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A View from Inside the Climate March

Posted September 22, 2014 12:31 PM by Nadav Malin
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

Maybe, if enough of us March, and plan, and make smart choices, we’ll have a chance at beating this thing. 

Photo: Nadav MalinI’m not a frequent social activist. In fact, I haven’t been to a major rally since my college days. But when my teenage daughter gets excited about something I care about, I'm all in! And she was getting excited by the social media buzz about the People's Climate March. So, with some last minute scrambling, I headed down to NYC with family and friends to the big March.

By the time we succumbed to the FOMO (fear of missing out) and started making plans, the buses from our region were sold out, so we drove from Brattleboro to Manhattan. Driving to a climate march?? At least we had a full car (5 people), getting 40 mpg—so our 200 passenger-miles-per-gallon wasn’t that much worse than a full coach bus, at about 275 passenger-mpg.

Photo: Nadav Malin

Foam-In-Place Insulation: 7 Tips for Getting Injection and Spray Foam Right

Posted August 18, 2014 12:16 PM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

Quality installation of the two types of site-manufactured foam insulation is no easier than fiberglass batt and no less important. Here is how to avoid the most common problems.

By Peter Yost

There are two ways to site-install foam insulation: injection and spray. Injecting foam is most often done in closed cavities in retrofit applications; spray foam is most often done in open cavities and in new construction. The formulations and methods of installation are different for closed-cavity and open-cavity foam installations. Photos: Henri Fennel (L); Peter Yost (R)There are two ways to site-install foam insulation: injection and spray. Injecting foam is most often done in closed cavities in retrofit applications; spray foam is most often done in open cavities and in new construction. The formulations and methods of installation are different for closed-cavity and open-cavity foam installations. Photos: Henri Fennel (L); Peter Yost (R)One of my first research projects when I started at the NAHB Research Center in 1993 was looking into a new insulation: Icynene. We were evaluating its performance as a spray-applied, open-cavity insulation as well as an injection foam in closed cavities. I was enamored: this seemed to be a miracle insulation that installed itself, sealing up tight even in the toughest and most complicated building cavities.

At about the same time, the NAHB Research Center was developing an installation quality program for fiberglass batt insulation, notoriously difficult to get installed right. I scoffed; we would never need that for these foam-in-place systems!

Twenty-plus years later, it’s clear how wrong I was. What looked as easy as point-and-shoot with the foam gun has a lot of complexity. As insulation consultant Henri Fennell recently said to me, “Properly installing site foam insulation is way more challenging than fiberglass batts. It’s partly because performance expectations are high and partly because you are actually manufacturing onsite.”

Fennell has been injecting and spraying polyurethane foam insulation for more than 40 years. I recently got the chance to spend quite a bit of time with him at the Energy Center of Wisconsin’s Better Buildings, Better Business conference. Here are Fennell’s seven top tips for ensuring that manufactured foam insulation jobs—both injection and spray—get done right.

Our Energy Solutions Have All Been Found

Posted June 11, 2014 4:16 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Not really, of course. But after five-plus years I’m ending my weekly Energy Solutions blog to focus more on the Resilient Design Institute and re-making Leonard Farm back into a farm.

Our completed house and barn in the early morning light a few months ago.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Transitions.

Back in June, 2008 I started writing a weekly column on energy for the Brattleboro Reformer, our local newspaper. I thought it would be fun to write a regular column on a topic that I’ve focused so much time on over the past 35-plus years. I was pretty confident that I could come up with enough topics to write a year’s worth of columns, and I thought some of the Reformer’s readers would appreciate such a column—geeky as it might be.

The Cover Image That Set Off a Firestorm

Posted June 9, 2014 4:32 PM by Nadav Malin
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories, Living Future

The divide between the worlds of design and sustainability is persistent, but returning to core values can bridge it.

By Nadav Malin

For me, the creative tension between beauty and green performance came to a head in 2006, when I began working with the staff of Architectural Record on their new magazine: GreenSource. (GreenSource is no longer a separate magazine; it’s now an insert in the products magazine SNAP. And I’m no longer involved with it.)

Pictures first

As GreenSource’s executive editor, I was the “technical guy” who could help make sure that we’re talking about sustainability topics in a meaningful and defensible way. I learned a tremendous amount from that team, beginning with the power of using images to tell a story. I had always been a words-and-data kind of guy, so when I saw how they developed a story by leading with the visuals, it really blew my mind. That was quite a shift from the early years of Environmental Building News, when we tended to write an article first, and illustrating it was sometimes just an afterthought.

At GreenSource it went more like this: Here’s the topic, here are the images, here’s how they’ll flow, and, oh, ok, looks like we can fit in about 800 words of copy, so that’s what you get to write.

State-of-the-art testing chambers show that liquid-applied barriers outperform more typical weather barriers comprised of flashing, tape, and membranes.

BEA's building assembly test chamber in Clackamas, Oregon.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

When I was in Portland, Oregon for the 2014 Living Future Conference I had an opportunity to visit a facility in nearby Clackamas where building assemblies and components can be tested for water intrusion and water vapor penetration.

Prosoco, a leading manufacturer of liquid-applied membranes developed the Clackamas test facility with partner company Building Envelope Innovations (BEI).

A Cat 5 hurricane in a closed chamber

Switching to a Plug-In Hybrid—With Our Own Solar Power

Posted May 21, 2014 10:34 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

We oversized our PV system so that we will be able to use solar energy to power around-town driving with a plug-in hybrid

Our 12 kW PV system going in on the roof of our restored 1812 barn.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Among the energy-related features of our new house in Dummerston, Vermont, is one parked in the garage.

We are hoping to power a plug-in hybrid car using the electricity generated on our barn. We have 12 kilowatts (kW) of photovoltaic (PV) modules installed on the barn (there is another 6 kW in the group-net-metered system that belongs to a neighbor), and we’re hoping that the 12 kW will be enough to not only power our all-electric house on a net-zero-energy basis, but also power our car for around-town use.

Low-Tech Cooling with This High-Tech Fan

Posted May 14, 2014 2:42 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

The sleek, energy-efficient Haiku fan from Big Ass Fans will help keep us comfortable in our new house this summer

The Haiku fan in our upstairs guest room.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

As summer heats up here, I’m looking forward to trying out the high-tech ceiling fans we installed in our two upstairs bedrooms. First, let me explain why I like ceiling fans so much.

By moving air, moisture is evaporated from our skin, cooling us through evaporative cooling. With modest air movement in a room, most people will be comfortable at an air temperature at least five or six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than would otherwise be the case.

Making Your Family Safer Through Resilience Strategies

Posted May 7, 2014 9:23 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Whether or not you believe that climate change is happening, implementing resilient design strategies will make you and your family safer—and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Our completed house and restored barn — which provides a model of resilience.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

 

Using cynical tactics described in the 2008 book Doubt is Their Product, climate change deniers have convinced a large percentage of the public and the majority of legislators from a certain political party believe that the jury is still out on global climate change.

Taking Action on Climate Change: What Will It Take?

Posted April 30, 2014 11:27 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

What will it take for policy makers and the public finally get on board with the need to do something about climate change?

The United Nations’ IPCC is leading an international effort to understand climate change, and efforts like the Kyoto Protocol have grown out of that background work. But are we getting closer to solving the problem?

The vast majority of climate scientists are telling us that we’re careening headlong into the unknown world of a rapidly warming climate, and they offer policy recommendations for addressing that. Except for a few progressive countries that have taken to heart the need to slow carbon emissions—countries like Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Sweden—there is little sign that the rest of the world is even paying attention, let alone embarking on a path that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What will it take for the rest of the world to get on board?

When Drying Out Buildings, Do You Worry About Mold or Trolls?

Posted April 21, 2014 3:38 PM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

A recently approved U.S. patent for drying out building spaces defies common sense and could squeeze builders whose only “sin” is dehumidification.

Photo: Gil mnogueira. License: CC BY 2.0.I love reading Lew Harriman’s stuff; he is a good writer and building scientist. Take, for example, Preventing Mold by Keeping New Construction Dry. It’s a straightforward yet compelling presentation of biology and building science, mold and building materials, and how to dry out new buildings.

The process won’t surprise you: isolate the space to be dried; take moisture readings throughout the drying process; and use mechanical equipment such as dehumidifiers and air movers to accomplish the drying.

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