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Health and Safety? Of course it is!

Created 12/29/2014 by David Bopp
Updated 1/7/2015 by David Bopp
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What is better for health and safety than a home that has good indoor air quality, doesn’t grow mold, and will keep this up for a very long time?  Sure energy codes save energy too but the real guts, in my opinion, are the pieces tied to building durability and health of the occupants.

I recently attended a presentation by our building code inspectors about the adoption of the 2012 IECC (which was gutted to the 2009 version by MT which is another rant for another day).  The takeaway was that they were not going to pay attention to virtually any of it since it is not health or safety related.  Basically we got a new code which improves energy efficiency (and integrates better building science) but due to the lack of knowledge about why and how we got here it is being blown off.

If you don’t understand something does it make it less important or true?

Ok, so not everything in the energy codes is directly tied to health and safety.  However, our homes act as a system and if you ignore one part of it that piece will affect the rest in a direct or indirect way. 

For example, if you don’t control the movement of the interior warm moist air or don’t control condensation potential on building surfaces you have mold or mildew show up and eventual rot of the building if bad enough.  Simple to address through exterior foam sheathing which, from the energy perspective, cuts out your thermal bridging problems.  There are other options too; all of which will save energy to some level or other.

 

Or another; code keeps asking for tighter homes, fabulous for energy savings, and with the 2012 IECC testing is mandated.  If ventilation isn’t addressed along with tightening the house shell then besides poor indoor air quality you can build up large amounts of moisture inside.  Once again we are heading down the road of mold, mildew, and rot. 

Or yet another; sealing our ductwork (especially if it is outside of the building thermal shell). Once again if you have warm moist air in the house then you have this same air in the ductwork.  If this supply side ductwork leaks in the attic then you have warm moist air (read energy loss here) in an attic which once again gets us into trouble with mold, mildew, and rot.  Or you might have leaks in the return side of the ductwork which is in an attic.  Now you are sucking cold air into the ductwork (read energy loss here) and anything else that is in that attic too.  No one wants to breathe fiberglass bits or mouse poop.  Duct sealing definitely seems to me to be health and safety related.

 

Personally I think the split in codes into the residential building code and a separate energy code creates the wrong impression and does the energy code a dis-favor; follow the energy code if you want but there is no benefit for health and safety.  These need to be brought together and made into a cohesive code which incorporates energy savings.

What good is checking the nailing pattern for the sheathing of a home when that sheathing will rot away in less than 30 years and the occupants will feel awful in the meantime?  Yes our energy codes save energy but they also are key to improving the home’s durability and indoor air quality.  Let’s champion them for what they are: Crucial to a home’s safety, durability, indoor air quality, and comfort!

For the first time I am going to spend some time providing answers and information to our code inspector's questions.  Maybe you have good code enforcement and there is no need for a dialogue but if you do work with your code inspector's I would love to hear how that developed and what shape it takes today.

 Codes without understanding are about as useful as this sign: 

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Comments (4)
Ken Baker on 12/29/14 on 06:21 PM (Pacific Time)
Good piece David.  Thanks for taking time to bring this topic into play.  I wish we could get builders pushing for better codes and building best practices.  
David Bopp on 12/30/14 on 08:26 AM (Pacific Time)

Ken,

Me too.  I feel that unfortunately this reflects what is true for a lot of the US; education is what you do when you have to do it but not something useful after the age of 18/22.  Most of the builders I interact with just don't see value in learning something new or different.  It is simply seen as a time waster and if they are required to do it they will sit in the back of the class muttering about how much of a waste it is rather than seeing what they can get out of it.  Until we become a society that values lifetime learning or a builder gets bitten big by a building science mistake that creates a substantial negative in their pocketbook I don't think we will see this attitude change. 

 

I think the other change that could motivate change in the builders is if the public started asking for better and proof that it occurred during the building process.  However, until we have a mandated energy scoring requirement for new and used houses there is nothing for a homeowner to grasp and make a decision about.  Add to this the delusion that most homeowners have that the contractor will build them the best since the builder says so and we have even less incentive for a builder to change and learn.

 

Maybe (and this is a big maybe) we will actually get a law that requires energy scores.  Makes sense.  If we have to score how much energy an appliance uses why wouldn't we for our biggest ticket purchase of our lives?  See an additional dialogue on this topic here:https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&item=5951859481083129860&type=member&gid=1110797&trk=eml-b2_anet_digest-hero-4-hero-disc-disc-0&midToken=AQF2Mvhv5FEnXg&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=1s82aXZL8p7mA1

 

Rob Penney on 01/01/15 on 11:00 AM (Pacific Time)
Good discussion. It's a similar issue to what I experience with emerging technologies, which is currently my area. If the end game is adoption, than it doesn't matter how good a job I do on scanning and assessment if the target audience isn’t benefitting from that and changing their behavior. The codes guys in my office celebrate when a new code upgrade is passed, but if the building inspector is ignoring it and consumers don’t appreciate the benefit of it, is the world actually changing in any positive way? One of my rants is about the lack of focus on non-energy benefits. You listed a number of good ones that are often missed. We in the energy efficiency business need to identify and articulate more of these, and to do so more forcefully and artfully. Joe Lstiburek, whom a number of you may know, once made a presentation about ventilation I sat in on. He said something like, "There are a number of strategies for this, but I think that one thing we can all agree on is that isn't not good for long-term business success to kill our clients". I staffed a home show booth once and got completely overshadowed by the booth next to us--a hot tub company featuring two lovely young women in bikinis. My boss finally made a sign from a long strip of printer paper (remember those days?) and a fat marker that read, "Ask us about radon, the silent killer!". It's a bit like taking more of the Republican approach, which is more about emotion, rather than the Democrat approach, which is more about charts and graphs. Finally, it's great when organizations such as NEEA can try to shift markets, and do that remarkably well, unlike the rest of us more on the technology side of the business that just grouse about it. Maybe one of them could work through code official organizations and develop more consumer outreach campaigns to try to improve the push and pull of code implementation. A tough nut to crack, but an important one.
David Bopp on 01/07/15 on 07:46 AM (Pacific Time)

Rob,

Thanks for your thoughts.  I'd agree that many people get very excited when we have new improved codes which are adopted but without proper field implementation they don't mean squat.  I would love to see an initiative working to educate homeowners about code and inspections and what a difference it can make to your long term health, safety, and pocketbook.  I would also love to see a MT initiative to actually inspect homes - unless you are in a municipal jurisdiction within my service territory there are no inspections for a new home other than septic and electrical (assuming you file for these).  What would the NW states be like if we required inspections and also required an energy rating for all houses before they were built or re-sold?  Would we see substantial change?