An Insight from CertainTeed Green Guru Mike Bottoms

I asked CertainTeed Green Guru Mike Bottoms, Solar Sales Manager the following questiongreenbuild-nation-20x20:

If you had the ability to change one thing about the way we construct homes and buildings what would it be?

I would like to see all homes have a solar array. It would not only cut down on the stress on the  infrastructure of the grid, but would also improve the lifestyles of people by lowering utility bills and give them more independent from the utility companies. The challenge we face currently is that solar is still very connected to rebates and incentives.  As the utility rates go up and incentives go down we will reach parity at some point.  Right now we are more dependent on rebates so I would like to see those be more permanent and consistent state to state.

Living Building Challenge Alive and Rising in Seattle

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

In the early days of my blogging, I talked about the Living Building Challenge and the early adoption taking place in Portland, Oregon. The Challenge aims to certify green buildings around seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty. It is so comprehensive that it is “whole-istic”. Sorry.

An exciting “Living Building” project is currently underway in Seattle that was highlighted in U.S News on MSNBC  on March 20, 2012. This could be a true showcase for the ultimate in sustainable office buildings. There is also a slide presentation in the link that is worth reviewing.

Denis Hayes, who co-founded Earth Day with Gaylord Nelson, now heads the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation.  He is partnering with architect Jason McLennan, who is CEO of the International Living Future Institute on this project.

With everything from harvested rainwater to geothermal wells, solar energy and lots of natural light, this building has no parking lot on the premises but is accessible by bus, bike or on foot. One day this could truly become the standard for new urban construction but in the meantime it can also provide valuable data to fuel the movement on retrofitting existing buildings.

Great project with great potential!

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.

A Fistful of Pencils – Measuring Solar Radiation on a Building

Lucas Hamilton

Earlier this week during a webinar I conducted on working with solar radiation, I gave an example to help people visual how the energy of solar radiation strikes a building or object. 

In physics and mathematics we would picture this energy as a vector component. I know that is not clear to a majority of non-science or non-mathematics practitioners so I often use an example with a fistful of pencils to help people visualize exactly what this means.  This is a fun little exercise but is not meant to be a scientific determination of the impact of solar radiation on a surface. This is simply a way to visualize the invisible.

Imagine the sunlight or energy coming across space and beating down on the surface of the roof at a normal angle which is a mathematical term for a 90-degree or right angle. To understand the impact of the solar radiation on that roof, take a piece of paper and draw a 1-inch square. Take a fistful of pencils (as many as will fit comfortably in your hand) making sure all the tips are even and bring your fist straight down on the paper striking it within the square.  Then count the number of strikes within that box and if you imagine each one of those strikes as being a unit of energy it gives you some idea of the impact of solar radiation on your roof.

If you want to imagine how that same sunlight is striking your wall, picture the angle that your wall is from that sun – usually about a 45-degree angle give or take.  Take the pencils in your hand and while sliding them to keep them flat to the paper turn your hand to a  45-degree angle and strike them into a 1-inch square box, you can see the number of strikes and what that impact would be significantly less. So if you again imagine that the pencil points are units of energy, you can see that only a fraction of the energy hits your wall compared to the roof.

This can be done with any angle and it gives you a very general idea of the solar energy impact on a surface.  While this does not give you scientific data to help you determine where your peak power would occur, it is one method that can be used to help visualize the best angle for solar panels on a roof. 

There are some online tools that can help calculate the intensity of the solar radiation based on geographic location. One example of such a tool can be found at: http://www.kahl.net/solarch/.

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

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

Living and Breathing Sustainability at the Enviro Center

Enviro Center, Jessup, MD

I was down in Jessup, Maryland recently to conduct some presentations in a facility known as the Enviro Center. Previously I had talked about the regional clearinghouses for sustainability that are popping up around the country like Earth Advantage in Oregon, that bring together sustainability professionals and consumers interested in learning about sustainable practices. But the Enviro Center is a living experiment of a sustainable environment. 

The founder and CEO, Stanley J. Sersen along with his partners renovated an existing, old farmhouse on a busy road in Jessup to be a multi-office complex for new businesses. The building encompasses sustainable principals and practices and is a showcase of solutions.  Some of the principles employed are natural daylight, rainwater harvesting, use of renewable materials, and extremely efficient mechanical controls, including active and passive technologies to be more energy efficient.  The solar roof panels provide 65% of the power for the building.  You can walk through the building and see, in practice, all these technologies.

This is especially neat because you are in the space talking to someone who has experience in executing all these technologies while seeing these practices in action. You can walk around and discuss how these concepts work, what the logistics were to accomplish the work, what the learning curve was, what permits were needed.  You can actually feel the indoor environmental quality of the space.

The other unique aspect of this facility is that it is not textbook learning it is working learning.  It’s the type of learning that sticks with you so deeply because you are experiencing it first hand. The impact is long-lasting.

The Enviro Center is planning to bring more technologies and cutting-edge practices into the facility in Phase II of their development.  Very exciting stuff!  Watch a video on the Enviro Center.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Is there a Future for Renewable Energy?

Lucas Hamilton

An editorial appeared in the New York Times on October 27 entitled Remember Renewable Energy?, which discussed the slow moving progress by Congress (since jumping on board in 2005) with wind, solar and other projects focused on producing 10,000 megawatts by 2015.

It would appear that some of the talk about the White House needing to support alternative energy did not fall on deaf ears since the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved several solar power projects in recent weeks.

This is good news because we need to step up our efforts to keep up with Europe and China who are already investing heavily in wind and solar manufacturing.

Three things are cited in the editorial that need to happen in order for the U.S. to catch up:

  • Generous subsidies or alternative funding for renewable energy projects so they can compete with fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.
  • Faster approvals by agencies such as Minerals Management Service.  Three to five years of negotiations is not acceptable.  As the editorial says, “The bureaucracy now has to deliver.”
  • The expanding and updating of the electrical grid to accommodate new energy sources is crucial to any success.  That will require partnerships and the giving up of control.

What are your thoughts on the future of renewable energy?

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