Over the years commercial buildings and residential homes have evolved. Early on it was the addition of running water or an HVAC unit to regulate the internal temperature. Nowadays more and more buildings and homes are being built with smart thermostats and solar panels. Still, even with all of the technological advances, it is the foundation and skeleton of the house that remains the most important for energy conservation.
State and local governments reserve the right to require standards for any commercial or residential building. These standards are in place for two reasons. First, building standards ensure that optimal energy consumption is used in the structure. Second, to guarantee that the building owner is getting something of quality as a return on their investment. Whether an entrepreneur is cutting the ribbon on their first business location or a family is walking into their first brand new home, it is very important that standards are in place for the betterment of everyone.
Everything is Bigger in Texas
At thirteen percent, Texas is currently the United States leader in energy consumption. It is also the fifth largest energy consumer in the world. Out of all of that energy usage, commercial and residential buildings account for forty percent of total energy usage and seventy percent electrical power usage. Texas homes by themselves use on average seventy-seven million Btu and forty percent of that is is from the heating and air conditioning system.
Before the year 1999, Texas did not have a mandatory energy code. That means no energy code for commercial and industrial construction as well as no code for residential construction. Texas adopted its first compulsory energy code in June of 2001 from the International Energy Conservation Code or IECC. Energy Code 2000 IECC listed new construction requirements for R-Values, Insulation, Ducts, and more. Texas has continued following the IECC since 2001. Most recently, Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 1736 into Texas state law. This moved the residential code from the 2009 code to 2015 and installed 2015 IECC as a mandatory energy code.
The 2015 International Energy Conservation Code, or 2015 IECC, continues the work of the International Code Council (ICC) as they attempt to lower energy usages around the world. The ICC defines themselves as:
“A U.S.-based membership association. It is dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures in the built environment.” (Source: https://www.iccsafe.org/about-icc/organizational-structure/)
The 2015 IECC includes a new Energy Rating Index, or ERI, path. The goal for an ERI path is to give builders a roadmap to bring their project into compliance. The Texas Legislature has approved the gradual improvement of the ERI score over the next six years with all buildings being compliant by September 1st, 2025. You can view more detailed information about the ERI Compliance Path at the US Department of Energy website (source: https://www.energycodes.gov/resource-center/training-courses/2015-iecc-%E2%80%93-energy-rating-index-eri-compliance-alternative.
Energy Rating Index
The Energy Rating Index scale ranges from 0 (zero net energy) to 100 (meeting 2006 IECC compliance). Each point earned on the scale represents a 1% change in energy efficiency. The lower your building is on the scale means, the less energy it is using and thus it is more energy efficient. The ERI calculation includes the following items:
- Above-grade walls
- Conditioned Basement Walls
- Floor over unconditioned spaces or outdoor environments
- Thermally isolated sunrooms
- Air exchage rate
- Whole-House mechanical ventilation
- Internal gains
- Internal mass
- Structural mass
- Heating and cooling systems
- Service water heating systems
- Thermal distribution systems
- Lighting, appliance, and miscellaneous loads
The factors listed above are analyzed. Based on the results of that analysis and the climate zone where the building is located, an Energy Rating is assigned.
Texas includes 3 of the possible eight climate zones. The Dallas / Fort Worth area is explicitly classified as climate zone 3. Below is a list of the eight climate zones (source: https://energy.gov/eere/buildings/climate-zones):
Climate Zone 1: Hot-Humid
Climate Zone 2: Mixed-Humid
Climate Zone 3: Hot-Dry
Climate Zone 4: Mixed-Dry
Climate Zone 5: Cold
Climate Zone 6: Very-Cold
Climate Zone 7: Subarctic
Climate Zone 8: Marine
As stated above, Texas consists of 3 different Climate Zones, Climate Zone 2 (Mixed-Humid), Climate Zone 3 (Hot-Dry), and Climate Zone 4 (Mixed-Dry). The Metroplex area falls into Climate Zone 3 and is considered a Hot-Dry climate. A Hot-Dry Climate is defined as a region that receives less than 20 inches of annual precipitation, and the average outdoor temperature remains above 45 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.
Under the 2015 IECC, all buildings within Climate Zone 3 must meet the requirements in the graph below.
From the source above, there is also a list of changes to the building envelope required by IECC Sections R303.1.2, R402.3, and R402.5. This list includes Fenestration, Insulation, Ducts, Air Sealing, Documentation, and Systems.
Another significant change in the 2015 IECC is a newly defined standard for blower door testing (which will be discussed in more detail below). While blower door testing was used in both the 2009 IECC and the 2012 IECC, the ICC never assigned a formal standard. With the 2015 IECC there is now a standard which all contractors must follow.
The overall impact of the 2015 IECC does see improvements in energy consumption when compared to the 2012 IECC. An analysis completed by the U.S. Department of Energy (source: https://www.energycodes.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2015_IECC_preliminaryDeterminationAnalysis.pdf) determined that buildings meeting the 2015 IECC requirements would see close to a 1 percent savings in source energy, site energy, and energy costs. The analysis also revealed that 6 of the 77 changes would all increase energy savings.
Blower Door Test
A blower door is a modern diagnostic tool that is used to measure how air-tight a building or structure is. The blower door consists of a single fan attached to a frame. The blower door test is administered by connecting the tool to an outside facing door of the structure. The machine seals the door so that air will not bleed through. The fan is then activated, and the construction is depressurized. At this point, the computer attached to the blower door will then give the contractor or technician a readout of the pressure measurements. (source: https://energy.gov/energysaver/blower-door-tests)
As part of the new 2015 IECC requirements, blower door tests now have formal test standards. All blower door tests must soon meet the standards of ASTM E779 and ASTM 1827. Both of these standards were defined by The American Society for Testing and Materials or ASTM. The ASTM, founded in 1898, has been dedicated to creating technical standards all around the world. While the ASTM has no way of enforcing compliance, once a federal, state or municipal government adopts their regulation they become mandatory and are executed by that entity. (source: https://www.astm.org/)
New building construction, including additions, will now be required to meet the blower door test specifications listed above. It is the responsibility of the contractor, builder, or superintendent to complete the blower door test. A commercial or residential building cannot be sold or occupied legally without passing the blower door test. A few examples of critical areas for the analysis include doors, windows, thresholds, ducts, hatches, crawl spaces, and skylights.
The 2015 IECC has a maximum allowance of 3 ACH50 (Air Changes per Hour at -50 Pascal) for residential buildings. Commercial buildings are allowed a maximum of .40 cubic feet per minute/square foot of the envelope area at -75 Pascal. Most buildings reach 7 ACH50 with minimal effort. For a structure to get to 3 ACH50 will take some expert air sealing techniques. (source: https://www.energycodes.gov/sites/default/files/becu/2015_IECC_residential_requirements.pdf)
Spray Foam Insulation
The key to passing the blower door test is having proper insulation installed. There is not a better insulation for keeping air movement at a minimum within a buildings’ structure than Spray Polyurethane Foam, or SPF Insulation. SPF Insulation is applied to the structure in liquid form, unlike traditional sheet insulation or blown insulation. Because the spray foam starts as a liquid, it can seep into the most obscure nooks and crannies of a structure. Once the spray foam insulation is sprayed, upon impact it immediately starts to expand and then harden to form an air-tight seal. The R-value that can be achieved with spray foam easily exceeds the requirements of the 2015 IECC.
The purpose of the blower door test is to make sure a structure is air-tight. Forming an air-tight barrier is only one of the advantages of SPF Insulation. Foam insulation also acts as a vapor retarder for the building being constructed. This helps to keep moisture from building up and causing damage or, even worse, incubating mold spores. These are just two of the exceptional benefits.
Top 10 Reasons to Use Spray Polyurethan Foam Insulation
- It will save much more money in utility bills over time than it costs to install.
- It can help reduce energy consumption by up to fifty percent.
- If choosing closed cell, it is an all-encompassing insulation that acts as an air barrier and vapor retarder all while adding structural strength.
- Because closed cell is a vapor retarder as well as an air barrier, it is resistant to mold growth.
- SPF is environmentally safe and ecologically beneficial.
- Spray foam insulation if kept away from UV rays will not deteriorate or decompose.
- It creates a more controlled and comfortable interior space.
- Open cell more than closed cell spf dampens sound and provides better acoustics for a quieter interior.
- Since it is applied as a liquid, spray foam is perfect for any size or surface design.
- SPF will outlast any other insulation product on the market.
Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation can be applied to many areas in and around a structure. However, there are a few key areas that should take priority if the goal is to meet the 2015 IECC requirements and pass a blower door test. Here are the most vital areas to consider:
Spray foam insulation can be applied to the underside of a commercial buildings roof deck or the underside of the roof deck in the attic of a residential home. Planning ahead of time ensures you have the proper R-value to meet or exceed the requirements of the 2015 IECC. With the spray foam air barrier installed, everything from the ceiling down is now considered conditioned space, assuming the rest of the walls are insulated properly as well.
Spray foam wall insulation is applied on the interior side of the walls around the perimeter making them air tight to complete the building envelope. This is one of the most crucial parts of a buildings’ insulation that helps with regulating temperature as well as making it extremely energy efficient. Also depending on the application the spray foam in the walls can be a sound barrier greatly reducing the noise from the outside.
Exterior spray foam insulation comes in many forms. It can be applied on the outside of your structure just behind the exterior siding. It can be applied to water tanks and cold storage units. The spray foam can also be the final product that people see as well on the outside of a building. In most of these cases the spray foam is a structure’s first line of defense against strong winds and extreme temperatures. Stopping this on the outside of the building helps ensure better control on the inside.
Roof Coatings can be applied to almost any roof surface. However, dealing with the specific application as it relates to the 2015 IECC, we are referring to spray foam roofing. The high density closed cell roofing spray foam (usually 3 or 4 pound) adds the protection and R-value to help with the energy code. The roof coating such as acrylic or silicone would then be applied to protect the spray foam from the suns UV rays. The acrylic or silicone is sprayed onto the roof as a liquid and then hardens forming the long lasting UV barrier and because of the reflective properties in the coating additionally helps with lowering energy consumption.
Closed-Cell vs. Open-Cell SPF
There are two standard categories in the world of Spray Polyurethane Foam: Open-Cell and Closed-Cell. Open-cell is a low-density foam sometimes referred to as “half-pound foam.” Closed-cell is a medium-density foam known as “two-pound foam.” Both use almost identical chemical reactions and provide excellent insulation to create an air-tight barrier.
Open-cell spray foam (ocSPF) consists of open cells that are filled with air. This makes the foam softer and more flexible. The R-Value per inch of open-cell foam can range from R3.6 to R4.5. Open-cell foam is air-impermeable and reduces air leakage through the building envelope. However, because it’s less dense it may require a vapor retardant in colder climates.
Closed-cell spray foam (ccSPF) consists of a closed cell structure which makes the foam rigid and hard and much denser. The R-Value per inch of closed-cell foam usually ranges from R5.8 to R7. Like ocSPF, ccSPF is also classified as air impermeable and can be used as an air-barrier. Since the cells in ccSPF are closed, the foam is also water-resistant and is classified as a vapor retarder. This means, in any climate, there is no need for an additional vapor retardant.
As a contractor, you should seriously consider doing the job right the first time. Installing poor insulation might save a few dollars, but with the enforcement of blower door test requirements, it might just cost more in the long run. As a home or business owner, the choice is no different. You are investing in a building that someone will be living in or working in for years to come. Making the right choice now will help with utilities and energy costs for the life of the building.
If you would like more information about how Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation works and the benefits it offers, please visit https://ShieldEnergySolutions.com.