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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.

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.

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.

GreenSpec Introduces Faster, Deeper Search

Posted April 18, 2014 1:55 PM by Tristan Roberts
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories, GreenSpec Insights, Op-Ed

BuildingGreen is bringing its members changes to the industry-leading GreenSpec tool, making it easier on the eyes and faster to find products.

On April 19, BuildingGreen, Inc. rolled out a new GreenSpec tool to its members that has a new design and makes it easier and faster to quickly find greenest-of-the-green products for your project.

GreenSpec's product searches are easier to drill down into.Things you love that we didn’t change

GreenSpec will continue to be offered to BuildingGreen members as an integral part of our website. Here are some other things about it that aren’t changing:

  • More than 2,600 product listings (with more added every day, and outdated or sub-par products weeded out) from more than 1,900 manufacturers.
  • Listings screened to the highest achievable benchmark in every key building product category—from windows to insulation, from paints to toilets, from flooring to ICFs.
  • We tell you why a product is green with our Green Attributes and measurable criteria.

What’s new and improved

Now for what we’ve improved on.

Testing Pressure-Sensitive Tapes: Rounds Two and Three

Posted April 2, 2014 3:20 PM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories, Sticky Business

Tension and pressure, tears and creeps. The Wingnut Test Facility (WTF) gets dope-slapped in our latest round of experiments.

Peter and Dave put tapes to the test at Building Energy 2014.
Photo Credit: Walter Pearce

NOTE: Want to get into more sticky business like this? Read the whole blog series!

The Wingnut Test Facility, or WTF, conducting new PSA tape testing in preparation for the NESEA BE14 Demonstration Stages, learned how half a dozen or so tapes are performing on half a dozen different substrates. We also learned, to our surprise, that pressure, or “bellowing,” may not be as important a factor as the wing nuts first thought. (For background on WTF and its prior tape tests, see “Shocking Truth About Tapes Emerges from Wingnut Test Facility!”, and to find GreenSpec listed tapes, see Flexible Flashing.)

Dave Gauthier and I decided two things at the end of our last round of testing:

  • We needed a more-realistic, longer-term, “straight-pull” tension test.
  • We needed a test that reflected the “bellowing” pressures that tapes see in real installations, driven by wind events.

When Weatherizing Increases Radon

Posted February 24, 2014 10:50 AM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

Air sealing and other energy retrofits in our homes can raise or lower radon levels. The only way to know is to test.

This blog post first appeared on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.

Will this be on the test? With radon, the correct answer is always Yes. Photo: National Institutes of Health. Image is in the public domain.We are always trying to avoid unintended consequences of our best efforts to improve home performance. A good example of this is radon gas and air tightness levels in homes during energy retrofits. How are the two levels related, and what can we do about it?

Airtightness and radon levels

There are five main factors that drive radon levels in homes:

Insulated Vinyl Siding: Worth the Extra Cost?

Posted February 20, 2014 1:50 PM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories, GreenSpec Insights

Two studies indicate some benefits to using insulated vinyl siding, but more data is needed to win over this skeptic.

A weather-resistive barrier combined with insulated vinyl siding had some visible, qualititative results on thermal performance in a new industry study. Image: Vinyl Siding Institute.Setting aside the overall environmental profile of the oft-demonized PVC (check our coverage in this month’s EBN feature “The PVC Debate: A Fresh Look”), I’ve been getting a lot of questions about insulated vinyl siding—the vinyl siding with form-fitted expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation permanently built into the back side of the double-four courses of vinyl siding.

Thanks to claims being made by the Vinyl Siding Institute and specific manufacturers, I’ve been hearing questions like these:

4 Resources Help Draw the Shades on Poor Window Performance

Posted February 15, 2014 1:53 PM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories, GreenSpec Insights

Predicting performance and rationally selecting window coverings—from awnings to films to cellular shades—is incredibly challenging, but real help is on the way.

Photo: Paul Sable. License: CC BY 2.0.Photo: Paul Sable. License: CC BY 2.0.There is a lot of interest in just how much (and at how low a price point) window coverings can improve building thermal performance.

Both the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been working on this issue; electric utilities would like to know how window coverings can fit into their efficiency programs; and both building professionals and consumers need objective guidance on how to compare window coverings—to each other and to window replacement.

Where does our industry stand on assessing thermal performance of window attachments, or coverings? There are four new or emerging resources that paint a more complete picture.

Your Picks: 10 Hottest Green Building Topics of 2013

Posted December 19, 2013 3:22 PM by Paula Melton
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

Boora Architects is designing a 22,000 ft2 early childhood center addition for the Earl Boyles School in Portland, Oregon. Boora has switched to mineral wool as its standard insulation material for rainscreen walls like this one, in part because of toxicity concerns with foam insulation materials. Image: Boora ArchitectsBoora Architects is designing a 22,000 ft2 early childhood center addition for the Earl Boyles School in Portland, Oregon. Boora has switched to mineral wool as its standard insulation material for rainscreen walls like this one, in part because of toxicity concerns with foam insulation materials. Image: Boora ArchitectsCan we replace foam insulation? What does energy modeling really tell us? Find out what you, our readers, have picked as this year’s top 10 stories!

Our resident number-crunchers have spent hours slaving over metrics to bring you … your own most-read BuildingGreen stories of the year. Ta-da!

We just have to say, you guys have great taste. If you don’t see your favorite article listed here, though, tell us what it is—and why—in the comments.

And don’t forget that BuildingGreen members can collect CEUs—for LEED, AIA, and ILFI—for many of these popular articles. Just read the story, take the quiz, and we do the reporting for you.

10. On the grid, off the grid

Islandable Solar: PV for Power Outages” reveals a conundrum of grid-connected PV: it can’t be used during a power outage! Click through to learn about your three options for greater resilience (and check out #8 too).

9. Say it after me: AH-ge-pahn

Yeah, it’s spelled like “age pan,” but we swear it’s got a lot going for it, starting with German engineering (and pronunciation). Learn more about “Agepan: A Vapor-Permeable, Wood-Based Insulation Board” in our product review.

8. Awesome products!

Last month, we selected our favorite forward-looking products for 2014, and you selected our story as one of the most popular articles of the year. Our choices solve key design and environmental problems, but more importantly, Lloyd Alter called them “sexy”!

7. Taking charge of our own pee and poop

Battles Over LEED in the Military Are Still a Distraction

Posted December 11, 2013 5:21 PM by Paula Melton
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

A recent memo hints that the Department of Defense will accept Green Globes certification for buildings—but that was already the case.

Nine out of ten news whisperers agree: this is a dog-bites-man story, not the other way around. Photo: Iamliam. License: CC BY 2.0Nine out of ten news whisperers agree: this is a dog-bites-man story, not the other way around. Photo: Iamliam. License: CC BY 2.0It started with a press release from the Green Building Initiative, developer of the online Green Globes tool—“Department of Defense Recognizes Green Globes for Assessing Building Sustainability”—and it spread from there to many of our favorite blogs and green building news sites.

The press release claims, “Following the lead of the General Services Administration (GSA), the DoD recently recognized Green Globes as an approved program for DoD facilities.”

Dog bites man

There are two things wrong with this.

First of all, it isn’t news. As we reported in “4 Reasons the Battles Over LEED in the Military Are a Distraction,” DoD has always kept a loose rein on building certification systems. The Army and Navy have pursued LEED aggressively, whereas the Veterans Administration tends to prefer Green Globes. “We didn’t want to lock ourselves into one particular green rating system,” Lt. Col. Keith Welch told us back in March. The United Facilities Criteria (UFC), which is effectively the military’s own building code and was updated last spring, requires LEED Silver or equivalent. “Equivalent,” in practice, has always included Green Globes.

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