Welcome to round two of my product retrospective, where green remodeler Michael Anschel of Minneapolis-based OA Design+Build+Architecture and I look back at our illustrious career as screen stars in the Green Police video series we made for The Journal of Light Construction and Hanley Wood a few years ago.
The idea of these posts is to take a look back at the products we covered, which were mostly new and innovative at the time, to see if they lived up to their promise. We’re also putting ourselves on the spot, as we see if we made accurate predictions about how the products would do in the competitive market of green building materials.
Ultimately, we hope this is yet another way to steer people towards innovative products to use in their projects and share our caution when we think something is dubious. If you’d like a more thorough introduction or just want to check out the products that we covered in the first round of this retrospective, you can find it here. Now, on to another round of products…
Slow and steady
While they still don’t have the market share of their competitors, some of the products that we were interested in when we made the Green Police videos have made slow and steady inroads with green builders. Minisplit heat pumps and mineral wool insulation are two products that fall into this category.
We’ve both always liked minisplit HVAC technology and it is encouraging to see it continue to expand in marketplace. I would like to see it used more in multifamily projects where the smallest available standard HVAC equipment is typically significantly oversized for most apartments. However, I understand that this is not an inexpensive technology and first costs often rule the day.
Michael pulled some weird scam and got minisplits installed in his house for free because he was supposedly in an airport flight path and they allow him to keep his windows closed in the summertime to cut the noise. I had to actually pay for them for my house, and even did a video for Mitsubishi about it.
Rockwool (Formerly known as Roxul), a mineral fiber insulation, is another product that we liked back in the day and still do today. Roxul has captured a modest share of the high-performance market, particularly for those who are interested in alternatives to foam products, for one reason, because it does not contain any fire retardants. Moreover, it doesn’t absorb water and is vapor-open. Although still a relatively small player compared to the various types of rigid foam and other types of batts, its use continues to expand in the industry (note that fiberglass batts are still the number one insulation used industry-wide). Watch the video until the end where Michael finally gets what he deserves!
Verdict: We still like minisplit heatign and cooling technology and mineral wool insulation; they are still around, and continue to grow their market share.
Keeps on rolling
Icycnene was one of the early open-cell spray foam companies. I used it in a lot when I started doing green renovation work about 20 years ago (yes Michael, I know I’m old), and it made incredible improvements in building performance. In new construction, I have come to the conclusion that spray foam can be an excuse for a weak or overly complicated design and while a very well performing product, almost any insulation installed properly can achieve comparable results, sometimes at lower cost. Michael, he of the frozen north, however is a strong proponent of using this spray foam insulation.
Verdict: A solid product that isn’t going anywhere, even if Carl might want it to be used less.
Not sure about this one
When Owens Corning had a robust building science department, staffed by some industry giants, they promoted all manner of interesting systems and techniques. Cavity Complete was one, a high performance, durable wall system design using multiple manufacturer’s products in an engineered assembly. It still has some life on the internet—the website has specs, architectural drawings, installation instructions, a 10 year (limited) materials and replacement warranty, and details of an in-field quality assurance program aligned with the Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA), but I am not clear exactly who is doing what with it. I emailed the contact on their website for more info, but never got a response. It’s still a great blueprint for a wall.
Verdict: We still like it but without Owens Corning’s ongoing support it won’t gain traction.
Please, please use these
This is still a head scratcher. Why more people don’t use ventilated rainscreens on their walls is beyond us. I guess it’s because they aren’t granite counters–you can’t show them off to your friends (unless you are serous building geeks like us). Adding a rainscreen to your assembly adds cost issue for sure, but it is a small fraction of the cost of a building and will certainly improve moisture management and extend the life of exterior materials and finishes. Michael is continually frustrated by folks who overcomplicate the concept by installing wood furring strips around the home. Just use a dang matt already! Sheesh…
Verdict: We are evangelists for rainscreens but in residential construction they still struggle for widespread adoption. We still believe and have hope.
Prediction: They will become part of the building codes along with effective R-value calculations (Thank you Canada)
-Carl Seville is a green builder, educator, and consultant on sustainability to the residential construction industry. After a 25-year career in the remodeling industry, he and a partner founded a company, SK Collaborative. Photos courtesy of the author.