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I spent eight hours at a building science seminar today, put on by the Canadian Consulate. They are wonderful hosts! And, they had a fantastic presenter. I learned a few new things, and freshened up on some stuff that I absorbed in the past.
Can I tell you how much time we spent talking about what to do and not to do when using wood in your building envelope? A good six hours of our day, easily. There are scads and oodles of books out there that have utilized thousands of trees to communicate such importance of attention to detail when framing with wood, advanced framing, flashing, etc. Why? You can eliminate at least half of those books by using insulating concrete forms for your exterior walls. It is just that plain and simple. In a 4′ x 8′ wall section there are some 167 pieces that need to be assembled properly in order for a conventional assembly to perform its duties. That’s a conventional one. If you are going to do a better job, just grow that number. How many things can go wrong? Let me count the ways… Nah. Let’s count a better way.
Now, a 4′ x 8′ section of an ICF wall? 9 pieces. How many less things to go wrong? Can you get an air-tight assembly, continuous insulation (a nominal value of R-22), and no cavities in any other system? And, to boot, you get a disaster resistant, permanent, reinforced concrete structure that is quieter and more comfortable than any other assembly could dream of.
To be fair, our speaker said the reason why he is so passionate about better wood construction is because 94% of new construction utilizes wood. Fair enough, we need to do wood construction better. But, he also very clearly pointed out that as codes become more and more stringent, requiring builders to reach farther and farther, and do more and more, it is going to be more difficult, and even less fool-proof to assemble effective wall systems that are dependent on wood. So, if you happen to be out there wondering how you are going to make it as a builder through these difficult times, just simply make the move to ICF. You can rest assured that so many of your and clients’ liabilities are more than covered. Permanent comfort, and peace of mind.
2011. A New Year. A new beginning. A chance to start over. Turning over a new leaf. Resolutions. A fresh start. Enough already. Do you get tired of hearing these sorts of things when you’re quite aware that we’re all the same people that we were just last week (which happens to be last year)?
Well, new years, whether you like it or not, are out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new sorts of events, or, as we get older, out-with-the-young-and-in-with-the-old! They are when we close out our tax year, and hope the next one turns out better. They usher in the year that we’re finally 16, or 21, or can’t believe we’re actually 50. Really, January 1 is just as arbitrary as any other day of the year. But, at least for me, something does shift in my mind–like, “the past really is behind me.” It does feel like a good time to resolve to change something, or to do, or stop doing, something else.
New laws often go into effect when January comes back around, and they aren’t always ones that feel so new and good. We might feel like we’re losing our autonomy, our freedom, or whatever you would like to call it. Or, like you’ve finally got the break you deserve. So here come some more cliches: We can only do what we can do; Do the best you can with what you’ve got; and maybe my favorite: If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.
Super cheesy? I don’t think so. I think that if we actually took some time to spell out what exactly it is that we can and want to do to make the world a better place, we would have the beginnings of a plan to make it happen. (Sorry, another cliche: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail). I want to argue here that what you do really does matter. I think the American Dream, in its present iteration, and the pursuit of it at any cost, needs an overhaul. Might our present economic climate indicate the same? Do we really think that everyone has a fair shot at wealth and fame? I think that we have a whole lot more substance than that.
Not to throw you off here, but I’d like to ask another question: What was (still is?) the Native American Dream? And, how does it contrast with the one we have now? I’m serious. What are good things about both that can help our country move forward in a way that is (sorry) truly sustainable, one that can withstand legitimate environmental and economic scrutiny?
I’ve mentioned in the About Us section of the Carolina X Wall website that the extent or degree to which we feel we belong (to a place, a community) is what ultimately governs the stewardship with which we build. How long have we lived in a place? Whom do we know and keep company with? How does the terrain and the landscape play in to our feeling of home? Do we have children or grandchildren? What do we want them to feel or remember about our home? Are we concerned with image or substance? I’m not going to argue the the quirkiness of some of our homes doesn’t create endearing qualities, part of our fondness of them. But, those things could hardly be argued to be intentional. We rarely set out to have things dwindle in quality or performance, except maybe in the unfortunate cases of “planned obsolescence” in the computer or electronics industry. By the looks of some rather-recently-built homes in our country, however, you’d have to question whether such planning (or lack thereof) was part of the story from the beginning. This is troubling to me, that somehow the end user gets the short end of the stick. I have nothing against building according to a schedule, but to sacrifice the longevity, performance, and comfort of the structure for the sake of speed is unacceptable.
There are lots of ways to build better than code, but come January 1, 2012 in North Carolina, it’s going to get harder. And, in such a tough economy, the same-old-same-old, good-enough mentality is simply not going to keep you in business, or in your home, depending on what side of the building equation you find yourself. To be perfectly clear, I think we need to spend time and money on existing homes so they will last longer and perform better. But, when the time comes to build, it is time to put your best foot forward for your future in ways you simply cannot with an existing home. And, despite all the options out there, I know of no single, more complete way to build than with insulating concrete forms. Yes, you can put a lot of insulation in a wall, and you can limit the number of studs to maximize your insulation coverage. You can even put exterior insulation on your framed assembly (we carry a product designed for that!), and seal it all up tight with caulk and tape. You can build with structural insulated panels. These methods or adaptations can and do increase energy efficiency, and may impact the home in some other minor ways, but when you pour concrete into a formed ICF wall, and that concrete becomes one structural entity insulated on both sides, you get a whole new level of energy efficiency. But that is just part of the story. That concrete gives you both a fortress, and a sanctuary, of peace, comfort, quiet and security that no other system can offer in such a simple, permanent package. It’s because of this that I believe in ICFs. And it is because of ICFs that I can say my clients have the very best homes or buildings that they could possibly build. So give those old cliches some substance. Make this your New Year’s Resolution: When I build, I’m building with ICFs. Simple choices can make a big difference.
The North Carolina Building Code Council met on December 14 to decide how to proceed with the proposed energy efficiency upgrades to our building code. We, as the green building industry, for the most part are pleased with a 15% increase for 2012, and another 15% by 2015 (supposedly). We’re most excited about the HERO (Higher Efficiency Residential Option) program for builders and owners who achieve the 30% better mark, which rewards them with incentives for doing so. Of course, there is much yet to negotiate concerning the final structure of the code and the HERO program, but we feel we’re headed in the right direction. Here is a Letter to the Editor I wrote that was published in the Greensboro News-Record December 14:
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If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time in your ideal world. Or, at least, wishing you were in your ideal world. Things are never as good as they could be, and there are lots of things we’ll never get to enjoy in our lifetimes. But, a more amicable perspective is, “Oh well. Not much I can do about that. So, I’ll do what I can with what I have.”
I hope, like many of you, to someday build my own house, and I have lots of ideas for how I’m going to do that. You can bet your bottom dollar (I’ve always wanted to use that line) that the first thing on the list will be insulating concrete forms. No matter what all the options are out there, there is no way any of them can quite do all that ICFs do, quite so well, for quite so long. They are the ultimate in sustainability. A new home is always on my radar screen, somewhere out there. And, believe me, we’ve been waiting to build your future with you, if now is the time for you!
For those of us who are waiting, there is another option for a smaller step for the place you now call home. If you have a house with siding that, a) leaks like a sieve, b) has no insulation in the walls, c) lets all the noise from neighbors and traffic in, d) has a basement or cellar area you’ve always wanted to finish for in expensive additional space, or e) something related to these, or f) all of the above, WE HAVE THE NEXT BEST THING TO ICFs for your existing home.
If you can’t get the valuable thermal mass of concrete in your walls, continuous exterior insulation is the next best thing. It virtually eliminates thermal bridging (materials that conduct heat all the way across the wall), and helps to better seal the envelope from air and moisture infiltration. It is often specified on projects seeking aggressive energy performance goals for green building certifications like the National Green Building Standard and LEED. And now, it comes in a fantastically simple, easy-to-use, engineered package.
Here are some quick videos introducing two panelized continuous insulation systems. We’re ready to help you choose which one is right for you!
See below photo updates on progress for two of our residential projects. You can see that Hardie and cedar siding work quite well. Since the cedar siding is a tongue and groove system, rather than a lap siding, an air space is required to allow all sides of the wood to dry, should water somehow get behind. Incidentally, the air space between the siding and the ICF will likely contribute to the performance of the wall. We’ll have to wait and see how little this geothermal system has to work to maintain the internal environment on this home! Both these homes will be certified through the National Green Building Standard.
We’ve had a tagline for some of our correspondence that says: “Do it now by choice, or later because you have to.” With recent news about energy code improvements in North Carolina, it seems we’re moving toward the latter. Starting in 2012, homes will need to perform 15% better than what they are required to do now, and commercial buildings, 30%. An ICF home here in NC, with two additional energy efficiency components of spray-in cellulose insulation in the attic, and a 16 SEER heating and cooling system, was rated 58 on the HERS scale. What that means is that it is 42% better than code. It’s what’s in your X Wall that makes a difference. X=simply, and comprehensively, meeting or exceeding the coming aggressive energy efficiency requirements.
The following is a letter that I wrote for a group of colleagues to distribute to various newspapers across North Carolina. I have received word from Greensboro News-Record that it will be published in the coming days. We’ll see! If you’re a North Carolinian, call our Governor today to let her know you support adoption of building code improvements and builder/owner incentives at the December 14th meeting of the Building Code Council.
Letter to the Editor
To say builders are stretched these days is an absurd understatement. To claim that status quo is what our struggling building industry needs is far more outrageous. It’s time to be clear about what we want a North Carolina home to be: built for safety, comfort, and efficiency, and built to last.
On December 14, our lawmakers will make a choice about standard North Carolina building. The proposed code improvements provide clear, achievable, affordable energy standards that will not only ensure better homes built to last for North Carolina’s new home owners, it will save them money. Rather than further damage the workforce, it will create more jobs. Instead of anchoring our new homes in the past, it will help build our future.
Energy-conscious builders across the state have made North Carolina a leader in the green building movement. Join them by calling our governor and representatives today to tell them adopting this improved energy code, and implementing incentives for better building, is the right thing to do for North Carolina. Tell them the time is always now for North Carolina to lead.
Bradley Yoder, Homeowner
President of Carolina X Wall, LLC
TWO PHONE SCRIPTS FOR GOVERNOR PERDUE
Call Governor Perdue: 919.733.4240)
I. Hello, this is ___________ and I’m a North Carolina homeowner here in ___________(city). I’m calling to ask Governor Perdue to:
- support the adoption of the proposed Building Code energy improvements,
- support incentives for owners and builders to go the extra mile for energy efficiency and green features,
- support appraiser and lender competency regarding energy efficiency and green building features, and
-support the addition of green certification data fields to NC MLSs, and adding HERS scores to property tax records.
The suggested actions to advance efficient home building in NC are strong, smart and a great investment. I want Governor Perdue to help NC be on the cutting edge of the Green Economy and this is a great way to do it.
II. Hi, my name is____________________, and I’m calling the Governor to urge her to redouble her efforts to convince the 17 members of the NC Building Code Council to adopt the 2012 Energy Conservation Code.
The new energy code will result in a 30% improvement in commercial construction as of 2012.
With regard to residential construction, I understand that the compromise which has been worked out is to initiate a 15% efficiency improvement in 2012 and an additional 15% efficiency in 2015. In addition, a HERO (High Efficiency Residential Option) program will reward builders who build to meet the full 30% improvement standard in 2012-2015.
Please convey my thanks to the Governor for her leadership in the area of energy efficiency and in the adoption of the 2012 Energy Conservation Code.