Sandy although we did not get hit as hard as our neighboring state, New Jersey. Some of our co-workers do have family members with shore homes so I have had a chance to look at the building codes and other guidelines for rebuilding in flood prone areas. I wanted to share some information about rebuilding and the things you need to keep in mind.

Many of the houses have damage to the first floor and what we are seeing it is not the ‘business as usual’ building codes that have previously been acceptable in New Jersey. There are new building codes that are in effect that follow more closely the FEMA guidelines. For example, the guideline requires that you:

  • Remove the drywall and insulation to two feet above the high water mark.
  • Dry out and treat the entire cavity.
  •  Following the gutting of the cavity – remove all the drywall and insulation exposing all the studs to the back side of wood sheathing or house-wrap – this area must be treated with a mold inhibitor.
  • When you reconstruct the wall you can only us certain insulations:  either closed spray foam insulation or extruded polystyrene foam boards foamed into placed.  While anyone can install the extruded foam panels (if they can find the right thickness- remember you need to be an R13 in New Jersey now so that will be an XPS board at least 2.6” thick).  Spray foams need to be installed by a certified contractor.
  • The wall needs to be finished with a paperless drywall – it can’t be the mold and moisture resistant drywall – and the drywall needs to be stopped with a ½ inch space between the new and old drywall to create a capillary break. The gap can then be finished off with a chair rail or other element to hide the wallboard gap. I think the reason they are requiring a gap is so that in the event that a flood happens again, the water can’t wick up the wall and affect the old wall structure.

When I saw this I thought ‘this is not normal.’  Because it isn’t normal – it is an exceptional code being applied to flood prone areas as designated by FEMA. These are what townships are putting into place to minimize the damage if another storm hits.

It is clearly not business as usual for East Coast communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.

 

 

 

It is Spring Tune-Up Time for Your Home

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

It is spring and we just celebrated the 42nd Anniversary of Earth Day. While you are contemplating changes you can make to your home and property to conserve energy or improve curb appeal in a re-heating real estate market, keep in mind that this is the perfect time to do a home inspection and make sure that your home is efficient, safe and in-keeping with the Earth Day ideals.

Here are a few places you should inspect:

  • Inspect your roof for missing or broken shingles or possible places where water could come in. If your roof is not ventilated properly you could have damage from ice dams. Nothing could be greener than making our existing resources last longer and your roof is the first line of defense.
  • Check your attic or crawl space to make sure that water is not coming in.  It is also a good time to see if you need to add additional insulation to your attic space. The attic is one of the easiest places in a home to add insulation and insulation prices are about as low as they get right now so no point in waiting.
  • Clean your gutters.  Make sure they are cleared for the rainy season. Leaves and dirt can build up in any season. Clogged gutters are one of the most efficient ways to redirect water back into your building once you have already shed it.
  • Tune up your air conditioner.  It is the prime time for specials from contractors. Making sure that your unit is working properly can help save on utility bills and actually improve your indoor air quality.
  • Check your walls and foundation for any cracks that could cause moisture infiltration. You must maintain your barriers.
  • Check the basement for mold. When the temperature gets above 41 degrees that is when mold is happy. If mold is present you will be able to smell it. If it smells bad it is bad.

If you have an older home it is critical to make upgrades and improvements when signs of weakness appear.  Taking care of simple repairs will save you money over time but will also make your home more competitive in the marketplace and make for a healthier habitat for you and your family.

Building Hope for the Future with Habitat for Humanity

We all know that homeownership is considered the cornerstone of the American dream.  But many of us take that dream for granted.  I was reminded of this when I attended the dedication and blessing of a home with Habitat for Humanity in Chester, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia.

As a corporate sponsor of what we have come to refer to as the “CertainTeed House” because of the many CertainTeed products incorporated into the building envelop of this two-family house, I participated in the dedication and blessing of the house.  The family, a single mother with two daughters who will occupy half of the house, seemed simultaneously overwhelmed and excited.

The group of family, friends, sponsors and supporters clustered into what would soon be the family’s living room as the Reverend began the dedication and blessing.  The group traveled from room to room with the family carrying a candle as each area was given a special blessing – from the kitchen where nourishment is prepared to the dining room where bread is broken and shared to the bedrooms where sleeping safe and secure is desired.  Once the blessing was completed, the keys were presented to the family marking the final transformation of this building from simply a house into a home.

It was beautiful!

But there was an added sense of pride that I felt standing in this completed house that would be the dream home for this family. Over ten weeks during the building of this house approximately 80 of my co-workers volunteered time on the site to help with the build.  The opportunity to gain hands-on experience with CertainTeed roofing shingles, housewrap, vinyl siding and railing, insulation and gypsum products was as valuable as the satisfaction of giving back to the community in this very special way.  In some cases it brought employees together whose paths would not cross at work and in other cases departmental teams used this as a teambuilding exercise.

In the end, it was a learning experience for all and a lesson in community that has no equal.

The NAHB International Builders’ Show – A Constant in a Changing Landscape

Mike Loughery

Mike Loughery is Director, Corporate Marketing Communications for CertainTeed Corporation

Here we are once again, heading to the International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Florida.  In the days of the housing boom, you could get a feel for the attendance and enthusiasm by how packed the plane was and the fact that it was filled with builders and contractors.

The past few years have been tough though.  Attendance, which once peaked in the low one-hundred thousands, was a mere shadow of itself a year ago with about 47,000 walking through the turnstiles. 

What will this year hold?  Well, I’m sitting on the plane.  It’s packed and a good number of the folks seem to be in the building trades (albeit for the few families headed you know where!).  Enthusiasm?  Well, not sure yet on that one.  But I know that tomorrow I will enter the hall, see all the displays, and hear the buzz of business taking place.  There is nothing as gratifying as spending four days talking with the trades about the latest products and innovations in the marketplace. 

The temptation for some might be to shrink away and not exhibit.  However, we all have businesses to run and CertainTeed representatives find talking to an engaged audience, whether it’s 50,000 or 100,000 an excellent opportunity to showcase some of the industry’s most innovative new products.  Products that improve indoor environmental quality, energy efficiency, comfort and aesthetics will be showcased as well as our team of building scientists will be available at booth W4051 to answer your most challenging questions.

Feel like swinging a hammer or learning from our experts?  We have product installation demos going on outside in P3, showcasing blowing and spray foam insulation, decking, siding and solar roofing

Can’t make it to the show this year?  Well, you can still be part of the action through a special webpage dedicated to the IBS show which will have a live Twitter feed that you can follow.  You may want to bookmark www.certainteed.com/ibs  so you can refer to it over the next few days.

If you’re in Orlando this week, stop by and say hi.  Let us know how things are going for you in your market.

The True Challenge to Recycled Glass – Economics

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Recycled content is a key component of sustainable products.  However, manufacturers often struggle to find recycled content because of economics. This is particularly true with regard to glass or cullet which is an ingredient in products such as fiber glass insulation.

The sad fact is that much of the glass in the U.S ends up in landfills because the economics of glass are such that on any given day the value of the glass may be much lower to the waste hauler than the cost of the fuel to take it over to the manufacturer who will buy it off their hands.

So on most days, in most parts of the U.S., we suffer from the fact that glass is not actually being recycled. Even though we put it in containers at our curbs, it doesn’t wind up getting back into the economy because its value is too low.

I’ve talked to many people about this and one option I came up with is to make glass more expensive.  Artificially, this can be done through deposits or we can go to the real form which is to make glass more expensive.  If it is valued more as a commodity it will have more value as a recycled product as well. While giving a presentation recently, I made a statement about the fact that having programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which places a value on high recycled content in products, ends up creating a value for recyclable materials that did not exist before.  This solution I think is more eloquent than my own of adding a deposit.  Another side benefit is that this action is creating jobs at the local level because of the LEED emphasis on indigenous materials.

So I tip my hat to programs like LEED for helping to create local jobs, reuse local resources, and reduce the landfilling of valuable resources.

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” –R. Buckminster Fuller

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.

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!

 

 

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.