Building With Wildfire Resilience in Mind

Building With Wildfire Resilience in Mind

There’s so much to think about when building your home, but structural stability is one of the most critical considerations. Fortunately, this is also an area of continuous advancement in the building industry, the result of lessons sometimes learned the hard way through natural disasters, whether they be fires, flooding, wind, or earthquakes. In our Rocky Mountain region, the most common trial has been wildfires. 

Given the hot, dry summers and occasional gusty high winds—capable of carrying embers for miles in the right conditions—many states including Colorado and California remain in constant danger of home-threatening wildfires. 

Because the annual threat of wildfires isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s worth it to look at ways to mitigate risks and to rebuild smarter, making use of hard-fought knowledge and new technology.

In this blog, we take a look at how our local Colorado Springs community has been learning and improving our city’s code following a series of devastating wildfires.

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In 2002, the Hayman Fire destroyed 133 homes outside of Colorado Springs, rapidly covering 19 miles in just one day out of a three week burn period. After that fire, the city banned wood-shake roofs for all new homes and re-roofs, a major step forward in making home construction more resilient. But dense vegetation can be a major concern as well, particularly underbrush and trees with low limbs that aren’t pruned back, and with the amount of flying embers a fire can produce, limiting or regularly clearing dense, dry vegetation can provide critical defensible space and prevent fires from spreading to engulf blocks of homes.

The Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 ravaged 346 Colorado Springs homes in mere hours, completely destroying entire neighborhoods in the Mountain Shadows area. Only a year later, in 2013, Colorado Springs was hit by yet another wildfire—the Black Forest fire—which burned 500 structures.

Immediately after the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire was contained, Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey assembled a task force of builders and homeowners to amend the city’s fire code, resulting in “Appendix K,” an amendment specifically aimed at keeping communities and first responders safer. This included requiring “Firewise” vegetation management techniques in the burn area, as well as increasing the number of fire-resistant construction details in rebuilt homes. 

Concrete decks, stucco and stone finishes, and minimal, well-maintained vegetation all contribute to wildfire resilience.

In terms of style and curb appeal, fire-resistant finishes have long been favored in Colorado, with many clients already opting for the low-maintenance appeal of stucco and stone. Colorado also has notoriously awful hailstorms, meaning fiberglass shingles and concrete tile have been used over less durable wood shakes for many years now. 

When designing your home, think about ways to make it more resilient, more eco-friendly and lower-maintenance. More often than not, these traits will go hand in hand and will complement each other, giving you a home you can enjoy for many years to come.

APPENDIX K SPECIFICATIONS FOR IGNITION-RESISTANT BUILDINGS

These specifications come from Colorado Springs’s Appendix K, summarized expertly in Ted Cushman’s article “Living with Wildfire” in the September 2017 issue of The Journal of Light Construction. Larry Gilland worked extensively with many homeowners who lost their homes in Mountain Shadows and Black Forest, designing homes that are up to the new code. One of the home building contractors LGA Studios works with is Andy Stauffer, who was interviewed in the article. For more about the homes that were rebuilt after the fires, check out some of our featured projects: Kissing Camels Contemporary, Colorado Springs Rising, and a LEED Platinum Certified Home in Mountain Shadows. Andy Stauffer's website also features some great personal stories of the rebuilding process following the wildfires.

ROOFS: Appendix K requires Class A roof systems. The Class A rating is based on laboratory testing of roof assemblies, in which a large criss-cross lattice of burning wood is placed on the roof covering and allowed to burn out. The material passes if the sheathing is not ignited. Clay tile, concrete tile, slate, and metal roofing typically comply, as do most fiberglass asphalt shingles.

ATTIC VENTS: Roof vents have to be screened with wire mesh or hardware cloth, with openings no larger than 1/8 inch. The 1/8-inch opening size is typical of all the well-known wildland-urban interface codes. According to wildfire expert Steven Quarles, who helped craft California’s wildfire code before joining the Insurance Institute for Building and Home Safety (IBHS), an insurance industry think tank, 1/8 inch is a compromise. While the mesh may let small sparks through, it will hold out the bigger embers that carry the most heat. At the same time, the holes are big enough that they’re less likely than finer mesh to become plugged with paint or dirt over many years in service.

EAVES AND SOFFITS: Soffits and fascia should be built with ignition-resistant material such as fiber cement or metal. Decorative features like false rafter tails are allowed to be made of wood or other combustible materials, but the fire service strongly urges builders to choose ignition-resistant options whenever possible.

GUTTERS: The big risk posed by gutters isn’t the gutters themselves, but the flammable materials, such as leaves and pine needles, that accumulate in them and that can readily catch fire when windblown embers land there. When that happens, vinyl gutters typically melt and fall off, posing a risk of ignition at the base of the house. Metal gutters stay in place, which allows burning debris to ignite the exposed edges of roof sheathing.

Appendix K doesn’t require debris screens over gutters, but the fire service cautions homeowners that gutters should be kept clear of combustible materials. Appendix K does require roof sheathing and framing to be protected against ignition by metal flashing at the roof’s edge that extends down into the gutter. In the case of vinyl gutters, the rule requires noncombustible ground covering, such as stone, at the base of the wall where flaming gutters might fall.

CLADDING AND SIDING: Exterior cladding in the wildfire-prone area must be ignition-resistant. Approved materials include fiber cement, stucco, masonry, and manufactured stone. Natural wood, hardboard, and vinyl are prohibited.

OVERHANGS AND PROJECTIONS: The exposed undersides of building projections such as bay windows are vulnerable to ignition from burning vegetation or accumulating embers. Appendix K requires these surfaces to be protected with the same type of material that is approved for wall cladding.

EXTERIOR DOORS: Appendix K requires doors to be noncombustible or, if wood, to have solid cores at least 1 3/4 inches thick. Any glass in the door must be either tempered safety glass or multilayered glazing, with one exception: Front entry doors are allowed to incorporate decorative single-pane glass.

WINDOWS: Windows must be dual-pane. Research has shown that dual-glazed windows can survive intense radiant heat in a wildfire (typically, outer panes crack and break while inner panes survive). Tempered glass has proven to be the best performer in practice, as well as in laboratory testing. Wildfire expert Steven Quarles points out that even before wildfire codes began to take effect, code has required tempered glass for certain windows, such as windows close to the floor or next to stairs. So most window companies have had no difficulty making dual-glazed tempered options available where needed to make a home ignition-resistant.

DECKS: Brush and trees near a deck can readily set it on fire, as can combustible material such as firewood stored under a deck. Windblown embers can also ignite a deck, but in the Waldo Canyon fire and other fires, composite decking proved less likely to ignite than wood decking, which tends to split and crack and catch hot embers. Appendix K requires ignition-resistant or noncombustible material for decking, but allows wood framing for the deck structure.

BASE OF WALLS: Embers piling up against a house can set the exposed bottom edge of wall sheathing on fire, even if the cladding is noncombustible. Appendix K requires wall bases to be protected with fire caulking (or 1/8-inch wire hardware cloth, if weep holes are needed). Full-scale laboratory research at IBHS has shown that a 6-inch separation between combustible siding and the ground is enough clearance to sharply reduce the risk of fire from embers at the base of the wall.

For more on wildfire resilience, see Living With Wildfire, from The Journal of Light Construction.

For further inspiration, you can also learn about the specific materials chosen and steps taken at the Getty Center in Los Angeles that ensured the priceless art held there remained perfectly safe as the recent Skirball Fire raged less than a mile away: Why the Getty Center's Art Stayed Put as Fires Raged Nearby, from The New York Times.

Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

LGA Studios-Designed Home in Colorado Springs Earns LEED Platinum Certification

LGA Studios-Designed Home in Colorado Springs Earns LEED Platinum Certification

LGA Studios could not be more proud to be part of the project featured in this post: a stunning modern home in Mountain Shadows that was just awarded LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, developed by USGBC, is the foremost program for buildings, homes, and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained, and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. A home can achieve LEED certification under the LEED homes program after undergoing a technically rigorous process, including the incorporation of green strategies to achieve efficiency and healthy indoor environments. The sound design and operation of the home is tested and measured using tools like a home energy (HERS) rating and onsite inspections. 

LEED is the foremost program for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings, and this project joins the 121,900+ certified LEED for Homes residential units across 165 countries and territories.

The green housing market is growing. LEED-certified homes are healthier places to live, produce lower utility bills, have better air quality and leave a smaller environmental footprint behind.
— Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO, USGBC

Sustainable design has long been a passion for us at LGA Studios, with several of our associates going through the additional training to become LEED Accredited Professionals, and it is a hallmark of our business to continually educate ourselves and our clients so that we can design homes that are both beautiful and efficient.

Dawn Streb has been with LGA Studios for over 25 years and served as Team Leader for this project. For her, the reasons for pursuing the challenge of LEED certification are clear: “it’s better for resale value and better for our planet—we’re preserving our resources for the kids down the line.” She went on to say, “the key part is the efficiencies. Using our resources responsibly. They don’t last forever, there’s only so much water, only so many trees. We need to think about that when we’re building to make sure the practice is sustainable.”

In order for a residential project to be LEED-certified, it must meet or exceed rigorous standards in a variety of categories, from Water Efficiency and Energy & Atmosphere, to Sustainable Sites and Innovation in Design. Projects are scored based on a point system and must be monitored and inspected at every stage. This home is Platinum certified—the highest possible level—meaning it had to score between 90-136 points. Phil Drotar of EnergyLogic was the Green Rater for this home, and he was instrumental in bringing new ideas and streamlining the process. 

In the Colorado Springs market, Dawn reports that there are typically a handful of people every year who come into LGA Studios interested in the LEED process, but “they often get scared off by what they perceive as cost issues. Some things do cost more upfront,” she continues, “but it’s kind of a tradeoff. For example, a lot of contractors are still doing an 80% furnace. For LEED, you want to be around 95% or so, and the cost may be a little bit more, but if you say to yourself, I’m going to own this house for 10, 15, or 25 years, the cost of that goes down over time and it will pay off.”

Our client for this project, Damon Winters, knew he wanted to pursue LEED-certification from the start. As the owner of Winters Electric, Damon brought a tremendous amount of his own expertise on energy efficiency, and he knew he would be able to accrue points using innovative options like solar energy and a thoughtful mechanical design.

Damon pulled triple duty on this project, serving as the homeowner, contractor, and electrician. This meant shouldering much of the responsibility for installing efficient wiring and maintaining the integrity of the construction site, all the way down to his vigilant monitoring of the waste bins to make sure nothing that could be recycled was going to the landfill.

Smaller homes score better points on the certification scale, as they require fewer resources. This project is a bit larger and more spacious, making it more of a challenge, but it made up for that in many other ways.

This home was built on a site in the Parkside neighborhood of Mountain Shadows where the previous home had been destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire of 2012. This allowed us to score a few points in the Sustainable Sites category, as it was a smaller lot in a higher density area, and also because it was an existing infrastructure site. The site was not as favorable from a connectibility standpoint, however, as there are not as many walkable community amenities in that area. 

Figuring out where a project can score best is a complicated process unique to each home and requires strategy. Based on Damon’s expertise in the field, “the solar and mechanical design really helped with the points for the Energy & Atmosphere category in this specific case, but each project must at least meet a basic standard in many categories,” said Dawn. “For example, Water Efficiency needs a minimum of 3 points, so if a project can’t meet that, you may as well not go for LEED.” This ensures balance and forward-thinking across all categories, as you can’t overcompensate in one area, and you also can’t double up on points. Dawn explained how you may have doors that are both made of sustainable wood and reused from another project, but you can’t use them in two categories. “It really is a challenge.”

Meeting the standards required for LEED-certification can be complex, but often in the most rewarding way. Because the standards are so strenuous and stretch across a project from beginning to end, the process works best when the entire team can collaborate and work together. This means sitting down with the owner, the architect, the contractor, the project manager, the HVAC and landscaping designers, the LEED certification team, etc. and coming up with ways to solve problems creatively and push for responsible and innovative solutions at every level. 

Sustainable design sacrifices nothing to style, as it suits any floor plan type or architectural design. Hard materials are preferable because they don’t trap contaminants the way carpets do, so LEED favors hardwoods and tile for flooring. Better doors and double-paned windows are also key, along with high-quality insulation that is correctly installed. “The good thing about green design,” Dawn explains, is that “a lot of it is inherent to good building practices. Weatherproofing, flashing details, keeping water out of the house, that’s just responsible building.”

Educating the trades is also central to the mission of USGBC, and they are changing the industry, slowly but surely. “Insulation is a good example of how LEED is teaching better practices,” Dawn says, “because if you scrunch the insulation or stuff it in carelessly behind wires, you’re losing the value of it.” Another example of an improvement is seen in something as simple as paint. “Low VOC paint used to be something you could get points for in LEED, and it used to be that no one had access or no one wanted it, but now it’s available everywhere and has become pretty standard, so you no longer get points for that.” 

The key part is the efficiencies. Using our resources responsibly. They don’t last forever, there’s only so much water, only so many trees. We need to think about that when we’re building to make sure the practice is sustainable.
— Dawn Streb, LGA Studios

The innovative thinking and conscious and responsible design methods continue to push our standards even further, though for any client wishing to pursue LEED certification, Dawn advises patience above anything else. “It’s a long process, and for this project especially I felt it took longer because I was inexperienced, so that had some extra lag. I’ve heard it typically takes about a year or two, though this one took longer. The process of the paperwork is long, and everything has to be verified, from the initial framing through the final landscaping, so that does take a few seasons, at least in Colorado.”

For Dawn, despite the time this project took, it’s been rewarding to be so entrenched in deeply sustainable design, and also to be able to witness the shift in general awareness. “We have more and more clients who are interested in LEED-oriented ideas,” she says. “They like solar, for example, or want to make sure their mechanical plan is efficient, so they pick and choose, and at least they’re thinking about it. To me, I’m just as happy when I hear a client say ‘I want to make sure my house is insulated properly and I’m not wasting materials.’ That’s the best part about learning these principles.”

For more information about USGBC and LEED-certification, visit http://www.usgbc.org/leed

LGA Studios at the AIBD Summer Conference

LGA Studios at the AIBD Summer Conference

In August, most of our team — Larry Gilland, Mary Gilland, Dawn Streb, Michelle Williams, Levi Regalado, and Abby Smith — attended the annual AIBD (American Institute of Building Design) Summer Conference that was held in Denver this year.  

We all attended informative sessions from “Showing your Work in a Better Light”, to an Art Sketching workshop by Mike Lin, to “The Business of Design – Contracts and Corporate Structure”, to “60 Design Ideas in 60 Minutes”. Michael Brightman conducted a session using Sketch-up, and our own colleague Ben Tabolt of CDG Project Studio presented a session on using 3-d BIM software for residential design.

 

Ben Tabolt CDG AIBD

On Saturday night at the American Residential Design Awards dinner at the Governor’s residence, Larry was honored to be inducted into AIBD’s College of Fellows, the highest honor for the organization, which he has been a member of for several years.

Larry Gilland LGA Studios AIBD Fellow

It was a pleasure having our great team of people attend this with us.

Design Boards: A Visual Communication

Design Boards: A Visual Communication

As I signed the necessary papers to enter into the Interior Design program in college, I had no clear picture in my head of the future I was about to create for myself. Was I going to be choosing paint colors for the rest of my career, measuring rooms to fit the largest sofa, or collaborating with architects to create floor plans? Up to this point, I hadn’t even considered the role marketing and visual graphics play in the architectural realm. As I finished my degree and entered into an engineering firm and later an architectural firm, I have carried with me the realization that design cannot exist without a visual impact. Isn’t this exactly what we do as designers? We communicate through design: we listen as a client verbally communicates their vision and it is our job to bring that vision to life.

After a proposed building design is drawn and printed, the next step is to then present these lines on paper to the client. As the designer, we need to be able to present our designs well – allow the client to understand what the proposed building will look like, what it will feel like, and how it will impact their life. Most of the time, staring at a floor plan will not generate this understanding for a client. They need more, they need a visual impact.

 

In order to create this impact, we need to dig a little into some visual marketing concepts and ideas. There is a relationship between an object (in this case a proposed building plan), the context it is placed in, and its relevant image. This is the focus of a design board. A design board encompasses how images and text can be used to communicate a design concept. The concept and its visual communication become linked and inseparable. This newly formed grouped concept is what reaches out to people and defines their choices. These boards are a means to turn concepts and intangible things into something more concrete for the client.

 Image Credit:  http://www.graphicdesign.com/article/working-with-grid-systems/

Image Credit: http://www.graphicdesign.com/article/working-with-grid-systems/

Laying out a design board can be a daunting task. Sifting through each component of a project and deciding what to include can be the most difficult part. It helps to imagine that I am viewing a project for the first time. What do I need to see in order to understand it? What am I trying to convey? What are my key elements in the design? Some basics to include are floor plans, elevations, perspective renderings, and text describing the project.

Once I have collected the information, it’s easier to visualize what will be on the board. I can then start planning the structure. Consider using a grid to help organize the visual elements on the board. This can be a simple or more complex grid system.

As images are being arranged and sized, I make sure to keep some elements viewable from a distance and some viewable up close. This helps to create hierarchy. Keeping the font and font sizes readable is also important. 

Photoshop or InDesign are great layout programs; however, if I am short on time, Microsoft Word or PowerPoint can still be useful.

These two in-process design boards help to show a few differences in the layout construction of a board. In board 1, the rendered image of the townhouse is the focal point of the page. The photo especially stands out and can be seen from a distance; however, all other information pales in comparison to the photo. This board would work well for a client who is more interested in seeing the general idea of the proposed townhome and less interested in seeing the specifics of the floor plan or details. In board 2, the rendered photograph is no longer the focal point of the board, but shares size ratios with the elevation and floor plans of each floor level. This board would work well for a client is more interested in the specifics of the project.

We as designers have a gift of visionary creativity. We can see and visualize abstract thoughts and ideas in a way not everyone else is able to. Using mediums like design boards enable us to communicate our ideas and visions to the client in an effective and impactful way. 

The Rio Grande Townhomes

The Rio Grande Townhomes

LGA Studios is thrilled to be working on the Rio Grande Townhomes, along with CDG Project Studio and John Olson of Altitude Land Consultants, Inc. This project will comprise 18 chic new townhomes in Colorado Springs's New South End, and is one of the first new housing developments in nearly a decade in the Lowell redevelopment area, which is also where our office is located and an area we love. 

We at LGA are passionate about urban renewal and the spark it brings to our communities. This neighborhood is walking distance from all the exciting amenities of Downtown Colorado Springs, and is ripe with potential, with a possible hotel and additional housing complexes in the works. 

For more about the townhomes and their developer, Earl Robertson, check out the article in yesterday's Gazette.

Something New and Something Old

Something New and Something Old

FutureHAUS at the NAHB IBS

I first started attending the National Association of Home Builders International Building Show (NAHB IBS) back in 1982 when it was held in Las Vegas, as it was again this past January. When you attend the massive trade show nearly every year, you see many things change, and many remain the same, though every so often, there are truly inspirational ideas that resonate and push the industry forward.

 The Kitchen Cartridge of Virginia Tech's FutureHAUS

The Kitchen Cartridge of Virginia Tech's FutureHAUS

From my first show in 1982, out of the 50 acres of displays at the time, one exhibit stood out for me. The NEST (New Experimental Prototype of Tomorrow) House was an exhibit with a long line to tour a small model. The home reminded me of what we now call a tiny house, but it was uniquely created so that an owner could add modules or units to create a larger home to better suit a family or as needs changed. At that time, interest rates were at 18%, and those of us in the design industry saw this revolutionary new housing type as a way for young families and couples just starting out to become homeowners. 

Several years later in 1988, the Smart House was introduced to the building community, and many national brands supported the promising technology. Seeing the very concrete possibilities in housing when builders and designers think differently and use new technologies to impact how we live our lives is one of the most exciting things about home design, making how we live smarter, safer, and more sustainable. 

 Structurally Insulated Panel (SIP)

Structurally Insulated Panel (SIP)

Although 35 years of time and economic transitions have passed since first seeing these groundbreaking ideas, my latest trip to the 2016 IBS convention brought back many of those same feelings when I saw an exhibit of what the design students and professors at VirginiaTech have been up to. On display was an example of their FutureHAUS, taking the concept of modular, pre-fab homes to the next level by incorporating cutting edge technology. They do this by creating “cartridge” units for kitchens, bathrooms, and living areas that are constructed in a factory using precision digital printing and SIPs (structurally insulated panels). Upon assembly, each cartridge is installed with advanced technology and sensors that allow every surface and device to send and receive information. 

The technology is impressive, and what really caught my eye was the the display of the bathroom cartridge, with features allowing for personal customization and aging in place as well as video projections on the shower door. Now over the years we have placed TVs behind mirrors in master suites and I have seen the holographic images from Disney to Michael Jackson that look so real you think that person is actually there. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities ahead in our own daily lives.

As the Millennial generation begins to make their mark on the housing industry, I hope they continue to embrace and expand these emerging technologies. We Americans have a tradition of building on past achievements and reaching beyond, a good reminder being to look at the milestones noted in the 75th anniversary issue of Professional Builder Magazine, such as when MIT announced “America’s First Sun-Powered Homes” way back in 1939. The future looks exceedingly bright as we develop new ways to sustainably house people. My only hope is that at least some of the new housing will continue to carry timeless architectural style. I love the sleek, contemporary, utilitarian feel of Apple stores, but I still enjoy the enduring warmth of a Craftsman home. 

Check out the videos below to learn more about FutureHAUS.

MARY'S "MEANDERING"

It's funny what you notice when you live with, travel with, and work with architects, designers, urban planners and landscape architects....  Larry Gilland and I came to Grand Junction for him to attend some classes, and me to wander the streets, (and get some work done too).

I don't know the Urban Planner "Lingo", but the streets of downtown Grand Junction were designed in a way so that the traffic moved from one side of the street to the other in a serpentine fashion with bits of diagonal parking on one side or the other depending on which way the way the traffic was flowing.

There were lots of great sculptures along the way, and it made for a very nice, pedestrian friendly downtown (except for the 100 degree temperature the day we were there).  John Olson and Colorado Springs Urban Intervention would be proud of me for noticing that you could sit either way on the benches, facing into the street, or into the shops.

It's always fun to explore what other cities have done with their downtown areas, and I'm excited to see what is happening in Colorado Springs.

While we were there we drove to the Gateway Canyons Resort for dinner, and the scenery was stunning.  There is only ONE who could design the structure shown behind Larry in this photo.

Greenhouses

Do you live in a cold-snowy arid climate? Do you struggle to keep your plants alive? Would you like to have your own permaculture-based indoor oasis for you and your plants that is warm everyday? It might seem like a fantasy, but this is the scene you can create in a tropical permaculture greenhouse of your very own. 

Permaculture gardeners embrace Mother Nature’s systems and attempt to replicate her genius and efficiency in their designs, and there are a number of permaculture practices on display throughout forest gardening, maximizing edges, capturing and harvesting energy (see our article on Photovoltaics), and producing no waste. Minimizing the miles your food travels, eating fresh produce and spending time around green living things doesn’t have to stop with the end of summer. A greenhouse is not only a microcosm of plant life but also a testing ground for permaculture principles and your imagination. 

In a permaculture greenhouse, the ethics of caring for the Earth, caring for the people and sharing of the surplus overlap and support each other in every design element. You can kick back and relax while enjoying the fact that your self-indulgence is a self-sustaining ecosystem. Besides, who does’t like to taste of homegrown foods that you can watch grow?


Home Energy Rating’s Explained



When first getting into the realm of Home Energy Ratings, the lingo can be slightly confusing. HERS, the Home Energy Rating System is based on a home’s energy rating, which is an analysis of a home’s energy performance that includes energy modeling with accredited software. The HERS Rating is based on the HERS Index, the official number that comes from the rating. A home that just meets code has a HERS rating of 100. For every point above or below 100, the home is that many percentage points less or more efficient than the same home built to code. Lower numbers are better, they mean the house is more efficient. For example, a HERS Rating of 30 means that this home performs 70% better than the same home built just to code. A HERS Rating of 0 means it is a Net Zero Home which means it produces as much energy as it uses each year. 

How can you improve your HERS Rating?

A HERS Rater can do a comprehensive rating on your home to assess its energy performance. There energy rating will consist of a series of diagnostic tests using specialized equipment, such as a blower door test, duct leakage tester, combustion analyzer, and infrared cameras. These tests will determine the amount and location of air leaks in the building envelope. the amount of leakage from HVAC distribution ducts, the effectiveness of insulation inside walls and ceilings, and any existing or potential combustion safety issues. Some other variables that are taken into account include floors over unconditioned spaces (like garages and cellars), attics, foundations, and crawlspaces, windows and doors, vents and ductwork, water heating system and thermostats. These tests will allow you to fix any problems that may be decreasing your HERS Rating. Using these tests will give insight into potential issues in your home. For more information on common issues during the building process, check out our other articles on Building Sciences. 

Once the test have been completed, a computerized simulation analysis using RESNET Accredited Rating Software will be used to calculate a rating score on the HERS Index. 


Whether building a new home, remodeling an old home, or if you are just curious about the rating and efficiency of your home, the HERS Index is one of the most widely known and used tests around.  

Photovoltaics

Photovoltaics, also known as PV Panels, are used to convert solar energy into direct current electricity. A photovoltaic system employs solar panels composed of a multitude of solar cells to supply usable solar power. This form of energy has been long seen as a clean, sustainable energy technology that draws upon the planet’s most plentiful renewable resource, the sun. Direct conversion from sunlight to electricity occurs without any moving parts or environmental emissions, making it an eco-friendly alternative to common fossil fuels and natural gases. 

Since the first designs of solar panels more than 50 years ago, the efficiency and price of PV Panels have greatly improved. After hydro and wind power, solar power is now the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity. More than 1000 countries use solar PV regularly. Large installations are often ground mounted, however, typically they are built into the roof or walls of a building for residential and commercial use. 

In 2013 alone, the fast-growing capacity of worldwide installations of PV Panels increased by 38% which is sufficient enough to supply about 80% of the electricity demand worldwide. China, followed closely by Japan and the United States, is the fastest growing market, while Germany remains the world’s largest producer, contributing almost 6% to its national electricity demand. Using PV Panels is a highly powerful step toward the future of our planet. 

Photovoltaics are best known for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons. The photovoltaic effect refers to photons of light exciting electrons into a higher state of energy, allowing them to act as charge carriers for an electric current. The solar cells must be protected from the elements and are often packaged tightly behind a sheet of glass. 

The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft. Today, however, the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation, although many are using PV Panels to reduce their grid dependencies, in hopes of going “off-the-grid”. Electric vehicles are also well known for trying to integrate the useful system. 
As technology improves, photovoltaics will be less expensive and more efficient to use on an every day basis. They are the next up-and-coming idea for the future of power and clean, green energy.