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.

Energy Awareness Begins with You

As we approach the close of Energy Awareness Month remember it is never too late to start improving energy efficiency whether in your home or in you life.

With tax rebates about to end, possibly forever, this is the last opportunity to reduce the cost of replacing windows or doors or insulating that attic.

The most beneficial investment a homeowner can make is to conduct an energy audit.  This will give you a firm handle on where your home is losing energy and the improvements you can make to correct the problems.  These problems don’t have to be handled all at one time.  The important thing is now you have an idea of how to make adjustments to reduce energy loss while contemplating replacing aging systems with more efficient new systems.

As a way to boost energy awareness, Energy Star created a video challenge as part of their Take the Pledge program to increase participation from Americans in all walks of life.  Take the Pledge boasts that Americans participating in the Pledge have amassed $793,107, 376 in energy savings, eliminated 10,243,261,274 lbs in greenhouse gases and have saved 6,008,157,595 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The short videos in the video challenge are creative, instructive and entertaining. View a sample of these below:

You can view all the videos on the Energy Star Take the Pledge page.

Making changes, however small, in your daily activities to reduce your carbon footprint make a huge difference over time.  Changing your light bulbs to compact florescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs is one place to start.

But like many efforts to make substantive change – it starts with YOU!

Vicky Gallagher is Supervisor, Corporate Marketing Communications for CertainTeed Corporation

Excessive Wet Weather Can Lead to Mold

Lucas Hamilton

The historic rain that the United States has endured in 2011 has increased moisture levels in places where moisture has never been a problem. I have heard from many people around the country who have never had water in their homes but have recently sustained water damage and are now concerned about potential mold.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, mold needs four things to grow:  moisture (liquid water), food (typically starch or sugar), temperature between 41° and 104° and oxygen.  When water is trapped behind walls or paneling, the other elements will most likely be present and the potential for mold growth will exist. Try to clean and dry areas subjected to water within 48 hours to help prevent mold growth. After cleaning and drying, continue to be sensitive to musty odors in the affected area.

Check the exterior of homes and building regularly for accumulating ground water.  Many parts of the country have far exceeded saturation and mold can begin for form outside and find its way inside. If water is accumulating against your foundation, take measures to drain the water away from your building. Keeping things dry is the key to preventing mold growth.

There are many products available today to help protect the home or building from moisture infiltration and mold growth.  There are coating products that can be applied to dry materials to mitigate any mold growth potentials for that surface in the future. If materials are wet and can’t be cleaned or completely dried, remove them from the building and replace them with new materials which may be more mold resistant. Fiber glass doesn’t have the food needed for mold growth but often when insulation gets wet, the water which intruded into the cavity was dirty and brought food along with it. If you have wet insulation, replace it with new fiber glass.  If replacing drywall, consider selecting a board that that contains mold and moisture inhibitors.

Many people have sensitivities to mold and it can be a health concern.  Make sure that you take extra care to check for mold especially if this is the first time you are dealing with water inside your home or building. Use a mixture of common sense and caution- if it smells or looks bad assume that it is bad and take appropriate measures.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Embodied Energy Versus Operational Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Recently during a webinar I was conducting, the topic came up of embodied energy versus operational energy.  This topic continues to come up as building scientists evaluate systems with regard to their sustainability.

There are two things that can make a product green. It can be green in its manufacture or it can be green in its application.  One of the important topics for understanding the manufacture or delivery of a product is the concept of embodied energy – how much cumulative energy went into the extraction of the raw materials, the manufacture of the product and the transportation of the product to its final application.  This is the concept of embodied energy. Operational energy relates to how much energy the product uses or can save once it has been applied or installed into a system. 

For instance, look at insulation. Many types of insulation are actually very energy intensive in their manufacture, however once they are installed they can save many times over within the very first year of their application. A perfect example of operational energy is fiberglass insulation. In its first year of use, fiberglass insulation can save 12 times the amount of energy it took in making and transporting the product.

So let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes, material that is superior in performance with regard to the life cycle of a building may have a little bit of negative upfront energy costs, however in its use can be very positive. 

So don’t make a judgment solely based on the embodied energy but rather on the life cycle of the project to determine if it is positive or negative for the project itself.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

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