Building America Solution Center a Great New Resource for Consumers and Residential Builders

The U.S Department of Energy has launched the Building America Solutions Center website.  Building America is a program that is operated by the Department of Energy to investigate best practices for residential construction.  They have accumulated a great deal of information from the field and done several experiments that up until now have only generally been shared within the Building Science community. It is a wonderful resource for building professionals and consumers who want to make the best choices when improving the energy efficiency in residential construction.

The Solution Center website shares best practices and other project resources to help plan, implement and measure energy efficiency programs for residential buildings and homes. The site includes resources to answer questions regarding new energy efficient technologies, projecting savings, financing home improvement projects.

This is public / private partnership funded research and everyone should be aware that it exists so they can make the best choices as we all move toward improving the energy efficiency of our buildings.

Spread the word about this great resource!

Don’t Forget the End Users When Building for Energy Efficiency

While at Greenbuild 2012 I was asked “What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?” My answer was posted on our Blog but there is more I want to say about this so here we go!

Users or occupants of high efficiency buildings need to understand and be a partner in the process because  ultimately they influence the  success or failure of a building’s efficiency over time. For example, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes will give you credit for and requires Energy Star performance which means certain insulation levels, certain air tightness and certain efficiencies on the mechanical systems (among other issues). The energy efficiency of the building is based upon a combination of highly efficient equipment and permanent passive systems.

When the active system wears out, if the consumers don’t appreciate the importance of the efficiency of that system on the overall performance of the habitat they are unlikely to take that into consideration when they have to replace equipment.  They can go from a high efficiency piece of equipment that made their sustainable building sing beautifully and perform wonderfully and stick in something that is on sale or is perhaps promoted by their contractor but with a whole different efficiency rating.  Now the building goes from being a Prius to being a Hummer simply because the driver wasn’t told the difference between the two.

In sustainability circles we often talk about “the Prius effect”.  This comes from the engagement of the driver with the car.  Once the driver understands the savings due to the offset of the electrical to the fuel and you give them real-time feedback, they began to drive against the machine to improve the efficiency. The build community needs to develop dashboards or other tools for high efficiency buildings so that end users can see the benefits provided by the systems.  That buy-in is critical to sustaining efficiency over the life cycle of the building.

There is no point in doing a sustainable building for someone unless you teach and show them how to maintain it. That is one aspect I especially admire about the Living Building Challenge. The Beauty petal has components which include inspiration and education. Couldn’t we all use a little more of both?

Greenbuild 2012 is a Wrap! Philadelphia Here we Come!

San Francisco is among the top sustainable cities in the U.S. so it was exciting to be out there for Greenbuild this year.  The expo portion of the conference was only two days this year but from the beginning of the first day the show floor was packed with attendees who were really engaged. In fact, it was the most engaged audience I have seen since the recession began.  Hopefully, that is an indicator that the building market is returning.

NOVA speed dating

NOVA speed dating

In my travels around the show, I was surprised that I really didn’t see too many new innovations. There was nothing that stood out as a bright, new product or very innovative with the exception of the Saint-Gobain NOVA Innovation Competition.  The NOVA External Venturing division of Saint-Gobain rewards start-ups offering the most innovative solutions in the field of habitat, energy and the environment.  This was the first time the competition has taken place in the U.S. Over the last several months Saint-Gobain reviewed and selected eight finalists who would come to Greenbuild for a final interview process during the show days.  From those eight, three entrepreneurs where awarded cash prizes, however, all the contestants will have the opportunity to partner with Saint-Gobain in exploring potential joint development, licensing and other collaboration.

It was amazing the buzz that was created on the show floor by the NOVA Competition.  The final eight entrepreneurs participated in what might be referred to as a “speed dating” round.  These innovators were pitching their ideas to some of the best business leaders in our industry. It was exciting during the speed dating and a large crowd gathered for the announcement of the winners.  The top winner was Heliotrope, a developer of energy-efficient electrochromic glass that that switches reversibly between three states:  solar transparent, heat blocking, and heat and light blocking or darkened.  The second place winner was PlanGrid, a complete collaborative platform for construction information and the fastest PDF viewer in the universe.  Third place went to SmarterShade, a unique approach to the emerging technology being called “smart windows.”

Greenbuild 2013 is coming to Philadelphia – CertainTeed’s neck of the woods.  But, for Philadelphia, following San Francisco is like having the Beatles as a warm-up band.  While many folks who are into urban sustainability are aware of the great progress made my our Mayor Nutter and his team, just how far and how quickly Philadelphia has transformed its sustainable future may come as a surprise to some of our visitors next year. I’m certain that none of this would be possible without the support and efforts of groups like the Delaware Valley Green Building Council who is hosting GreenBuild for 2013. There are some very exciting projects taking place in Philadelphia and we are eager to share them with the green world.

I hope to see you in Philadelphia for Greenbuild 2013!

 

 

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.