Getting Enclosures Right in Zero Energy Ready Homes

One of our building science heroes, Dr. Joe Lstiburek, Principle of the Building Science Corporation just held a webinar on best practices for high-R assemblies including specific recommendations for ensuring the four critical building science control layers that minimize risk of moisture problems and maximize performance.  Please click on the link below to go to the DOE’s site for the presentation.

Getting Enclosures Right


WERS Rater Training Begins

Stephen Onstad and I just attended the first training session at SFCC on the Water Efficiency Rating Score program that will go soon into effect as part of the City of Santa Fe’s new conservation efforts.  You know that phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know?”  Boy, do I have a lot to learn about outdoor irrigation!  I see more training in my future ….  Please contact us if you have questions about the new WERS requirements.

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Free Access to On-Line Fire Codes

As residential envelopes become tighter, pressure in homes can go negative and create issues with fireplace operation (and other heating equipment).  At minimum, homeowners can experience undesired changes in air quality – in major cases, negative pressure can create severe back-drafting and/or deadly carbon monoxide problems.  Things can become even more complicated if a home includes a high CFM kitchen vent hood – picture burning ash flying out of the fireplace into the living room!  The National Fire Protection Association is making codes available on-line to everyone for free in read-only format (copies can be purchased) on their website (see NFPA 211):

Link to NFPA site for free code access

Recently, we were asked to review a design concept on a remodeling project that included an open hearth fireplace.  New Mexico loves its Kiva-style fireplaces and in an older “leakier” home, these may not pose a significant health risk for most homeowners.  (Anyone who’s lungs are compromised or who has allergies or other breathing issues shouldn’t even consider being near one!)  However, newer local building codes are requiring sealing and insulation upgrades on many remodeling projects.  The safest, most energy efficient fireplace (wood or gas) that avoids pressure and health issues is designed with sealed glass doors and combustion air – which is why we advise our customers to use them.  In the event that a homeowner cannot be convinced to abandon the romance of an open fire in the middle of their otherwise energy efficient home – go to Plan B – make them install a high quality (in the $200-250 range) carbon monoxide detector at floor level outside each bedroom (or in the hallway for multiple rooms).

You can go to our Help! with Codes page for more info – scroll to the bottom of the page.

Energy Guide Labels – How to Read Them

Ever wonder what all those numbers on an Energy Guide label mean?  Us too!  To make things even more confusing, different appliances and equipment have different information on them – and some are Energy Star, while others are not.  The colors they use also mean different things, e.g., black letters on a yellow background vs. yellow letters on a black background.

Click on the link below to de-mystify these often overlooked pieces of paper that can have a big effect on energy efficiency and utility bills:

Link to Energy Guide Labels

40 Years of Air Barriers

What’s the difference between an air barrier and a vapor barrierWhere does an barrier belong in a wall assembly?  What kind of material is most effective in which applications?  How much effort and cost is required to control air movement and moisture.  Think you know the answers?  According to Canadian Building Scientist Joe Lstiburek, we have plenty of data now – and new products – that show some of our “old” ideas were wrong.  Read on …

40 Years of Air Barriers

Passive Homes in New York

Europe is still ahead of the U.S. in the “Passive House” arena, but New York is catching up thanks to Mayor de Blasio’s 111-page green buildings initiative.  The debate goes on as to whether smaller mechanical systems offset the up-front costs of triple pane windows, and which mechanical ventilation systems provide the best “bang for the buck” when it comes to performance vs. cost.  New York City Officials will be watching results closely as more multi-family units are constructed:

The Passive House in New York

Polyethylene and/or Sand Under Concrete Slabs – Yes or No?

This question comes up a lot in building science.  Before polyethylene was invented, it was common practice to use a substrate of crushed stone or sand under concrete as a capillary break.  Today’s slabs on grade are a sandwich of layers that need to be done in the correct order or builders risk failures of floors and flooring materials.  High water/cement ratios, moisture content in other materials, and rigid foam have complicated the issue.  These articles by Martin Holladay and Joe Lstiburek provide answers and diagrams that may surprise you.  Toward the end of the first article, Lstiburek dismisses concerns regarding holes in polyethylene sheeting, despite current codes that advise a minimum overlap of 12 inches at seams and sealing of all holes – another fine example of practical experience vs. code requirements.  Read on . . .

Polyethylene Under Concrete Slabs

Concrete Floor Problems

ASTM Calcium Chloride Test Standard

Lumber Liquidators Linked to Formaldehyde in Wood Flooring Products

Anyone seeking a green building certification like LEED or BGNM, probably knows that points can be obtained by using materials that promote good indoor air quality.   This includes wood products, counter tops, carpeting, paints, adhesives and other materials that “gas off” into the environment.  There are several organizations that set standards and provide labeling for manufacturers, so consumers know that a product meets the labeling criteria.  One of these is the Air Resource Board (formerly the California ARB or CARB).  Products certified by the board are allowed to carry the “CARB” label.  On 1.March.2015, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a program about Lumber Liquidators selling sub-standard flooring products to the public that were labeled “CARB” by Chinese manufacturers:

Link to 60 Minutes Episode

Disclaimer: The above link is provided for informational purposes only – use at your own discretion with appropriate fact checking.