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