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Understanding NFPA 285: Harmonizing Fire Performance and Energy Efficiency in Exterior Wall Assemblies

Posted By Nathan Pobre, Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Commercial building codes have been modified to require the construction of more energy-efficient buildings. Improvements to the building envelope, using continuous insulation solutions incorporating polyisocyanurate (or Polyiso) insulation, have played a major role in mainstreaming high-performance construction practices. To meet the demands of today’s buildings, architectural and design professionals must balance energy efficiency with whole building performance considerations, including fire safety. All construction materials, including foam plastics materials such as polyiso insulation, must provide a suitable margin of fire safety. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 285 fire test is a large-scale wall assembly test used to determine the potential for flame spread from one story of a building to another through the exterior wall. With respect to wall assemblies in Type I-IV Construction, understanding and properly implementing NFPA 285 is a critical component for designing a compliant, high-performance building envelope.  

To learn more about NFPA 285, check out this free webinar which can help you:
1.    Understand the development history of the NFPA 285 standard fire test procedure for exterior wall assemblies containing combustible materials.
2.    Identify the NFPA 285 related requirements in the 2012 and 2015 editions of the International Building Code.
3.    Explain how engineering analysis of NFPA 285 test assemblies may be used to specify alternative materials.  
4.    Determine how Polyiso insulation can be used as an integral component of NFPA 285 tested and compliant wall assemblies.

Tags:  building codes  buildings  energy efficiency  insulation  NFPA 285  Polyiso  Type I-IV  walls 

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Polyiso’s Trusted Fire Performance Brings Benefits to Wall Market

Posted By Nathan Pobre, Thursday, May 17, 2018

Polyiso roof insulation has long been championed by the construction industry for its excellent fire and thermal performance. As the most widely used insulation product for low-slope commercials roofs, polyiso remains the only foam plastic insulation product for direct application to steel decks to earn FM Approval for Class 1 Roof System. Polyiso’s inherent fire resistance characteristics are due to its unique structure of strong isocyanate chemical bonds. This produces a versatile product that roofing contractors have come to rely on for all types of roof systems.

The same physical properties that make polyiso a top choice for roofs also make the product an excellent option for continuous insulation applications for both commercial and residential walls. Thousands of exterior wall assemblies with polyiso insulation meet the stringent NFPA 285 test standard. This enables polyiso insulation to be used in buildings of any type and any height. And offers design professional flexibility to combine polyiso with a wide variety of other wall components to construct attractive and resilient building envelopes.  

Polyiso wall insulation products also share the roofing products’ characteristic for high thermal resistance. Packing more R-value into every inch of product allows architects to reduce the thickness of wall assemblies. This creates advantages for the installation process and also can reduce the cost of other components like fastener and attachment systems. Furthermore, polyiso products can also serve as air, moisture and weather barriers in wall assemblies.  

Whether you are designing roofs or walls, polyiso insulation products check all the boxes for fire and thermal performance and overall versatility.

The following resources provide additional information on polyiso insulation’s excellent fire performance:

Tags:  fire performance  insulation  polyiso  r-value  walls 

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The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act – Saving Small Businesses up to 30% on Energy Efficient Commercial Roof Retrofits

Posted By Nathan Pobre, Thursday, April 12, 2018

There has been a great deal of news coverage about the recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act. But as with all things related to the tax code, getting to what matters can be a long and arduous hunt. The Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association made an assessment of the impacts this legislation will have on the building and roofing industries. It found that new reforms allow qualifying building owners to expense, or deduct, up to $1 million for the cost of certain building improvements in the year the work is performed, including adding insulation during roof replacement projects to meet or go beyond modern building energy code requirements. The impact can be significant for capital improvement projects. For example, a building owner that expenses the cost of a full roof replacement can reduce the net cost of the entire project by 25% to 30%. You can find our one-pager with more detail [here].

Tags:  buildings  energy codes  insulation  jobs  roofing  tax  taxreform 

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Advantages of High-Density Polyiso Cover Boards Compared to Other Options

Posted By Nathan Pobre, Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, September 6, 2017

High-Density Polyiso cover boards are an important component in roof systems, providing a substrate for roofing membranes and protection for underlying insulation. When compared to other options, High-Density Polyiso cover boards offer many advantages:

  • Can be shipped with approximately three times more square feet per truck load;
  • Are significantly lighter than alternatives of the same thickness;
  • Require less crane time and are easier to maneuver around the roof which can decrease the hoisting, loading and staging costs;
  • Are virtually dust-free during the cutting process, eliminating itchy residue;
  • Can be cut without specialized tools; and
  • Can be lifted by a single worker.

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Tags:  insulation  Polyiso 

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Beyond Savings: Building energy codes drive important benefits for states and cities

Posted By Justin Koscher, Thursday, July 13, 2017
Updated: Thursday, July 13, 2017

Adopting and enforcing building energy codes reduces the energy use of homes and buildings. Energy conservation is a major purpose of the International Code Council’s International Energy Conservation Code and ASHRAE’s Standard 90.1 – Energy Standard for Buildings, and adherence to these codes reaps sizeable savings. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that model energy codes for residential and commercial buildings are projected to save (from 2010-2040) $126 billion at today’s energy prices and they can reduce annual CO2 emissions equal to 177 million passenger vehicles or 245 coal power plants.

Though the energy savings are impressive, building energy codes offer many other positive benefits for:

  • Productivity – GDP has grown 12% in the U.S. since 2007, while total energy use has fallen nearly 4%, meaning the energy productivity of the U.S. economy grew 16% over the past decade. Since 40% of energy use is attributed to buildings, it is clear that improved codes have spurred growth since less money spent on energy means more money invested in local communities and jobs.

  • Affordability – Energy efficiency protects consumers from spikes in energy bills during a sweltering summer or frigid winter. Studies show that default risks are 32% lower in energy-efficient homes. Energy efficiency improves communities and home values by managing monthly energy costs and improving homeowners’ ability to meet monthly obligations.

  • Reliability – Buildings are energy hogs: they use 75% of all electricity produced in the US. Aging energy infrastructure increases vulnerability to blackouts and security threats. Every building that limits energy usage also decreases our reliance on overworked grids. Building energy codes are an intuitive policy option to lighten the energy load.

  • Resiliency – Weather related emergencies seem increasingly common and exact tolls on the homes, schools, and hospitals we rely on for safety and protection. The adoption and enforcement of energy codes makes buildings less susceptible to failure and quicker to recover after storms. For example, insulation in building envelopes improves the performance of roofs and walls in weather events. And energy-efficient buildings maintain a comfortable indoor environment when power for heating and cooling is limited or unavailable.

  • Individuals – We are all trying to do more with less time. A recent study demonstrated that working in high-performing, green-certified buildings can improve decision-making in the workplace. In the study, the indoor environments of green buildings that operated within the thermal comfort zone as defined by ASHRAE resulted in higher cognitive function scores and better indoor air quality.

Download a PDF copy of the infographic below.

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Insulation at Work: Nearly 400,000 U.S. Jobs Generated from Manufacture of Insulation

Posted By Justin Koscher, Monday, June 5, 2017
Updated: Monday, June 5, 2017

We know the benefits of using insulation - lower energy bills; added indoor comfort; increased building durability; reduced pollution. But have you ever wondered who is responsible for bringing those benefits to homes and buildings across the country? The answer is nearly 400,000 of your fellow Americans!

The impressive number comes via a recent report by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) entitled, The Contributions of Insulation to the U.S. Economy in 2016. Unpacking the 400,000 jobs reveals an economic engine that produces more than $20 billion in payrolls, $1.1 billion in state and local taxes, and $1.9 billion in federal tax revenues.

Insulation manufacturers directly employ more than 33,000 people in 42 states. The top five states for insulation manufacturing jobs are Ohio (#1), Texas (#2), Georgia (#3), California (#4), and Indiana (#5).  California ranks number one for total employment in the insulation industry with over 54,000 jobs.

"This report makes clear that the business of manufacturing, distributing, and installing insulation generates significant economic output and creates jobs across the country,” says Martha Gilchrist Moore, senior director of policy analysis and economics at ACC and author of the report. Underscoring this comment is the fact that insulation manufacturing alone was an $11.7 billion business in 2016.

Insulation is typically installed in roofs, walls, attics, and floor to improve building energy efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the insulation industry is part of a larger energy efficiency sector that employed 2.2 million people in 2016.1  More than half of these jobs were in the construction industry. The energy efficiency sector shows little evidence of slowing down, adding more than 133,000 jobs last year. And respondents to DOE's Energy and Employment Report predict job growth to increase 9% in 2017, an additional 198,000 jobs.2 

These jobs numbers are proof that the business case for energy efficiency products and projects is strong. Policymakers at the local, state, and federal should take note of the opportunity to create more well-paying jobs in the sector, while putting more money back in the wallets of households and businesses through increased energy savings.

To read the full report, visit: The Contributions of Insulation to the U.S. Economy in 2016



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PIMA Infographic: Environmental Benefits of Polyiso

Posted By Alex Wellman, Monday, August 29, 2016

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Energy Efficiency Important Factor When Ranking Top 10 Green Building Cities

Posted By Alex Wellman, Thursday, August 18, 2016

A new white paper released by building consultancy firm Solidiance ranks the top 10 global cities for green buildings. Analysts judged the cities on a number of factors including, city-wide green building landscapes, green building efficiency and performance programs, green building policies and targets, and green city culture and environment.

Overall Top 10




Solidiance named Paris as the number one global city overall for green buildings, a fitting honor for the city that hosted the important COP21 meeting last year. As you can see in the chart below, the top ranked cities all scored well in the “efficiency and performance” category. 



Efficiency Most Important

Because buildings are responsible for 40% of total energy consumption worldwide, the overall efficiency of a city’s building stock is one of the most important factors to consider when ranking cities based on the number of green buildings.  In order to measure the efficiency, researchers looked at two factors; total carbon emissions and energy use by buildings in the city.

Carbon Emissions




According to the report, “Paris, Sydney, and Singapore take the highest ranking spots with regards to each city’s green building efficiency. This is primarily due to the three cities not only being very low CO2 polluting cities in general, but also because they have a very low percentage of emissions which can be attributed to the city’s built-environment.”


Energy Use

Paris and Singapore topped the list when researchers examined building energy use among the top global cities. The report mentions the importance of building energy codes and standards, saying “the local and international green building certifications used in both these cities are strong certification guidelines which push for greater greener building performance.”



Despite the progress made by these global cities and many others around the world, there is a huge potential to curb carbon emissions and reduce energy consumption through prudent building energy codes and high performance products such as polyisocyanurate insulation. The International Energy Agency estimates that buildings account for 41% of global energy savings potential by 2035, compared with the industrial sector at 24% and the transport sector at 21%. If we are to succeed in the common goal of stopping the effects of climate change, we must look to the built environment as our biggest area for overall improvement. 




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Retrofit: Tiny House Demonstrates Commitment to Conservation

Posted By Jared O. Blum , Thursday, July 28, 2016

When you think of energy efficiency in building materials, whale expeditions and wildlife biologists don’t typically come to mind. However, this summer may change all of that.

By using a tiny home as their mobile research base, Katy and David hope to raise awareness of the consequences of global consumption while reducing their own carbon footprint and show others what can be accomplished with a small budget and a strong motivation.By using a tiny home as their mobile research base, Katy and David hope to raise awareness of the consequences of global consumption while reducing their own carbon footprint and show others what can be accomplished with a small budget and strong motivation.

During the summer of 2015, whale researchers Katy Gavrilchuk and David Gaspard were frustrated with time and money spent on travel and lodging during their annual research expedition and began looking for novel solutions to allow them to better focus on their research going forward. Acutely aware of the effects of climate change, they were committed to maintaining a small carbon footprint and decided to construct a mobile, energy-efficient tiny house to help support their 2016 expedition. 

After learning about innovative building products that could deliver energy efficiency in limited parameters, Katy and David sought help from PIMA member Atlas Roofingto find the right products for their unique application. Their tiny house was built with polyiso rigid foam insulation boards installed in the walls and the roof of the house. It features a high R-value and Class A durable aluminum facer that also serves as a water resistive barrier—delivering needed features without taking up space or adding much weight.

In June, these marine biologists set off from Montreal to study whale and dolphin species migrating through the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. During the 670-mile journey to their research base in Mingan, they will make several stop-overs to scope for whales and talk to people interested in their tiny house and minimal/ecological living. It is a first for many people to see a tiny house on the road, they are even asked if they are part of the circus!

Throughout the expedition, Katy and David will be traveling through relatively mild summer temperatures ranging from 73 F to 47 F, despite the fact that hurricane season in the North Atlantic lasts from May 15 to Nov. 30. While the temperatures are ideal to study migrating whales, the average 13 days of rain per month may be less than desirable!

By using a tiny home as their mobile research base, Katy and David hope to accomplish several goals. First, they want to raise awareness of the consequences of global consumption while reducing their own carbon footprint. In addition, they aim to build something that can lead by example and show others what can be accomplished with a small budget and a strong motivation.

During the 670-mile journey to their research base in Mingan, they will make several stop-overs to scope for whales and talk to people interested in their tiny house and minimal/ecological living.

During the 670-mile journey to their research base in Mingan, Canada, they will make several stop-overs to scope for whales and talk to people interested in their tiny house and minimal/ecological living.

Although the market for tiny houses is limited, the lessons these researchers have learned in terms of thermal efficiency and product selection have larger application in the wider construction market. As global interest in energy independence grows, products and processes that reduce heating and cooling demands for structures big and small are finding wider acceptance. New construction and retrofitting provide opportunities for builders to reduce the energy requirements of buildings and invest in products that will deliver long-term savings.

Watching these principles writ small in the tiny house adventures of two marine biologists chasing migrating whales in Canada gives us a glimpse of how savings can be magnified in larger projects with the same commitment to conservation.

This blog was originally published at Retrofit

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PIMA Members Visit Oak Ridge National Laboratory as Part of Mid-Year Meeting

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Earlier this month, PIMA members gathered in Knoxville, TN for the association’s Mid-Year Meeting. As part of the educational session, attendees traveled to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a tour of the facility. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was founded in 1943 and served as one of the facilities that conducted much of the initial research for the Manhattan Project that lead to the development of the first atomic bomb. Now, Oak Ridge Laboratory is renowned for its scientific work in many subjects, including extensive research on high-performance building materials. PIMA members have a long history of working with ORNL, beginning in the early 1990s with a project to develop a new polyiso blowing agent free from harmful CFCs.

The tour included:  

  • The world’s largest entirely 3D printed structure. The project used vacuum panel insulation embedded in the polyurethane based wall/roof assemblies to achieve high levels of energy efficiency and thermal performance. According to an article published by Dezeen, “the building envelope comprises approximately 80% opaque panels and 20% glazing, resulting in a highly efficient enclosure. Solar panels are integrated into the roof and feed a battery under the building, which in turns powers the structure at night. The 3D-printed vehicle generates its own power, too, using a hybrid electric system.”
  • The X-10 Graphite Reactor, the second nuclear reactor ever built. The reactor was instrumental in producing nuclear isotopes that lead to the development of the first atomic bomb. Members were able to see the original reactor face where fuel rods were inserted by rotating crews working in 15 minute shifts to reduce radiation exposure. After World War II, the reactor operated in a peacetime capacity producing nuclear material for medical and educational purposes until it was shut down permanently in 1963. 
  • Oak Ridge’s supercomputing facility where PIMA members saw the one of the fastest, non-classified supercomputers in the world. While the supercomputer at ORNL is used for many scientific applications, it is frequently used by building scientists to: study the energy use of entire cities using satellites, neighborhood surveys; assess air leakage and thermal performance; and calculate the effects of building energy codes on large swaths of buildings.

PIMA and its member companies have a long history of working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop building products that improve the quality and comfort of our built environment. PIMA will continue to support the work being done at the laboratory, especially as continue to we deal with the impacts of climate change. 

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