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?

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!

Sustainability Gaining Momentum for Government Managed Buildings

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I recently had the pleasure of doing a presentation to the General Services Administration (GSA) region 3 office in Philadelphia.  I was invited by a GSA architect who had participated in a previous seminar I had conducted for the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  The presentation was also simulcast to other GSA offices as well as employees who were telecommuting.

What I was not aware of prior to my visit is that GSA in responsible for public buildings that are non-military, non-postal service or other organizations that control their own real estate around the county. Not only do they have continuing education requirements within their organization they have a strong emphasis on sustainability. That’s exactly what you want to hear from government.

GSA serves as the property managers for many of the buildings around us every day. Given that at least 90 percent of our building inventory needs to be upgraded for energy efficiency, it was reassuring to see that the folks who are responsible for government controlled public buildings are on board with sustainability and are staying on the leading edge of knowledge. I was especially pleased to learn that the emphasis of sustainability doesn’t simply stop at how a building is designed and constructed but goes all the way through the way the GSA operates and procures for these buildings.

It was great to see that the culture of GSA is entrenched in sustainability.  That, for me, sends a message that we are on the right track of a very long road toward significant improvements in reducing the carbon footprint of our building inventory.

Vegetative Roofs Could Save On Water Bills

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Often, when I am conducting seminars on sustainable solutions for buildings, the question comes up regarding the benefits of a vegetative roofing system.  One of the major benefits starting to take place provides a boost to a company or building owners’ bottom line – reduced water bills!

Some major municipalities such as Portland, Oregon are beginning to reward building owners with reduced water bills when systems are put in place in or on the building to reduce the storm water run-off.  The reason for this is many municipalities have a co-mingled system where storm water and sewer discharge are carried through the storms drains to the treatment plant together. Very often, in a significant rain event, the capacity of the system is overwhelmed. As a result, the overflow of raw effluent runs into estuaries and the municipality can incur fines because the storm drains were overloaded.

LiveRoof

What I have seen is that companies who take measures to control the rainwater run-off on their sites are starting to be rewarded for their efforts.  One practice which is gaining in popularity is the utilization a vegetative or live roof and municipalities are rewarding companies for installing vegetative roofs by reducing water rates.  That can be a significant savings for a large, multi-tenant building.

When you think about it, this is a very interesting angle that municipalities are taking to promote the use of green roofs.  It is a win-win in that it controls utility costs for the building owner which offsets the cost of the installation of the vegetative roof.  It is a positive for the community because it helps to maintain and prolong the life of the utility systems by not overloading them. It also can provide a nice environment for occupants if they have access to the roof.

YouthBuild Akron, Ohio Goes for LEED with CertainTeed

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

CertainTeed and our parent company Saint-Gobain have a three-year partnership with YouthBuild USA providing expertise and products for projects they are undertaking in various cities around the U.S.  Last week, I conducted some training programs for the YouthBuild organization in Akron, Ohio on the building envelope and how to select products to help them meet their LEED goals. YouthBuild helps train young adults in green building techniques and construction practices on hands-on projects in their community.

This project is a renovation of an existing home and based on the information from their design charrette, they may reach LEED Platinum which would be awesome not only for a low income housing project but as far as I can tell it is the first LEED H Platinum project in Akron.  The best part is that the house next to this home was previously rehabbed by YouthBuild and is nearly identical in layout so they should be able to do some comparisons of the energy savings.  Of course, results won’t be as “cut and dry” as we might like because you can’t control the behaviors of the occupants.  However, we should be able to get some relative comparisons as the homes are of identical size with identical orientations.

Based on the products and systems Akron YouthBuild are planning to use, they are hoping to renovate to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 65. This means that the home consumes 35 percent less energy than what is building code standard of 100.  This is a very aggressive score. HERS is a program of the Residential Energy Services Network and a registered HERS rater is working with them on this project.

While not all the products/systems have been selected, during our visit we made some suggestions especially for insulation, gypsum and roofing based on their goals and the building assembly to help with the EPP (Environmentally Preferable Products).  We were also able to add points because of the proximity of CertainTeed plants to the project location.

It is great to see these projects educating builders of the future in green and sustainable techniques. I also believe it sends the right message to the community in that a sustainable habitat is possible for everyone.

The True Challenge to Recycled Glass – Economics

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Recycled content is a key component of sustainable products.  However, manufacturers often struggle to find recycled content because of economics. This is particularly true with regard to glass or cullet which is an ingredient in products such as fiber glass insulation.

The sad fact is that much of the glass in the U.S ends up in landfills because the economics of glass are such that on any given day the value of the glass may be much lower to the waste hauler than the cost of the fuel to take it over to the manufacturer who will buy it off their hands.

So on most days, in most parts of the U.S., we suffer from the fact that glass is not actually being recycled. Even though we put it in containers at our curbs, it doesn’t wind up getting back into the economy because its value is too low.

I’ve talked to many people about this and one option I came up with is to make glass more expensive.  Artificially, this can be done through deposits or we can go to the real form which is to make glass more expensive.  If it is valued more as a commodity it will have more value as a recycled product as well. While giving a presentation recently, I made a statement about the fact that having programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which places a value on high recycled content in products, ends up creating a value for recyclable materials that did not exist before.  This solution I think is more eloquent than my own of adding a deposit.  Another side benefit is that this action is creating jobs at the local level because of the LEED emphasis on indigenous materials.

So I tip my hat to programs like LEED for helping to create local jobs, reuse local resources, and reduce the landfilling of valuable resources.

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” –R. Buckminster Fuller