Energy Efficiency and Building Science News

Natural Disasters Drive Architects’ Focus to Resiliency

Mon, 2018-02-19 22:28
Building CodesBuilding Science

From a cost perspective, it was a record year for natural disasters in the United States in 2017. Hundreds of people lost their lives and thousands of buildings, many of them people’s homes, were destroyed. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is proposing to get architects more engaged in designing more resilient buildings.

A recent Architect Magazine article stated, “2017 made it clear that current codes, infrastructure, and planning fail to adequately account for predictable natural forces that, in the blink of an eye, can sweep away entire communities. In 2018, the AIA is committed to resiliency training and advocacy, and further expanding its state disaster coordinator network to better prepare communities large and small for future disasters and helping to strengthen our nation’s resilience. Our efforts designing new solutions must be disruptive and evolve steadily as we learn even more.”

Click here to read the full article.

California Considering Changes to 2019 Energy Efficiency Standard

Mon, 2018-02-19 22:21
Building CodesEnergy Efficiency

The California Energy Commission (CEC) proposes to adopt changes to the Building Energy Efficiency Standards contained in the California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 24, Part 6 (also known as the California Energy Code). The proposed amended standards are called the "2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards" (Standards) and will go into effect on January 1, 2020

CEC has prepared this Notice of Proposed Action and an Initial Statement of Reasons regarding the need for the proposed revisions and has made available all the information upon which its proposal is based. CEC has also published the Express Terms (45-Day Language) of the proposed amendment language. View these documents from the Energy Commission website.

  • The 2019 Standards focus on three key areas: proposing new requirements for installation of solar photovoltaics for newly constructed low-rise residential buildings; updating current ventilation and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) requirements, including references to ASHRAE 62.1 and 62.2; and extending Title 24 Part 6 to apply to healthcare facilities. 
  • The 2019 standards also propose several smaller improvements in energy efficiency, such as efficiency standards for laboratory fume hoods, which are described in greater detail.
  • In addition to updating the Standards in Title 24 Parts 1 and 6, the Energy Commission is also proposing updates to the CALGreen energy efficiency provisions in Title 24, Part 11, in a separate, parallel rulemaking.

Read the documents below for more information on meeting and public hearing dates and how to submit comments:

Notice of Proposed Action Proposed Revisions to the California Building Energy Efficiency Standards

Subchapter 8 Low-Rise Residential Buildings - Performance AND Prescriptive Compliance Approaches

Is This the Next Gen of Energy Efficiency Building Designers?

Mon, 2018-02-19 22:17
Building CodesBuilding ScienceEnergy Efficiency

Thanks to a new program, young adults from low-income neighborhoods in Tennessee are receiving technical training in energy-efficient home construction practices, including weatherization, sustainability, and basic home upgrades.

On Jan. 29, the inaugural class of GreenSpaces Chattanooga’s Build it Green workforce development program held its first training session in Chattanooga, Tenn. The program’s goals are manifold: to meet the demand for skilled labor in the home construction industry, to prepare low-income young adults for construction trade employment, and to provide low-income communities with engagement and access to sustainable practices and programs, says project manager Christian Shackelford.

Over the course of the 12-week program, ten participants will receive six weeks of community engagement, personal development, and job readiness training, followed by six weeks of technical training, with weekly job shadowing and off-site job training opportunities. Participants will be paid $10 per hour for three days per week, four hours per day. Paid job shadowing opportunities and job placement assistance will also be available to participants.

BUILDER sat down with Shackelford to talk about the program’s impact on the Chattanooga community.

What are GreenSpaces’s current goals and efforts?

GreenSpaces is focused on sustainable living, working, and building in Chattanooga. We aim to make Chattanooga a leader in sustainability for benefit of the environment and the people of our community. From building cost-effective net-zero energy homes to helping our low-income community save energy in their own homes, our goals are focused on what we see as the most important sustainability issues in our city.

How did you and GreenSpaces come to form the Build It Green program?

Build It Green evolved organically, connecting the dots between our net zero construction and our low income utility education program. With over a decade of experience in both green building in Chattanooga and helping families in need afford utilities in their homes, it was only natural to want to train a demographic in need of jobs with a growing industry in need of employees.

The Build It Green program is a community effort, supported and run by multiple individuals and organizations in the south east. Stan Johnson’s program SEEED, Socially Equal Energy Efficiency Development, was in many ways an inspiration for our program as a work force development program focus on sustainability. We use SEEED’s format as a template for our own program to then take advantage of our expertise and relationships in the building industry. SEEED continues to be a supporter to the BIG program and has been a great partner along the way.

How is the program structured?

The program is roughly divided into three parts, which we are developing simultaneously. They are:

--Soft skill capabilities, which will help our trainees, improve the ability to communicate in the workforce and manage life issues that interfere with success in the workplace.

--Technical skills, which will educate our students in the whole house model of construction and home performance giving them an edge in the entry level construction fields and prepare them for a developing career field.

--And finally community engagement as it relates to housing issues and energy justice.

Participants will walk away with a certificate of completion of our program having been trained in all three of these fields, a certification from the Building Performance Institute, and most importantly the support of a team and a community of business in the world of sustainable construction

What has the response been so far?

We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from our community both from the applicants and the businesses who we hope to place them with after the program. Universally, contractors we have approached about the program have committed to helping with the program from simply getting the word out, to hosting specialty trainings, and evening committing to give internships and considering hiring students from the program.

Do you anticipate expanding this program in the future?

In 2018 we plan to host two rounds of trainings. Each individual from this session will receive coaching and support after the program to help improve their chances of landing a long-term career in their trade. We would like the program to stay an intimate size for the time being, but we hope to magnify the impact of the program by also focusing on effecting the market place and increasing the demand for sustainable construction and socially equal job opportunities.

We think that the multi prong approach to our training will not just open up job opportunities but life long career opportunities. The program has the potential to change a job crisis for individuals and a work force crisis for an industry.

Do you foresee more programs of this kind working in other parts of the U.S.?

I think that sustainability in construction is just getting started, especially in low-income communities where old housing stock is the norm. Increased frequency of global climatic events such as extreme cold and hot seasons will highlight the need for efficiency and high performance. As home performance becomes more commonplace it also becomes more affordable and accessible, which opens the doors to a much larger housing stock. This will bring about a need for education and training to meet the demand. In our low-income community we have a workforce ready to be trained and introduced to new career paths. The industry will most definitely see programs like this becoming prevalent in the future.


Air Barrier Trade Show May 8-9 in Salt Lake City

Mon, 2018-02-19 22:14
Building Science

The Air Barrier Association of America is hosting its 7th annual conference and trade show. The only conference in the world that focuses on air barriers and building airtightness.

Come learn from some of the top minds in Building Science with expertise in building enclosures, moisture management, air barriers, sustainability and enclosure commissioning.


The conference provides two full days of comprehensive learning tracks specific to design professionals, consultants, general contractors, subcontractors and others interested in the air barrier industry.

Exhibitors will include air barrier materials manufacturers, application equipment, testing labs and building enclosure consulting companies.

  • Network with the leading experts in building science
  • AIA CEU’s (HSW)
  • The only conference that provides comprehensive education on air barriers and building airtightness
  • Meet the leading air barrier manufacturers and service providers to the industry
  • Earn up to 5.5 LU/HSW on DAY 1
  • Earn up to 6 LU/HSW on DAY 2

Location: 100 SW Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, Salt Lake City, Utah  

Starts on: May 08, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Ends on: May 09, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Event Url:

ICC Clarifies 2018 Definition Change to 'Air Barrier'

Mon, 2018-02-19 22:10
Building CodesBuilding Science

The ICC recently released a summary of a code change to N1101.6 regarding the definition of an air barrier. According to the ICC document, “Revisions to the definition of air barrier are editorial to clarify the meaning and to better align with the code provision requiring continuity. The definition for continuous air barrier has been removed because it is redundant; air barriers must always be continuous. The air leakage rate of the building thermal envelope is measured through the mandatory blower door test.”

Click here to view the full document.





Are Polyurethane Spray Foam Roofs Superior in Storms?

Mon, 2018-02-19 22:04
Building Science

The right fit for the climate is a key concern when choosing a roofing system, and spray polyurethane foam (SPF) makes it an attractive option for many parts of the United States. This is notably relevant across the Midwest and South, where frequent thunder and hail storms are the norm, and a durable roofing system is needed to help handle Mother Nature’s wind and icy fits. 

It is the versatility spray foam offers, both through its application and how it resists wind and impact, that makes it a top choice for a variety of climates, including regions with severe thunder storms and hail, explains Will Lorenz, vice president of sales for General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. 

“As spray foam provides insulation directly to the roof, it reduces heat energy flow into or out of the structure,” Lorenz says. “Temperature changes on conventional roofs allow the building to expand or contract more, so these thermal dynamic forces cause splits and cracks; SPF reduces this effect so the building maintains a more waterproof and durable roofing system.”

Preventing Storm Damage 

Following 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took a close look at how various roofing and insulation materials hold up during extreme weather events. They found that spray polyurethane foam insulation is especially durable, serving as a reliable high-wind performer and also being more tolerant of impact, such as from hail, than other systems

Lorenz explains that to help support an effective roofing system for high storm damage areas, spray polyurethane foam starts by reducing the opportunity for air and moisture gaps. This helps provide a sturdy system that is resistant to winds and protects the substrate from wind-driven missiles, like hail. 

In 2015, the United States recorded 5,411 major hail storms, with the greatest number of storms occurring in June (1,324 storms), April (1,193 storms), and May (881 storms). But regardless of the time of year or the location, as states from Mississippi to South Dakota frequently find themselves dealing with hail storms, building owners and facility managers want the peace of mind to know that their roof can withstand major storms. And when there is damage, they want a roof that doesn’t have to be fully replaced, helping decrease maintenance expense.

The National Roofing Foundation report on spray polyurethane foam roofing systems by Rene Dupuis confirmed that where SPF roofs had experienced hail damage it was localized to the upper surface of the foam and most roofs were repaired rather than replaced. With the continuing trend toward sustainable construction, it is in the best interest of the building owners to repair rather than replace whenever possible and practical.

Texas saw the greatest number of hail storms in 2015, followed by Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota, but they do happen in all regions of the country. 

Spray Foam as a Roofing System 

Spray polyurethane foam is installed using a chemical blowing agent, which retains thousands of polymer cells inside after the foam is formed, creating a rigid, dense foam. This rigidity provides an air barrier, limits moisture ingress, and can add structural integrity to a building’s exterior. 

The most common application of SPF in a roofing system, to minimize damage from hail and wind, is a layer of at least 1 and a half inches, though usually around 2 to 3 inches of high-density closed-cell spray polyurethane foam covered with a minimum of 25 to 30 mils of protective coating is installed. 

The strength of the foam acts like a shock absorber against the impact of hail. And even though the top foam may be crushed, the lower foam levels remain intact, continuing to act as a moisture barrier. A basic SPF roofing system can typically withstand the average size of hail, slightly smaller than a golf ball, with only a small depression left in the foam and no cracks in the coating.  

Repair Instead of Replace

Considering the exterior membrane on non-SPF roofing systems acts as the waterproof layer, leaks are more apt to appear immediately following damage. But, according to Lorenz, SPF roofing systems continue to provide water resistance even when the coating may be damaged.

“Spray polyurethane foam has a very low water absorption and water transmission, so it doesn’t readily become saturated,” Lorenz explains. “So if the roof coating is punctured and even dented or broken, if it’s on the surface quarter inch, it can be repaired and recoated. [If] the damage is greater on depth or more frequent in hails hits, we can scarify or grind off the top half inch to one inch and then apply new foam and coating without tearing off the whole roof.” But Lorenz notes this would only need to be done on severe hail impact with dense hits or if the roof is neglected after the hail damage and not repaired in a reasonable timeframe.

And as with any roofing system, with an SPF roof it is important to inspect for and evaluate any damage following a major storm, to promptly and correctly make any needed repairs. Knowing and making the correct repairs to a spray polyurethane roofing system can allow it to continue to perform for years.


Dow Completes Conversion of Styrofoam XPS Insulation

Mon, 2018-02-19 21:19
Building ScienceBusiness

Dow Building Solutions has announced that as of Febraury 6th, 2018, all Styrofoam Brand Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) plants in the United States have converted their operations to produce Styrofoam Brand XPS Insulation with Bluedge Polymeric Flame Retardant Technology.

As of this announcement, Dow’s introduction of Bluedge technology to Styrofoam Brand XPS foam plants across North America is now complete. Dow has introduced the Bluedge Polymeric Flame Retardant to its STYROFOAM Brand XPS insulation in phases worldwide, starting with Japan in 2014 and followed by Europe in 2015, Canada in 2016, and the United States in 2017. This approach ensured that regional quality requirements were met in each location, and that product availability met regional demand.

“Building science innovations are crucial to sustainability advancement, and we are excited to continue leading the transition to a more sustainable future as we take one more step toward a global conversion,” says Tim Lacey, general manager for Dow Building Solutions. “Our objective is straightforward -- offer more sustainable solutions that work in many environments to meet the growing demands of energy efficiency regulations and architectural design.”

The Bluedge Polymeric Flame Retardant Technology, first announced in March 2011, was developed to replace hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) as a more sustainable flame retardant solution for polystyrene foam. Its use allows extruded (XPS) and expanded (EPS) polystyrene foams to meet a wider range of energy-efficiency and sustainable building standards.

Bluedge technology is also incorporated in Emerald Innovation 3000 by Lanxess Inc., FR-122P by ICL, and GreenCrest by the Albemarle Corporation. It is available through these suppliers to any extruded polystyrene or expanded polystyrene insulation manufacturers that are transitioning away from HBCD-based flame retardants.

Dow continues to make progress towards its 2025 Sustainability Goals, through which it plans to achieve its goal of “Safe Chemistry for a Sustainable Planet”. It has recently announced 100% renewable energy procurement for Styrofoam XPS Insulation in North America, as well as the validation that Styrofoam XPS Insulation products in North America contain, on average, 20% pre-consumer recycled content.

In May 2017, Dow was named a Safer Choice Partner of the Year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its commitment to innovation, and specifically for the Bluedge Polymeric Flame Retardant. The company also announced a partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council earlier this year, in which it will work to develop more sustainable building solutions.


Infographic: Durolast Tackles Roof Condensation

Mon, 2018-02-19 21:14
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

Durolast, the world's largest manufacturer of custom-fabricated roofing systems, has created an interactive infographic on managing condensation in a roof system (click on the image to see the interactive image):

New Conference Focused on Chemistry of Insulation

Mon, 2018-02-19 20:06
Building Science

AMI will be hosting a new conference this year from April 18-19 in Cologne, Germany called the Polymers in Building Insulation 2018. The conference will cover the key developments, trends, challenges and opportunities facing the construction industry in relation to thermal and acoustic insulation.

AMI promises this event will provide a forum for the entire supply chain, including material and manufacturing leaders, associations and policy makers to come together to explore the latest technological advances and debate the future of insulation in a focused environment. Speakers will provide valuable insight using their expertise through stimulating sessions.

Topics will cover the future of insulation materials, material properties for more efficient buildings, responding to regulatory restrictions and meeting new standards, and building a safe and sustainable future.

Alongside the conference there is an interactive exhibition featuring a range of companies displaying their latest developments. AMI offers plenty of opportunities for productive networking during the coffee breaks, lunches and the evening cocktail reception.

Click here for more information.

OSB Prices Rebound Sharply on Tight Supply

Mon, 2018-02-19 19:53
Raw Materials

After a precipitous drop in OSB costs from November 2017 to January 2018, prices have climbed just as quickly in recent weeks.  According to Random Lengths, “Buyers who are looking to cover spring needs confront lengthy mill order files, limited supplies on the ground in some regions, and widespread transportation issues that have kept the distribution pipeline bottled up.”

In addition, the market had expected additional OSB production capacity to be online at this point. However, OSB plants in Texas and Quebec are behind schedule, and facilities in Alberta, Alabama and Tennessee remain in start-up mode.  As a consequence, Random Lengths says, “instead of a market flush with new supply, buyers are finding OSB as tight as they have seen it in years…Adding to the supply crunch are several mill curtailments, unexpected downtime at some mills in the South during a cold snap earlier this winter, and critically low supplies of railcars to send OSB to market.”

Costs will likely continue to rise until the transportation issues are resolved and the additional capacity truly comes on line.

Emerging Technology Increasingly Used for Jobsite Safety

Tue, 2018-02-13 17:16
Housing & Construction

Contractors in the construction industry are increasing their use of emerging technologies to enhance safety, and further growth is likely, results of a recent survey show.

More than 330 contractors participated in the survey, conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics in partnership with the Center for Construction Research and Training – also known as CPWR – and United Rentals. Results show that drones (21 percent), laser scanning (14 percent) and wearable devices (13 percent), such as smart helmets, are the most common emerging technologies on worksites. Still, 62 percent of respondents said they don’t use onsite technology to promote safety.

“We think it’s likely to grow as the safety benefits are demonstrated, especially as the cost of some of these technologies goes down,” Donna Laquidara-Carr, industry insights research director at Dodge Data & Analytics, said during a Jan. 30 webinar sponsored by CPWR.

Overall, 82 percent of wearable device users reported a positive impact on safety, as did 76 percent of laser scanning users and 70 percent of drone users.

“Technology is drastically improving jobsite safety, providing tangible results in protecting workers and firms alike,” James Dorris – vice president of environmental, health and safety at United Rentals – said in a press release. “Evolving data platforms, tools and service capabilities will deliver innovative new safety solutions.”

Other findings:

  • 69 percent of contractors said building information modeling had a positive impact on safety, compared with 42 percent in 2012. Eighty-two percent reported that safety professionals are involved in some facet of the BIM phase.
  • 52 percent of general contractors and 34 percent of trade contractors said they are aware of Prevention through Design methods. However, after learning the NIOSH definition of PtD – “all of the efforts to anticipate and design out hazards to workers in facilities, work methods and operations, processes, equipment, tools, products, materials, new technologies, and the organization of work” – 67 and 66 percent, respectively, believe they are practicing PtD principles.
  • 96 percent of general contractors and 70 percent of trade contractors report that site superintendents use mobile devices on worksites, while 85 percent of all contractors use mobile phone cameras onsite.
  • General contractors employ online safety training more often than trade contractors, 33 percent compared with 27 percent, respectively. Researchers expect the gap to widen in the next two years.

The study expands upon earlier studies in 2012 and 2015.


Commercial Wall Calculator Developed for Designers

Mon, 2018-02-12 21:12
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

The Applied Building Technology Group has developed a new tool to aid and simplify the design of code compliant steel stud walls.  The Steel Wall Calculator takes a description of a wall and does two code compliance checks: one for thermal behavior, and one for moisture control

Previously, the wood wall calculator allowed specifiers to design wood walls.  The steel wall calculator takes the same functionality and applies it to steel stud walls, which make up a large percentage of commercial construction.

Thermal Code Compliance

The steel wall calculator offers two methods for complying with the thermal code: the U-factor method, and the R-value method.  For the U-factor method, the calculator tool makes use of the correction factor calculation method laid out in the commercial provisions of the IECC (section C402.1.4.1).  In this method, the U-factor is computed using the following equation:

where R is the nominal R-value of the cavity insulation, E is a correction factor based on the steel framing, and Rx is the sum of the R-values of the rest of the wall layers (continuous insulation, sheathing, etc.).  Essentially, the method assumes that the layer of steel studs and cavity insulation can be treated as a single homogenous material with an R-value significantly lower than the nominal cavity insulation value due to thermal bridging through the steel.

There are other code-approved U-factor calculation methods.  The IECC residential provisions require a “series-parallel path calculation method” (section R402.2.6).  The ASHRAE Handbook of Fundamentals recommends the Modified Zone method as the appropriate series-parallel path method for steel stud walls.  The Modified Zone method was evaluated for use in the steel calculator, but revealed some unexplained biases when applied to certain wall configurations.  Therefore, special care has been taken to ensure that the equivalent wall U-factors as determined by the calculator conform closely to available testing data such as reported in the 2015 edition of AISI’s Thermal Design and Code Compliance for Cold-Formed Steel Walls. It was also checked for consistency with R-values and U-factors as found in the IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 standard.  

Moisture Code Compliance

The moisture check makes recommendations for the types of interior vapor retarder that are appropriate for the given wall.  These recommendations are based on building code requirements in the U.S. and Canada that, depending on climate, require a minimum ratio of continuous insulation to cavity insulation in the wall.  Following these recommendations will help minimize moisture problems by controlling the risk of condensation within the wall cavity and promoting adequate drying to the interior as determined by the selected interior vapor retarder.

Designing Durable Walls

The steel wall calculator joins the wood wall calculator as a tool that greatly simplifies the wall design process.  There’s no need to page through I-codes, or cross-reference with ASHRAE except as needed to compare and confirm results.  Simply enter your wall, and see if it complies.  Also, it is easy to see how adding insulation or changing wall materials can improve the design, helping you get the most bang for your buck.  Try out the calculator today!

Home Inspector Discusses Merits of Different Insulation Types

Mon, 2018-02-12 21:06
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

Editor’s Note:  The following is an advice column written by a veteran home inspector.

What's the best attic insulation? That depends on your definition of "best". What's going to perform the best is definitely not the most cost-effective way to insulate an attic. But surely, you already knew that.

And I didn't call you Shirley.

First, let's discuss the most common types of insulation available for attics; spray foam, loose-fill fiberglass, cellulose, and fiberglass batts. Those aren't the only types available, but they make up the vast majority of what's used in Minnesota attics. For the listed R-values below, this refers to the material's ability to resist the transfer of heat and is all per-inch. The higher the number, the better. The minimum R-value for a new Minnesota attic is R-49.

Fiberglass Batts

Unfortunately, the easiest way to add insulation to just about any place in your home is to install fiberglass batts.  Fiberglass batts are typically the worst insulation for any job, but they're easy to pick up in the store and easy to roll out, so people use them. The image below shows an atrocious installation at a two-year-old home in an upscale neighborhood of an inner-ring suburb of the Twin Cities. Yep, this passed the city inspection.

I won't even discuss R-value because fiberglass batts have no place in an attic. Just don't go there.


Cellulose is made from recycled, ground-up paper with boric acid added for insect control and fire resistance.  If you choose to install cellulose yourself, you can buy the insulation in bags from your local home improvement store. If you buy enough, they’ll probably let you use an insulation blower for free. Don't try to buy a single bag and spread it out by hand for spot-insulation; it's way too densely packed (ask me how I know). The DIY cellulose insulation method is very dusty, but it’ll get the job done.  If you hire a pro, they’ll use wet-spray cellulose, which adds a small amount of water to the cellulose to help control the dust and to slightly increase the insulation value per inch.

Cellulose has an R-value of approximately 3.5 per inch. The part that I love about cellulose is its ability to control air movement. While it doesn't actually create an air barrier, it's dense enough to stop most air movement to help control frost in attics. Not completely, of course, but it does a pretty good job. The same cannot be said for fiberglass.

If you check with the Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association, they'll assure you that cellulose is definitely your best choice for insulation.

Loose-fill fiberglass

This seems to be all that's ever used in new-construction homes and has an R-value of approximately 2.5 per inch. Like cellulose, you need a big machine to blow it in. You can't simply buy it in bags and spread it around yourself. My biggest complaint with fiberglass is that it's itchy and it's a lung irritant. I've found that older fiberglass is way worse on your skin and lungs than the newer stuff, however. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I don't need any. I'm completely sure of this based on personal experience.

There was a widely publicized study conducted by Oak Ridge Laboratories in 1991 that said that loose fill fiberglass insulation lost a lot of its insulation value once temperatures dropped below 20 degrees, making loose fill fiberglass an inferior product when compared to cellulose.  I contacted Andre Omer Desjarlais at Oak Ridge Laboratories about this issue, and he said: “This was true 20 years ago but all fiberglass manufacturers have changed their products appreciably since then and this is simply no longer an issue.”  I also contacted several insulation manufacturers about this, and they said the same thing and sent me some great information, which I posted on my website many years ago; click any of these links to read the documents from CertainteedJohns Manville, or Owens Corning.  Loose fill fiberglass insulation will still experience convection, but not nearly as much as old fiberglass used to.

If you check with the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, they'll assure you that fiberglass or mineral wool is definitely your best choice for insulation.

Spray foam

From a performance standpoint, the best type of insulation is spray foam. There are two types; closed-cell and open-cell, aka 2-lb and ½-lb, respectively. They have insulation values of approximately R-6.5 and R-3.6 per inch, respectively. When installed properly, both types of insulation will fill all of the nooks and crannies and make for a perfect air barrier. When air can't move through it, you have zero heat transfer through convection. Oh, and by the way, Icynene® is a brand name of open cell foam.

With closed-cell foam, you also get a moisture barrier at over 2" thick. Because of this and the higher insulating value per inch, most foam insulation used in Minnesota is closed-cell. To tell the difference between the two, try poking it with your finger. You can easily poke a hole in open cell foam, but not closed-cell foam. That stuff is way too hard.

The big downside to either type of spray foam insulation is the cost. It's expensive stuff, and it shouldn't be installed by the DIYer. Of course, that's not to say it can't be done, it just shouldn't be done. Professionals already have a hard enough time getting it right. Check out this article for more on that topic: Avoiding Problems With Spray Foam. The image below shows a botched spray foam installation at the rim joist of a new-construction home that I inspected.

A concern with spray foam insulation is the off-gassing of toxic poisons. I'm no expert on that matter, so I won't discuss. Just be aware that it's a concern, and do your own research. After conducting my own research, I concluded that I was comfortable putting it in my own home.


Video: Builder Shares Energy Efficiency Benefits of Component Framing

Mon, 2018-02-12 21:01
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

At the 2018 International Builder’s Show (IBS), builder Jordan Smith produced the following video to share what he sees are opportunities for innovating the way homes are built. Smith focuses on a few products that promise to make energy efficient wall systems easier to construct in the field.


Video: Boral Steel Roofing Creates Energy Efficiency Options

Mon, 2018-02-12 20:52
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

In the video below, Boral’s head of technical sales discusses the energy efficiency flexibility Boral’s new metal roofing tiles provides to building designers.

Continuous Insulation Key for South Dakota Passive House

Mon, 2018-02-12 20:34
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is Ed Scherrer's passion.

The longtime Minneapolis resident brought his insulation company, InSoFast, to Mitchell two years ago, and already has made big impacts on South Dakota.

He was recently asked to be part of a project with South Dakota State University to provide the exterior insulation technology for a passive house — a structure that is highly energy-efficient and meets rigorous standards to achieve passive house certification.

The house in Brookings is a product of six graduate students who designed the structure in fall 2016. Still in the construction phase after beginning this past fall, the passive house is set to be completed in June.

"We got involved with the project because we're a South Dakota-based company that has what they're looking for in exterior continuous insulation, which is really a vital part to super energy-efficient houses and construction," Scherrer said. "And, it's something that typically is not done in this part of the country."

The idea of the passive house fit in well with InSoFast's goals, he said. The panels created by the Mitchell-based business use high-pressure steam fusion to create closed-cell insulation that is packed with microscopic air spaces, which remain airtight and dry. The panels' built-in stud also eliminates common thermal bridging, and reduces leaks.

"The neat thing about this is there's nothing that's going to rust, rot or decay," Scherrer said of the panels, which are made up of 40 percent recycled content. "Take any of our panels, bury them in the dirt or garden, dig them up 10 years from now ... and there's nothing that's going to deteriorate."

InSoFast opened its doors in 2006, with a home base in Minneapolis. Two years ago, Scherrer decided to move to Mitchell to save money and be closer to family. His wife is originally from Corsica, he said.

Though headquartered in South Dakota, InSoFast has offices in Pennsylvania and Oregon with manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Idaho.

Since the move, the focus of the company has not changed, which is to develop energy-efficient building systems that exceed present and future energy codes.

And the passive house at SDSU is just that.

"The goal is, of course, to improve the energy efficiency and longevity of buildings in general," said Charles MacBride, an associate professor in the Department of Architecture at SDSU. "Actually going all the way to get the passive house certified requires a little bit of commitment as far as time, and costs — which isn't always going to happen. But we're trying to set a precedent and promote these ideas."

MacBride said the idea was spurred by Gov. Dennis Daugaard when he visited the university in 2015 and spoke on the idea of passive house principles and integrating them into the architecture department at SDSU.

Grant funding further helped MacBride and the department to build the passive house. When researching the highest-efficiency products for the structure, MacBride said he and his students came across InSoFast. Deeper research showed the company was based in Mitchell, and they immediately reached out.

The biggest highlights a passive house offers is minimal energy usage. MacBride said the annual energy bill for the Brookings house will be less than $1,000. He added that the house will also have "really high, indoor air quality," with very little to no shift in temperature throughout the home.

"It's going to be a cool house too," MacBride said, adding it will feature an open design concept. "We're really excited."


8 Energy Efficient Products Architects Are Embracing

Mon, 2018-02-12 19:35
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

Whether architects are trying to meet the Architecture 2030 Challenge or pursuing their own mission to save energy, they have an opportunity to design buildings that can limit carbon emissions and be resilient against changing climate conditions.

To help architects meet their goals, a new wave of chemistry and material science is bringing innovative materials and building systems to the marketplace. From advanced insulation foams to multiwall cladding, this next generation of high-performing materials will help accelerate energy-efficient design.

Learn more about some of the high performing materials of today and tomorrow.

1. Smarter windows power up with nanotechnology

Princeton University researchers predict that futuristic smart windows could save up to 40 percent in energy costs. The researchers developed a new type of smart window that controls the amount of light and heat entering the building and is self-powered by transparent solar cells in the window itself. The technology is deposited on a glass as a thin film, and the researchers are working to develop a flexible version that could be easily applied to existing windows. Eventually, homeowners and building managers could use an app on their phone to adjust the amount of sunlight passing through a window throughout the day to help save on heating and cooling costs. 

2. Engineered wood products reach new heights

Think impressive, dramatic curving beams in homes and taller-than-ever before mixed wood buildings. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels are a relatively new material for architects that can be used to help meet these design goals. CLT offers certain advantages in terms of energy efficiency when compared to wood. CLT can also be made in dimensions up to 10 feet wide, 40 feet long and more than a foot thick. With engineered wood products, the wood fibers reinforce the lumber, making it potentially stronger than 100 percent recycled plastic. Furthermore, plastic functions as an outside barrier protecting the wood from rotting. Compared to only approximately 63 percent of a tree that can be used in solid lumber, composite panels can allow for more than 95 percent of the tree to be used. 

Cross laminated timber (CLT) advantages include speed to build, flame resistance and stability. Image Courtesy of Hexion

3. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) go gray

The major components of SIPs, foam and oriented strand board (OSB), take less energy and raw materials to produce than other structural building systems. And while building professionals already rely on SIPs for energy efficiency, new advances in the panels will further enhance insulation throughout a building envelope. For example, some manufacturers are now producing panels with graphite polystyrene (GPS) insulation, easily recognized by its gray color, and which helps boost the panel’s R-values even higher—sometimes more than 20 percent higher. In some cases, building professionals and architects can specify thinner panels while still meeting energy code requirements. SIPs may also aid architects in achieving LEED Platinum certification and Passive House standards.  

Some manufacturers are now producing panels with graphite polystyrene (GPS) insulation, easily recognized by its gray color, and which helps boost the panel’s R-values even higher. Image Courtesy of BASF

4. Vacuum insulation panel (VIP) provide benefits to smaller homes and tiny houses

Trends are showing that U.S. homes are getting smaller and VIPs can offer one effective and space-saving solution for insulation. VIPs comprise a porous core material encased in an airtight envelope. The air trapped in these layers is evacuated and the envelope is then heat-sealed. The core material prevents the insulation panels from crumbling when air is removed. The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has monitored and analyzed these roofing insulation panels for five years at the NRC facility, finding that some VIPs are predicted to maintain more than 80 percent of its thermal performance after 30 years. 

This thin-profile, vacuum insulation technology has the potential to increase thermal resistance in space-limited situations and enable zero-energy buildings. Image Courtesy of Dow Corning

5. Daylighting gets an efficiency boost

Wall cladding is an important part of a building’s visual impact and also its environmental footprint—thermal bridging is one of the primary causes of energy loss in a building. To achieve both daylighting needs and energy efficiency, for instance, nanogel-filled polycarbonate sheets can be used on translucent walls and ceilings in a new type of multiwall system. Additionally, the energy used to extrude polycarbonate sheets is generally a fraction of that to manufacture glass. Polycarbonate sheets are also durable—250 times more impact-resistant than glass and virtually unbreakable; they are tested to perform from −40 to 120 C (−40 to 240 F) and can withstand more extreme weather such as windstorms, hail, or snowstorms. The insulating nanogel that is used to fill the polycarbonate sheets consists of synthetic polymers or biopolymers that are chemically or physically crosslinked to aid in energy efficiency, which may give a building up to 50 percent energy savings compared to monolayer glass. 

6. Next-generation wall panels save energy

Building new homes requires a multitude of materials, many of which will not be completely used, and will require waste disposal. A new generation of panels for component-framed homes potentially offers an example of a more energy efficient solution. These panel alternatives may require 40 percent less wood product than stick-framing and can potentially generate 98 percent less waste. This new type of panelized wall replaces traditional exterior sheathing with a combination of polyisocyanurate (polyiso) continuous insulation on the exterior and spray polyurethane foam (SPF) in the wall cavity, both of which are installed at an offsite panelization facility. The continuous insulation, with taped joints, also functions as a weather-resistant barrier, which can eliminate the need for certain materials like house wrap. 

A new generation of panels for component framed homes is offering an energy efficient solution for architects and builders. Image Courtesy of Covestro

7. Vegetative roofing systems (also known as “green” roofs) offer long-term resilience

Many architects are aware that vegetative roofing systems can keep water out of a building, reduce stormwater run-off, reduce stress on urban sewer systems and decrease run-off related pollution in waterways. Perhaps what is less widely known is how certain systems can extend a roof’s longevity and in turn, increase energy efficiency year after year. How? Waterproofing membranes used in green roofing systems incorporate PVC material science shielding a roof from the effects of ultraviolet rays and temperature extremes that normally cause a roof system to contract and expand. Many of these green roofs have now been in place for more than 30 years, according to Whole Building Design Guide. A new large, urban vegetative roof can potentially capture up to 17,000 gallons of stormwater per storm event, or 1,819,000 gallons annually. The rainwater captured can then be used to water the plants, reducing irrigation needs by up to 50 percent.

8. Innovative 3D printing improves thermal performance

One day soon, elements of building exteriors could be printed by large-scale 3D printers to maximize efficiency. Dutch researchers recently tested this idea; using a 3D printed façade system to optimize a building’s thermal performance. This system is known as Spong3D, and it is stiff, yet lightweight. The researchers believe the new material integrates multiple functions to optimize thermal performance according to different climate conditions throughout the year. It works by integrating air cavities for thermal insulation and channels in the outer surfaces of the facade that store movable thermal mass. Spong3D is in the stage of proof of concept and the research is promising.

An adaptive façade system that controls the heat exchange during the year between the interior and exterior conditions of the building. Image Courtesy of TuDelft and the Spong3d project

As architects strive for a more energy-efficient future, the chemical manufacturing industry will continue to innovate high-performing materials to meet demand. To learn more about how chemistry contributes to innovative materials, visit the American Chemistry Council website.


Rmax ECOMAXci Wall System Excels in Commercial Applications

Mon, 2018-02-12 19:28
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

The Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) certified the Rmax ECOMAXci Wall Solution for use in commercial buildings. “The ECOMAXci Wall Solution is an insulated water and air barrier system designed to meet the most advanced building codes for water, air, fire and continuous insulation in commercial buildings,” said Martin Heiskell, Rmax president and COO.

“The ECOMAXci solution has been around for a few years and has performed well,” said Roy F. Schauffele, FCSI, CCPR, FABAA, LEED Green Assoc., of Division 7 Solutions, Inc. “It is very gratifying to see a quality manufacturer like Rmax step up and take a component and develop a system that has achieved the rigorous ABAA Listing. This accomplishment took a great deal of management commitment, time and resources to move this technology forward.”

“Combining Rmax’s proven, popular polyiso thermal insulation board, along with Rmax branded tape and flashing, ECOMAXci provides savings of approximately 30 percent in material and labor costs compared to a traditional wall assembly that combines gypsum board, air barrier membrane and continuous insulation” stated Heiskell. “Our ECOMAXci puts it all together in a tested, warranty-protected solution that’s backed by 35 years of insulation expertise and know-how.”

In addition to satisfying the latest commercial building codes, ECOMAXci also offers:

  • The highest R-value per inch of any comparable insulation option
  • A 20.3 R-Value in a three-inch nominal thickness
  • Continuous insulation, preventing thermal leaks associated with steel stud frame walls
  • A more efficient design at a great economy

“With current building codes changing, and few sensible options available to architects, builders and contractors, Rmax believes that the ECOMAXci Wall Solution is the ideal way to meet thermal, air, water and fire codes” said Heiskell.


Kingspan Insulated Panels Wins Net-Zero Innovation Award

Mon, 2018-02-12 19:26
Building ScienceEnergy Efficiency

Kingspan Insulated Panels has been named a winner in the Smart Energy Decisions Innovation Awards. The company took the top prize in the commercial energy efficiency technology category for its Journey to Net Zero Energy project.

Kingspan has committed to become a Net Zero Energy (NZE) company by 2020 – that commitment applies to each of its 113 facilities worldwide. The company’s aggregate renewable energy use is currently 67 percent, putting Kingspan firmly on track to achieve its Net Zero Energy goal by 2020. The company’s eight North American facilities are currently 70.8 percent.

Kingspan follows three guiding principles for its NZE project:

  • Save more energy: Kingspan’s energy efficiency measures have reduced the company’s overall lighting and heating costs by more than 30 percent and decreased carbon intensity levels by almost four-fold. Using Kingspan’s own products helped deliver these savings.
  • Generate more renewable energy: Kingspan’s on-site renewable energy generation jumped from 6.6 GWh in 2012 to 32.2 GWh in 2016. On-site generation across multiple sites globally currently supplies 7.6 percent of the company’s total energy use, with more projects under construction. 
  • Buy more renewable energy: Kingspan works to ensure that renewable energy is procured from fully-certified sources when it is unable to be produced on-site. In 2016, all electricity used at North American manufacturing sites was procured from certified renewable sources. Globally in 2016, the Kingspan group used 164.4 GWh of renewable electricity, almost a six-fold increase from 2011 – equivalent to not burning 55 million tons of coal.

The judges said of Kingspan’s efforts: “The bold global plan and coordinated execution are worthy of emulating in other large enterprises. The results speak for themselves.” 
“The effects of climate change that we’ve seen over the past year illustrate that it’s more important than ever for businesses to recognize and take responsibility for their impact on the environment,” said Brent Trenga, Director of Building Technology for Kingspan Insulated Panels. “We’re proud to be recognized for our dedication to sustainable business practices through our products, processes and people as we work together towards achieving our Net Zero Energy goal.”

Kingspan was also named to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) Climate A list for the third consecutive year. The A List recognizes 160 corporations worldwide for their pioneering roles in acting on climate change, environmental impacts and building a new sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. 


DowDupont Begins Preparation for Material Science Spin Off

Mon, 2018-02-12 19:23
BusinessEnergy Efficiency

After reporting strong sales for the fourth quarter of 2017, DowDuPont moved up its timeline for a forthcoming split, and increased a previous cost savings goal by $300 million.   

"The spins are anticipated to occur in only 14 to 16 months from today. And meanwhile, we are taking up our cost synergy number to $3.3 billion," DowDuPont Chief Executive Officer Edward Breen said during a call with stock analysts on Thursday.

Asked during the call if investors should expect another update to the cost-shedding goal, Breen said he is examining further "synergies" for the next seven months, but declined to go into specifics. 

The company, which formed in August after a $150 billion merger between Delaware-based DuPont and Michigan's Dow Chemicals, reported fourth-quarter earnings at 83 cents per share when excluding non-recurring costs taken on its balance sheet. Net sales came in just over $20 billion, a 13-percent increase.

"A lot is going right. Economies around the globe are all strengthening right now which means a nice revenue performance for all (DowDuPont) businesses," said Matt Arnold, an analyst with Edward Jones. "And if you take that and you add these huge cost removals post-merger, it's just a recipe for massive earnings growth." 

Lower pension and other post-employment costs contributed to the earnings, the company said. 

It was the first earnings report for a full three-month period as a merged business.

Prior to the merger, the companies had announced plans to eliminate $3 billion in costs in the coming years after the companies formed into one.

By 2019, three companies will be formed from DowDupont. The company originally planned to finalize the spin-offs in 2020.

The splits will occur along the company's current Specialty Products, Material Sciences, and Agriculture divisions. Materials and Agriculture each are shedding over $1 billion in costs, with Specialties' expected savings to come in just under $1 billion.

Material Sciences will spin off first and be headquartered in Dow Chemicals' home of Midland, Michigan, according to company officials. Specialty Products and Agriculture will be created "shortly" after and will based in Delaware, the company says.

In September, DowDuPont transferred $8 billion worth of company operations from Materials Science to Specialty Products, including a plastic line of products. Referencing the disparate operations in the Specialty Products division, one DuPont analyst last year suggested it be "affectionately known as Hodgepodge Co."

"The next steps as you can see include allocating assets and liabilities to each of the independent companies... in such a way that we achieve the desired credit ratings and that we can compete well with the peers," Breen said. 

Looking ahead, the company could increase sales of its Enlist-brand herbicide if a Chinese regulatory board approves it for the country. While the decision has been languishing before the regulators for some time, the company has "had some really good dialogue" with them, DowDupont Chief Operating Officer Marc Doyle said during the earnings call. 

Shares of DowDuPont fell after the call on Thursday and Friday to close the week at $70.79, down about 6 percent. 

"It was a strong (earnings) report, with even stronger expectations," Arnold said.