GREEN BUILDING GURU: Lucas Hamilton, CertainTeed Building Science

Lucas Hamilton

What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?

In order to achieve and maintain a healthy, sustainable built environment we need to educate the end users of these buildings.  The people who use the buildings need to be a partner in the process and be educated because they figure strongly in the success of the sustainability of the building. Only if the end users understand that their behaviors contribute to the success or failure of highly efficient systems can we ensure a healthy, sustainable built environment. There isn’t a life cycle without that three-quarter part of it – the people using and maintaining it. The Living Building Challenge is doing it right because they include an education component to the process.

What is your business doing to support this goal?

What we are doing is to educate, educate, educate – through training, webinars, and providing information to all audiences. We need to help end users understand that they are a critical part of the process. 

Greenbuild 2012 Here We Come!

Moscone Center in San Francisco

The Saint-Gobain family of businesses are on their way to the “city by the bay” for Greenbuild 2012 with some very exciting, innovative products that are ideal for green building projects. Products such as VOC-scavenging materials, photovoltaic roofing technology, highly-sustainable countertops and hybrid insulation solutions will be on display along with information on high-profile installations.

You will not want to miss seeing the new carbon calculator developed by CertainTeed Building Scientist Lucas Hamilton and Sustainable Solutions Corporation which will make its debut at the show in Booth #4359N.

We’ve also launched a special landing page just for Greenbuild 2012 that serves as a hub for people interested in following the show. Whether you are at Greenbuild or back in your office, you will want to bookmark www.saint-gobain-northamerica.com/greenbuild/  to check out the posts from our bloggers about the show.  You will get a ‘feet on the ground’ view of the exhibitors, demonstrations and much more.

Join us in sharing thoughts and insights from the show by using hashtag #SGgreen.

If you’d like to have an in-person conversation that spans beyond 140 characters, stop by our booth. We’re always interested in engaging in conversations about the latest green building trends.

 

If it’s Not Beautiful, it’s Not Sustainable?

Lucas Hamilton

Let’s face it – we don’t take care of things that are ugly. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, correct? Then why is it some things are universally agreed upon to be beautiful?

When we consider the buildings of the world which we all look to as a part of our shared heritage, I struggle to think of any that are not beautiful. Sometimes we get lucky and points germane are captured in a first draft. When talking about buildings in general we need to look to the Romans who were the definers of architecture.  For them three rules applied:

  • A building must be durable.
  • Serve the purposes of the people inside.
  • It must be aesthetically pleasing.

Today we may add a fourth requirement which is sustainability but as the title of this blog suggests, you won’t get sustainability without beauty. To understand beauty we must have a working knowledge of aesthetics. One of the things we know to be true is that aesthetics remain consistent. It is style that changes. Style is an expression of aesthetic principles based on a current philosophy, trend or societal influence.

A great example of this can be found in Chicago on the river with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s IBM Tower.  Directly behind it is the Marina City complex which was designed by his protégé Bertrand Goldberg. Having a teacher and student design side-by-side doesn’t happen often so it is a fascinating place to observe the style change that took place from one generation to the next. It’s like we need to show our teachers and our parents that “we’ve heard, we’ve learned, and we’ve grown.”

As a society, we are seeing a shift in style once again.  Prior to the great recession, many people where building McMansion style homes which were the expression of more, more, more – look at what I have accomplished or gained. 

Now, we are seeing a maturity to the thinking – wouldn’t my life be easier if it were simpler? This is manifesting itself in a smaller footprint of our homes. We’re choosing darker colors to make our homes appear smaller and using coordinated palettes to bring the sense of harmony we seek.

I believe as a result we will create a generation of homes which will hold their aesthetic appeal much better than the recent phase.

Do you think that in 50 years anyone is going to be chaining themselves to a bulldozer to prevent a McMansion from being torn down?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

How Can We Harness the Heat from Server Farms or Can We?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I was recently reading about the new Facebook server farm being built in Luleå, on the coast of Swedish Lapland.  This facility will service Europe. These server buildings are giant heat sources because of electrical inefficiencies that cause servers to give off a great deal of it. I applaud them for designing a building and placing it in the Arctic north where they can use the ambient air temperature outside to cool the building rather than having to pay for electricity to cool the building. It’s great news for Facebook since these server buildings are about the length of 11 football fields.

But while that is great – what a waste of heat?

Facebook is just one of several companies building and maintaining server buildings around the globe. This poses an interesting question. Isn’t there something we can do with these server buildings as an energy source?

Wouldn’t it be cool (some pun intended) if the heat generated from the running of the servers could be captured, stored in a fluid, transported and used as an energy source in a location that needs it? As we know, putting energy into fluids can be very efficient. Why not build such projects closer to population? Maybe put the servers under an urban farm and use the heat to make growing of vegetables inside a cold climate city even more efficient. What if the project were located closer to hydroelectric sources to reduce additional losses to “the super grid” (a whole other rant there)? How cool will that be; the virtual community powered by falling water and built close to those who use it the most- warm climate peoples have nice weather and don’t seem to visit as often.

We have been using cogeneration for a long time and with great success. Cogeneration is a thermodynamically efficient use of fuel. In separate production of electricity, some energy must be rejected as waste heat, but in cogeneration this thermal energy is put to good use. A pretty good lesson there: at what point does it stop being a system? Uh, never? Then how creative can we get? How many other ways can we come up with to capture and re-use energy? A good example is Philadelphia’s plan to capture power from subway trains and reuse it to launch trains back out of the stations, saving an estimated 40 percent on their electric bill.

If we can’t find a way to stop generating heat when we turn something on, them how can we put our ignorance to use?

Will Homebuyers Pay More for Green?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

This question has been popping up in builder polls.  The discussion is around the motivation on the part of consumers for buying green.  The latest trend seems to be there is a decrease in the number of people willing to pay more for green products or green construction on the premise that it is good for the planet. However, there are more people willing to pay more for sustainable products to save money or because it is better for their health.

In these times of economic difficulty, people are focusing more on the health aspects and potential energy savings related to sustainable products based on the benefits over the life of the product.  This is a significant maturing over the old “up-front cost factor” which drove so many decisions in the past. Obviously, there is a growing need to validate products through tools like Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) in order to provide the long term data needed for these types of decisions. People are looking for this information and validation as to the benefits.

For the sustainable manufacturing sector this is good news.  Since many progressive manufacturers have been performing the data collection needed to generate product LCAs and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) it’s only a matter now of providing that data to consumers in a form they can use.

It is time to have the life cycle conversation with people rather than just showing pictures of polar bears on ice caps in an effort to pull on their heartstrings. Consumers want the facts in order to make smart, sustainable choices.

What if We Could Make Buildings Sweat?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Following up on the previous post “Can We Design Buildings for Heat and Cooling that Mimic the Human Body”, a similar question popped into my head regarding making buildings sweat.

The evaporation of water is an endothermic process that cools a surface. Evaporation of sweat from the skin surface has a cooling effect due to this phenomenon. Hence, in hot weather, or when the individual’s muscles heat up due to exertion, more sweat is produced in response to your rising internal thermostat. Why couldn’t this same process be applied to buildings?

What if there was a way to take the condensation that often occurs at sunrise, capture it and re-release it as needed.  Could we create materials, while not letting moisture intrude into the building, that could capture the moisture that naturally occurs and evaporate it off in the daytime when the sun hit the walls to cool it off?  

Obviously this would be a benefit in climates where we are using a great deal of cooling. We don’t want this occurring in cold climates for a variety of reasons. That’s a discussion for another day.

Are there any ideas out there?  When people get hot, they sweat and it cools them off.  Is it possible to apply this concept to buildings?

Off-Site Manufacturing Could Play a Larger Part in the Building Renaissance

Danny Small

Danny Small

Danny Small is Manager, Building Science Development for CertainTeed Corporation

Lately I’ve been revisiting the benefits of modular or prefabricated home construction, otherwise known as off-site manufacturing (“OSM”). There are several advantages to this method of construction that could be attractive to consumers looking to build a custom home.

This isn’t your daddy’s mobile home we’re talking about here.  The traditional manufactured (“mobile “) home is built to special Housing and Urban Development (HUD) building codes.  These homes are extremely simple, lower-end homes constructed in one or two pieces on a steel frame.

Today’s modular home can be beautiful, complex, exquisitely detailed and of the highest quality.  It’s built in modules or panels, in a clean, climate-controlled facility to meet (and often exceed) standard building codes for the area where the home will be finished.   The modules or panels are then shipped to the construction site, where they are permanently assembled on a full foundation, and the final details are finished.  Once completed, these homes are indistinguishable from site-built homes.  For some examples, check out Haven Custom Homes’ gallery.

While off-site construction has been around for decades, most of the earlier homes fell into that category of mobile (HUD-code) homes.  However, the move toward more sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy homes creates compelling reasons to look at modular as a truly viable method for all construction.

Some of the advantages of offsite construction are:

  • Construction can begin while foundation work is done, reducing the overall build time by several weeks.
  • Because building is done indoors in a climate-controlled facility, there are no weather delays.  Crews can work year round with no problem.
  • The home is built dry and clean because the wood is not subjected to dampness or dirt.  This could make for a healthier house.
  • Greater accuracy in cutting is possible because precision equipment can be utilized.
  • Lower costs because of consistency with crews and minimal lost time.  An off-site built home can cost up to 15-20 percent less than the same home built on-site. (Source: NAHB)  Savings for commercial construction can be much higher.
  • Very low waste.  Just about all remnants can be re-used for other projects.  This enables contractors to purchase more wisely.
  • Off-site manufacturers can ship up to 500 miles from their factory.
  • The building envelope is fully customizable, enabling increased energy efficiency in the wall and ceiling systems, as well as design features that meet the needs of the occupants.
  • Modular building, especially in commercial, enables easy expansion to buildings when needed.

Although off-site construction currently accounts for only two percent of construction in the U.S., the industry is gaining popularity.  In Europe, especially countries like Sweden, this type of construction is on the rise and accounts for up to 40 percent of new construction. 

If you are considering building a new home, a vacation home or a small office, do a cost comparison for on-site versus off-site construction.  You may be surprised by what you find.

Postponing Changes to LEED will Only Strengthen Our Sustainability Momentum

 

Lucas Hamilton

We are repurposing this blog post for this page. It contains thought leadership you may find interesting.

It was recently announced that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) decided to postpone the balloting on LEED 2012 until 2013 and they are changing the name to LEEDv4.  It makes perfect sense to create a more generic name since the shelf life of the standards are not related to a specific period of time.

Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chairman of USBGC outlined in his Blog the reasons for postponing and the following seem to be the key reasons:

  • The changes in the rating system where too much, too fast, especially in a weak real estate market.
  •  Some of the changes need more refinement especially with regard to the Materials & Resources category.  There appear to be whole new approaches to material selection which underwent continual revision with each public comment draft.
  • The tools and resources needed to achieve credits would not be widely available by the time the new system was slated to launch.

I applaud them for having the wisdom to postpone based on the feedback they received from their stakeholders in the build community. 

If you recall, when ENERGY STAR tried to make a leap from version 2 to version 3 it was such a significant change that many stakeholders felt they were not prepared a to meet the new standard.. This caused ENERGY STAR to back off on the full upgrade and we were left with a 2.5 version to enable the build community to bridge the gap.

I think that USGBC’s decision to postpone will help them to deliver a new version of standards that are achievable while still being a stretch. Programs such as this are important to help us to continue to raise the bar in the sustainability arena. LEED has been pivotal in moving the marketplace with regard to green building and we are seeing this in the changes to state building codes across the country. 

Stay tuned.  There will continue to be feedback opportunities as LEEDv4 is revised.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The Road to GREENBUILD 2013 is Paved with Corporate Commitments to Sustainability

 
 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I went to the Best of GREENBUILD session that was held by the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) as part of the Road to 2013 GREENBUILD Conference which will be hosted by Philadelphia. Philadelphia GBC members are very excited about hosting the Conference and are committed to putting on the best GREENBUILD ever. A component of this is to transform all 5 million people living in this region into good will ambassadors to the show through education and awareness. To this end the DVGBC is taking a variety of actions to challenge and engage.

As good corporate citizens, many of the DVGBC sponsoring companies and firms have made public pledges of positive actions they will accomplish between now and the show.  As an example, in addition to the multitude of sustainability programs we have as a corporation, CertainTeed and our parent company Saint-Gobain have committed to saving more than 10 thousands gallons of gasoline in our personal cars between now and the time of the 2013 GREENBUILD show. This will be accomplished through a combination of “work smart” scheduling and carpooling to our facilities. The Philadelphia Chapter is planning to show these commitments of the sponsoring companies at the 2012 Convention in San Francisco to promote the 2013 event.

I smile a little on the inside because it is also such a “Philly” thing to do. Please try to remember that when we threw snow balls at Santa Claus during half-time of that Eagles game it wasn’t because he was Santa- it was because the guy wearing the cheap Santa suit could have done a much better job of making us believe. Don’t think us cruel; we’re as hard on ourselves as we are on everyone else.

You can be certain you will be hearing much more about his event as we get closer!

Can Mapping Urban Albedo Help Control Urban Heat Island Effect?

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Urban temperatures are rising and it has a great deal to do with the types of materials we choose to construct our habitat. Historically, our construction materials have been great absorbers of infrared and near infrared solar radiation. As our urban centers have grown they have accumulated an excess potential for heat absorption which has put them out of balance compared to more rural areas. This is what is called the heat island effect.  The good news is that every urban surface exposed to the sun becomes a potential location to reverse this process and restore the balance.

While researching maps of Philadelphia (my home) for a previous blog on billing property owners for impervious surfaces that contribute to the rainwater run-off pouring into co-mingled storm/sewer systems, I came across the map used to identify these properties by the City (http://www.phila.gov/water/swmap). 

The interactive map shows the relative water permeability of surfaces delineating between general materials such as roofing, parking areas, roads, and open spaces. I started to think about how we could use similar technology to identify the albedo of the surfaces – a material’s natural ability to reflect or absorb radiant heat gain from solar radiation.

Some creative person (with a lot of time on their hands) should be able to use tools like Google Earth, identify the nature of the surfaces they see, and draw from a database of Solar Reflective Index (SRI) values to identify the potential targets for improvement. How can we influence global cooling?  By using technology that is available to identify the albedo of existing buildings. Once identified, municipalities can incentivize people to change to cool roofs or to living roofs where appropriate. The city could encourage the re-planting of native trees in unusable areas. There are all kinds of things each property could do to make a difference.

I would love to hear what other ideas may be out there to address this issue.  Any takers?