The PassiveCore Solution
Part One / OVERVIEW:
Coming in 2012: A Revolution in Building Technology!
THE 4 MAIN ISSUES FROM THE BUILDER’S PERSPECTIVE
(Regarding Insulation, Fresh Air and Mechanical Systems)
Go directly to The Passivecore Solution Part II
“Take what you can. Give nothing back,” as Captain Jack Sparrow said in those Pirates of the Caribbean movies, though construction trades would never interpret this as greed. It’s an autonomic ethos for preserving their share of the construction industry pie.
To many others it may seem akin to avarice. Most western businesses, electricians, mechanical contractors and carpenters alike (us capitalists, anyway) long ago adopted the ideal of “not what it costs, but what it’s worth.”
The principle of perceived value reigns supreme, and the rapidly changing dynamics of today’s economy are making this mindset even more prevalent. Of course there are exceptions, yet as a rule no one gives up much unless there’s an even-more “something” to be gained later. Even worse, we’re loathe to give up any advantage gained over the years without a fight.
At Abide Systems, we have a bit of a different approach. We propose to reduce the amount of work that goes into an asset, so more assets can be gained sooner. We think other subs should realize how an equitable increase in the profit margin is a fair accommodation when there’s a substantial reduction in the overall value of an individual project.
In other words, cut the cost of construction and make up the difference by expanding the market and doing ever more business altogether – albeit in smaller increments. Lowering costs while delivering a better product often has an incentivizing effect on the market.
Issue 2: The New Energy Code & Building Science
The builder now has to deal with difficult energy code requirements in a largely unpredictable economic environment, and an ostensibly more complex construction world.
One of the biggest issues builders have is dealing with multiple subs who aren’t in complete agreement with which trade should be sacrificed on the altar of energy conservation. Identifying how to build economically, in a practical way and be ecologically responsible is a daunting task.
Current Building Science tells us the fundamental considerations for energy efficiency today are:
1. Foundations need to be completely insulated and properly waterproofed.
2. The structure needs to be completely air-sealed with higher R values than ever before.
3. Fiberglass and cellulose insulation are problematic for health and air-quality reasons.
4. Windows, Skylights and Entry Door Systems need to have the best U values and weatherproofing possible.
5. We need to use less lumber and steel in the envelope to minimize thermal transference and reduce waste of natural resources.
6. Air-sealed, well insulated buildings need downsized mechanical systems.
7. Passive air circulation and solar-heating should be built into the structure.
8. Electrical services to buildings should be smaller too, utilizing lower voltages/amperage for lighting and appliances.
9. Wireless control technologies should be engaged for ease of operation and to save labor, copper wiring and related materials.
10. Plumbing should utilize solar and on-demand water heating technologies, eliminating the need for storing and maintaining large hot water tanks.
Issue 3: Increasing Complexity of Code Requirements and Building Systems
The main new concern now that we are air sealing buildings is the need for fresh air introduction into the building envelope, removing stale air, and regulating humidity. Appropriately sizing mechanical equipment to the reduced loads falls on the shoulders of HVAC contractors reluctant to downsize their equipment and give up the proportional share of the building system’s revenue.
Builders are beginning to understand that when mechanical systems can be reduced by 40% or more and an appropriate cost reduction from the HVAC trade can help offset the increased cost and added benefit of higher quality insulation. Passive air heating, cooling and circulation techniques can be built into the structure for little or no appreciable overall cost increase. Advanced framing techniques mean structural costs reduction, which can help add even more to the bottom line. See the “Structural” section for more info on this.
New IECC Energy Code Complexity? Here’s a sample (and this is an easy one) from the EnergyCodes.gov discussion site:
“There are two R-value options in the IECC. The first R-value option is used for this comparison. For mass walls, this first value applies when less than half of the insulation is on the interior of the mass wall, the case for which the code allows a greater reduction in required R-value due to the beneficial effects of thermal mass. The second number is more similar to wood frame wall requirements. For basement and crawl space walls, this first value applies for continuous insulation on the interior or exterior of the wall, whereas the second value is for insulation in cavities between studs or furring strips. In this case the two values represent approximately similar overall thermal resistance.”
Issue 4: How To Passively Counter the Stack Effect
When a building is heated, the warm air inside rises creating a high-pressure zone near the top floors or attic. Opposingly, a low-pressure zone forms in the basement and bottom floors. The area in between these two zones then becomes a neutral pressure zone. This air-pressure configuration is called the Stack Effect, and it exists in every type of building on the planet. The high-pressure air above the neutral zone tries to escape from the building and move towards the lower pressure outside the building. Because the air in the basement and lower floors has lower pressure, the air from outside will enter the building through any available opening.
By using Passivecore elements in the wall cavities, we can effectively counteract this effect, maintain more consistent temperatures and circulate air passively throughout the envelope. When fresh air is introduced, it goes through a passive ERV system (see: Bringing Back Earth Tubes in the Foundation section) and then a purification system before entering into the inhabited space. After going through the envelope, stale air (elevated CO2 levels etc.) is exhausted, keeping a continuous, albeit unnoticeable – air flow throughout the building. Here’s how:
In an air-sealed envelope, the high pressure in the upper levels can’t escape. At the same time, low pressure in the lower zone needs to draw air. The building automation system’s barometric function regulates air flow by controlling small dampers at the fresh air intake points, allowing the stale, high pressure warm air from the upper levels/attic to be drawn into the subterranean ERV ducts where it’s energy is transferred to the fresh air coming in before being exhausted.
Flaps and screens at the intake and exhaust points prevent air from circulating the wrong way and keep out pests. Built-in automated pest and mold maintenance and remediation systems keep these potential annoyances under control.
In an Abide Building Component System, we truncate heat flows at the exterior walls so we can control them with the building’s automated thermo-regulation system. At the building’s core we use mechanical and passive systems designed to metabolically control heating and cooling, respiration and humidity.
The Comprehensive Solution
Abide Building Component Systems (ABCS) offers a complete solution to the builder’s dilemma.
By including the Foundation, the Structure (rough framing), the Insulation, the Mechanical, Passive Solar and Air Circulation Systems, and the Environmental Automation Control into an interrelated component system, we’ve eliminated many of the most difficult issues builders have to face.
Engaging over 35 years of experience, together with applied building science, advanced industry technologies, decades of sound engineering practices and field-proven methodologies, ABCS delivers of these trades in one comprehensive package.
Now more free to deal with other complex problems such as aesthetics, marketing, coordinating other trades, finishes and appointments details, documentation and approvals, our builders no longer have to worry about the basic envelope configuration or mediate between the trades we perform.
See what we’re doing to further simplify these issues: The Passivecore™ Solution
*gam·bit [gam-bit] noun: Any maneuver by which one seeks to gain an advantage.