Musings of an Energy Nerd

The History of Superinsulated Houses in North America

Posted on October 10, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Several GBA readers have requested a copy of a presentation on “The History of Superinsulated Houses in North America” that I gave at the 14th Annual Westford Symposium on Building Science (August 3, 2010). I also gave the presentation at the annual meeting of the British Columbia Building Envelope Council in Vancouver (September 22, 2010).

Here it is:
The History of Superinsulated Houses in North America

For more on the topic, check out two blogs with overlapping content:

Solar Versus Superinsulation: A 30-Year-Old Debate

Posted on October 8, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

The oil price shock of 1973 sparked a burst of interest in “solar houses.” During the 1970s, owner-builders all over the U.S. erected homes with extensive south-facing glazingWhen referring to windows or doors, the transparent or translucent layer that transmits light. High-performance glazing may include multiple layers of glass or plastic, low-e coatings, and low-conductivity gas fill. — sometimes sloped, sometimes vertical. Many of these houses included added thermal massHeavy, high-heat-capacity material that can absorb and store a significant amount of heat; used in passive solar heating to keep the house warm at night. — concrete floors, concrete-block walls, or 55-gallon drums filled with water.

Prevent Ice Dams With Air Sealing and Insulation

Posted on October 1, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

During snowy winters, many northern homes are plagued by ice dams. If your house suffers from wet ceilings during the winter, you may be ready to call up a contractor. Be careful, though: since most contractors don’t understand the causes of ice dams, they often suggest the wrong solution.

Radiant Barriers: A Solution in Search of a Problem

Posted on September 24, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

A radiant barrier is a shiny panel or flexible membrane used in construction. Although radiant barriers have no R-valueMeasure of resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the lower the heat loss. The inverse of U-factor. , they can be used as part of a building assembly — for example, an assembly made up of a radiant barrier and an air space — to slow heat transfer.

Are Dew-Point Calculations Really Necessary?

Posted on September 17, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Most builders understand that condensation can form when warm, moist air encounters a cold surface. Condensation is bad, and builders want to avoid it. There’s a solution, though: According to building scientists, we can prevent condensation problems in walls by determining a wall’s temperature profile and performing a dew-point calculation. This calculation may require the use of a psychrometric chart.

New Green Building Products — September 2010

Posted on September 10, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

In this new-product roundup, I'll look at a cover for recessed can lights, a new caulk for polyethylene, and several new water-resistive barriers (WRBs) that promise better performance than Tyvek or Typar.

A fire-resistant hat for recessed can lights
A Delaware manufacturer named Tenmat is selling an airtight hat for recessed can lights. Tenmat light covers are made from mineral wool; according to the manufacturer, they are fire-resistant.

Using Rigid Foam As a Water-Resistive Barrier

Posted on September 3, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Do foam-sheathed walls also need housewrap? There’s no simple answer to the question.

It is possible to use foam sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. as a water-resistive barrierSometimes also called the weather-resistive barrier, this layer of any wall assembly is the material interior to the wall cladding that forms a secondary drainage plane for liquid water that makes it past the cladding. This layer can be building paper, housewrap, or even a fluid-applied material. (WRB). However, those who choose this route should know:

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  • Some brands of foam have been approved for use as a WRB, while others have not.
  • Even if you choose a code-approved foam, you can run afoul of your local building inspector if you don't follow strict fastening and seam-sealing details.
  • Window Reflections Can Melt Vinyl Siding

    Posted on August 27, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

    UPDATED September 3, 2013

    In almost every corner of the U.S., reports are increasing of vinylCommon term for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In chemistry, vinyl refers to a carbon-and-hydrogen group (H2C=CH–) that attaches to another functional group, such as chlorine (vinyl chloride) or acetate (vinyl acetate). siding that has been melted by sunlight bouncing off nearby windows. This melted-siding pandemic makes vinyl manufacturers very nervous — so nervous that the topic is rarely discussed.

    ‘Walls Need to Breathe’ and 9 Other Green Building Myths

    Posted on August 20, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

    Just for fun, I’ve rounded up ten oft-repeated statements that are either half-truths or outright falsehoods. I’m sure some readers will disagree with my conclusions; if you’re one of them, don’t hesitate to post a comment.

    Saving Energy With Manual J and Manual D

    Posted on August 13, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

    If you’ve been paying attention to energy-efficiency experts and green-building Web sites, you probably know that it’s important to properly size your HVAC(Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Collectively, the mechanical systems that heat, ventilate, and cool a building. equipment. Most sources repeat the same advice: oversized furnaces and air conditioners cost too much, waste energy, and sometimes provide lower levels of comfort.

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