More from Martin Holladay

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Smelly Fiberglass Batts

The glue used in Owens Corning EcoTouch batts has generated a few odor complaints

Posted on Feb 15 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

I first heard about the problem of smelly fiberglass batts from Michael Maines, a builder and blogger who lives in Portland, Maine. Maines sent me an e-mail saying, “The latest problem with fiberglass insulation is that it smells like burnt brownies!”

I’ve collected a half dozen reports of this problem, all centering on EcoTouch brand fiberglass batts manufactured by Owens Corning. Two years ago, the company switched from a formaldehydeChemical found in many building products; most binders used for manufactured wood products are formaldehyde compounds. Reclassified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen."-based glue (or binderGlue used in manufactured wood products, such as medium-density fiberboard (MDF), particleboard, and engineered lumber. Some binders are made with formaldehyde. See urea-formaldehyde binder and methyl diisocyanate (MDI) binder. ) to a new glue described as a “bio-based” binder.

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Image Credits:

  1. Owens Corning
  2. Martin Holladay
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A Chat With Henry Gifford

New York City’s premier designer of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems talks about ERVs, thermostats, and LEED certification

Posted on Feb 1 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Most builders and designers involved with green building have heard of Henry Gifford. Energy efficiency experts admire his deep knowledge of heating systems and his straight talk about the unacceptably high number of HVAC(Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Collectively, the mechanical systems that heat, ventilate, and cool a building. problems in run-of-the-mill new buildings in the U.S. At the headquarters of the United States Green Building Council (USGBCUnited States Green Building Council (USGBC). Organization devoted to promoting and certifying green buildings. USGBC created the LEED rating systems.), on the other hand, he is something of a pariah — due in part to his 2010 lawsuit that accused the USGBC of making “deceptive marketing claims.”

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Image Credits:

  1. Charles Hoxie
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Do I Need a Vapor Retarder?

Someday, builders will stop asking this recurring question — but unfortunately, that day has not yet come

Posted on Jan 18 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Every couple of weeks, someone sends me an e-mail with a description of a proposed wall assembly and an urgent question: “Do I need a vapor retarder?” Energy experts have been answering the same question, repeatedly, for at least thirty years. Of course, even though I sometimes sigh when I read this recurring question, it’s still a perfectly good question.

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Image Credits:

  1. Matthew H

Energy Tax Credits and the Fiscal Cliff

Developers of utility-scale wind projects breathe a sigh of relief — as do manufacturers of water heaters, furnaces, and air conditioners

Posted on Jan 7 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

As the fiscal cliff loomed last month, Washington lobbyists fretted over the future of three energy tax credit programs: the renewable energy production tax credit, the energy-efficiency tax credit for homeowners, and the tax credit for builders of new energy-efficient homes.

The renewable energy production tax credit — the program that makes the development of utility-scale wind projects profitable — was set to expire at the end of 2012.

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Image Credits:

  1. Martin Holladay
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Nostalgia for the Hippie Building Heyday

Today’s green building movement traces back its roots (in part) to the improvised shelters built by back-to-the-land hippies in the 1970s

Posted on Jan 4 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

A discredited theory of embryonic development held that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” — in other words, that the the developmental stages of an embryo (its ontogeny) mimic the stages of evolutionary development experienced by the species (its phylogeny). One piece of evidence supporting the theory: in early stages of development, a human embryo has a tail.

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Image Credits:

  1. All photos by Martin Holladay or his friends and family

Framing and Air-Sealing Tips for High-Performance Walls

New videos from Hammer and Hand feature framer Val Darrah, who shares his techniques for building Passivhaus walls

Posted on Dec 28 2012 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

In three new videos produced by Oregon builder Hammer & Hand, lead carpenter Val Darrah explains how he keeps air sealing in mind as he frames the walls for his current project, the Pumpkin Ridge Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates..

Val explains why he prefers to use a router rather than a saw when he cuts out window openings in the OSB 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. . He also shares his method of building window bucks out of 3/4-inch plywood.

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Image Credits:

  1. Hammer and Hand
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The Energy Grinch

The Energy Nerd's fourth annual Christmas parody

Posted on Dec 21 2012 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

With apologies to Dr. Seuss

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Image Credits:

  1. WBTV
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Are HRVs Cost-Effective?

Compared to a simple exhaust fan, a heat-recovery ventilator saves energy — but it probably won’t save enough to justify the high cost of the equipment

Posted on Dec 7 2012 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

From 1977 (when the Saskatchewan Conservation house was built) until 2004 (when the first U.S. Passivhaus was built), North American builders completed hundreds of superinsulated homes. In those days, anyone interested in rating the performance of these homes was probably interested in just one metric: annual energy use.

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Image Credits:

  1. Photo: Martin Holladay — Bar graph and table: John Semmelhack

Live Webcast of a Building Science Seminar

GBA Pro members can watch two days of instruction from Joseph Lstiburek and John Straube

Posted on Dec 4 2012 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor has made arrangements to provide live video streaming of an educational seminar by two renowned building science experts, Joseph Lstiburek and John Straube. Dubbed the Building Science Experts' Session, the seminar is being held on Wednesday December 5 and Thursday December 6, 2012, in Westford, Massachusetts. Sessions begin each morning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The video stream will be available at no charge to all GBA Pro members. A link to the live video stream will be added to this page on the morning of December 5, 2012.

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All About Wall Rot

If your wall sheathing is rotten, the first question to answer is: where did the moisture come from?

Posted on Nov 23 2012 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Contractors who specialize in repairing rotten walls won’t run out of work any time soon. The epidemic of wall-rot problems that began more than 20 years ago shows no signs of abating. In fact, wet-wall specialists are often called to investigate problems in developments where most of the homes have rotting walls — and in some cases, these homes are only six years old.

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Image Credits:

  1. Photo with pipe staging: Will Smith — Rot under window: Mark Parlee (MP) — Splashback: Fairhope Farm — No kickout: MP — Missing step flashing: MP — Missing deck flashing: Everflashing — Ice dam: Ecduzitgood — Solar vapor drive: MP — Exfiltration: FHB
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