A Look at One H.O.U.S.E. of the Future

At the recent Ecobuild Expo and Conference in London, England there was an element that I thought merited mention:  The University of Nottingham entry to the Solar Decathlon Europe.

University of Nottingham Solar House at Ecobuild

University of Nottingham Solar House at Ecobuild

In June 2010, Madrid, Spain will host the International Solar Decathlon Europe. This event alternates years with the U.S. Solar Decathlon held in Washington, D.C.  University-based teams will travel to Madrid and reconstruct their solar designed houses. The entries are judged on 10 separate environmental areas, including solar systems and sustainability, market viability, and architectural merit. The University of Nottingham team dismantled and reassembled their solar house on the show floor at Ecobuild. It was exciting to see what they accomplished.

The Solar Decathlons – International competitions for colleges and universities to design and build the most effective and energy efficient house – are making great strides to prepare future architects to find the best solutions for creating sustainable homes, focused on solar power.

A key objective for the students was to ensure that the Nottingham H.O.U.S.E. would comply with the U.K.’s code for sustainable homes. The Code covers nine sustainability issues such as responsible sourcing of materials, limiting consumption of drinking water, health & wellbeing and of course Energy & CO2 emissions, the latter being the most important and the one that will be progressively converted into Building Regulations towards zero carbon. The students also have to live in the house to demonstrate its effectiveness and energy efficiency.

Saint-Gobain U.K. has partnered with The University of Nottingham, not only with many of the products but also with technical expertise.  This home meets both Code Level 6 of the code for sustainable homes and Passive House standards which, I am told, is an industry first for the U.K.

This type of partnering is a wonderful way to provide the designers and innovators of tomorrow with real world experience working with professionals who are currently designing and perfecting products for the marketplace. 

We should all take a closer look at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon when it comes around again in October 2011.  From what I saw of the Nottingham H.O.U.S.E., it is well worth the time.

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation.

Ecobuild is an Eye Opener for the Green Movement

Saint-Gobain booth at Ecobuild 2010

Saint-Gobain booth at Ecobuild 2010

In early March, I attended the Ecobuild 2010 Conference and Expo in London, England to see how the sustainable and green awareness message and activity level is handled in the United Kingdom and Europe.  Our parent company, Saint-Gobain was an event sponsor and large exhibitor at this event displaying our sustainable solutions and systems. This show is the equivalent of the GreenBuild Conference and Expo held annually in the U.S.  It was an eye-opener, to say the least.  The U.K. is far ahead of us in the development and integration of energy efficient products. The show had 1,000 exhibitors, attracted 41,000 attendees, and hosted 600 speakers on sustainable topics. The enthusiasm on the show floor ran high. It is clear that even in this time of downturn in the construction industry, the goal of a lower carbon built environment continues to accelerate in other parts of the world.

The heavier emphasis on energy efficiency at Ecobuild verses the trade events I have seen here in the U.S. could be because the cost of energy in the U.K. is higher for both homes and automobiles. In addition, government regulations are more stringent with regard to requiring industry to reduce carbon emissions.

Not surprisingly, there was a strong emphasis on insulation products, primarily fiberglass but also reflective foils and foam insulations.  I am an Insulation guy so I was particularly interested in these products. A new product I saw was a wood fiber insulation product that is used in side walls as a replacement for other types of insulation. Solar panels, either for roofs or ground installation, were also heavily displayed.

But most intriguing was the fact that in every product display, regardless of its place in the building structure, for example a roof truss or steel stud, the marketing story had some energy efficiency twist to it.  They weren’t just selling wood, roofing or insulation every product had an element of how the product contributes to saving energy and reducing the carbon footprint.  The small effort to include more energy efficiency visuals and words in terms of the products we promote would go a long way in raising the consciousness of energy efficiency in the U.S.

The construction industry could learn a good lesson from the activities that the U.K. is undertaking in terms of the development of energy efficient products, and in generating awareness of energy efficient products.  We shouldn’t wait until regulations change or mandates kick-in to step-up sustainable product development and implementation.  The momentum started over there could easily be transferred over here which would not only be good for our planet but also for our pocketbook.




Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation



Could We Live with Less?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Maybe we need to put our lifestyles on a diet. We see seniors doing this when they downsize into the last home they will own. Controlling expenses in the face of a fixed income is often the motivation necessary to make that move. Suppose you were faced with a fixed energy income. Would you be prepared to make the changes needed to live within those constraints?

The Copenhagen Conference is drawing attention from many sources; some positive – and some not so positive. Let’s look at a couple of positive concepts.

On Tuesday, December 15, CBS News posted a story from correspondent Elizabeth Palmer on The Quest for “2,000 Watt” Living. Zurich, Switzerland has proposed a challenge to its residents to consume no more than 2,000 watts every minute of every hour of every day.  This concept originated with a group of Swiss architects and engineers who did a rough calculation back in the 1990s to determine the amount of energy being used on the Earth each day and divided that by the number of people on the planet. The result of the calculation was 2,000 watts.

According to Palmer’s article, data shows that just about everyone in the developed world uses far more than 2,000 watts – the European average was 6,000 watts and the American average was 12,000 watts.

While some residents of Zurich try to live within 2,000 watts no one has managed to achieve that goal.  Most report that flying anywhere immediately blows the energy budget. I discovered the same problem when I calculated my own carbon footprint.

Saint-Gobain Playhouse

Saint-Gobain Playhouse

Another example of positive energy initiatives at the Copenhagen Summit is the Saint-Gobain Playhouse in the center of downtown Copenhagen. Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed’s parent company has constructed this low energy-consuming children’s playhouse/garden house that will be on display for visitors until December 18. The cube-shaped playhouse is built using all the energy-saving solutions of Saint-Gobain Scanglas, Isover, Gyproc, Weber, Ecophon, Saint-Gobain Glass, and Vetrotech. The house is so perfectly insulated that it can be heated with a handful of candle sticks.

The house is part of Saint-Gobain’s new, global Habitat strategy to be the world leader in supplying materials to sustainable buildings in areas focusing on energy efficiency, comfort, aesthetics, and environmental friendliness. CertainTeed, a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain, fully embraces this concept as well.

Too bad each of us can’t fit inside, yet!

There were many examples of sustainable concepts that were featured in the news this week.  What were your favorites?

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

Embracing the Passive House

Stan Gatland

Stan Gatland

If there is any reliable source to confirm that the building community in the United States is beginning to embrace the passive house concept, it was the 4th Annual North American Passive House Conference held in October at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  In 2008, there were only 15 certified passive house consultants in the United States but by the end of this year there will be over 200.  More than 300 architects and building professionals attended the conference this year.

 The passive house concept has been incorporated into building design practice for over 10 years throughout the world.  While many countries, including the U.S, have increased energy efficiency requirements for building through regulation, a relatively small percentage of industry partners have embraced the passive house concept on a large scale. 

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.  It is critical that we control energy consumption and identify ways to improve our structures to improve their efficiency. It is understood that it will take time but programs like passive house build the awareness necessary to drive lasting change in energy conservation.

The ways to achieve passive house energy levels include increasing insulation in the walls and roof, providing pre-heated and pre-cooled air by coupling it with the ground through ducts buried into the earth (more practical on new construction), orientation of the building for maximum use of sunlight along with passive shading techniques, and installing high performance windows. But with the heightened focus on air tightness in passive house construction, more attention needs to be paid to indoor air quality and ventilation.

The other critical need to achieve any of these goals is the education of building occupants.  People need to maintain the systems in order to attain the maximum benefit.

Saint-Gobain, the parent company of CertainTeed, collaborated with the Passive House Institute in Germany and developed an educational marketing program called the ISOVER Multi-Comfort House.  

At the conference, I introduced CertainTeed’s Multi-Comfort House Educational Program which is a program CertainTeed will launch in 2010 to help train architects, building professionals and design students in passive house technologies.  The key components of the CertainTeed program are comfort (thermal, indoor air quality, acoustical and visual), safety and environmental protection benefits with design recommendations for all climate zones.

Understanding how products work together in the building envelope, especially in different climate zones, is critical to achieving passive house efficiencies.  Some valuable resources regarding passive house and net-zero building include the US Passive House Institute, the US Department of Energy – Net-Zero Building Technologies Program, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the US Department of Energy Building America Program.

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technologies for CertainTeed Corporation.

Mining Gold for the Future

Saint-Gobain's Research & Development Facility, Northboro, MA

Saint-Gobain's Research & Development Facility, Northboro, MA

CertainTeed’s parent company, Saint-Gobain, the world’s largest building materials company, just completed the expansion of its Research and Development Center in Northboro, MA. In the early stages of the project, I went to Northboro to meet with the architects from Shepley Bulfinch of Boston and David Woodbury, who was in charge of the project for Saint Gobain, to discuss how to best meet Saint Gobain’s environmental directives for energy consumption in the design of this building.  Saint Gobain’s corporate sustainability directive is one of the most stringent in the world.  It says ‘We will be leaders in energy conservation.”

The architects had never been challenged by a client to incorporate the company’s products while complying with a corporate directive for energy consumption.  They did a great job.  Shepley Bullfinch was able to integrate 13 Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products into the design and create the most energy efficient building in Saint-Gobain’s network of nearly 200 facilities throughout North America.  This building is not only slated for LEED Gold, which is great, but it is also the state-of-the-art in energy efficiency which is outstanding.  Among the products used on this building was CertainTeed’s Flintlastic® FR Cap with CoolStar™, a commercial roofing product with solar reflective properties to maximize energy efficiency.  If you want to see the products used on this project visit Northboro.

This building uses much less energy per square foot than a comparable building and exceeds all performance requirements for any energy program in the country.

All new construction projects within Saint Gobain will meet these directives for energy efficiency. The program also applies to existing buildings and those requirements will be phased in over time. It speaks directly to where we want to be in our daily lives with regard to sustainability and energy consumption.

It was exciting to work on this project because it was virtually a blank canvas that enabled technical and building science professionals to take energy efficiency to new levels. As we meet these energy performance mandates for CertainTeed and Saint-Gobain, it will help us work with our customers by sharing what we have learned on our own buildings.

Lucas Hamilton is the Manager of Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation