The skinny on "organic" spray foam insulation

This morning I had just enough quiet time as my young daughters ate breakfast to catch "Living With Ed", a really great and entertaining show on the Planet Green network.  I'll save you the entire recap but Ed (Ed Begley Jr., the movie star and avid green technologist) had visited some friends in their mountain cabin and the couple were having some energy efficient upgrades done to their home, including having some (apparently) open cell spray foam applied to the underside of the roof deck in the attic.  Ed got excited about the product and went to speak with the installers who noted that the foam they were applying was "...a soybean based polyurethane foam as opposed to a petroleum based product."  Naturally this impressed Ed - I mean, gosh, all organic insulating foam - how good is that?  Here's the thing - either this installer was egregiously misinformed or he was being deliberately misleading on national TV.

Common household products can affect indoor air quality (IAQ)

We can try very hard to help you build a home or commercial building that provides a strong, safe, healthy and highly energy efficient building envelope.  And a very large part of the safe and healthy aspect of an Eco-Panels home comes from proper ventilation to regulate indoor air quality.  That's all fine and dandy, but what happens after you move in and start to collect common household products?

Anne Steinemann of the University of Washington wondered the exact same thing.  Taking common products ranging from plug-in air fresheners to laundry detergents to an independent testing facility, Dr. Steinemann found that some some of these products that most of us have in our homes contain hazardous and carcenogenic chemicals and that through various regulatory loopholes the manufacturers are not required to identify their presence. 

What the honey bee can teach us about building envelopes

I attended an excellent presentation yesterday by nationally recognized building scientist, Chris Mathis, a contributing code writing member of the ICC, ASHRAE, NAHB and founder/co-founder of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). As a hobby Chris is also a bee keeper and very early in the presentation he states that bees can control the temperature of their hive at 92 degrees plus or minus two degrees year round - and this in a local environment where the outside temperature can easly swing 90 or more degrees in the course of a year. Given that a bee hive consists of little more than a wooden shell, honeycomb, wax and the bees themselves I think that's an incredible achievement and I can understand why Chris believes we've got a lot to learn from the 70 million years of experience of the honey bee.

Air-Sealing is key

Our panels will provide you with the best thermal and air-sealed structural boundary on the market today, but it's all for naught if you have poorly installed windows and doors.  Structures built with our panels have consistently scored significantly better than even traditional stick-built structures with sprayed foam insulation as rated with a blower door test (tests for the "leakiness" of a house, a huge factor in energy efficiency).  But regardless of the method of construction one of the greatest opportunities for gaps in a home's construction is with windows and doors.  DON'T TAKE THIS LIGHTLY.  It can be easy for a builder to slap in a window or door, run a bead of caulk or foam around it and trim it in rather quickly - never to be seen or examined again.  In the meantime the bead of caulk or foam was not effective in sealing the structure and siginificant energy leakage can occur around this window or door for the life of the structure - even growing worse as time elapses.

Odd dimensions are not "green" and are money down the drain

This is a quick rant. So many times we see dimensions on a house plan that read a wall height of something like 9'3.5" or 12'4", etc. I think this represents one of the largest disconnects between home designers (architects included) and the "real" world. The "real" world deals with manufactured dimensions - a stud length of 104 5/8" or a sheet of OSB 48"x108", etc. When a home designer or architect designs a structure and does not take into consideration the dimensions of standard available product - guess what - your going to buy something that will almost certainly be thrown into the dump - the "throwing money away" part. And waste on the jobsite, by just about any definition, is not "green".

Encourage your home designer or architect to familiarize themselves with the standard dimension of manufactured products. Cutting materials on the jobsite (or in our factory) wastes both time and money - money that you will pay and receive no benefit for. Is a 9ft clear height ceiling THAT important? Really? Because you've got to build a wall higher than 9ft (and therefore cut 10ft or longer sheet materials) to allow for the hanging of floor systems, or sheet rock, etc. And I can almost guarantee you it could add thousands of dollars to the cost of your home (total cost of materials tossed away plus the labor to cut it to size and take the scrap to the dump - or figure out how to use the scrap on-site).

Hey, Keep It Simple. Please.

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