What You Need to Know About Continuous Insulation-Part 1

This post first appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.

Living in a very cold climate where wintertime temperatures colder than -20°F aren’t uncommon, you would think contractors and homeowners in my market would be excited to use continuous insulation (CI) on every new home under constructed along with every existing home having the exterior cladding replaced.  In reality, I rarely see either happening.  Part of the reasoning, my state and local building codes don’t require CI.  Cost is another driving factor.  As both homeowners and builders become better educated on the benefits of CI, this should start changing, I’m advocating for its inclusion on projects I’m involved in.

There are many reasons to use continuous insulation.  Reduced energy consumption is one benefit, though lowering heating and cooling costs are, in my opinion, less important and a secondary reason to add CI.  Improving comfort (thermal and sound) and expanding durability are more important.  (I’ll get into durability in detail later in this article.)  Building codes have begun to align with building science and we are seeing more areas across the country adopt continuous insulation as part of the energy code.  The scary part for most builders is the unfamiliarity of installing insulation on the exterior of a wall.  What insulation can be used?  What thickness and R-value are required?  How do I detail window and door openings?  How do I secure the insulation?  How do I attach the cladding?  Where does the house wrap go?  What about other penetrations such as exhaust vents and electrical penetrations?  What about the vapor retarder?  We will be discussing these topics and more over the next two articles.  In this post, we will be discussing the building code requirements along with the building science principles covering CI. Continue reading “What You Need to Know About Continuous Insulation-Part 1”

Five Tips on How to Successfully Install Windows

This post originally appeared on the Andersen Windows and Doors blog. ProViews | Andersen Windows

I write a lot about the four control layers every building envelope has. There is an order of importance:

  1. Water control layer
  2. Air control layer
  3. Vapor control layer
  4. Thermal control layer

A window needs to be able to perform the functions of all four control layers in order to be successful. Window manufacturers design their units to be effective at controlling the movement of water, air, vapor, and heat through good product design and manufacturing techniques, but where they lose control is in the installation of the window. Often the success or failure of a window will come down to the installation, but there are ways to limit risk from water and avoid some of the window installation failures I’ve come across.

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FORTIFIED Home-How to make your home more resilient when severe weather hits.

This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.  www.greenbuildingadvisor.com

In 2013, a thunderstorm with high winds took a large section of shingles off the roof of the home I owned at the time leaving the roof deck exposed to the heavy rainfall that followed.  For more than a half hour I stood by helplessly watching rainwater enter the home, soaking the attic insulation and dripping down through every light fixture in the affected areas.  Fortunately, the shingles and a couple pieces of siding were all that were affected by the winds, the public forest behind the home was not so lucky, thousands of trees were uprooted.  The clean-up and repair along with dealing with the insurance company took weeks, but eventually the home was made whole again.

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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 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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Rockwool-Not Your 1950’s Mineral Wool Insulation

This post first appeared on the Rockwool R-Class blog.  www.rclass.rockwool.com/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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Construction Design-Windows in Shower Enclosures

As a homeowner, would you choose a design that included a window in a shower?  As a builder, are you comfortable with warrantying a window in this location?  What changes to the shower enclosure over a normal custom shower are you requiring sub-contractors to make?  As a building science nerd and a builder who has built his fair share of custom showers, I have my thoughts.  More on those in a bit.

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Construction Design-Caulking 101

This is the intro in a series of sponsored post, I’ve partnered with Sashco, the maker of Big Stretch and Lexel sealants to talk about the basics of caulking and sealants, we are calling this Caulking 101.

You’re ready!  The tube of caulking is in the caulking gun, the tip is cut, and the inner seal has been punctured.  You’re ready to start squeezing that trigger.  But are you really ready?  Are you using the right sealant?  Have you designed a proper joint?  Has the surface been prepped?  Did you cut the tip properly?  What’s the plan for tooling?  Caulking is more than just smearing some pookie on a joint, the end product should look good, but more importantly perform and last.  Caulking and caring.

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Roofs and Water-Where Leaks Occur

I recently began writing blog posts for several manufacturers.  This specific post was written for Sashco, a sealants manufacturer (Big Stretch and Lexel are two of their product lines).  They also produce a line of log home stain and finishing systems.  I recently visited their facility near Denver, Colorado and was blown away by their values and company culture.  Learn more about Sashco at www.sashco.com.

There are four control layers to every home, water, air, vapor and thermal, but none are more important than water.  If we can’t keep water out of our building assemblies, none of the other control layers matter.  Water management starts on the roof.

Design has a lot to do with how a roof will shed water.  Simple roof designs with steeper pitches and large overhangs are much more effective at protecting the rest of the structure than minimally pitched (flat) roofs with no overhangs.  Down, out and away rules the day.  Dormers and skylights will add natural light to the home but will also add a layer of complexity to how we approach water management.  Chimneys, plumbing vents and electrical masts, exhaust fans and roof ventilation products may need some sort of hole through the roof.  All these require well thought out flashing and sealing strategies.

This log home with its steep pitch and large overhangs is good at managing the water from rain and snow events. The roof intersects, different planes, dormer and chimney all add a layer of complexity.

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Sealing Electrical Penetrations

This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor Website.  www.greenbuildingadvisor.com.

I’ve been a licensed journeyman electrician since 2000 (I haven’t worked as an electrician since 2005, but still keep my licensing requirements up to date).  Back in those days no one was asking us to seal the penetrations for electrical equipment we were making to the outside or into unconditioned spaces.  Even today, with building codes requiring all air passageways between conditioned and unconditioned spaces sealed, it’s rare that the electricians are performing those duties.  It’s usually left to the insulating contractor, a member of the carpentry crew, or in the case of holes drilled to the exterior of the building, the siding contractor.  I can speak with experience that, with a little training, the residential mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) trades are more than capable of sealing their own holes and penetrations.  I’m finding the MEP contractors I’m working with are taking pride in performing those duties.

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