Rules Matter When it Comes to R-Value

Ken Forsythe

We all know there are ‘rules’ that everyone might not follow to the letter: “Speed Limit 55”…”Do Not Remove Mattress Tag Under Penalty of Law”…”Lather, rinse, repeat.”  When it comes to heating and air conditioning ductwork, there’s another rule many insulation contractors rarely follow:  “When installing bubble wrap insulation on ductwork, secure spacers every 24” to 36” around duct before applying wrap.”

While there’s no harm if you skip the “repeat” step when washing your hair, there can be serious utility bill consequences if installers leave out the placement of spacers between a duct and bubble wrap insulation. Bubble wrap insulation needs the thermal break provided by the air space that is created by spacers to achieve advertised R-values.  The actual R-value of improperly wrapped (i.e. no air space) duct with bubble wrap can be as low as R-0.90 to R-1.1.  Building Inspectors and owners need to be aware of what to look for to insure that the product performs properly.

In checking with HVAC insulation distributors to determine if insulation contractors routinely purchase air spacers with their bubble wrap, the answer is often “We’re still on our first shipment of spacers” or an outright, “We never sell any of those.”

Often bubble wrap insulation manufacturers do include spacer instructions with options for installers to create their own spacers by cutting and placing 2” wide strips of bubble wrap around the duct in intervals before applying the wrap around the duct or applying corner spacers specifically made for the purpose at each corner of rectangular duct.  But with so much pressure on insulation contractors to keep labor to a minimum, it’s hard to imagine that the vast majority are taking the time to create or use spacers on every project. Let’s face it: installers care about installing as quickly as possible for the lowest cost.

It’s true that quality bubble duct wrap may have good reflectivity and provides some protection against conductive heat gain or loss – as does fiber glass duct wrap with FSK (Foil-Scrim-Kraft) facing – however, the bubble wrap industry needs to do a better job educating installers and/or HVAC contractors. Educating the industry about the science behind adding air spacers and their integral role in delivering promised R-value is an important first step and is in everyone’s best interests.

 Ken Forsythe is a Senior Product Manager for CertainTeed Mechanical/Industrial Insulation

Are We Entering a Decade of Growth for Remodelers

Rosemary Hayn

Rosemary Hayn

Every two years, The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University publishes a report supported by the companies and organizations who participate on two of their committees; the Policy Advisory Board and the Remodeling Futures Steering Committee.

The most recent report, A New Decade of Growth for Remodeling provides some insights that can help building professionals as they continue to struggle with a sluggish housing market.

If you follow the industry to great lengths, as I do, these reports provide a great deal of factual information from an historical perspective but only a small amount of forecast data.

For example, it is a given that older metropolitan areas have older stock that need energy efficiency upgrades while growth areas in the South and West have newer inventory. The number of remodeling opportunities, therefore, will be more abundant in older parts of the country.

When reading this report the questions one should ask are:  What’s new? What’s different? What do I need to know? 

Here are a few highlights:

  • Green projects will continue to provide important growth opportunities.  The results of the National Green Remodeling survey indicate that important projects where homeowners specified green features increased by 25% over all projects. Tax incentives due to energy efficiency, under the Federal Stimulus, helped support that increase.
  • The share of replacement product systems upgrades that support energy efficiency will continue to grow.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades for new and existing homes offers a huge potential for remodelers.
  • With the economic downturn, immigration has slowed but as the economy recovers, new immigrants will contribute greatly to the remodeling industry over the next decade.
  • Homeowners will continue to invest in small upgrades that provide a quicker payback or have incentives attached to them.  With the reduction in the 2011 Economic Stimulus to $500 the projects could remain very small in scope.

From 2000-2005 there was a  7.3 percent growth rate for homeowner improvement spending, followed by a five year trend showing a -1.4 percent in spending.  The report anticipates a 3.5 percent annual growth rate in home improvement spending which puts the 2010-2015 period in the middle of the two previous five year periods.

Also, in the next five years the number of households moving into 55 – 64 and 65+ age ranges will be preparing for retirement.  If they plan to age in place they will, most likely, need to make renovations to their home to improve the energy efficiency and lower the maintenance needs of the structure such as increased insulation or low maintenance exterior cladding. This will be another opportunity for remodelers.

From 2002 – 2007 there was a 23% increase in specialty contractors and self-employed remodelers but since then, remodelers have struggled due to declines in homeowner spending and the increased competition from builders-turned-remodelers. 

What we don’t know, because the data isn’t collected annually, is how many have survived the economic downturn. Clearly those who diversified their services or moved into niche markets, such as energy efficiency upgrades, most likely, have survived.

Rosemary Hayn is Manager, Market Research and Planning for CertainTeed Corporation

School Districts Are Embracing LEED Buildings

Lucas Hamilton

Large urban and smaller sub-urban districts alike are increasing their focus on building schools that are certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program because this practice results in more state funding.  Schools get funding based upon population – the actual number of students that they teach every day- not the number of school age children living in their district.  That is a number that is taken daily called attendance. 

If  40 percent of  a school district’s population is not showing up, that district will receive 40 percent less state funding than may be deserved. While the goal of the school district may be to educate our children, the first task is to get kids to show up. This is not just for all the right reasons, such as, the importance of learning and that it is in the best interest of society in general but also because that is the way the school district gets paid.

Statistics show that building more sustainable spaces results in increased student attendance over schools constructed with outdated techniques and materials (and decreased staff absenteeism due to illness).  Building sustainably also improves the acoustics and indoor environmental quality of the building. Incorporating acoustical ceilings, noise reducing gypsum wallboard and adequate levels of insulation contributes to the creation of optimum learning environments. Recent studies have shown that optimizing learning space acoustics ultimately improves student retention and test scores (another critical metric by which schools are judged).

For some urban school districts, the school buildings themselves may be the nicest spaces that the child will be in all day. While this is considered collateral benefit, it’s well worth it for the school district to invest in sustainable spaces because the children feel better, they are healthier, more positive about the experience and will be in the classroom on a more consistent basis.

If you look at the upfront costs to build a school, why would a school district strapped for cash build a school above and beyond code?  Because it will pay for itself!

 Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Make Energy Upgrades Part of Your Refinancing

Lucas Hamilton

As the real estate market begins to come back every mortgage broker and real estate agent should be talking to customers about adding energy upgrades if they are refinancing or changing properties.  If you are touching your mortgage in any way, now is the time to include the energy upgrades into your plans. 

If you are changing properties and moving to a new house get energy upgrades built into the mortgage because it will generate positive cash flow immediately. It’s like buying a rental property and having a tenant in it already.  Also, you are borrowing at a lower rate and getting paid back at a higher rate. Adding insulation and tightening the building envelop in older homes will improve your energy efficiency almost immediately.

I recently participated in a panel discussion about energy upgrades and presented the results of a series of REM / Design simulations that showed what the actual savings would be by adding insulation and making a home more air tight.  I secured a quote from an insulation contractor for a passive upgrade to a house built in the 1980’s to show what the cost versus savings would be, not only upfront, but over time.  It would cost $22 per month in the mortgage but it saved $28 per month in energy costs. These figures are based on today’s energy prices. As energy becomes more expensive, the savings increase. Not only do the upgrades save energy but they also contribute to a healthier indoor environment in the home.

You can never go wrong upgrading an older home to 2009 building code standards because it will enable you to compete with newer, more energy efficient construction when you decide to sell.  As I discussed in an earlier blog, if we begin to label homes with energy ratings it is in the best interest of the homeowner to upgrade so they will have a higher energy rating. 

With mortgage rates as low as they are, it makes perfect sense to make those energy upgrades now.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

IBS 2011– The Builders’ Land of Oz

Tom Silva from This Old House at CertainTeed's IBS booth

I spent January 12 – 15 at the International Builders’ Show (IBS) in Orlando, Florida. This annual event is sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). I was amazed how global the show has become over the years not only with exhibitors but with attendees as well.  While the show is not as large as it has been in the past and the attendance is down, attendees were there with projects. Hopefully this is an indication that industry recovery is on its way.

This show is truly the Land of Oz for builders who’ve survived the poppy fields of the past three years. The show booths are exquisitely designed and display products and processes that improve the quality of and the efficiency of the building envelope.  But it is not just products that make the difference in the design, execution or renovation of projects; it’s the interaction of the products in the assemblies and the knowledge to execute the construction correctly.

To this end, many exhibitors included training and demonstrations as part of their exhibits.  Providing the knowledge of how to correctly create systems for efficiency in the envelope is key to successful tightening of a building. I presented a series of trainings on “Sustainability and the National Green Building Code”, “Selling Energy Efficiency”, and “Moisture and Mold Prevention in Building Assemblies” at the CertainTeed booth.  We were honored to have Tom Silva, general contractor for This Old House speak at our booth again this year.  Tom answered questions from the audience and shared some great information for professionals. Some of the issues that Tom discussed will be featured in future blogs.

Among the high interest products and systems in our booth this year were AirRenew™, a wallboard that removes formaldehyde and other aldehydes from the air;  Diamondback Tile Backer a high-performance tile backer that features a bonding technology that makes tile installation simpler, faster and less costly;  EnerGen™, a photovoltaic solar power roofing product that integrates with traditional asphalt roofing and our hybrid insulation system, discussed in a previous blog, which combines spray foam insulation, blown insulation and a vapor retarder to create a cost-effective way to create a thermally superior airtight seal in the wall systems.

With more that 1,000 exhibitors at the convention it was a bit like stepping out of the dark woods of the past three year construction market and into a bright and sunny field of poppies. As tempting as it was to inhale deeply and lay down for a rest, we know that it takes friends, courage, heart, and wisdom to make it all the way to the Emerald City.  For this weary traveler, at the end of these events, there’s no place like home.

Stay tuned for future blogs which may discuss how Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon predicted our recent construction slump and what it says about future housing starts.

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Hybrid Insulation Systems Give Best of Both Worlds in Performance

While making a presentation recently at the Oakland Space and Science Center in California, the topic of fiberglass versus spray foam insulation came up and was quickly followed by questions about hybrid insulation systems. It seems like a lot of people have hybrids on their mind these days.

One of the positives about spray foam is that the insulation itself is air resistant.  The gas or air which does the majority of actual insulating is trapped in bubbles inside the plastic foam matrix and can’t be washed out by air flow.  Now that we recognize the influence of air leakage on a home’s energy consumption, many builders and homeowners are trying to get their houses as “tight” as they can. Installing spray foams where air is leaking through the building envelope can reduce that flow rate. One of the issues people struggle with when considering foams as a solution has been their cost- they can have a significantly higher installed cost than fibrous insulations.

For this reason, in some markets, contractors are turning to hybrid insulation systems often referred to as flash and batt insulation. To fill a 2 x 6 inch empty wall cavity, first add a flash coat of closed cell foam on the exterior wall to a thickness of 1 -2 inches then take a low density batt to fill in the space before the drywall is installed. What you get is the best of both worlds – the inexpensive high R-value of the fiberglass batt combined with a smaller amount of foam which gives you the air tightening effects desired. 

An even more effective option is using loose fill insulation such as OPTIMA® in the hybrid system instead of fiberglass batts.  This is a cost efficient, high R-value, well performing system. A challenge for the hybrid approach lies in very cold climates. Fiberglass is a very efficient insulating material so if too much is used with the foam it will make the foam cold and moisture can form in the wall assembly. That needs to be avoided at all costs. For colder climates there are very specific recommendations for the amount of foam you need to use in the wall constructions before you can eliminate the need for a vapor retarder on the warm-in-winter side of the insulation. We have recommendations for hybrid insulation systems, as does the Blow-in Blanket Contractors Association (BIBCA), designed to create the appropriate foam to fiberglass ratios which will prevent this from occurring. If you choose to install less foam and more fiberglass or if you have any lingering concerns about moisture in these assemblies, I recommend installing a Smart Vapor Retarder such as the MemBrain™ product. As an example, the First LEED Platinum Home in Colorado applied the hybrid system using CertainTeed products.

If you are using a hybrid insulation system in your construction projects I would love to hear your experiences.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Designing Environments for Sound Control

Stan Gatland

Traffic, door slams, vacuums, toilet flushes, TV’s – these are just some of the everyday noises that can affect your comfort.

Acoustical comfort, created through effective sound control, should be considered in all buildings. Many practical and economical solutions to sound-related problems are currently available to architects, engineers, contractors and building, and home owners.

Most noise control situations can be managed whether it’s from airborne sounds – sound that is directly transmitted from a source into the air like outside traffic, music or voices,- or structureborne sound – sound that travels through solid materials like footsteps, door slams, or plumbing vibrations.

There are four goals to providing a superior acoustic environment:

  • Reduce sound reverberation time (echo factor)
  • Limit airborne noise (sound transmission from space to space)
  • Reduce impact noise
  • Minimize background noise

The reduction of sound reverberation time is accomplished by employing sound-absorbing surfaces, such as fabrics, carpeting and acoustical ceilings. The best plan is to configure those spaces to reduce, rather than amplify the sound energy.

When limiting airborne noise, one important consideration is to design high sound transmission class (STC) assemblies. STC is a laboratory measurement used to study the resistance of a wall, ceiling, or floor to the passage of sound. The higher the STC number, the more the sound is deadened. Also, try to enclose or separate spaces with group activities that may create chatter from common areas, using acoustically efficient walls.

To reduce the transmission of impact noise, you can design high-impact insulation class (IIC) assemblies. Isolate finished floors and ceilings by installing resilient underlayments, by using sound-absorptive floor coverings and by using resilient ceiling suspension systems that include sound-absorbing cavity insulation.

Design your HVAC systems to absorb energy and reduce background noise so airborne noise isn’t transmitted through the ductwork. Mechanical equipment should be isolated using vibration dampening techniques and high sound transmission reduction enclosures.

Creating a quiet environment makes for happier homes and offices.

Stan Gatland is Manager of Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation

Reshaping the Built Environment Passively

Stan Gatland

The Passive House concept gained a great deal of traction over the past year and the 2010 Passive House Conference, which was held in Portland, Oregon in November, was proof of the growth and interest.  The attendance grew from 250 last year to 350 this year.

It is clear from the growth of the conference that building professionals in the U.S. and Canada are beginning to gravitate to the Passive House Standard. The primary goal of Passive House technology is to reduce your heating and cooling load so that very little energy is needed to maintain comfort.

The people who came by the CertainTeed booth were much more knowledgeable about passive house technologies and had practical experience with regard to designing and constructing passive homes in all parts of the U.S.  That was a significant change from previous years.

CertainTeed remains the only large building materials manufacturer sponsoring the Passive House Conference. The Passive House Institute has created a Passive House Alliance which will work closely with the Institute to promote Passive House building energy efficiency standards and construction in the U.S.  A grassroots effort like this could have significant impact on adopting standards that truly support energy efficient building.

Attendees were very interested in Saint-Gobain’s Isover Multi-Comfort House strategy. This passive house concept has been very successful in Europe. There were several colleges and universities at the conference and we took this opportunity to talk with them about the Multi Comfort House Student Competition which invites teams of architecture and engineering students from around the world to compete in a passive design competition.  Philadelphia University has participated in the past and the hope is that  other U.S. colleges and universities will consider participating in the 2011 competition.  

It was good to talk with designers who are using CertainTeed Optima® insulation with our Membrain™  smart vapor retarder in very deep cavities using TJI joists to achieve the insulation levels needed to meet Passive House standards. We have conducted hygrothermal analysis to assist designers who are using this system.

One of the notable speakers this year was Dr. Robert Hastings, architect and energy consultant from Austria who gave his perspective on this trend.  Dr. Hastings has been involved internationally in sustainable building and solar energy since the 1970’s when the first wave of concern regarding energy consumption hit the mainstream. Unfortunately, the progress that was made in the 70’s was quickly abandoned once oil became readily available again. 

Let’s hope that this groundswell will not be abandoned as in the past. As a nation, we need to continue to move toward energy independence.

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation

Making Low Income Homes Energy Efficient

Lucas Hamilton

Last weekend, not only did we celebrate Halloween but the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) celebrated National Weatherization Day recognizing the work being done to save money for America’s homeowners by investing in energy efficiency.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act weatherization program has assisted over 245,000 low-income families conduct energy audits, upgrade their homes and lower energy consumption by installing insulation in the attic and basement, weather stripping on the doors and roof ventilation.

The weatherization program has also put Americans to work to complete these upgrades.

This video documents the work that DOE is doing and also provides some great tips for DIYers for ways to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Energy is a National Security Issue

Lucas Hamilton

I believe that energy is a national security issue.  We import too much energy and are too dependent on that imported energy.  What we pay for energy is much lower than other places in the world and we have grown accustomed to having all we want when we want it. This fact puts us in a precarious situation with regard to international policies. Do we want to be at the mercy of other nations to meet our energy demand? It is in our best interest to produce our own energy through alternative sources and we need to do this sooner than later.

President Obama also recently talked about energy as a national security issue on a podcast that he syndicates every week. He also discussed a company in the Mojave Desert that will produce solar energy to power 140,000 homes in California. This is progress.  Wind farms are also being built in many parts of the country.  Alone they won’t replace fossil fuels but over time we will identify and perfect these alternative sources  to minimize our dependence on fossil fuels.

I was glad to see that the White House changed its position regarding solar power and acknowledged that the White House needs to lead by example and will put solar panels on the While House.

Given my recent blogs on both the Energy Star Pledge program and the Green Power Community Challenge it is clear that the educational component is kicking into high gear and we are all being encouraged as individuals, communities and businesses to assess our energy consumption and make changes to our lifestyles to lower our carbon footprints.  Things will not change overnight but if we are all focused in the right direction we can make quicker strides to ramping up alternative energy sources.

The two key areas where we can have a significant impact on energy reduction is to create a federal building code and changing our lifestyles with regard to home energy use. If you are making changes or upgrades to your home, consider solar reflective shingles, adding insulation or using programmable thermostats.

Make Energy Awareness Month 2010 your energy independence month and develop a plan to reduce your carbon footprint.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation