November 2012

Volume 21, Number 11

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High Performance Enclosures

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(John Straube, Ph.D., P.Eng.; Building Science Press, 2012; 336 pages, $65)

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Envelope failures are the most common cause of missed energy targets, durability issues, and health and comfort problems—and hence the most common cause of lawsuits—points out author John Straube. Making multilayered, high-performance building envelopes function as they should will require a new way of thinking that has not yet become second nature in the industry.

While the modern building envelope may be complex, the book lays out this new way of thinking in the systematic, easy-to-follow terms Building Science Corporation is well known for. Although it does not cover the “the quantitative part of the work,” as Straube puts it, the book provides a deep and detailed introduction to the topic of high-performance building envelopes and is intended for both architects and engineers who work in North American climate zones 4 through 8. “The emphasis starts to change, and we’re less concerned about thermal bridges and condensation when going from zone 4 to zone 3,” Straube explained. “After that, it’s a different building style that deals with things like hurricanes and long-term humidity.” (There are currently no plans for a hot-climate sequel.)

The heart of the book is a set of enclosure details illustrating everything from skylight penetrations to curtainwall-to-opaque-wall transitions and basement walls that are continuous with above-grade walls. Some details are merely conceptual rather than “buildable,” Straube warns—but when designing for high performance, a designer’s details always should be buildable, he claims. Flashing and air sealing details are part of the design now, not “means and methods” that you leave to the contractor, he told EBN. “If airtightness and reducing thermal bridging are important, then it becomes increasingly the designer’s job to actually show them.” He adds, “Juries and judges are also agreeing with me.”

In addition to the extensive library of details, the book also looks at the big picture throughout, and it concludes with several key appendices that supplement the preceding chapters. These look at issues like “the perfect HVAC” and how to use curtainwall wisely.

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October 26, 2012