Membranes…Interior Air-Control Strategies That Can Work

This article first appeared on the Green Building Advisor Website.

I’m from Minnesota, one of the few areas in the lower 48 that still regularly uses polyethylene sheeting as a vapor retarder, we’ve become very good at detailing these interior membranes for use as an air barrier.  (The practice is also very common in Canada and Alaska.)  The average blower door test I conduct for new homes in my market has now moved below 2 ACH50, most achieving these scores only using an interior air control strategy.  I don’t recommend using poly in most cases, instead I suggest moving to a class II vapor retarder, (smart, variable, and responsive vapor retarders), these products can also be used for air control.  Installing the two products is similar, so, what are the tricks to an effective interior air barrier installation?

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Wood Fiber Insulation-How It’s Made to be Fire and Rot Resistant

Recently, I was invited to a BS and Beer meeting (BS stands for Building Science) at a home under construction near Kansas City, MO.  The meeting featured an installation demonstration of TimberHP’s TimberFill wood fiber insulation.  This new loose-fill wood fiber insulation was being blown into the attic and dense packed into the walls.  Two representatives from TimberHP, Business Development Manager Dan Edelman and Field Education Specialist Matt Damon were on hand to answer any questions and teach the installing contractor the best practices for installing the TimberHP’s loose fill insulation.  Being a new product, there were many questions during the BS and Beer meeting.  The most common where:

Doesn’t wood fiber burn?

What happens if the insulation gets wet?

How do you keep bugs from destroying the product?

Lucky for Dan and Matt, all three questions are answered the same, the product uses borate.  So, what is borate?

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Cavity Only Insulation-A Correction to the 2021 IRC Energy Code

This post first appeared on the Green Building Advisor Website

I recently wrote a two-part article covering the benefits, challenges and code requirements for continuous insulation.  (You can read the articles here and here.)  In the first article, I referenced table R402.1.3 which is found in Chapter 11, Energy Efficiency.  The table shows the R-value and U-factor requirements for several building components and assemblies.  The table data was taken from the first edition printing of the 2021 IRC.  In the article, I stated, “Climate zones 1, 2, and 3 are unique in that they have the option of cavity-only insulation.  Climate zones 4 through 8 all are required to have some amount of continuous insulation.”  A reader on the Green Building Advisor Website, jimmybpsu, pointed out in the comments section of the article that he had a different version of table R402.1.3 which did allow for cavity only insulation in climate zones 4-8.  As it turned out, he was right.

My son Colter installing a R-30 Rockwool Batt.

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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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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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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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Construction Design-Caulking 101-Terminology

Before having a conversation with someone about a specific topic, you really should know the subject matter, the definitions and terminology related to the topics being discussed.  Talking about sealants and caulking is no different.  In the coming blogs, we will be chatting about many different topics with regards to sealants, this thing we are calling caulking 101.  This blog post is the prerequisite for those conversations.

Caulks, sealants, adhesives-what are the differences?

Caulk is a type of sealant that has less movement or flexibility to other sealants.  It’s often used as a cosmetic solution instead of a true “keep things out of a joint” product.  To caulk or caulking can also be used as a verb, the application of a sealant.

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Construction Materials-Air Sealing a Garage Door

This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.

According to code, a garage is considered an accessory building when detached from a dwelling, and outside the conditioned envelope when attached to the dwelling structure.  They don’t fall under the same energy code requirements as a dwelling.  That being said, it’s common in my market for both attached and detached garages to have some sort of heat source (I live in a very cold climate).  If you are going through the trouble and expense of conditioning a garage, it’s probably wise to also think about its efficiency, both insulation and air sealing.

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Window R-Values

This blog post originally appeared on the Alpen Window’s website.  I had the opportunity to tour the Alpen plant recently and was very impressed with the windows they make.  There will be more content featuring Alpen Windows in the near future.

Heat is a funny thing; it wants to move from someplace warm to someplace cold, (the opposite of being a snowbird) and it’ll continue to move until it has reached equilibrium.  In the heat of the summer or cold of winter, that means if we can’t slow the movement of heat, the temperature of the outside will be the same as the temperature of the inside.  This might be 110°F or -25°F, neither is appealing.  Of course, we heat and cool our buildings to maintain comfort, but these systems work best when we’re able to slow this constant march of heat leaving or entering the building, we do this with insulation.

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