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.

 

Tips for Optimum Efficiency of Solar and Cool Roofs

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

While conducting a webinar recently on thermal performance in building envelopes I was reminded about a very important issue related to both commercial cool roofs and photovoltaic roofs.  They must be cleaned!

If you do not clean your solar panels and cool roofs their efficiency plummets.  Roofs are out of sight but it is important to not forget about them.  Cool and photovoltaic roofs should be inspected every six months to insure that they are performing properly and providing the maximum benefit of the product.

Reminder! No one should work on a roof but a roofer. The integrity of the roof is very important and the correct tools and cleaning agents much be used to properly clean a cool or photovoltaic roof without damage. I cannot stress this point enough – any cleaning to be performed must be done in accordance with the recommendations of the roof or photovoltaic manufacturer. Inspections should also be conducted only by a roofer or the manufacturer.

If you would like to read a great paper on the economic viability of cleaning cool roofs just follow this link: http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/staff/papers/new_51.pdf.

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

What is the Future of Solar Roof Technology? – Part 2

(Left to right) Rob Fleming; Dennis Wilde; Alain Garnier; Mark Stancroff; Jeff Wolfe

As I discussed in the previous Blog, CertainTeed hosted a luncheon and panel discussion at the 2010 Greenbuild Conference and Expo on The Future of Solar Roof Technology.

Jeff Wolfe, co-founder and CEO of groSolar, represented one of the largest installers of residential solar products in the U.S.  Jeff discussed the fact that the rate of adoption of solar in the U.S. is slow but there will come a time when integrated photovoltaics will be the standard.  

The first hurdle is integrating two elements: a roof and electricity. It’s hard enough to install a roof so it doesn’t leak. Now toss PV into the mix and the new assembly requires additional skills, tools, and knowledge. One key to successful applications going forward is to design integrated systems which simplify installation and maintenance.

The next challenge is the question of who are solar roof installers? Are they roofers, electricians, glazers (remember, some systems have a lot of glass in them)? And what department do you go to in City Hall to obtain the permits? Is it a roof or is it electrical? As a country, building codes and processes vary greatly from state to state and having to battle your way through the local building code department for each new application will dissuade roofers and consumers to take on this new technology.

Alain Garnier, Saint-Gobain Solar mentioned that the solar industry is growing by about 40 percent in other parts of the world.  That could be largely due to the energy costs.  Our “cheap energy” has been a hindrance to consumer demand in this arena. As an example; Europe is far ahead of the U.S. with regard to energy efficiency and passive house adoption largely because the economic case was clear.

The expediting of solar adoption in the U.S will most likely be determined by two things; first, energy rate increases that will cause pain to consumers and, two, federal and state incentives that encourage and reward consumers for taking a significant step toward more efficient buildings.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

What is the Future of Solar Roof Technology – Part 1

(Left to right) Rob Fleming; Dennis Wilde; Alain Garnier; Mark Stancroff; Jeff Wolfe

At Greenbuild, CertainTeed sponsored a luncheon and panel discussion on The Future of Solar Roof Technology.  The panel was very diverse, representing manufacturers of solar materials and end users. The panel included Dennis Wilde, Principal and Development Advisor, Gerding Edlen Development;  Alain Garnier, General Manager, Saint-Gobain Solar U.S.;  Jeff Wolfe, Co-founder and CEO of groSolar; and Mark Stancroff, Business Manager, CertainTeed Solar.  Because of the amount of good information discussed at the event, I am breaking it down into more than one Blog.

The event was moderated by Rob Fleming and Chris Pastore from Philadelphia University who are also known as Ecoman and the Skeptic on their Philadelphia radio show. Rob is an architect by trade and Chris is an engineer.  Both are professors and on the faculty at Philadelphia University. They represented the real world, both the advocates and the skeptics, and created a perfect atmosphere for the audience by challenging the panel and encouraging the audience to do the same, which they did.

The audience was a mix of users and makers as well so the discussion was very robust.  I find when I travel to talk to groups about sustainability this is exactly what you find – skeptics and believers.

According to the end users on the panel, Jeff Wolfe and Dennis Wilde, the adoption of solar and photovoltaics in the U.S. continues to be slow.  Consumers are skeptical and are concerned about the return on investment.  They are waiting for their neighbors to invest.  Homeowner associations are also challenging this initiative based on aesthetics.

Dennis Wilde has been involved in building with photovoltaics and his firm supports initiatives like the Living Building Initiative. He had some interesting insights into the benefits of photovoltaics compared to integrated wind technology.  Referring to a specific project, Dennis stated that the return for solar will be three to five years on that project and the return on the integrated wind technology will be about 104 years.  It is clear that integrated wind technology will not give the return as quickly on that project but it still has merit as a renewable energy source. The issue may be one of a matter of scale. Dennis also discussed the success they are having using photovoltaics on the façade of the building as opposed to the roof.  With Living Building, you have to maximize the power generation to meet the benchmarks and they have seen success with this technique.

Stay tuned for more on The Future of Solar Roof Technology.

I would love to hear your thoughts if you are using photovoltaics in the field. 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Kicking the Energy Issue up a Notch – The Green Power Community Challenge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just launched a year-long nationwide campaign called the Green Power Community Challenge to encourage communities throughout the nation to utilize renewable energy as a means of helping address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The Green Power Community Challenge aims to double the amount of renewable energy sourced electricity used by participating EPA Green Power Communities collectively. Throughout the year the EPA will track and report the standings of the communities participating on a quarterly basis.  

In order to participate, communities need to join EPA’s Green Power Partnership and buy or produce approved forms of green power (such as solar power) on-site. All the communities currently participating are listed if you want to check the communities in your area.

This program not only focuses on the use of renewable energy but also encourages generating energy on site as a means to cut down on our net annual fuel consumption.  Communities can either reduce as much energy as possible or identify ways to create power to subtract from their total consumption. 

One resource that can help communities and individuals meet the challenge is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiencies (DSIRE). This site lists all the incentive and rebate programs by state. This is important because the incentives do vary from state to state.  In some cases, the incentives or rebates can help you recoup almost half of the cost to install photovoltaic roofs.

At the conclusion of the Challenge, the community that has the highest green power percentage and the community that uses the most kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power will receive national recognition and special attention from the EPA.

It is exciting to see this type of involvement in reducing energy consumption on the community level.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

A Glimpse at the Future of Architecture

Purity of Division - winning project from Philadelphia University

I recently judged the international ISOVER Multi-Comfort House Competition for architecture and engineering students from Philadelphia University.  CertainTeed Insulation sponsors this program and takes the winning team to compete with university students from 16 other countries. There were five teams vying for the opportunity to present their projects at the Multi- Comfort House Competition from May 19- 22, 2010 in Innsbruck, Austria.

The competition project was to renovate an existing commercial building that sits on a canal along the Seine River in France.  The teams were to retrofit the existing building to create a sustainable structure.  While the teams were given carte blanche in creating their projects, all were surprisingly viable. 

In general, projects that were offered by engineering students focused more on function and form while architectural students initially approached the project from a design and visual beauty perspective.  The winning project “Purity of Division” balanced the design between a community library overlooking the canal and several living machines that cleaned the canal water, converted CO2 gas into oxygen with a bioreactor and produced algae for sale to the pharmaceutical industry.  

Superior building envelope thermal performance was achieved through high levels of insulation, whole building air tightness, triple-glazed spectrally selective windows and the isolation of thermal bridging.

A comprehensive whole building energy analysis was performed using Energy10 simulation software.  The results predicted 50 to 65 percent energy savings due to the passive house design techniques alone. The buildings HVAC system, a geothermal heat pump, used the canal water in a unique heat exchanger array along the canal wall to reduce electricity needs by an additional 20 to 25 percent.  The winning Team also incorporated roof top photovoltaics and a thermal hot water system.

It was very interesting to judge these projects and each project had different strengths of design or engineering but in the end “Purity of Division” won the day.

There were three major categories for judging which included several components but basically it was:

  • Design and function
  • Multi-Comfort House Criteria
  • Sustainability

All of the projects were creative and comprised very forward thinking concepts. As a Building Scientist, I was very happy at the depth of knowledge illustrated by these projects and based on what I experienced, the future of design and architecture especially with regard to Passive House and sustainability is in very good hands.

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation

No Gambling In Las Vegas with Solar Roofing

Energen Display at International Builders' Show

Energen Display at International Builders' Show

Heading out to Las Vegas recently  for the International Builders’  Show (IBS), I was struck by a sense of excitement in the air.  Nothing scientific, nothing concrete, I could just feel the mood of the travelers was a bit lighter, the airport was a bit more crowded and the hotel was definitely busier than this time last year.
Thankfully, the dreary weather we experienced during our week there was not indicative of the mood of the builders who attended. 

 

When you look at the numbers, you wouldn’t necessarily think things were looking up.  Attendance was down from last year, from 60,000 a year ago to 55,000.  The number of exhibitors was down about 30 percent also.  However, our leads were up 30 percent over last year and were just shy of the number we hit in 2007. 

I have a couple of theories about why.  The NAHB made an excellent decision to shut down one of the exhibit halls and condensing the 1,100 exhibitors into two halls.  This made the traffic much denser.  However, while density gives you volume through the aisles, it doesn’t necessarily translate into leads. 

So what was it?  Solar.  It may have been raining and cold outside, but the interest and “energy” around solar and photovoltaics was definitely there.  Now, the fact that we introduced our new Energen Photovoltaic Roofing product (available this spring) at the show may have helped substantially in our lead count, however, you could see immense interest in this area.  We weren’t the only ones talking about it, but it was obvious that the crowds were drawn to what is becoming more and more of a hot-button topic in the green/sustainable movement.

It’s nice to see that manufacturers (ourselves included) aren’t shrinking and running for cover during the downturn.  When sales are down, innovate and ready yourself for the upturn; that seems to be what some in the industry are doing! 

Energy efficiency is the name of the game these days.  Look at our friends at Hearthstone Homes in Omaha, Nebraska who are focused on energy efficient home construction .  They’re doing innovative work like using 2 x 6 framing and guaranteeing energy bills to their buyers…or they pay the difference!  Builders like Hearthstone are getting serious about not only building quality, but adding real, tangible value to the homes.  We’re excited to be entering the solar frontier and proud to partner with folks like Hearthstone.

The industry’s heating up and in the end, the homeowner wins.

Mike Loughery by-lineMike Loughery is Director, Corporate Marketing Communications at CertainTeed Corporation.

Retrofitting for a Green Future

Gerding Edlen renovated and retrofitted the Portland Armory for mixed use.

Gerding Edlen renovated and retrofitted the Portland Armory for mixed use.

It is clear that in order to reduce our energy consumption in existing buildings, we need to retrofit these structures.  Dennis Wilde, a principal at Gerding Edlen Development (GE) addressed this issue during the 2009 Greenbuild Convention and Expo in Phoenix, Arizona.  According to their corporate philosophy, Gerding Edlen exists to do one simple thing: to create vibrant, sustainable and inspiring places where people can work, learn and live. Creating places that offer fresh air, foster creativity and incorporate art and culture help us achieve this goal. Their Principles of Place document expands on this philosophy.

GE was responsible for the first new construction LEED Gold condominium in the US, the first LEED Gold condominium in California, the first LEED Platinum condominium in the US, and the first building on the Nat’l Historic Register to become LEED Platinum. Because LEED Platinum has become easier to achieve, GE is focused on the Living Building Challenge which is the next benchmark for the green/sustainable movement. A growing part of GE’s development and design work is in retrofitting existing structures for energy efficiency under the name Sustainable Solutions.

When evaluating an existing building, GE focuses on energy, waste and human comfort as well as optimizing the operations and maintenance of the building.  The challenge they face  is that few owners/operators put a sufficient amount of resources into training the people who need to maintain the buildings.   The day-to-day maintenance staffs are not trained in how to properly maintain a green building, and maintenance is critical in order to keep these buildings operating at peak performance. You can’t just create a green building and walk away; you have to hold people’s feet to the fire regarding the operation of the building. These are part of the green jobs of the future.

The absence of financing is another challenge to retrofit projects. Traditional financing requires either a high percentage rate or a quicker return on investment. The current financing system isn’t really suitable for the green/sustainable movement because the return on investment takes longer, with a long-range benefit in energy consumption, waste and use of resources. The financing system needs to be reworked to better understand the benefits of green/sustainable building.

Dennis offered some examples of successful GE projects:

  •  The Portland Community College in Oregon was a retrofit project on systems, assemblies and usage and included interior and exterior changes.  It is the first net-zero community college. The project cost to redo the campus of 122 acres with more than three-quarters of a million square feet of space was $15.4 million, but they are saving $1.1 million in energy costs per year. This project will pay for itself in 15 years. They are saving almost $71, 000 in water costs alone.
  •  The Portland, Oregon public school system installed photovoltaic roofing on nine schools with over 500,000 square feet of roof and they are saving $58,000 per year in energy costs. They will recoup the costs of this project in 34 years.

We need to retrofit existing buildings if we are going to lower our energy consumption. The goal of net-zero energy is achievable and the rewards are too great to ignore. To learn more about net-zero building, check out the U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Program.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Alternative Energy Sources Part 2: Technology vs. Humanity

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Albert Einstein once said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”  It is hard to believe he could have said that in the early 1920s.  What would he say today? I think human beings gamble that we can always figure out how to solve our problems because we are so smart and creative.  We have an inordinate faith in science, technology, creativity and ingenuity to find solutions for any problems we create. 

For example, we could not have developed to where we are without transportation.  But the global nature of business requires that products and people be available quickly.  Look at freight; according to CSX moving freight by rail is three times more fuel-efficient than moving freight on the highway. Trains can move a ton of freight more than 436 miles on a single gallon of fuel.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), freight railroads account for just two percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources.  But if you need it there overnight it will have to go by air.  However, air travel greatly increases our carbon footprint.

When I was growing up traveling on an airplane was a major event.  But within, say, the last 30 years, air travel has become a way of life as opposed to a major life event.

As I said in Part 1 of this discussion on alternative energy sources, we need to diversify and have several, more efficient ways to produce energy.  For example:

  •  Solar has potential because of the amount of energy that enters our atmosphere every day in solar radiation. With deeper understanding, perhaps we can improve our efficiencies and make up for the fact that the Pacific Northwest, upper Midwest and Great Lakes region do not see sun for large periods of time.
  •  Nuclear - we haven’t issued a new permit for a nuclear power plant in the United States since Three Mile Island (TMI), which is a big mistake. We haven’t had a significant nuclear accident since TMI and although that event in 1979 had the potential to be tragic, it wasn’t.  One of the obstacles that day was the fact that there were only two telephone lines into the facility.  The people who knew how to address the problem could not reach the plant.  For nuclear power to be more palatable to the general public however we will need to find a more eloquent solution to handling radioactive waste than simply storing on-site.
  •  Wind – There is definite potential for wind energy but this is a newer focus and is not yet reaching the thresholds needed to support our ever-increasing needs for electricity.

Since cooling buildings is one of the biggest electricity hogs, we need to continue to produce products that can work with alternative energy sources to cut down on electricity consumption.  Products such as solar reflective and photovoltaic roofs, especially on commercial buildings, can help us take advantage of these big spaces and have them work for us, not against us. 

In a previous blog we touched on the fact that we need to improve our existing building stock as well as build smarter from now on. Because we reroof every 30-40 years, it’s a great opportunity to go back to existing spaces and apply products that work with the sun’s energy.  In order to succeed, we have to challenge people to use alternative products without mandating it.  The goal is to find the economic incentive for people to do the “right thing.”  One way to do this is to rephrase our outlook from upfront cost to life cycle analysis. Consumers have to take the long view on energy savings.  We have to change the way we value these things if we are ever going to fund economic incentives to meet the global warming goals of business backed initiatives like the Copenhagen Communiqué.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications, for CertainTeed Corporation