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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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PIMA President Visits National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, April 8, 2016
Updated: Thursday, April 21, 2016

A few weeks ago, PIMA President Jared Blum visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at its 270 acre main campus in Golden, Colorado. NREL is the primary research laboratory for renewable and energy efficient technologies in the United States, and is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy.

NREL is home to 3 national centers including the National Bioenergy Center, National Center for Photovoltaics, and the National Wind Technology Center. The laboratory also has three collaborative research facilities including the Energy Systems Integration Facility, Process Development and Integration Laboratory, and the Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility.

NREL seeks to reduce private sector risk in early stage technologies and enable investment in the development of critical renewable and energy efficient technologies. Various partnership agreements allow private sector companies to work with NREL on fair terms to ensure both parties can benefit from the research. In 2015, NREL signed 236 such agreements for a total of $33 million in value. NREL has also won 58 “R&D 100” awards from R&D Magazine, an award often referred to as the “Oscars of Invention.”

Another large focus of NREL is its buildings research program that “focuses on improvements in residential buildings, in commercial buildings, in building equipment and components, building energy analysis tools, manufacturing, and in lighting and appliance standards." NREL is also a nationally recognized leader in buildings research combining renewable energy with innovative technologies to significantly reduce energy consumption in buildings.

The buildings themselves at NREL also serve as living laboratories. While on the tour, PIMA President Jared Blum learned that many of the research facilities were constructed with a thick layer polyiso in the walls to achieve an R-49 thermal rating. In fact, one of the facilities at NREL has been certified as the most energy efficient building of its size in the world!

PIMA will continue to support prudent research in energy efficient technologies that seek to improve the quality and comfort of out built environment and reduce harmful carbon emissions.



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The Importance of Code Compliance

Posted By Alex Wellman, Wednesday, March 23, 2016

By most estimates, buildings account for roughly 40% of the energy generated in the United States. Combined with the average building lifespan of over 50 years, it is imperative that buildings continue to be built and retrofitted to high standards of energy efficiency. One way to accomplish this is through prudent building energy codes developed from a consensus process with input from all stakeholders including architects, contractors, product manufacturers, code officials and environmental advocates. 

Most building energy codes are based on model codes developed on a three year cycle by the International Codes Council (ICC) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).  


This standard represents the minimum required prescriptive R-value (resistance to heat flow) for roof and wall insulation levels of all buildings, except low-rise residential. The R-value requirements for this standard were recently increased by 33 percent for Climate Zones 2 through 8. The above-deck roof insulation requirements for those climate zones goes from R-15 to R-20.For more information, visit


Introduced by the International Code Council (ICC), the IECC is being adopted rapidly by state and local code jurisdictions across the United States. The code incorporates the ASHRAE 90.1-2010 standard, offering both prescriptive and performance-based approaches. IECC contains minimum energy efficiency provisions for residential and commercial buildings and also features building envelope requirements for thermal performance and air leakage. The intent of the IECC is to effectively conserve energy, minimize increases in construction costs, eliminate preferential treatment for particular industries or types of materials and allow for the use of new materials, products or methods of construction.

States and municipalities then develop their own building energy codes based on these model codes. Some jurisdictions choose to update their codes in line with model code development process while others lag behind and base their codes on previous model code developments.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that the most recent model codes, if implemented across all jurisdictions, would “save about $150 billion, reduce total energy use in buildings nationwide by 5% in 2030, and create tens of thousands of jobs.”

While it’s easy to see the overall benefit of building energy codes, there is still a disconnect between the code development process and enforcement and understanding of the codes by local building code officials.

PIMA, along with groups such as the Institute for Market Transformation and Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing, have recently released Roof and Wall Thermal Design Guide: Applying the Prescriptive Insulation Standards of the 2015 I-Codes.  The guide provides detailed and focused information regarding the prescriptive commercial wall and roof energy requirements of the 2015 I-Codes. PIMA has also developed a code education program to speak to code official organizations across the country and educate them on the impact of properly enforced building energy codes.  Additionally, there is a commercial roofing permit checklist available on the PIMA website to assist building code officials.

Despite the demonstrated success of building energy codes, without proper enforcement they cannot reach their full potential of improving the quality and comfort of our built environment, saving consumers money, and radically reducing carbon emissions through decreased energy demand. PIMA will continue to work as an effective advocate for common sense building energy codes.


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PIMA Sponsored Sustainable Energy Factbook Released

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, February 26, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy in partnership with Bloomberg New Energy Finance has released the 2016 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The Factbook, sponsored by PIMA and other energy industry stakeholders, seeks to be a comprehensive source of information on the rapidly changing energy sector of the U.S. economy. 

One of the major takeaways from the Factbook is the increase in energy productivity in the United States, up 13% from 2007 to 2015, and by 2.3% since 2014. This means that although our economy continues to grow, we are finding ways to accommodate that growth without increasing energy production through efficiency gains and other technological improvements. The energy we do produce has also gotten cleaner, with natural gas providing 29% of the total primary energy supply in 2015 and renewable energy supplying 9.8% of U.S. energy.

In the area of insulation and energy efficiency, the report said:

● New buildings face increasingly stringent insulation requirements.

● There is also a growing effort to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings. ICC and ASHRAE now require insulation upgrades during the replacement of existing roofs. Due to the size of the market for “re-roofing,” this new focus on existing buildings may impact building energy use more quickly than changes to new construction requirements.

● In 2015, 10 states adopted stricter residential and commercial building codes, including Maryland, Texas, California and New Jersey. 

The Factbook will serve as an invaluable tool to energy policy makers, especially as some look to comply with new rules under the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. 

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Plastics Are Critical To Creating a Sustainable Built Environment

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, February 5, 2016
Updated: Thursday, February 11, 2016

Last week at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), which bills itself as the trade association for the plastics industry, announced a new report titled Plastics Market Watch: Building and Construction. The report is the fourth in a series from SPI that looks at the consumer uses of plastics, of which the construction industry is the second largest behind only packaging materials.

Speaking to industry publication Plastics Technology, SPI President and CEO William Carteaux said,

“From floors to roofs, inside and outside of walls, plastics are a go-to product on construction sites, innovation in the plastics industry to improve and diversify products is matched by the building and construction sector’s pace to find, and use, new solutions to address fundamental issues like structural integrity, energy savings, recycling, and cost saving.”

The report highlights the many applications of plastic based materials in construction including insulation, roofing, plumbing, wall coverings, windows, composite lumber, house wrap, and many more. In the section discussing insulation, the report says, “whether its spray polyurethane foam (SPF) in the attic or rigid foam polyiso board in the walls, polyurethane based systems offer durability, energy savings and moisture control. When used for retrofit, situations they also help reduce the amount of building waste sent to landfills. In walls, behind walls and under floors, the use of polystyrene foams can provide significant energy efficiency.”

SPI is not the only one extolling the benefits of plastic building materials to improve the comfort and efficiency of the built environment. Last year, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) built an energy efficient tiny house as part of its Plastics Make it Possible campaign. The tiny house was built almost exclusively using plastic materials including vinyl windows, solar shingles, and polyiso insulation in the walls. Discussing the use of polyiso in the tiny hose, ACC said “this stiff plastic foam board (polyiso) was applied to the outside of the tiny house walls (under the siding) to help prevent untreated air from even touching the wall materials/framing. Rmax’s Thermasheath-3 insulates the house and can reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling.”

Despite the obvious energy efficient and green benefits of plastic based materials, not everyone is on board with their expanded market share.  Some in the green building industry feel the petrochemical nature of plastic materials automatically lends them dubious environmental qualities. While there are concerns with the recyclability and disposal of plastic building materials, overall they have contributed a net positive benefit to the goal of making our homes and businesses more efficient and sustainable.  In fact, the environmental benefits of Polyiso have been well documented in PIMA’s Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) published last year.  According to the EPD,“the energy savings potential of polyiso roof and wall insulation over a typical 60-year building life span is equal to up to 47 times the initial energy required to produce, transport, install, maintain, and eventually remove and dispose of the insulation.”

It is obvious that we are only on the cusp of what is possible to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly built environment and to achieve this goal, architects and specifiers will need to use both plastic and traditional construction materials to design high performance buildings. 

Tags:  Efficiency  EPD  Plastics  Polyiso  SPI 

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