A Tough Energy Code Is the Worker’s Friend
Massachusetts towns that adopt the stretch code are helping to lower the cost of operating a home, thereby helping working-class families
The Town of West Tisbury passed the Stretch Code at Town Meeting this year. It's a more stringent building code and in essence it speeds up the adoption of the next iteration of the International Energy Code.
Debate was spirited. “Aginners” (as in, “I'm agin’ it”) made impassioned pleas about how it was just another gubmint-imposed tax on those that could least afford it, the working folks. My opinion is exactly the opposite: Martha's Vineyard's tax on the working people is $4+ per gallon oil and propane, and almost $0.20/kWh electricity. A tougher energy code is the worker's friend in the long run.
These days, Habitat for Humanity is an efficiency pioneer
Next to those designed and built by South Mountain Company, the most energy-efficient houses on Martha's Vineyard are being built by Habitat for Humanity. They are dedicated to permanent affordability for their owners.
BLOGS BY MARC ROSENBAUM
In the past, Habitat for Humanity often was the recipient of donated products that were sometimes on the low end of energy efficiency, such as inexpensive windows and low efficiency heating and hot water equipment. On Martha's Vineyard, the forward-thinking folks who operate Habitat for Humanity are, with some detailing help from South Mountain Company, building superinsulated homes that are very airtight. I help with quality assurance (QA), testing the houses with a blower door and a fogTo fog a room or building is to use a fog machine during a blower door test, revealing locations of air leaks where the fog escapes. The fogging material is usually a glycol-based solution, completely non-toxic. machine or IR cameraA camera that provides an image showing radiation in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Since the amount of infrared radiation emitted from a surface varies with temperature, a thermal imaging camera is a useful tool for detecting hot or cold areas on walls, ceilings, roofs, and duct systems. When used to scan a building envelope, a thermal imaging camera can detect missing insulation or locations with high levels of infiltration. Thermal imaging cameras can provide useful information when the difference in temperature (delta T) between the indoors and the outdoors is as low as 18F°; however, the higher the delta T, the easier it is to see building defects..
Exterior polyiso foam and ductless minisplits
The first house at Bailey Park Road had a tested air leakage rate of 175 cfm50 at the stage of windows and doors installed and most of the rough-in done, but no drywall. In the next month they'll be ready for a final test.
Recently we tested the shell at the second house they are building there, with window and door openings poly'd off. It was just about 300 cfm50 with the air barrierBuilding assembly components that work as a system to restrict air flow through the building envelope. Air barriers may or may not act as a vapor barrier. The air barrier can be on the exterior, the interior of the assembly, or both. being one layer of taped polyiso foam on the walls and roofs. The house is a kit, which is all tongue-and-groove pine inside — a potentially very leaky strategy.
With volunteer workers, they're building a house tighter than almost all the pros do here. The beneficiaries will be the owners. The mechanical system is minisplit heat pumps, far less costly to operate than fossil fuel equipment. Thanks, Habitat, for leading the way to permanently affordable housing.
Marc Rosenbaum is director of engineering at South Mountain Company on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. He writes a blog called Thriving on Low Carbon.
- Marc Rosenbaum
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