Making Low Income Homes Energy Efficient

Lucas Hamilton

Last weekend, not only did we celebrate Halloween but the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) celebrated National Weatherization Day recognizing the work being done to save money for America’s homeowners by investing in energy efficiency.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act weatherization program has assisted over 245,000 low-income families conduct energy audits, upgrade their homes and lower energy consumption by installing insulation in the attic and basement, weather stripping on the doors and roof ventilation.

The weatherization program has also put Americans to work to complete these upgrades.

This video documents the work that DOE is doing and also provides some great tips for DIYers for ways to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

HomeStar Recognizes the Contributions of Insulated Siding

Lucas Hamilton

Last week the United States House of Representatives passed the HomeStar bill which authorizes $5.7 billion over two years for energy efficient upgrades to homes.  The bill will now be reviewed by the Senate.  The bill has two parts:  The Silver Star program provides up-front rebates of up to $3,000 for specific energy-efficient improvements in home such as energy efficient appliances, duct sealing, insulation, or new windows or doors.  The Gold Star programs provides up to $8,000 to people who conduct an energy audit and implement steps to cut energy use in their homes by more than 20 percent.

But one of the biggest changes within the HomeStar program is the recognition of the contribution of insulated siding to the energy efficiency of buildings.  When we talk about the weatherization programs we are talking about adding insulation to existing buildings.  The most difficult place to add insulation is on the side walls. Insulation is, traditionally, between the framing cavity between the studs – between the sheathing and interior drywall.  Sometimes it isn’t even possible to add insulation to these cavities post construction. Also, it doesn’t account for framing. This is the big issue encountered even with new construction, getting the whole wall insulation value as high as possible to improve the all over performance of the system – the studs, the cavities, the framing, and the floor lines.  When insulation is added between two studs, on the best given day, it only insulates 75 percent of the wall because framing accounts for 25 percent of the wall.

When insulated siding is used on a building it not only increases the insulation value it covers up the framing on the outside which cuts down on the thermal bypasses and improves the overall whole wall R value which is very difficult to do.

Hats off to the Home Star program and the Federal government for recognizing the significant contribution that insulated sidings can make towards the overall performance of the building.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation

Extreme Makeover Ohio Style

Over the RhineOver-the-Rhine is an old, historic neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, with some amazing architecture, that has been driven down by economic pressures for the last several decades.

 A group of young architects, City Studios Architecture is taking on the restoration of these buildings. To do this, they’ve tapped into some general contractors; builders and developers who have identified financial resources that provided seed money (Section 8 housing, block grants, economic development funds) for this project. The overall goal is to rehabilitate and save the buildings while honoring the traditional workmanship and design. This must be done in a way which is cost effective, durable, and creates a building which is affordable to operate.

City Studios was faced with many physical challenges.  For example, many of the buildings are row houses that were built around 1900.  In some cases, the middle building has been compromised and needs to be leveled which leaves the other buildings with what was an interior dividing wall that is now an exterior wall. Now you have the challenge of weatherizing these walls.

One of CertainTeed’s customers had called on City Studio as a new firm. What he found were eager, young architects with a great project and lots of questions.  This customer had worked with me on some projects in the past and called to see if I could help them out. Their questions were not just idle chit-chat, they were complex issues. I did some computer models and simulations and sent them the results with some explanation. As a result, they asked if we could meet. I was able to meet with them and their general contractor, The Model Group, while on another assignment in Ohio.

As this dynamic group of young architects moves forward with this monumental undertaking, some of the preferred solutions to individual issues may lie outside of CertainTeed’s product offerings. In those cases, I have been reaching out to my Building Science colleagues in complimentary product lines to lend their expertise. This is becoming more of a team project and an exciting one at that.

Bottom line: City Studio Architecture is off and running. They are restoring old buildings and building new in-fill construction to complement the existing structures.  They are creating jobs and are working on interesting projects which in these economic times is a great thing for young architects.

It’s not the biggest thing in the world but it’s what Cincinnati is doing to improve their own backyard and could be a model for other communities.  It’s a great thing and I will be following and reporting their progress in other blogs.

Lucas Hamilton is the Manager of Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation