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What's In Your Air? December 9, 2016

We face environmental pollution every day we step outside our door. Emissions from industries, carbon monoxide emissions from cars, trucks and buses, and many other toxins affect the air we breathe.

It's hard enough to deal with all of that, much of which is outside the scope of our immediate control, without also having to be concerned with our indoor air quality. Household cleaning products, mold, mildew, animal dander, dust mites and outgassing (VOCs) from paint and glues used in carpeting, all invade the air inside our homes, the very place we look to for shelter and safety. Certain building materials, such as pressed board (commonly used in sub-flooring) and sheathing on wood construction, release contaminants like formaldehyde into our homes. Ventilation plays a role in how these pollutants affect us.

It's clear that we need a breath of fresh air, and one solution lies in the materials we choose to build our homes. A home built with Fox Blocks has many advantages over a "stick built" (wood) house:

  • Fox Blocks walls release little or no VOCs or airborne particulates.
  • Fox Blocks create an air barrier which helps improve indoor air quality by limiting the amount of moisture that can enter your home through infiltration. That also provides better control for the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.
  • Fox Blocks limit moisture, so there's less chance of problems with mold or mildew growth.

Fox Blocks are also great insulators, fire and wind resistant, and super-strong. Using materials such as Fox Blocks along with low-VOC paints, and plant-based cleaning agents will contribute to better indoor air quality and a healthier environment for everyone.

 

Become a Net Zero Hero December 2, 2016

NETZERO

Net zero-energy design buildings, what are they?

The principle behind net zero energy (NZE, or NZEB) buildings is to have zero energy consumption ratios. This is accomplished by building homes and commercial buildings that consume only as much energy as they are able to create. With a combination of high- tech building materials and streamlined energy renewal sources, net zero energy buildings are perfect examples of the “waste not, want not” concept. NZE buildings contribute far less greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than conventional buildings.

Connected to the grid, but supplying it also.

NZE buildings do use energy from the grid, they also return energy to the grid through the use of solar panels and other renewable energy sources. To get to a net zero ratio the structure needs to (roughly) supply as much resource to the grid as it uses.

Fewer traditional building materials=less reliance on big utilities.

To create dwellings and commercial structures with this level of energy sophistication, builders and contractors need to move away from more traditional building supplies. Energy-conserving construction materials abound on the market today, thanks in part to the continued high prices and inflexibility of oil, gas and electric utilities. Increased utility rates world-wide have driven a wealth of new building materials on the market which specialize in providing superior energy retention and distribution throughout a building.

Building energy independence block by block.

True energy independence requires not only a system returning power to the grid, but structural materials with exceptional energy conserving properties. Renewable energy sources built into the homes and buildings is only half the equation. When a house is built with advanced materials, like Fox Blocks, it is able to take power from the grid and use it far more efficiently.

Net Zero buildings are comparable in cost to traditional built homes, but will cost less to own over the lifetime of the structure - saving money from day one and well into the future.

Yes, I want to learn how Fox Blocks will minimize energy use and get me one step closer to owning a Net Zero Energy Building.

 

How Will This Year's Vote on the IECC Affect Your Next Project? November 17, 2016

Building Code

Today, there are many voices making waves in building codes and green/energy-efficient design; none are more important than the views of local officials that vote on hundreds of proposals to change the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This year, voting on the regulations will take place November 8th thru November 21st, 2016, then implementation of the various codes elected will be left to state and local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce, says senior energy policy advocate Lauren Urbanek at the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).

Changes to the IECC will include additional standards to increase the energy efficiency of residential and commercial built environments to collectively save end users billions of dollars each year in energy bills. Some of the new requirements supported by the NRDC are Improved Windows that will employ existing energy-efficient windows on the market, Efficient Lavatory Faucets that will limit flow to 1.5 gallons per minute, and Water Heater Proximity to Fixture Outlets that has been a standard in Europe for decades with on-demand systems.

These fixtures have been included in the IECC previously, but tighter regulations will reflect further improvements in residential and commercial construction to conserve natural resources and “avoid the pollution from fossil fuel-fired electricity generation that fuels climate change.”

There is no doubt that material expenditures for building owners will increase for traditional residential and commercial projects that previously have not sought to meet the voluntary “beyond code” green rating systems. The additional costs to build green lie around 2.4% states Greg Kats in his book “Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits, and Strategies,” but what is to be preferred, a low initial investment or low energy costs over the life of the structure? The current return on investment (ROI) is expected to be around 19.2% on existing green projects and 9.9% on new projects per the USGBC’s webpage on “The Business Case for Building Green.” And property owners can expect incentives and tax benefits by way of “tax credits, grants, expedited building permits, and reductions/waivers in fees.”

Scheduling products shouldn’t be a problem in most scenarios as certified products to meet the standards already exist such as residential Energy Star certified windows and doors. Commercial property owners will have to depend on design professionals for compliant fenestrations. This could increase planning lead times as professionals climatize themselves to not only new codes, but the appearance of the code books. Contractors may hold up project lead times, as well, as they, too, continue to learn installation measures for required systems, materials, and fixtures.

Concerns about climate change are high in all organizations related to green building, not only the NRDC (As stated above). The USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) recommends model green building codes and standards, such as their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program. The NBI (National Buildings Institute) promotes their “Zero Net Energy” program to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings by supporting designs that ensure buildings can create more energy than they use. And EECC (Energy Efficient Codes Coalition) that, like the NRDC, also makes voting recommendations for a more efficient IECC. These are just to name a few. Many other organizations are, also, working hard along with these prestigious few to make changes to protect not only users of the built structures but also the environment. Let’s hope all that can do get out and vote for positive changes in the industry.

For further information, visit the U.S. Department of Energy for a list of currently adopted energy codes by state.

6 Little Known Energy Wasters Affecting Your Low-Rise Construction November 11, 2016

Low-rise buildings for residential and commercial use are smaller in size from high-rise buildings as there will be only ten levels of space or less. These buildings may be separated into individual resident-occupied rental units, or blocks of office spaces. Normally, low-rise buildings will use up fewer energy resources, making them more economical to run depending on what the space is used for on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there may be a few unknown energy wasters lurking throughout the building that could lead to rising energy costs. By identifying these energy wasters, you can take the necessary steps to make the building more efficient.

Thermostats in Wrong Locations

When the building was first constructed, the thermostat would normally be placed in the optimal spot so that drafts, direct sunlight and vents did not affect its operation. Unfortunately, during renovations and adding on additional modules, thermostats can be moved when walls are taken down. A thermostat in the wrong position can cause the HVAC system to run for inordinate lengths of time to heat and cool the space. It can also refuse to turn on, causing the thermostat to be turned up higher or lower than normal.

Moving the thermostat to the optimal location can help with its operation. Consider relocating the device to an interior wall away from windows, doors, and vents. Keep all equipment that generates heat away from the thermostat and refrain from placing the thermostat in places where a lot of people may walk by as they can create a draft that affects the temperature sensors.

Blocked Vents

Vents and grilles can be one of the biggest energy waster culprits in a building. The more furniture and equipment that must be placed in the space, the more chances that a vent or grill will be covered by a bookcase, sofa, storage cabinet, or other piece of equipment. Once the vent is blocked, this drastically impacts the conditioned air in the space as people may complain it is too hot or cold in the room.

This circumstance causes the thermostat to be constantly adjusted as the HVAC system will begin using up more energy. By simply going through the low-rise building and unblocking vents and grilles, you can see a drastic change in your energy bills as you will have greater control over the conditioned air so people can feel more comfortable. During the construction of low-rise buildings, take into account the position of vents and grilles in building plans to put them in the most optimal places to avoid the risk of them becoming blocked.

Water Waste from Leaking Faucets

Faucets in residential bathrooms, public restrooms, kitchens and breakrooms go through constant use during the day. People are washing hands, containers, and utensils during their lunch hours. They may leave the water on too long, not completely shut off the tap, or the faucet may be damaged a it now leaks. Not only are you seeing high water bills because of the water waste, you may also be seeing high energy bills due to the large amounts of hot water being used as your water heater system has to work overtime during the work week.

Switching to low flow faucets and fixing damaged faucets can significantly increase your energy efficiency in the building. You may also consider touch faucets or sensor faucets to control the amount of water usage to decrease both energy and water waste in your building.

Installing Incandescent Exit Signs

The move toward more energy-efficient lighting has arrived, as construction and renovation projects are seeking to utilize LED lighting in low-rise buildings. The energy savings to these light bulbs and fixtures, as well as their longevity with lower maintenance costs, has been well documented. Yet there is one place where LED lighting is still not being used: exit signs.

Older exit signs may still be using incandescent or fluorescent lighting, which ends up drawing in more power to keep the sign lit throughout the day and night. When designing and constructing new buildings, installing new LED exit signs can save money not only in energy costs throughout the year but also save money because the light bulb will not have to be changed as often.

Dirty Windows

Windows can so often be overlooked on a low-rise building. Once the blinds and drapes are added, you normally forget about them unless you are opening a window to let some fresh air inside. Yet when a window or skylight becomes dirty, less natural light filters in during the day. So more task lighting and artificial light becomes used, raising your energy costs.

It's surprising just how one clean window can offer significant savings to a room simply because the artificial lights won't have to be turned on for the rest of the day. Develop the appropriate cleaning schedule for the windows based on its location and how often it gets dirty. Then have periodic cleanings performed to keep them clean throughout the year.

Equipment Left On at Night and During the Weekends

It can often be a productivity strategy for employees working in office spaces to leave the monitor or computer on overnight so that it will quickly start up in the morning when they begin work the next day. This same tactic will also be used for fax machines, copiers, printers, and other equipment. Unfortunately, even when the machine is inactive, it is still pulling in electricity.

While it might not seem like much power is wasted on a daily basis, completely shutting down a single computer and the monitor during weeknights and on the weekends could save the low rise building up to $80 a year. Placing equipment into power saving mode when not in use during the day and completely shutting them down overnight can increase the energy savings throughout the low-rise building.

Take Advantage of the Energy Savings By Tackling Building Issues

Architects, builders, and property owners are recognizing the tremendous benefits of energy efficiency during the low-rise building construction and afterward when the building is in use. Yet there are many energy wasters that may become overlooked simply because people believe the amount of energy that is wasted throughout the day is miniscule. Ultimately, when taking into account long-term use, the energy waste as well as the costs can significantly add up.

Every low-rise building is different. Performing energy audits and benchmarking of low-rise buildings and commercial operations can allow people to pinpoint the places where energy efficiency can be improved. Then you will be better able to control energy costs and reduce waste.

Get Your Home Ready for Winter in These 6 Simple Steps October 24, 2016

Winter Ready

 Each year seems to go by quicker than the last. Be prepared when old man winter knocks at your door. Get your home winter ready in these five easy steps.

  1. Heating System Tune Up: Don't wait until the temperature drops to find out that your heat pump or furnace aren't in tip-top shape. Invest in a heating system inspection for around $100 to ensure you are warm and cozy with no surprises. This tip also ensures that your heating unit runs as efficient as possible - saving you money by season's end. 
  2. Give Your Gutters Some TLC: It's tempting to leave this task off the to-do list for as long as possible, but neglected gutters are a perfect place for ice to collect and leak into your home once melted. 
  3. Everyone Needs a Jacket: Be sure to wrap your older water heater with an insulated blanket. Most new water heaters are already insulated. By wrapping your water heater, you can reduce heat losses by 25%-45%. You can find insulated blankets at a local hardware store. 
  4. Feel for Leaks: An incense stick can do the trick for finding pesky air leaks coming from your windows. Try to do this on a windy day and if the smoke trails in a horizontal direction, you have trouble. Simple rope caulk will keep the chilly air outside and the warm air inside. Should your fireplace leak air, a piece of insulation can be installed in the fireplace between uses.
  5. And speaking of your fireplace: It’s probably time to inspect and sweep your chimney. An annual chimney checkup is always a good idea!
  6. Hit Reverse: Most modern fans have a setting to spin the opposite direction. Taking the few minutes to do this can mean more heated air circulating through your home.

These are all great tips to help your existing home. Although, the best way to create a home that's energy-efficient, sound and weather insulated is to contact the professionals at Fox Blocks. Fox Blocks can do wonders for your next building project.

 

Is Your Home Built to Fight Fire? October 17, 2016 

Most houses continue to have wood frames not because wood is the best or safest material, but because people have been constructing houses from wood for so long it's an entrenched part of the construction sector. However, ICFs, or Insulated Concrete Forms, are becoming increasingly popular; they insulate, block sound, and maintain stability far better than traditional wood framing. They also have a high degree of disaster resiliency and greatly minimize the dangers of house fires.

For 2013, the U.S. Fire Administration reported 1,240,000 house fires. Houses constructed out of ICFs have key advantages in minimizing the damage and spread of these fires, such as:

- Minimizing the Spread of Fire: Insulated concrete walls are either coupled with or include an expanded polystyrene foam, which is both fire-retardant and non-toxic. Not only can these walls resist fire damage, they mitigate the spread of fire from room to room or, in the case of duplexes and apartment buildings, from home to home. Based on the Steiner Tunnel Test, in which materials are tested to see how far they carry flames, a tunnel built with ICFs carried the flames approximately one-fifth the distance that a similarly sized wooden frame tunnel did. Concrete itself can minimize the spread of flames, as it cannot catch fire and the material's properties make it very slow to transfer or build up heat.

- Durability: Due to being fire-retardant, walls made with ICFs have a much lower risk of structural damage. The concrete itself is an additional protective measure against weakening walls: when subjected to flames and temperatures near 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, these concrete walls lasted for four hours with reduced structural damage; wooden frame walls, on the other hand, were able to last only one hour prior to collapse. Unlike walls made of wooden frames which weaken during house fires and can collapse, houses built with ICFs are more likely to stay standing as people leave the building and even long after the fire. This degree of structural stability is even more crucial for buildings with multiple stories, as failing walls have a cascading effect and one damaged floor leads to instability in the surrounding and higher floors.

Like with any fire prevention element, homeowners should also keep fire extinguishers in good condition and regularly check their smoke detectors. However, with ICFs becoming more and more popular in home and building construction, the risk of danger and damage from fires can be managed. When it comes to fire safety, wood vs. ICFs has a clear winner. For more information, please contact us at Fox Blocks.

4 Simple Ways to Save Money On Your Build September 28, 2016

As builders and buyers look to continually fight rising costs, making small changes and minor substitutions, as a way of value engineering, can largely impact the final cost of a build. Putting some thought into the final product during the early design phase can save headaches and hassles before changes are required on the backend to meet budget. Here are a few suggestions to consider: 

Use simple shapes. Simple shapes have the smallest amount of surface area and allow for the best use of interior space. Avoiding complicated exterior shapes and sticking with square corners provides the best use of materials.  Complicated roof lines, curved walls, and abnormal shapes are more difficult to build, use more material and are less energy-efficient in that a smaller exterior surface area has less exposure to the elements. 

Design multi-use space. A creative design with space that can be used in multiple ways is more effective. Minimize hallways and add design features such as alcoves or desks to add use to what would normally be a walk-through area. Combine room functions to create more interest and efficiency. Work to use all spaces efficiently without leaving unused space under stairways, behind walls, etc. 

Use two-foot increments. Most building materials are made in multiples of two-foot increments with very few exceptions. Designing the plan to maximize use of these materials with the smallest waste reduces overall cost. Two 8'11" rooms can use more materials than one 8'10" and one 8'12" room when all of the materials will require cutting and waste. 

Understand the buyer's values. Meet early with the buyer to determine what special features are valuable to him or her. Know what phase of business or life the buyer is at. A new startup will have different priorities than an established business with the desire to make a different impression. A young family will have different needs than an older buyer. Knowing what additional design features bring value in the end product will allow you to plan the design that best matches what the customer values. 

Whether building a home or office, buyers today are looking for energy-efficient, long-lasting, sustainable, green builds. Designing using ICFs can aid in the overall cost reduction of a project by decreasing build time, providing an easy to use product and creating a more energy-efficient, sustainable building. Contact us to find out more about using ICFs to reduce the cost of your build. 

Do I Really Need a Building Permit for This? September 19, 2016

When building a new home or business, it's essential for contractors to obtain a building permit and post it at the construction site. Without it, the city or town would shut down the project. But what about things like room additions, adding a deck, a bathroom or a new office wing? Do you really need to get a permit to improve your own home or business? The short answer is, yes. Here are 5 very good reasons why ...

  1.  Your home or your business is likely your biggest investment. Failing to obtain a permit for an improvement may very well result in a loss in property value if the improvement doesn't comply with the codes adopted by your city or town.
  2. Building -permit3Your property insurer may refuse to cover work or damages to projects not completed with the required permit(s).
  3. When it comes time to sell your property, an MLS association requires the seller to disclose any improvements or repairs made to a home or business, and whether permits were obtained and inspections were done. That's because many banks and mortgage lenders will not finance a purchase without proof of permits and inspections. Many realtors have horror stories to tell about a sale falling through because the seller could not produce a permit for work done to a home or business. You could actually be required to tear down an addition or obtain a permit and bring it up to code before anyone can occupy it. Failing to get a permit in the first place could end up costing you a lot of money.
  4. A construction project or improvement done with a permit requires a final inspection. Passing inspection means that your addition or renovation project followed the building codes and meets the minimum standards for safety. That's important when you sell your property, but it's also important to you and the safety of your family and friends or employees.
  5. And the best reason of all? It's the law! Doing work without a permit may be legally subject to removal or other costly remedies.

Another thing to keep in mind is to obtain your permit before starting the project. In some areas, if work begins before the permit is obtained, permit costs increase significantly to serve as a penalty. It may take a little more time and hassle, but we recommend always checking with your local building official before kicking off any project. It’s the wise thing to do.

 

Staying Safe: Fortified Construction Protects Your Home & Family September 14, 2016

FORTIFIED HOME

Climate change is affecting us all with documented increases in severe weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, storm surges and drought. Because of this, there is an industry movement towards building fortified homes capable of standing up to the worst nature has to offer. Your biggest concern as a parent is keeping your family safe, and fortified home construction is a proven way to help ensure their safety.

What exactly is meant by "fortified" in terms of building a new home or reinforcing an older home? Fortified home construction refers to using materials and techniques in combination with one another to make your home stronger and more resilient as a shelter. For example, fortifying a roof using a special type of nail or fastening system, makes it less likely to blow off or collapse in a tornado or in the heavy winds and rains of a hurricane. Fortifying walls, doors and windows with stronger, more resilient materials makes it less likely that occupants will be injured or the home itself damaged by flying debris, breaking glass, driving rain, etc. Engineers have developed and tested materials and building techniques that work together to achieve these goals.

To this end, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) has developed a "Fortified Home" program that uses a unique, systems-based method for creating stronger and more resilient homes. Under the program, there are three levels of fortified home designations available: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each builds upon the other, so if a homeowner chooses the Gold designation, he also receives the protections afforded by the bronze and silver designations.  Choose the desired level of protection that is right for your budget and work with your builder on achieving those resilience goals.

  • The Bronze Level - Addresses fortifying a home's roof to protect against water and wind damage.
  • The Silver Level - Goes a step further by fortifying the home's walls, windows, doors and attached structures.
  • The Gold Level- Ties everything together -- roof, to walls and openings, to foundation, to reach the highest level of fortification to protect against extreme weather, fire, and more.

Using fortified building materials and methods is a smart decision in protecting everything that makes your house a home against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you.

Contact a FORTIFIED Wise™- Associate from Fox Blocks to help keep your family safe.

Everything Your Customer Wants You to Know About the Latest LEED Changes September 9, 2016

Energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings can go beyond simply changing out incandescent lighting for LED bulbs. Contractors, architects and engineers are designing and constructing new buildings that are using renewable materials, investing in sustainable HVAC systems, and are improving the building envelope to reduce the amount of energy waste. These buildings are becoming certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

LEED is a green building certification program that is used by building design professionals and contractors around the world. This program is designed to help building owners seek out more environmentally-friendly building materials, construction processes and operations that lowers the amount of wasted resources while using other resources more efficiently. The LEED certification program can be used by architects and engineers to design new construction projects, for renovation projects, and for the retrofitting of green technologies in existing buildings.

Creating sustainable LEED certified buildings from the ground up has been on the rise for decades. In July 2016, there were a total of 81,000 LEED commercial and neighborhood development projects and a total of 245,000 residential LEED units, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Designing a LEED compliant building requires understanding the rating system, requirements, and registration so you can gain the credits needed to reach the desired LEED certification goals.

LEED Building Rating Systems

Before becoming LEED compliant, you must first decide on the type of building project and rating system you are pursing to understand the credits that you can apply for to reach the desired LEED certification. There are 5 different types of LEED certified rating systems:

engineering LEED BD+C:  Building design and construction (BD+C) applies to new construction projects or buildings that are undergoing extensive renovations. This project type also includes Core & Shell projects where the developer will also control the design and construction of the mechanical systems, fire protection systems, plumbing systems and electrical systems.

engineering LEED ID+C:  Interior design and construction (ID+C) are for projects that are seeking interior fit-outs as this includes commercial, hospitality and retail buildings.

engineering LEED O+M:  Operations and management (O+M) are for existing buildings that are not undergoing major construction work. This project type applies where you seek to improve the maintenance and operations of the building to increase efficiency.

engineering LEED ND:  Neighborhood developments (ND) projects apply toward residential, non-residential and mixed used buildings. The buildings can be new development construction projects or redevelopment projects.

engineering LEED Homes:  Residential homes can also be part of the LEED certification process. Single family homes, as well as low-rise and mid-rise multifamily units, can use this project type to seek certification.

Each project type may be further broken down into select buildings, such as schools, retail buildings, warehouses, data centers, hospitality buildings, and healthcare facilities. Once selecting the project type and rating system, you can read the requirements and establish the right project goals that will spur you to obtain the desired LEED credits and certifications.

Understanding LEED Credits, Points, and Prerequisites

When pursuing LEED compliant buildings, you will be given credits, points and prerequisites based on the type of project that is completed that meets LEED standards. The more credits and points the building receives, the higher the rating the building will obtain as this rating will determine the certification level.

 Points:  There are four different certification levels that can be pursued. Buildings that receive 40 to 49 points will become LEED Certified. If the design and construction project earns 50 to 59 points, it has reached the Silver certification level. The Gold certification level requires the project to receive 60 to 79 points. The highest level that can be obtained is the Platinum certification where the building needs 80 or more points.

 A few changes to the point system were introduced during a recent update to LEED requirements. For example, now projects must earn a minimum of four points in the Energy Performance credits. This change will increase first costs, but will positively impact the longstanding rating system that serves as the benchmark for many building and construction initiatives.

 Credits:  You have the option to pursue any type of credits you desire when designing, constructing, renovating, or retrofitting buildings. The type of project you pursue will earn you credits, which will in turn lead to points that go toward certification. The list of credits is made available based on the rating system you have chosen for your building project. Certain credits may be paired with other credits in an integrated process that provides even more benefits. Usually LEED projects far exceed the rating system's minimum entry points, so getting a certification should be feasible.

Prerequisites:  Prerequisites are the minimum requirements that the building must pursue to reach LEED certification. A building must fulfill each prerequisite even though there are no credits or points awarded upon completion. For example, prerequisites for projects that fall under the LEED BD+C rating system must meet the following minimum requirements: the building must be a permanent location that is on existing land, must fully comply with all project size requirements, and must use reasonable LEED boundaries.

Creating a Viable LEED Plan

Creating the right LEED certification plan at the offset will allow designers, architects and contractors to fully discuss and research the types of goals that can be reached to create a sustainable green building. Suggested steps include:

Analysis and information gathering:  Gather important project and design data that can be used to establish building sustainability and efficiency requirements.

LEED certification rating system selection:  Once you have your LEED goals established, you can use them to decide on the right rating system and project type that matches those goals. Then you can register for certification and understand the minimum requirements that must be achieved.

Perform a goal-setting workshop:  The goal-setting project will allow you, the building owner and the contractor to iron out all the details such as project budget, schedule, owner's goals, quality, performance measures, and mapping out the LEED project scope.

Create a LEED scorecard:  A scorecard will allow you to see what project goals will lead to LEED credits and points. It can also help you determine additional goals that may be achievable as well as a certification level that is desired.

The project scope and goals will continually change during construction and renovation processes. So you should perform additional data research and meetings to further talk about other benefits and detriments to the project to meet LEED certification.

Perhaps the most important tip about pursing LEED compliant building construction is to work on obtaining one credit at a time versus having multiple projects going on all at once. This process will allow you to focus all your time, energy, manpower and resources on a singular goal so that it is thoroughly completed and meets the desired quality and satisfaction level. Then you can move on to the next LEED credit goal.

This tactic also allows you to gather consistent documentation to perform quality assurance reviews of the project. Once the documentation is gathered, analyzed and finalized, it can be submitted for LEED certification.

Goal of LEED Certification

The purpose of the LEED green building certification program is to encourage designers, architects, builders and building owners to seek out technology and initiatives that adopt green, sustainable construction applications for environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient buildings. By gaining LEED certification and credits, buildings can operate more effectively, lower their energy expenses, and streamline their operations so they use resources in a more holistic manner. Building owners and designers can also market and promote the LEED certification and credits from completed projects as a way to brand their business toward clients and customers.

 

15 Building Products Designed to Withstand Natural Disasters   September 1, 2016

While many buildings these days are designed with the same basic principles, there are times when exceptions need to be made.

For instance, commercial buildings out west in San Francisco and Los Angeles might require additional considerations to ensure that construction is more resistant to the likes of earthquakes.

On a similar note, buildings that are constructed in areas that are likely to encounter severe weather, whether it's during the winter months, during the summer months or all year round, are likely to require a construction design that makes such structures more resistant to high winds.

Thankfully, when there are special circumstances, there are also some specialty products available to compliment building design. On that note, here's a look at 15 building products that are designed to help structures stand up better to earthquakes and high wind: 

engineering Lead-Rubber Bearings: Many commercial buildings in areas with the potential for damaging earthquakes are constructed on an isolating base, which essentially puts the entire building on top of springs or bearings so that the building essentially "floats" above the ground. Lead-rubber bearings are one of the most popular products incorporated in these isolating bases, as they are both stiff and strong, thereby able to support a structure vertically. At the same time, they are also very flexible, helping the building to stay intact while the foundation takes all the impact.

engineering Steel: Specifically, we're talking about structural steal, or steel products like beams and plates. Steel is an ideal solution for solidifying a building, whether it's to withstand high winds or earthquakes, because it offers good ductility. In other words, when compared to brick and concrete, steel better offers buildings the ability to "bend" without breaking or cracking.

engineering Concrete: Steel isn't the only material that's good for holding up in natural disasters. In fact, the most secure buildings feature an array of different materials. Concrete is one of them. Concrete is resistant to wind that can be generated from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. In fact, when it comes to high winds, it's usually not the winds themselves that pose a big threat - it's the debris (i.e. trees) that often gets hurled by the wind that have the big potential to cause damage. Testing has shown that concrete wall systems are better able to resist structural damage when struck by debris. The strongest construction materials are reinforced concrete, which is often best accomplished via insulated concrete forms, or ICFs.

engineering Rocking Frames: A rocking frame is sort of like structural steel on steroids. Specifically, this frame consists of steel frames, cables and fuses - all designed to rock up and down when an earthquake strikes, keeping the frame intact the entire time. Then, after absorbing the impact of the quake, the building will reposition itself thanks to the flexible frame. 

engineering Reinforced Glass: Though costly, reinforced glass can be installed in buildings. This type of glass, which is thick and laminated to offer better protection, is able to stand up to winds that reach speeds of up to 250 miles per hour.

engineering Trusses: These products are designed to support the diaphragm, or the heart of, a building. Specifically, they are diagonally-shaped pieces that fit into certain areas of the building's overall frame.

engineering Shear Walls: Another key component in earthquake-resistant building design, shear walls are vertically applied and designed to stiffen a building to prevent rocking. They're most common around elevators and stairwells, where walls without any sort of openings exist. While this differs from the rocking frame concept we discussed above, it's one of the most tried and true ways that buildings have been constructed to withstand quakes in the past.

 engineering Hip Roofs: Hip roofs are those that have their ends and their sides inclined, which make them more aerodynamic and thereby more resistant to damaging winds. Because hip roofs don't have any sided ends to catch wind, they're ideal for commercial structures - and homes - in hurricane climates. Though more expensive and generally more complex in construction, these types of roofs can often be the difference between a home enduring extensive damage or not.

engineering Tie-Down Straps: Hip roofs are one thing, but another good idea for buildings in areas of high wind is to acquire and install tie-down straps. These straps are designed to provide enhanced security when it comes to keeping the roof intact. What's more is that today's tie-down straps don't just connect the roof to the support beams, but can also be installed to secure the roof all the way down to the base of the building. 

engineering Reinforced Doors: Just as there is reinforced glass to prevent windows from bursting during periods of high winds, there are also reinforced doors that can be purchased and installed on buildings. However, just like the reinforced glass that we talked about earlier, these reinforced doors are also on the expensive side.

engineering Damping Systems: Damping systems integrated into buildings are designed to act as shock absorbers in earthquake situations. That is, when heavy weight is applied to the top of a building and connected to dampers, the severity of vibrations are reduced. Damping systems can either be integrated within the entire building or built on a smaller scale, such as just in the brace system of a commercial structure.

engineering Invisibility Cloak: While this may sound like a product from the fictional world of Harry Potter, it's actually a fairly new innovative application that can be used to make buildings more resistant to earthquakes. Specifically, this product is designed to make a building immune from the surface waves that earthquakes emit. It's accomplished by burying special rings below the surface of the building, which in turn work to compress and capture waves from earthquakes, letting them pass through so that no harm is done to the specific building. 

engineering Shape Memory Alloys: Recent research between the University of Nevada (Reno) and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation has discovered that shape memory alloys are materials that are able to endure a heavy amount of strain and not break. The research could mark a significant discovery in the search for more earthquake-resistant building materials, as well as an ability to better reinforce bridges and other structures that could be damaged by quakes.

engineering Solid Pipes: In the event of an earthquake, rigid, solid pipes have a tendency to bend and break, potentially causing more than just structural damage - but water damage as well. That's why flexible pipes are recommended for buildings in earthquake zones, as these pipes will bend and move with the structure rather than snap off when up against resistance. Not only does this keep pipes secure, but it also can help prevent leakage.

engineering Furniture Straps/Anchors:  A simple, yet effective product - especially in earthquakes where structural damage isn't the only threat. There's also the threat of moving heavy objects. Hence, strap heavy furniture to the wall and considering anchoring the likes of bookcases, desks and more to prevent them from tipping and potentially causing even more injury. While heavier furniture might require more robust products, you may even be able to carry out the anchoring of smaller appliances and office furniture yourself.

 

ICF Construction: Theater Owners Like What They Hear AND What They Don't 

August 24, 2016

Of the many reasons to choose Insulating Concrete Form (ICF) for a major construction project, noise reduction is one of the least-discussed, as the inherent insulation the material provides is usually the major contributing factor to the decision. However, ICF provides a large enough benefit for sound that projects where noise is a concern should prioritize ICF for their material choice.

ICF Wall Systems are the superior choice for building commercial theaters, due to how they contain internal sound as well as mitigate external sound. 

When choosing materials for theaters, where sound is a key concern, the Sound Transmission Class (STC) takes on major importance. STC measures the transmission loss values of a waveform: in this case, the decrease in intensity of sound as it resonates through a given building material.

Traditional building materials often don't score well in this area. Insulated wood walls generally maintain an STC of around 38, meaning loud speaking voices are audible on the other side. ICF, on the other hand, scores around 50-55, meaning shouting can only be heard faintly, or not at all.

For theater applications, 55 STC ICF is the most efficient, potent sound-dampening material for large construction. Loud noise is almost completely contained, and importantly for such a bass-heavy setting, ICF reduces vibration heavily, preventing transference between viewing rooms.

The higher STC ceiling made possible by ICF gives theater owners opportunities to expand their audio palette. Overall louder sounds, of course, but also more bass, which helps theaters provide an audiovisual experience that few can match with even high-end home theater equipment.

This visceral element is more important than ever for mainstream theaters, which increasingly rely on bombastic event films to attract audiences.

Dampening external sounds is also an important factor when building a theater. ICF helps to expand the number of locations available to theater owners, including areas close to airports and highways that produce near-constant ambient noise.

While supplemental materials can reduce sound further, or provide specific sound stages for certain tones, an ICF structure alone dramatically reduces noise between rooms. A 50-55 STC baseline is already far beyond the starting point of 38 for a fully insulated wood construction, so for new theater projects, ICF is the sensible choice of building material.

Click here [video] to learn more about the benefits of ICF theater construction.

Keep Calm - That School Was Built With ICFs August 12, 2016

Exterior 2

With expanding populations and aging construction, many districts are continually putting proposals together to accommodate more students. Concerns for our school children, in addition to their education, are elements of comfort and safety during their school day. Budgeters are also searching for the best way to spend the limited resources on hand for the construction and renovation of school buildings. 

Insulated Concrete Form wall systems, Fox Blocks, are a way to create an extremely safe structure. This durable wall system protects against high impact winds and debris from hurricanes and tornadoes. When teachers and students return to an ICF school, they are protected against these elements.  

In areas with extreme heat or extreme cold, it is difficult, and costly, to provide a comfortable atmosphere. The "ice cream sandwich" effect of encasing concrete block with insulated foam on either side creates a more sustainable and more comfortable environment for staff and students. This innovative insulation also creates a sound buffer, allowing classrooms independence from one another even if volume levels increase. 

Public schools are built and maintained with taxpayer dollars, therefore those creating proposals to pitch to the taxpayers need to have a positive goal in mind to sell the idea of possible tax increases or millage renewals. By using ICFs to create a more comfortable environment, it also keeps heat and cool air where it needs to be, surrounding our students, and not escaping through the walls. Heating and cooling bills will decrease significantly and these high-quality durable materials will last a long time, allowing the necessity for taxpayer dollars to decrease in construction and utility areas.    

Our staff and our students deserve the best that construction can offer for safety and for comfort. Learn more about Fox Blocks, ICFs, and other products to make school construction projects the best they can be.

What's the Big Fascination Over Tiny Homes? August 4, 2016

There's no doubt that the idea of tiny home living is taking off in a big way across the country. But what's the big fascination over tiny homes really all about? There are a couple of forces driving the tiny home movement -- namely, the desire to free up the large percentage of income that goes toward housing and an intentional choice to live more simply. Tiny House (2)

The average homeowner conservatively spends a little more than a quarter of his annual, pretax income on housing. That includes mortgage, property taxes and insurance. Lots of people spend more like 35%, which is as high as many lenders will allow. If you can build a tiny home for say, $50,000 and a get a piece of property for about the same amount, you're probably going to be spending far less, and that's a powerful attraction for people wanting to put that money into things like retirement, repaying student loans, or traveling, among other things.

The motivation to life a simpler life is not only about saving money, but also about making a smaller impact on the planet and a pared down lifestyle that makes a statement about American consumerism and the societal drive for more of everything.

Even though the median house size has grown by more than 10 percent over the past decade (per U.S. census figures), there's little doubt that the tiny home concept has grown in popularity, thanks to T.V. shows such as Tiny House Builders, Tiny House Nation, and Tiny House, Big Living. Even if you're not actually considering building a tiny home, it's still interesting to see all the creative ways to use a limited amount of space and still manage to live in relative comfort.

R-Value: It's More Than a Number July 28, 2016

R-values were created in the 1970s as a measure of thermal value for insulation. More specifically, they measure the ability of a given material to restrict heat flow. The higher the R-value the less heat the insulation conducts. A good analogy by HGTV is to consider what would happen if you put a blowtorch on one side of tinfoil; you would feel the heat, but if you put that same fire on the other side of a wall board you wouldn't feel the heat. The wall board would have a higher R-value. The recommended R-value for any given building depends on where you are and what part of the building is being insulated. For example: The floor of a building in Southern Florida should only have R13 insulation while an uninsulated attic in Northern Michigan is should have R49-R60.

Although R-values are considered to be the standard measure for insulation, they are not the whole story when it comes to choosing insulation. The biggest problem with R-values is that they treat all materials the same and are not necessarily an accurate measure of how a given insulation material will work over time.

The Monolithic Dome Institute explains that the R-value test accounts only for heat transfer, not air flow or moisture resistance. What about when an insulation material is exposed to wind and moisture? If air can easily come through the insulation, it isn't as effective. A material that can absorb water or doesn't provide a seal against water vapor won't provide the same sort of protection when it's even slightly wet from normally occurring water condensation. How well an insulation works also depends on other factors such as how the building is constructed, what materials may be combined for insulation, and how carefully the insulation is installed.

The goals of insulation are to reduce heat loss and control surface temperature. The best way to do this is by creating a heat sink that keeps an average temperature by holding a limited amount of heat and then radiating it out as the temperature changes. Examples of building materials that do this are concrete, brick, and adobe. While these materials may not have high R-values, their ability to diffuse heat makes them better insulators than other materials such as fiberglass, cellulose fiber, or rock wool. Selecting a solid insulation makes sense not only from an ecological standpoint, because it utilizes recycled materials, but also because it provides superior protection compared with other insulation.

You can find more information at the Department of Energy's Energy Saver Page. Learn more on adding insulation to an existing house or insulating a new house. And remember that along with R-value, air sealing and moisture control are important to your home's energy efficiency, health, and comfort.

 

3 Reasons Why ICFs and Swimming Pools are a Great Match July 21, 2016

Insulated concrete forms have long been used for building energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings. They have also been used with great success for such projects as retaining walls and decorative outdoor fireplaces. But perhaps their most outstanding use yet is in the construction of swimming pools.

There are many reasons to use ICFs for your new swimming pool, but here are our top three.

ICFs are known for longevity

Insulated concrete forms are structurally superior to most other building materials. Buildings that incorporate the use of ICFs have an expected life of 200 years or more. 

To make the news even better, during the long life of your new ICF pool, you will experience much lower maintenance costs as well. These pools are not only built to last, they are built to be practically maintenance free.

Energy Savings

According to ICF Builder Magazine, the use of this product can result in a cost savings in the construction of your pool. However, they go on to say that the greatest savings is in the energy costs associated with using your pool over the long term. 

"Experts calculate that up to 80% of a pool's heat is lost through the sides and bottom of the pool, due to the fact that the ground conducts heat far more efficiently than air does."

If you take that heat loss into consideration, then the use of ICFs in pool construction (and their impressive insulating qualities) just makes sense. If you live in an area where heating your pool can become an issue, you definitely need to consider using ICFs.

Convenience and ease of use

Let's face it, some of us want pools in awkward places: small backyards, on an incline, you name it, but these placements can make the construction of pools problematic. There are just some places that heavy equipment won't go. ICFs are lightweight, making them easy to handle without that heavy equipment.

They are also much more accommodating of those fancy pool designs that feature curved walls. With the flexibility of insulated concrete forms, you can achieve curves, arches, and a host of other design options to create exactly the shape and look you want for your backyard oasis.

This option for pool construction is also a time-saver in the building of your pool. An ICF swimming pool can be constructed in less time than most other construction methods, so there is no reason not to choose the pool of your dreams--even if you are on a deadline.

Bottom line, if you want a unique, energy-efficient pool that just may last for your lifetime, you really need to consider using ICFs in your pool's construction.

5 Tips for Finding the Right Contractor         July 13, 2016 

When you're ready to move forward with your project, finding the right contractor can be a daunting task. You may be tempted to go with the first good deal you find, but that can lead to big problems later - building delays, shoddy work, and even legal problems. So make sure you choose the right one by following these tips.

Make sure the contractor specializes in your project type

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to overlook if you're not paying attention. By selecting a contractor specializing in what you need, you'll avoid a lot of headaches in the future. With so many codes and regulations in place, you want to hire someone who you can be sure will do the work correctly.

Check that the contractor is licensed and insured

Not all areas require contractors to be licensed, but having one is a way to demonstrate knowledge and credibility. Licenses are not given out to contractors who don't know the processes and building codes required of the job. They also add peace of mind to those hiring the contractor that they won't be scammed. Insurance will prevent liability on your end if a worker is hurt on the job or something gets damaged. So get the contractor's license number and proof of insurance.

Have a contract in place ahead of time

And make sure it covers every detail. Costs, item brands, estimated start/end dates, and drawings with specifications should be included. If you think you've written too much, then you're good to go. You can't have too much detail. Contracts can also help you keep track of who gave what bid when you're talking to multiple contractors.

Ask for work samples

Unless the contractor is brand new, he should have some pictures on hand to demonstrate clear examples of his work. In a way, samples are more important than personal references. You can see upfront the quality you're paying for and what type of design you're getting. The photos may even spark ideas for your own project.

Keep it local

It can be difficult to gauge how your project will turn out when you're working with a contractor you're unfamiliar with. Contractors from your local area who have been in business for a while are usually safer bets. Besides, you'll be stimulating the local economy by keeping your money in the neighborhood. 

Need help finding a contractor in your area? Contact us at contact@foxblocks.com.

 

What Is An Energy Audit?  July 5, 2016 

The term "energy audit" can seem daunting. But in reality, it's nothing to be afraid of, and in fact, is designed to be beneficial to you. It can reveal the highest level of energy use in your home or business, thus allowing you to make adjustments to lower your energy consumption. This increases your energy efficiency and can even save you money.

An energy audit is frequently performed by a professional employed by your power company. They'll come to your home or business and analyze the energy flow, and show you where you use the most energy. 

One important thing they'll look for is anywhere that may allow for air leaks or drafts, such as doors, windows and even behind your baseboards. If there are areas that aren't properly sealed and allow drafts, you could be wasting a lot of energy without even realizing it. Your auditor will find any instances of this, so you can fix the problem.

Another important consideration is insulation. If the insulation in your walls or attic isn't sufficient, you may require more energy to heat or cool your house. They'll also likely check your attic for a vapor barrier, which reduces moisture levels and prevents water damage.

At the end of the inspection, the auditor will write up a report, which you then get a copy of. They'll also show you how to reduce your energy usage and thus, your carbon footprint. 

In some cases, the auditor will leave packs of energy-efficient lightbulbs with you if you're not using them already, and some will include new aerators for your faucets. These can adjust the water flow, which helps to ensure you're not wasting excess water.

The auditor will also walk you through the results of the audit, allowing for any questions you may have and helping to explain everything clearly. Once you have all the information, you can then work toward reducing your energy consumption, which helps not only the environment but also your pocketbook. If you make all the changes suggested in the audit, your home or business will be running much more efficiently.

An audit may seem intimidating at first, but remember, it's for your benefit.

 

Properly Placing The Concrete June 17, 2016 

In the last post we went over the proper concrete mix for insulated concrete form walls. Depending on the forms' size and the concrete core width, the concrete aggregate size and slump should be adjusted accordingly. The ultimate goal is to get the correct compressive strength for the concrete as specified.Boom Truck The Preserve

The concrete should be placed in 4'-0" lifts to ensure proper concrete consolidation.  Typically if there is more than one concrete pour per project, the walls are poured a story at a time.  Concrete is placed in 4'-0" lifts using several passes around the perimeter of the building plan, until either the top of the wall is reached or until the first pour is completed.  Concrete should be placed below every window opening through the opening left in the sill of the window buck. 

Most builders have found that an overhead boom pump truck is the most efficient method to place the concrete in the walls.  With the overhead boom pump truck, it is important to slow the velocity of the concrete by reducing the diameter of the hose to 3" near the end of the line. 

While placing the concrete, the ICF Conctractor must keep a close eye all the time on how the concrete is flowing through the forms and around rebar.  Be sure the concrete is not getting hung up on rebar or any embedments.

During cold and hot weather, the concrete mix may need to be adjusted to modify its flowability and the rate of concrete placement may also need to be adjusted.

 

Does Concrete Mix Really Matter? May 12, 2016

The answer is yes. In fact, one of the most important aspects of concrete placement is the proper concrete mix design.  Proper concrete mix saves time on labor, facilitates concrete consolidation and ensures a successful Fox Blocks wall pour.  Cutting corners on the concrete mix can add cost and problems when you place the concrete into the Fox walls.

Concrete mix can vary from region to region throughout the country because the raw materials differ from region to region.  Therefore, you must work closely with your local concrete supplier and explain that you will be placing the concrete in ICFs.  Although Fox Blocks can provide concrete mix guidelines, we cannot provide the specific mix design for your area.

Concrete Mix Guidelines

The following concrete mix guidelines must be conveyed to the concrete supplier.  The concrete supplier has the most knowledge about the materials in the area and will design the best mix for your Fox Blocks ICF project.

Concrete Compressive Strength - The 28-day compressive strength of the concrete must be specified to meet the strength used in the design of the Fox walls.  The minimum strength that should be specified is 2,500 psi (17 MPa).  A slightly higher compressive strength of 3,000 to 4,000 psi (20 to 30 MPa) can help the flowability and pumpability of the concrete and provide additional strength to the walls with minimal or no additional cost.  

Slump - The proper slump allows the concrete to flow and be pumped at an efficient rate.  Inadequate slump can create voids and honeycombs in the walls or put excessive pressure on the forms during concrete placement.  Fox Blocks recommends a concrete slump as shown in the table below.  The slump specified must be the slump that arrives in the cement truck at the job site.  Water should not be added to the concrete at the job site.  Additional water will reduce the compressive strength of the concrete and affect the water to cement ratio. 

Form Size

Slump

Maximum Aggregate Size

9 1/4" (228 mm)

6.5”-7.0” (165 – 178 mm)

3/8" (9.5 mm)

11 1/4" & 13 1/4" (279 & 330 mm)

5.5”-6.5” (140 to 165 mm)

3/8" to ½" (9.5 to 12.7 mm)

15 1/4" & 17 1/4" (381 & 432 mm)

4.5”-5.5” (114 to 140 mm)

¾" (19 mm)

Aggregate Size - The aggregate size is also important in providing concrete with the proper strength that will flow well through the forms.  A maximum aggregate size, as shown in the preceding table, is recommended for the best results.  If the aggregate in the forms is too large, it could create damming of the concrete within the forms resulting in a void.  

Admixtures - Admixtures are ingredients in the concrete other than Portland cement, water, and aggregates.  They improve the pumpability, durability and workability of concrete and prevent weathering.   There are many different types of admixtures available in different parts of the country.  Some types of admixtures include air-entraining, water-reducing, super plasticizers, retarding and accelerating.  Fly ash, air, plasticizers and super plasticizers are common admixtures used in concrete in the ICF industry.  The concrete supplier should address admixtures at the concrete mix design stage.  The goal should be a good flowable concrete mix. 

 

Why Is Indoor Air Quality Important & How to Create It  May 4, 2016

Experts agree that controlling or conditioning indoor air is the best way for a business to increase employee efficiency and to reduce costs connected with employee health care.  Fox Blocks ICF walls provide the tight exterior building envelope that is the first step in controlling the indoor air environment.  Fox Blocks buildings have high steady state R-values, low air infiltration rates, and the solid concrete walls provide superior thermal mass.  The healthiest, most energy efficient building is built "tight" with mechanical ventilation to ensure indoor air quality and moisture control. Opening a window and bringing in fresh outside air alone does not give good indoor air quality.  Fresh air enters the building, but that air is not conditioned.  It has moisture, dust pollen and mold particles that need to be controlled and conditioned.

Improving indoor air quality can increase profitability for businesses and building owners by increasing individual productivity, reducing employee or tenant turnover and disputes and reducing HVAC energy consumption and equipment repair.

Health Concerns

The EPA lists indoor air quality as the greatest threat to people's health.  Good indoor air quality is especially important for people with asthma and other allergies.  The number of asthma patients has doubled in the United States within the last 10 years, but lowering the humidity and unfiltered air in buildings can help reduce the symptoms of asthma.

Dust mites.  90% of the people who have allergies are sensitive to dust mites.  Cleaning duct systems and air filtration alone are not effective methods of treating for dust mites, because dust mites are also found in upholstery, carpets, and bedding.  Since they require 55% humidity to survive, controlling the indoor humidity to a maximum of 50% is the best way of eliminating them.       

Mold.  Mold not only creates an unhealthy living environment—it also causes structural damage.  People react to both the mold spores and the toxic gases released by the mold.  Like dust mites, mold also requires higher humidity levels to survive, so controlling humidity can eliminate mold growth.

Create Quality and Healthy Indoor Air

Humidity control is the critical factor for healthy indoor air quality.  The healthiest indoor air environment is 40% to 50% humidity with temperatures ranging from 68º to 70º F.  Also, the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends 0.35 air changes per hour.  The most cost effective way of controlling indoor air quality is with a mechanical ventilation system.  These come in three types:

  • Exhaust Ventilation System - Stale air is drawn to a quiet vent and exhausted outdoors.
  • Balanced Ventilation System - Exhausts stale air out and brings fresh air in from the outside.  These systems are called air-to-air heat exchangers or heat recovery ventilators.  The temperature of the outside air can be conditioned to within 95% of the indoor air temperature.
  • Supply Ventilation System - Pressurizes the building, forcing the stale air out and controlling the humidity all within one system.  It allows for treating the fresh air before introducing it to the indoor air.  The treatment removes pollen, dust and mold spores from the outdoor air.

Conventional HVAC systems are not designed to control the humidity below 50%.  With the removal of the moisture from the indoor air, the air conditioner is able to cool the air more efficiently, making the building more comfortable.  Other ways of controlling indoor air quality include removing pets and pests, and eliminating smoking from the indoor environment.

 

An Issue of Mold April 26, 2016

Indoor air quality (IAQ) has always been an important issue, whether or not we’ve realized it. However, as construction techniques have advanced and as we’ve come to have an increased emphasis on energy efficiency due to costs, IAQ has become a primary focus.

The reason why IAQ has become such a priority traces directly back to the building envelope. As previously stated, rising utility costs have building owners more concerned with how best to cut those costs than ever before. The best way to reduce utility costs is to reduce the need to run utility-reliant systems, like the HVAC units. Therefore, creating a tight envelope that prevents conditioned air from escaping and unconditioned air from entering a structure, will greatly cut HVAC needs and reduce costs.

However, IAQ problems arise when unhealthy substances, such as mold, form because moisture can’t escape. Previous building techniques were aware of this problem, but they were built so loosely that any water intrusion was dealt with by incoming air that removed the moisture before mold could form.

Because of the need to restrict air infiltration for the sake of energy efficiency, moisture barriers are an integral part of better IAQ. Insulating concrete forms can dramatically reduce the chances of moisture intrusion due to the fact that the insulated concrete form wall assembly itself is a vapor retarder AND an air barrier. The connection points are on the inside of the wall, unexposed to the elements, your envelope can be designed to virtually eliminate any water intrusion. In addition, by creating an interior environment that allows the mechanical systems to control the amount of humidity in the living spaces, the ability for mold to form is greatly reduced or eliminated.

When you consider how important the need for an effective moisture barrier is, keep these facts in mind from the CDC :

  • Mold has been linked to the cause of asthma in children
  • Mold has been linked to other respiratory issues that cause workers to miss time
  • Mold in a commercial building can cost owners time and money for remediation and loss of man hours due to sick building syndrome

Mold is easily accounted for with ICF Construction

4 conditions MUST apply for mold to be present

  • Mold Spores have to be present
  • Good temperature for mold to grow
  • Considerable Moisture (70% RH)
  • Food (organic) for mold to eat

The first of those conditions is out of your control and the next two are managed by building occupants. So, even if the first 3 conditions apply, there is ZERO organic material in an ICF. There is no dew point and no condensation within the wall in any climate with ICFs- so you have effectively removed moisture from equation. With ICFs your interior temp and humidity levels are better controlled by mechanical systems and the occupants, eliminating the risk of mold within the walls.

Obviously using other best practices for mitigating moisture for the whole building and there should never be an issue.

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