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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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Passive House Design for Multi Family Housing

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Passive House design, a growing trend in the building world, seeks to achieve high levels of energy efficiency through design choices such as super insulation, solar exposure planning and natural ventilation. The first passive house concept was developed at the University of Lund in Sweden in 1988. Now, there are estimated 40,000 – 50,000 passive homes around the world, with the first one being built in the United States in 2003.

Although the return on investment for a passive home has been well documented, the increased costs associated with its design and construction has raised the barriers to entry. This means that most passive house buildings have mainly been single family homes built in affluent areas.

The tide is changing however as several multifamily passive house buildings have been built or are in the planning stages around the United States. One example is the recently completed Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons project in Washington, D.C. which according to the developers is the first time that Passive House criteria has been used to retrofit a multifamily building in the United States. This 36 unit housing development is intended for low income and homeless families.

At the recent ribbon cutting for Weinberg Commons a new resident spoke, saying:

“Before I was at Weinberg, I was staying with family and friends, and bouncing from hotel to hotel. At the time, I was finishing a job training program, starting a new job, and trying to raise my son. The added stress of staying with a lot of people and not knowing where I was going to stay was overwhelming and depressing. When I found out I was approved for Weinberg, I was overcome with an incredible feeling. It felt as though I had been holding my breath for years, and I now I could finally breathe. Now that I have a safe and secure home at Weinberg Commons, I can focus all my strength and energy on taking care of my son and furthering my education so that I can find a job in which I can help and inspire others. I would like to thank the Transitional Housing Corporation and Inner City Family Services for all their support.”

After rent or a mortgage, utility costs can be some of the largest expenses faced by a family. Passive House design allows people to redirect the money saved on utilities to other things such as education, food and family enrichment. The Weinberg Commons project, sponsored in part by PIMA and its members companies, is the first of its kind in Washington, D.C. and was awarded the First Annual Maryland Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Real Estate Awards by the University of Maryland’s Colvin Real Estate Institute.

A similar project recently completed in Philadelphia, the Belfield Avenue Townhomes, is another example of Passive House design being incorporated into a multi family, low and moderate income housing complex. According to an article published by Dwell, “like most Passive Houses, Belfield Avenue incorporates supercharged wall insulation (in this case, nearly eight inches of densely packed cellulose and Polyiso, a type of rigid foam board), triple-pane windows, and an energy-recovery ventilator, which draws fresh air into the house while expelling kitchen and bathroom exhaust.”

According to the U.S. based Passive House Institute, of the 121 passive homes in the United States that they have certified, 100 are private, single family residences. It’s encouraging to see this innovative design technique being used more and more in multifamily construction, especially in projects aimed at low income residents. When people can save money on energy costs, they have more to spend on other things that can greatly improve the quality of their lives. PIMA is proud to be a part of projects like the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons building in Washington, D.C. and will continue to support research for further applications of passive house and net zero energy design.

For more information on the Weinberg Commons project, please check out this press release from the Transitional Housing Corporation, this article from Passive to Positive, and this article from The Washington Post. A video discussing the project is also available on the THC website. 

Tags:  DC  Multifamily  Passive  Polyiso  Weinberg 

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New Study Shows 90% of Homes are Under Insulated

Posted By Alex Wellman, Thursday, October 15, 2015

According to a new study released by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) roughly 90% of homes in the United States are under insulated. The study drew on numbers derived from the 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey and other research completed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Boston University. Speaking about the study, Dr. Jonathan Levy, professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, said; “If all U.S. homes were fitted with insulation based on the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), residential electricity use nationwide would drop by about 5 percent and natural gas use by more than 10 percent.”

According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling costs comprise more than 44 percent of the energy consumed in a single family home. Homes containing adequate levels of insulation help consumers achieve lower energy costs and reduce the amount of harmful carbon emissions created as a result of electricity generation.

While Polyiso foam insulation is the market leader for commercial roofing applications, it can also be used in residential wall applications. When properly specified and installed, Polyiso sheathing insulation offers one of the best values available for residential construction. Benefits include:

  • A residential wall system with a high R-value increases the energy efficiency of the home and significantly reduces heat loss.
  • A reduction in air infiltration and exfiltration, which increases the overall performance of the wall and reduces heat loss.
  • A reduction in the risk of water condensation/intrusion, which increases thermal and structural performance and reduces builder call backs.
  • Insulation over the entire framing members, known as a continuous insulation system, which reduces the overall home energy loss.
  • Increased confidence with an assurance the home builder is providing a quality product.
  • More confidence that your home was built with state-of-the-art energy-efficient techniques.

PIMA has also recently published a “Wall Insulation Knowledge Base” that includes dozens of technical bulletins and articles on topics such as code compliance and environmental performance regarding Polyiso insulation wall assemblies. The knowledge base can be accessed on the PIMA website here

Tags:  polyiso  residential  wall 

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Funding Innovations for Energy Efficiency

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, August 28, 2015

On Monday morning, the Dow Jones Industrial Average took a sudden 1000 point drop before recovering for a loss of 588 points at market close.  This was a reaction to the news that Chinese markets suffered significant losses after years of sustained growth. Many people had flashbacks to the 2008 financial crisis and wondered if they should place their retirement funds in something safer. Despite some uncertainty in the stock market, investing in energy efficiency is almost always a safe bet.

Even with a demonstrated return on investment, it can sometimes be difficult to convince a building owner or manager that they will benefit from making energy efficiency upgrades to their building. Here are a few innovative ways to finance energy efficiency in a new or existing building.

1. ESPCS:    Energy service performance contracts allow building owners and managers to make energy efficiency upgrades to their buildings with little to no upfront costs. Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) pay for the initial costs to install energy efficiency upgrades and are paid back over time by the savings generated by the upgrades. At the end of the contract, building owners are free to keep the upgrades and can begin reaping the benefits for themselves. The federal government was a pioneer in this type of financing arrangement but the private sector is beginning to embrace these contracts.

2. PACE:  Property assessed clean energy financing uses money raised through the levying of municipal bonds to loan money to owners of homes and businesses to pay for energy retrofits. The money loaned is attached to the property taxes of the building and not tied directly to the individual. This allows individuals to make investments to the building even if they plan on selling it before the payback period.

2. Crowd funding: Crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Fundly have revolutionized the way we finance all kinds of projects. Crowd funding can also be useful for funding energy efficiency upgrades by allowing individuals to contribute to the goal of a non-profit or public sector entity retrofitting their building. It also allows people to invest in innovative energy efficiency technology companies that are working to improve the quality and comfort of our built environment.

No matter how you pay for upgrades like increased insulation, LED lighting, and low flow toilets, investing in energy efficiency will almost always pay dividends. You can’t say that about the stock market.  

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Energy Modernization Act 2015

Posted By Alex Wellman, Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Last Week, Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) unveiled a new bi-partisan energy bill known as the Energy Modernization Act of 2015. The bill seeks to utilize recent technological breakthroughs in the energy sector to modernize energy policy in the United States in a cost effective and fiscally responsible manner.  The language of the bill can be divided into 5 topics as follows:

Title I – Efficiency: Directs the Secretary of Energy to promote building energy codes, including the ASHRAE 90.1 standard for commercial buildings. The bill also expands current building bench marking programs for federal buildings.

Title II – Infrastructure: Addresses the grid modernization issues, cyber security, and reauthorized the strategic petroleum reserve.

Title III – Supply: Seeks to ensure that the United States has access to a stable supply of energy from a variety of sources both renewable and fossil based. It also authorizes additional research on geothermal energy and improves regulations on hydro power plants.

Title IV – Accountability: Addresses accountability for taxpayer dollars used for energy research programs, supports access to National Laboratory data for small businesses, and establishes a Quadrennial Energy Review Task Force.

Title V – Conservation Re-authorization: re-authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Historic Preservation Fund which are both set to expire this year. It also creates a new National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund to address maintenance issues at historic sites around the United States.

This bi-partisan legislation was the culmination of 114 individual bills submitted with input from stake holders across the board. It is no coincidence that Title I of the bill focuses on one of the most important issues in the world of energy policy -  energy efficiency. PIMA will continue to support common sense legislation seeking to improve the quality and comfort of the built environment.

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Three Building Competitions Working to Promote Energy Efficiency

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 23, 2015

Building challenges and competitions are a great way to promote and encourage the design of energy efficient buildings and improve the quality of the built environment. When financial incentives are in place to design the best buildings, teams are encouraged to innovate and expand upon existing design practices. Here are some of the building competitions being held this year around the United States.

1. Solar Decathlon

Sponsored by United States Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon challenges teams from 20 universities around the world to design and build energy efficient homes powered by solar. Teams are judged on a number of factors including architecture, market appeal, and efficiency. The competition occurs biennially in the United States and a complimentary competition known as Solar Decathlon Europe occurs on the off years across the pond. In 2014, PIMA was proud to sponsor the team representing Appalachian State University, the top American team in the Solar Decathlon Europe. The 2015 edition of the Solar Decathlon will take place October 8-18 in Irvine, California.

2. Battle of the Buildings

The Energy Star Battle of the Buildings is an annual competition that encourages managers of existing buildings to reduce energy and water usage over a one year period. Teams entering the challenge can win in one of three categories:

  • “Top Team. The team that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”
  • “Top Building. The building that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”
  • “Top Building by Category. The building in each category that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”

The top team for the 2014 competition came from The Town of Woodville Alabama which reduced energy use in their municipal buildings portfolio by 24.8%.


3. Architecture Zero Competition

Started in 2010, the Architecture at Zero competition is an annual design competition for net zero energy buildings in California. Sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the competition is open to students, architects, urban planners, and other design professionals interested in promoting net zero energy buildings. This year, entrants are contributing designs for family-style student residential units at the University of San Francisco.  Awards are given in several categories with a total of $25,000 in prize money available. 


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