Time to Up the Ante

In my last post, I was trying to make the argument that all new buildings need to have deep heating and cooling reduction as a primary requirement. It is clearly time to recognize thatmaking buildings that have little or no energy demands is as important as structural integrity and good design. Now our company is making the commitment to walk that kind of talk.

The dream of a more energy independent future will require investments. It won’t come free; we have to create and deploy the means of achieving it. If we do nothing, we’ll keep paying with short term financial and environmental costs, and continue darkening our long term prospects. If we invest in the right things, we have the ability to dramatically reduce our monthly energy costs while simultaneously becoming a part of the solution to the long-term environmental problems.The nice thing about this kind of stark choice is the clarity of it:

–Do what we’ve always done = continuous financial cost and looming environmental tragedy.
–Do all that we already know how to do right now = real financial savings and hope.

As a builder, I’ve spent my entire professional life working with determination to stand on the right side of that line in the sand. We’ve always been dedicated to passive solar design, high levels of insulation and tight enclosures. Our company has built many hundreds of well-designed and nicely crafted energy-efficient homes. They are our history and our legacy and give us much to be proud of, and we are.

But we’re not satisfied.

Therefore, we have decided that it’s time to “up the ante” on our building insulation. Our new standard wall insulation will be R-35. Since it also has our Open-Built system built-in, we are calling it the OBPlusWall.

OBPlus WallAs you can see by the illustration, it’s a relatively uncomplicated build-up. We’re using I-studs with advancedframing details on 2 ft. centers. The cavities are filled with “dense pack” cellulose, which gives us an environmentally benign and very tight and effective system as Paul Fisette (Building technology expert and professor at UMass/Amherst) points out in his report, CelluloseInsulation–A Smart Choice:

“The common standard by which insulation is measured, R-value, is the level of resistance to heat flow. R-value measures conductive resistance – the ability of a material to impede the flow of heat along the continuous chain of matter that makes up a solid material. Most of a home’s heat is typically lost through conduction. Cellulose is not unusual in this regard. Like many insulation materials,it provides an R-value of approximately R-3.5 per inch of thickness. But, air leakage through cracks, voids, and gaps is important, responsible for approximately one-third of an average home’s heat loss. Cellulose is a superb air-blocker. Heat and comfort are also lost through convection; when drafty currents of air within the house, wall cavities or attics, move heat to other locations. This is technically different from air leakage where the heated air mass is actually expelled from the home. Tightly packed cellulose provides a thermally efficient, cost effective, and comfortable solution.”

Along with the wall system upgrade, we will be doing parallel thermal performance improvements to our roof insulation systems, and we’ll specify higher performing windows and doors. Using the advantages of the precision that comes from CNC cutting, the control achieved in off-site fabrication, and special gaskets to seal between elements during site assembly, we’ll be able to achieve extraordinary energy performance on EVERY project. Of course, we can dial the insulation levels downward or upward, depending on climate, building size and other factors, but the constant goal is our intention to reduce energy requirements to a bare trickle.

The total improvement we are now committed to should make most of our homes (especially those that are 2500 square feet or less) Net-Zero capable.The trickle of energy they will require for heating and cooling will make small air-sourceheat pumps— or even ductlessmini-split heat pumps–practical. We can leave oil and gas furnaces behind. To power the electric energy needed for the heat pumps, our clients will be able to use reasonably-sized PV arrays and net-metering to potentially eliminate heating and cooling costs altogether.

It is time to take our homes off the list of things that drain our energy resources. A home should be a special place where people find renewal, comfort, security, and the intimate interaction of their closest and most loving relationships. One of our most important tasks is to find ways to make that sacred place positive in all respects, including its energy resource and environmental impacts.

And so we are proud to announce our OBPlusWall, a new standard for building insulation. We hope the homebuilding industry will join us in the attempt to create energy independence for our homes.

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