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?

Can We Design Buildings for Heat and Cooling that Mimic the Human Body

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I spend lots of time thinking about buildings. Sad; I know. Lately I have been wondering how we wound up in such a confusing state. It’s like looking under your car hood. Have you looked under your hood lately? It looks like a building design. Who in their right mind would have started out to design such a complicated mess? No wonder we need so many building scientists and we pay a hundred bucks an hour to get our cars fixed. Can we step back for a minute?

Thermal comfort in the built environment needn’t be so complicated. If we could start from scratch and try to make buildings comfortable based upon our own organic experience, what would we do? I live in Philadelphia.  If I go outside in the winter and try to passively stay comfortable – passively meaning to not use any outside energy sources – I would use lots of layers of clothing, would zip up tight and cover my skin.

Coincidentally that is what we require in our cold climate building codes.  Lots of layers of clothing means R-value. When you wear lots of layers of clothing you are trapping gas inside layers.  The gas is the insulation – gas gives you resistance to conductive energy heat flow – that’s R-value.  So when you are wearing lots of layers you are wearing R-value. When we say zip up – that’s getting air tight. We finally woke up and added that one to the cold and mixed climate codes as well.

The problem comes in the summertime. To stay cool, you would take off those layers, wear light colors and try to get air flow around you.  You would wear airy fabrics to release as much heat from your body as possible and light colors which don’t get hot in the sun. If you were stuck wearing lots of layers and were zipped up tight, you would have to blow cold fresh air into that outfit to stay comfortable. Our goal should be not to do that. Remember, passive technologies rule and active technologies cost $$$.

We need to find ways to help a building be warm in the winter and stay cool to begin with in the summer. I am looking for changes to our practices that will enable us to do to buildings what we do to ourselves. How would you build your building differently?

If you can’t strip off all the layers of clothing the very least you will do is unzip so can we figure out a way to unzip our buildings? I know we want to be air tight in the winter but can we figure out a way to use air to remove surface heat in the summer? I think ventilated claddings may be one answer.

Can you think of some others? To go back to the car analogy, let’s stop bolting more stuff onto the internal combustion engine to make it more efficient and drop in an electric motor. It needn’t be so complicated.

The U.S. Regenerative Network Creates New Level for Sustainability

Lucas Hamilton

CertainTeed was recently invited to participate in an event in Berkeley, California which could be the next rung on the ladder of sustainable building.  The U.S. Regenerative Network was founded and is led by David Gottfried.  Gottfried is considered a pioneer in the green building industry and is a founder of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The U.S. Regenerative Network brings together a select group of leading non-competitive product manufacturers and service providers from the green building industry to form an innovation incubator.

The Network brings together:

  • Product Manufacturers and Building Service Providers (Network Members)
  • Real Estate Portfolio Owners (Network Affiliates)
  • Architects, Engineers, Contractors (Network Affiliates)
  • Green building and sustainability Experts (Network Experts)
  • Staff (Network Coordinators)

At the event in Berkeley, there were a variety of activities designed to bring together emerging needs and technologies. The activities allowed world class manufacturers to brainstorm with each other as well as to engage with pioneering designers and construction professionals. The very nature of the organization allows for deep and meaningful engagements, which usually take years of relationship building, to occur very quickly. It reminds me of the difference between velocity and acceleration. As sustainability begins to accelerate, we see an increasing rate of change in change and we must keep up. If not, the pioneers are going to take an awful lot of arrows and our growth will come to a stop. This is a true next generation effort to bring together non-competitive stakeholders to engage in collaboration and best practices toward the creation of exceptional buildings.

The race to zero energy has been won.  We can do zero energy buildings.  We can do zero carbon footprint but can we regenerate and actually move beyond negative or neutral to become positive?  This is exciting stuff.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Taking a Bite Out of the Whale

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

The Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change recently presented The Copenhagen Communiqué to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  This document, signed by more than 500 businesses across the globe, states that “economic development will not be sustained in the longer term unless the climate is stabilized.”  It also calls for an agreement to be drafted and accepted that “establishes a global emission cap and long-term reduction pathway for all greenhouse gas emissions and sources, for the period 2013 to 2050 (with interim targets).”

CertainTeed’s parent company, Saint-Gobain is among the signers of the document and all of the businesses of Saint-Gobain have corporate mandates to reduce our carbon footprint in our buildings and manufacturing facilities.

If the UN adopts this proposal, it presents an interesting challenge for the United States and addresses what I discussed in a previous blog about the need for energy auditors.  In the US, our energy standards have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, but 90 percent of our homes and about 4 million commercial buildings were built before 1990.  While we have seen many programs able to achieve energy efficiency and sustainability in new design and construction, those advances are like taking a bite out of a whale – because they represent less than 2% of our reality.  We have to address the 98% of buildings that remain because that’s where our energy is being consumed. With a global goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50%, we would never reach that goal just by greening our new construction. We have to go back and green our existing construction if we are ever going to meet even 15, 20 or 30% goals. There is a growing need for programs that can retroactively improve building performance.

At the 2009 GreenBuild Convention in November in Phoenix, Arizona, CertainTeed will be hosting a luncheon with guest speakers from Gerding Edlen Development on this very issue.  Gerding Edlen has a Sustainable Solutions program which is successfully retrofitting existing buildings and significantly reducing the carbon emissions. I can’t wait to learn about how they are doing this.  This is an incredibly important time to talk about this issue because although they are not easy to do, we have achieved passive houses and zero energy buildings. Its one thing to achieve zero energy when you start with a clean piece of paper and design in the building efficiency, but it’s another thing when you inherit someone else’s mess. While it’s a more difficult target, it’s the most important target. There are limited slots available for this luncheon.  If you are planning to attend GreenBuild and would like to attend, email Kristen Harter, Kristen.M.Harter@saint-gobain.com.

If the UN adopts the Copenhagen Communiqué, it will certainly accelerate our efforts to retrofit the existing building inventory globally. Each existing building we improve will have an impact on controlling greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

While the task may seem insurmountable, we do know how to eat a whale right? One bite at a time.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.

Harnessing the Power of Sun for the Future

Hello, my name is Shawn Beears and I am a Marketing Manager in the Insulation Group for CertainTeed Corporation

shawnbeearsWith all the current attention on identifying alternative sources of energy, it is no wonder that the Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy continues to be a great international event. This exciting competition brings together educators, students, manufacturers, and the general public to push the limits of design and construction of solar powered, energy efficient homes as well as to raise awareness about renewable energy and energy efficiency. As discussed in a previous blog entitled “Stars Align for Energy Efficiency”, this is another example of how the time is right for us to not only embrace, but retain the momentum to focus on efficiency and find alternative energy sources.

The 2009 Solar Decathlon is the fourth contest to be held since its inception in 2002 and will take place in Washington, D.C. in October.  Twenty teams from colleges and universities around the world were selected from submitted proposals to compete.  The purpose of the Decathlon is “to design and build energy-efficient homes that are powered exclusively by the sun.”  The homes are designed and built where the team members live and are then dismantled and reconstructed in “the solar village” on the National Mall.

The careful selection of products and how they work together is critical to achieving zero energy. The University of Kentucky team approached CertainTeed Insulation to use our CertaSpray™ closed cell spray foam for their project.  Closed cell spray foam offers superior air sealing and thermal performance which makes it a perfect choice for energy efficiency and moisture control.  We are excited to be a part of this project as a manufacturer that is committed to sustainable product development.

The goal of the Solar Decathlon is to create homes that are attractive and easy to live in; maintain comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions; feature appealing and adequate lighting; supply energy to household appliance for cooking and cleaning; power home electronics; provide hot water; and balance energy production and consumption.

The 20 houses are open to the public from October 9 – 13 and October 15-18 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and the event is an exciting way to learn about solar energy technologies, energy efficient products available in the marketplace, and to take a peek at what the future may hold.

Of course, I will be rooting for the University of Kentucky in the Solar Decathlon.

Reaching Abroad for Sustainable Solutions

Hello, my name is Eric Nilsson and I am Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation 

ENilsson_Who says “there’s no such thing as a free lunch?”  Well, I am here to tell you that there is—bu you have to be in the Philadelphia area to take advantage of it.

At CertainTeed, we are excited to be members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), having the opportunity to interact with the design community and to sponsor the upcoming, complimentary luncheon at the AIA, Philadelphia Chapter, featuring David M. Adamson, a consultant in sustainable construction from England on September 29, 2009.

Adamson, a Professor of architecture at Cambridge University, has been involved with sustainable design and life-cycle analysis in both his academic work and as a consultant for the British government. His expertise is on the economic value of sustainable design building practices as a matter of public policy. For example, he is a member of a team that advises Cambridge University on the design and construction of new buildings, and making sure they are built according to sustainable design standards. He has also worked as an advisor to the British government doing a similar task, but on a national scale.

CertainTeed president and CEO, Peter Dachowski, invited Adamson, a long-time colleague, to stop in Philadelphia prior to another engagement in the U.S to present “The Shift to Whole-Life Value in Building Procurement Principles: A View from the U.K.” One of the main themes of the talk concerns the change in the underlying cost-benefit analysis that defines how government agencies and other public institutions plan, design and construct buildings.

The policy has shifted from merely reducing costs to providing maximum value for whatever dollars are spent. This is what the shift to whole-life value means: when a whole-life cost-benefit analysis that includes environmental costs is performed, it is seen from a public policy perspective.  A sustainable building is the best value for both the occupants as well as for society at large.

This is a great opportunity for the design community in Greater Philadelphia to learn about the efforts taking place in the U.K. with regard to sustainable design. You can register for the luncheon by phone 610-341-7298 or email buildingsolutions@saint-gobain.com.

Blogging from Building Science Summer Camp

Stan Gatland photo_1I am Stan Gatland, Manager, Building Science Technology at CertainTeed Corporation.  I am joining my colleague, Lucas Hamilton, in the Blogosphere.

Every year, I have the opportunity to attend training for Building Science professionals affectionately known as Summer Camp. Ok, we call it camp, but really, there are no tents or campfires songs, or even horseback riding.  Actually, it’s officially called the Thirteenth Annual Westford Symposium on Building Science, sponsored by Building Science Corporation.) Not only is it a great opportunity to learn about the latest and greatest  Building Science trends but for me, the most beneficial part of  ‘Camp’ is the informal meeting of the minds to share current challenges and generate new ideas, solutions and debate about best practices. The attendees include architects, engineers, physicists, designers, builders, material scientists, manufacturers and other building professionals.

 There has been significant growth in the attendance at “Camp” over the years due to increased focus on the building envelope, energy efficiency, moisture management and sustainability.

I was particularly interested in the information presented by Andreas Holm and Hartwig Kuenzel from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.  The interest in building science actually began with the introduction of insulation into buildings in Europe in the early 20th century and led to the establishment of the Institute for Building Physics at the Fraunhofer Institute. Historically, Europe and Canada are well ahead of the US with regard to Building Science.

 Among their topics was the discussion of how whole building performance changes with respect to moisture when adding thermal insulation. Adding insulation reduces the amount of heat that flows through an assembly. While this improves energy efficiency and thermal comfort, it also reduces the amount of energy available to dry assemblies and can cause colder surfaces to accumulate more moisture over time. The Institute is looking at ways to improve the moisture management performance of buildings that have become very energy efficient.

They also talked about indoor climate control and energy concepts for schools. Making buildings more air tight may require indoor humidity control through fresh air ventilation.

If you have participated in one of these, or have some thoughts on building science topics of interest, let me know.  I’m glad to be one of CertainTeed’s “Blog-gurus” and look forward to talking with you on occasion.