Construction Materials-Better Alternatives to Silicone

Silicon (notice the spelling difference from “silicone”), is number 14 on the periodic table of elements and happens to be second most abundant element in the earth’s crust.  It was first isolated as an element in the 1820’s and has since been used to create products we use in everyday life.  It is used in semiconductors and photovoltaic panels.  Silicon dioxide, or silica, is used in concrete and in the production of ceramics.  Silicon is also used to create silicone, a manmade compound with many applications.  It is used in the medical community (think implants) and as a lubricant used in both industrial applications and for food preparation (non-stick cookware).  What this article will focus on though is its use in the construction industry, as a sealant.

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Energy Conservation-Shallow Energy Retrofit-Low Hanging Fruit

This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.

Through the years, I’ve taken a lot of training and attended dozens of conferences about reducing energy consumption in existing homes.  Everything from BPI’s Building Analyst certification to Huber’s Building Science Crossroads.  Many of these training courses discuss the easiest and most cost-effective areas of concentration for energy reduction, the so-called low hanging fruit.  In this shallow energy retrofit blog, we will be discussing the most common location to improve a home’s performance, the attic and/or roof.

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Construction Design-Windows-Climate Matters

This post originally appeared on the Andersen Windows website.

Where do you live?  Is it cold or hot, wet or dry, or something in between?  I live in an area that is considered cold and moist, Northern Minnesota.  My climate is much different than Tucson, Arizona or Kansas City, Missouri.  Because of the climate differences, some of my choices in building materials will be different than if I were located in one of those other areas.

Figure N1101.7 (R301.1) Climate Zones-2021 International Residential Code (IRC)

This climate zone map is published by the American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and is included in the International Residential Code, Chapter 11, Energy Efficiency.  ASHRAE’s purpose is to create standards of how an engineer or HVAC professional calculates and designs heating, cooling, and ventilations systems to match the insulation, air sealing, and moisture profile of a building.  When designing these often-complicated systems, where the structure is located becomes key, this is the reason the map was created. Continue reading “Construction Design-Windows-Climate Matters”

Construction Education-Westford Symposium on Building Science (Building Science Summer Camp)

From July 31 through August 2, 2023, I had the opportunity to attend the 25th annual Westford Symposium on Building Science, better known as Building Science Summer Camp.  490 invited building science enthusiasts from all walks of the construction industry attended the annual event.  An estimated 550 showed up to Dr Joe Lstiburek’s back yard at the end of each day (more on the end of day networking in a bit).  The three-day event included presentations from some of the best building scientists, architects, and builders in the industry.  People like Katrin Kingenberg, co-founder and executive director of Phius (Passive House Institute US) who gave a talk on the past, present, and future of passive house.  Building Science Corporation’s own Kohta Ueno discussed multifamily buildings and summer humidity.  And my personal favorite, Mark Rosenbaum’s Monitoring-Using Data to Solve Problems.  A total of 14 different courses were presented to all the attendees in one giant classroom over the three-day event.

Even though the education was great, and was the main reason I attended, this blog isn’t about what I learned.  I wanted to write about the experience, what it was like to attend my first building science summer camp. Continue reading “Construction Education-Westford Symposium on Building Science (Building Science Summer Camp)”

Construction Materials-Window Performance Labels

This post first appeared at Professional Resources for Andersen Windows & Doors| Andersen Windows.

I’ve heard it said, if we didn’t have to put windows in houses, we could build one heck of an efficient home.  But who wants to live in a house where you cannot see outside or let daylight and fresh air in.  Windows are an important part of every home.  When choosing a window, do you understand what that sticker stuck to the window glass is telling you?  You should have at least a basic understanding of the information.

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Code-Blower Door Testing a Small Home

This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.

Code compliant blower door testing of a small home can be very frustrating for both the person performing the test and the homeowner or contractor who are required to have the test.  A few months ago, I tested a 952 square foot, newly constructed home with a volume of 7616 cubic feet, one of the smallest I’ve tested.  The house had a leakage rate of 416 cfm which resulted in a 3.28 ACH50 number.  A failed blower door test (my climate requires 3 ACH50 or less).  If we take that same CFM rate but increase the ceiling height to 9 feet, which changes the volume to 8568 cubic feet, 2.91 ACH50, a passing test.  Either way, 416 CFM of air moving through the blower door isn’t much, some kitchen exhaust hoods can move more air than that.  Seems unfair to punish smaller homes when blower door testing, especially when the blower door test is testing the surface of a structure, not it’s volume.

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Energy Conservation-Shallow Energy Retrofit

This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.

Several years ago, I performed a roof replacement for a customer, the customer wanted to change their older and failing asphalt shingled roof to a steel roof.  We stripped the old shingles and existing underlayment off, installed new synthetic underlayment and new steel over the 10/12 pitched roof.  I felt confident that this new roof would last many years.

The following year, the same customer asked if we would replace several windows in the upper level of his story and a half home.  The old windows were due for replacement, the single paned wood units appeared to be from the mid-1900’s.  Woodpeckers had pecked a hole nearly completely through one of the windows.  Several others were painted shut.  Again, a straight-forward job we had done dozens of times before.

The home with the roofing and window replacement that resulted in “attic rain”.

The spring after the window replacement, I received a call from the customer saying his roof was leaking.  He had water dripping in several areas in the upper level of the home.  A visit to his house did indeed show water damage, though it was not the result of a bulk water leak from the roof, but instead, air leaks from the interior had formed frost on the attic side of the roof sheathing, the home had never had this issue before.  I surmised that replacing the five upper-level windows had changed how this home handled air and moisture just enough to cause frost to form in the attic.  My first building science lesson about the unintentional effects of a shallow energy retrofit. Continue reading “Energy Conservation-Shallow Energy Retrofit”

Construction Design-What Is and How to Achieve Acoustical Comfort

This post first appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.

How do you define comfort inside your home?  Thermal comfort is the big one, not being too hot or too cold.  Thermal comfort is one of the most important questions I ask during building investigations and energy audits.  Having the right indoor humidity is another, not too damp and not too dry, which can affect not only comfort, but also human health and the durability of the structure.  How about the visual aspect of comfort, it’s always nice to be in a room that “feels good” simply because of the way it was designed or how it is furnished.  This discussion on comfort though is going to be on sound, the noises you experience inside the home and how noise pollution can affect comfort.

My sound level meter.

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Construction Design-Caulking 101-Sealant Chemistry

Part 3 of the caulking 101 series.

You’ve done the work, installed that new bathroom vanity and countertop.  You’ve got the plumbing hooked up and tried out the faucet, yep, everything works.  All that’s left is to seal the countertop to the wall, that finishing touch that completes the installation.  Is that bead of sealant simply cosmetic or is it to prevent water from flowing behind the countertop and vanity possibly causing damage?  Do you use a cheap caulk from the hardware store?  Maybe some silicone?  Which product is right for this job?

Probably the most difficult decision for any caulking job is knowing what to use when and where.  With so many choices, walking down the caulking aisle in any hardware store can make your head spin.  With this post, we are going to talk about the chemistry of sealants, just the basics, enough information so you can make an informed decision the next time you need to choose a sealant.

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Rockwool-Not Your 1950’s Mineral Wool Insulation

This post first appeared on the Rockwool R-Class blog.

If you’ve been in the construction industry long enough, chances are you’ve had to remove an old mineral wool insulation product during a renovation.  I know I have.  It’s itchy, easily falls apart, and it often doesn’t completely fill a cavity bay.  I’ve had many conversations with other builders who will not consider using a mineral wool product because of their past experiences with the older mineral wool insulations.  I can tell you; the old stuff is nothing like modern stone wool.

Itchy, fragile, and does not fill an entire 2×4 cavity bay. This R-7 batt of mineral wool insulation from the 1950’s is much different than the modern stone wool equivalent.

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