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Top 5 Energy Efficient Gifts for the Holidays

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, December 12, 2014

1.       Nest

Thermostats probably aren’t the first thing you think of when considering what to give for the Holidays, but that has changed with the Nest Learning Thermostat (the Nest).  Developed by two former Apple engineers, the Nest improves upon existing programmable thermostats and learns what temperatures you like at certain times of the day. It also connects to the internet and allows you to control the temperature from your smart phone, perfect for those days you forgot to turn down the heat before running to the office. The Nest is available here for $249.

2.       Energy Star

Appliances can be some of the biggest users of energy in homes and at the office. You may dread replacing that old refrigerator in the break room, but it could be costing you more than purchasing a new one. The Energy Star program certifies everything from large appliances such as washers and dryers to handheld electronic devices. Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing gifts this season and visit to find out how products earn their Energy Star certification.

3.       Solar Chargers

Smart phone usage has exploded over the past 5 years and that means a lot of people are spending time searching for an outlet when their battery gets low. An innovative way to approach this problem comes with the advent of portable solar chargers for smartphones and tablets. One company, Goal Zero, is a leader in this segment and produces a number of solar charger products including their entry level Nomad 7 Solar Panel. This model is available for $79.99 and is capable of charging most smartphones. 

4.       Thermal Leak Detector  

We here at PIMA like to discuss the importance of energy efficiency in the built environment. While it’s easy to ensure your building has adequate insulation when designing it from the ground up, it can be difficult to find problem spots in an existing building. Here to help are infrared thermal leak detectors that can be used to detect thermal bridging between insulation in walls or air leaks around doors and windows. One such product is the Black and Decker TLD100 Thermal Leak Detector. You can be sure that purchasing a thermal leak detector will help keep you home comfy and cozy during the Holidays. 

5.       Pressure Cooker

While a pressure cooker isn’t as fancy as a smart thermostat or solar charger, it is extremely helpful for improving the energy efficiency of your cooking efforts. Pressure cookers are also great for a busy home chef and can often cut cooking times by 1/3.  Some pressure cookers even offer stand alone cooking with set-it-and-forget-it ease such as those produced by Instant Pot. When cooking your holiday meals this season, using a pressure cooker can help you, or your giftee, save money and spend more time with family.



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Polyiso Key to China's Climate Change Fight

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The United States and China have signed an historic bi-lateral agreement seeking to reduce carbon emissions in the two countries – which also represent the two largest economies in the world.  While the United States is facing the larger burden under this agreement, the pact signals a shift in the longstanding conflict that the United States couldn’t act on climate because China wouldn’t comply. The agreement also encourages other countries to make similar commitments and may lead to traction for further multi-lateral talks on the issue of climate change.

PIMA has argued for a long time that because buildings account for a huge amount of U.S. and Chinese carbon emissions, energy efficiency, especially rigid foam insulation, is a key factor contributing to solving this problem . People around the globe are starting to take notice.

In an op-ed for Bloomberg, Adam Minter discusses the dangerous air quality situation in China and what the Chinese can do to mitigate the problems:

“Fortunately, there are other ways for China to slow the rise in its carbon emissions, at least some of which require far less sacrifice from powerful and not-so-powerful interests. A good place to start? Insulation. Yes, pink fiberglass is an underutilized resource in China's climate fight. During the 2000s, nearly half of the world’s new buildings were erected in China, according to a National Resources Defense Council study. Yet only five percent of them met China’s energy efficiency standards (which are already rather meager compared to, say, northern Europe). That’s a big problem: In 2009, according to the same research, buildings accounted for 28 percent of total Chinese energy use.”

While it’s great to see the author agree that insulation is a key component to China’s climate change polices, he was too narrow in focus. Many insulation products, including polyisocyanurate foam, can improve upon the performance of fiberglass. Polyiso has the highest R-value of any building rigid foam insulation product on the market and provides the best energy efficiency performance inch for inch. Polyiso is already the market leader in the United States for commercial roofs, and with the rapid expanse of the Chinese economy, has the same potential to be a leader in China.

Insulation can be the key to success for fighting climate change in China and abroad, and that realization is beginning to take hold.




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Solving the Issue of Split Incentive

Posted By Alex Wellman, Thursday, November 13, 2014

Energy efficiency is often called the “low hanging fruit” of the energy efficiency and green building world. This is because it is almost always easier to install new light bulbs or retrofit a roof with more insulation than it is install solar arrays on a rooftop. While it may be a no brainer for the owner of a home or business to do everything they can to ensure their building is operating at peak efficiency, the concept becomes less straightforward when discussing energy efficiency for rental units.  Because tenants often pay utilities for leased space, landlords may not be as motivated to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. This issue is known as “spilt incentive.”

One solution to the problem of split incentive involves special leasing provisions known as “energy aligned clauses.” According to the New York City Office of Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency, these lease provisions “create a pass-through structure where both sides share the costs and benefits of energy retrofits by agreeing on a predicted amount of annual savings and having the tenant pay the owner recovery costs based on the predicted savings.”  There is also often a built in performance buffer in favor of the tenant in the event the retrofits do not amount to the predicted savings.

Landlords benefit in other ways from energy efficiency investments such as a decrease in the cost of  utilities in common areas.  Landlords can also increase the value of their rentals by paying for these upgrades and marketing them to prospective renters, something that can be quite effective in a tight rental market such as Houston or San Francisco. New programs from the federal government are also working to promote energy efficiency investments by building owners.  One such program known as Tenant Star passed a gridlocked Congress this year and helps land lords and tenants of commercial spaces  work together from the bottom up to design and build energy efficient commercial buildings.

No matter which side of the lease you are on, energy efficiency upgrades in the form of increased insulation in the roof and walls, LED lighting, and energy star appliances always make sense.  Through innovations in financing and cooperation, we can work to reduce the problem of split incentive and ensure the quality of our built environment continues to improve for everyone. 


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The Importance of Resilience

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, August 8, 2014

After a bitterly cold winter, many American’s added a new phrase to their vocabulary, “Polar Vortex.” With these cold temperatures, people everywhere learned that climate change doesn’t always mean global warming.  Climate change also has the ability to cause severe storms such as Superstorm Sandy and unusual weather patterns. Increased instances of severe weather have led to another word being added to our everyday lexicon, and that is “resilience.”

Innovations in building technology means architects have more choices than ever before when designing sustainable buildings. Buildings that use a glass curtain wall or include a lot of windows are popular design choices. While plenty of natural light in a building is desirable, it does come with some unintended consequences in the area of resilience.

A recent study conducted by the Urban Green Building Council compared various types of building construction and looked at what would happen if a blackout occurred in New York City during a cold snap. According to that study, “glass conducts about five times more heat than a typical insulated wall. Therefore, between two buildings that are otherwise equivalent, the one with more window area will be colder during a winter blackout. Even the extra sun through a well-lit south window will barely make up for the absence of insulation; other windows will lower temperature faster than a wall would.” The study further discusses how adding extra insulation to an existing building can be easily accomplished by building an additional exterior layer.  

This is not intended to be a treatise against windows or the use of glass in building design. I, like most people, enjoy natural light in my home and place of business. But as we continue to fight climate change, we must be prepared to deal with its immediate impacts by embracing principles of design that encourage resilience, of which adequate insulation is a vital component.  

Tags:  glass  insulation  polar vortex  USGBC 

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PIMA Sponsors Habitat for Humanity Project

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, July 25, 2014

One of the most exciting parts of working in the building industry is seeing how innovative methods and materials have a direct and positive influence on people’s lives.  We are often shown modern buildings designed by leading architectural firms as examples of sustainable design – buildings which seem beyond the reach of most Americans.  While it’s certainly great to see what’s happening on the cutting edge of design, there are many practical applications of building technologies that are making a positive impact on the lives of every day citizens.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of PIMA, member companies Atlas Roofing, Firestone Building Products, GAF, Hunter Panels, Johns Manville, and R-max helped contribute to a Habitat for Humanity project in Washington, DC.  Six PHIUS certified passive townhomes were recently completed in Northeast Washington that included 8 inches of polyiso on the roof and were designed to reduce energy consumption by 80%-90%.

This will benefit future occupants of the homes who will spend less on utility bills and more on the necessities of life.  You can learn more about the project by visiting the DC Habitat for Humanity website: 

Energy efficient building design is not just for the wealthy.  By building projects like this, we accomplish the dual purpose goal of putting a roof over the head of someone in need, while also empowering them to have a more sustainable lifestyle.  

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State Energy Policy Update

Posted By Alex Wellman, Monday, July 14, 2014

Initiatives at the federal level often dominate the discussion about energy policy in the United States. While Congress has failed to act on important comprehensive energy legislation such as the Shaheen-Portman Act, a few bills have been introduced this session that hold promise including the Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act (S. 2388) sponsored by Senator Cardin (D-MD). Astute observers however will recognize that some of the most important work in energy policy is being done at the state and local level.

Often called the “laboratories of democracy,” states and municipalities have more freedom to innovate using energy codes and alternative funding schemes. All but 12 states have adopted either the 2009 IECC (90.1 -2007) or 2012 IECC (90.1- 2010) energy codes. If energy codes required federal implementation and approval from Congress, the success rate would not be nearly so high.

This is not to say everything is positive in the land of state energy policy. Recently, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a bill that froze Ohio’s energy codes. Other states such as North Carolina have seen bills introduced in the legislature that would roll back important energy and building codes promoting energy efficiency.

While it’s easy to pick up a copy of Politico to find out what is happening in the world federal energy policy, it can be more difficult to keep up with what is happening in the states. Here are some recent developments:


·         Arizona: Senate Bill 1227 would prohibit municipalities from adopting any energy efficiency building codes for new construction beyond what they already have in place.  The bill passed the Senate Committee of the Whole and is now waiting to receive a third reading.


·         New York: The New York Office of Planning and Development has issued a proposal to adopt the 2012 IECC/ASHRAE 90.1 standard and is now accepting public comment through August 20.


·         Nevada: The Nevada energy office is working to adopt the 2012 IECC. PIMA, and some of its member companies, have submitted comments in support of this effort.


·         North Carolina: Last summer, the North Carolina legislature attempted to repeal the 2012 NC Energy Conservation Code and revert back to the 2006 IECC standard. The legislation (HB 201) is currently pending in the Senate. PIMA worked with other organizations to send letters of opposition last summer and is currently working as part of a coalition to speak with key senators to prevent the erosion of important codes that promote efficiency.

PIMA is continuing to work at both the state and federal levels to support important energy efficiency legislation.  

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A World Cup of Energy Efficiency

Posted By Jared Blum, Monday, June 30, 2014

Fans in the United States are quickly warming up to the sport of soccer because it’s hard to ignore the thrill of international competition that comes around every four years during the FIFA World Cup. Like soccer, or football as its known around the world, energy efficiency can benefit from competition.

Individual states and municipalities typically create their own energy and building codes that are based on model codes produced by organizations such as the International Code Council (ICC). Consumers can then compare these states to see how much of an impact codes have on overall energy savings from state to state.  The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy conducts an annual survey to determine which state is the most energy efficient. In 2013, states like Massachusetts, New York, California, and Oregon were at the top of the chart for energy savings.

This competition, like the World Cup, provides an incentive for states to improve their code environment and increase energy efficiency. Having the reputation of being an energy efficient state can attract new business while helping to foster a healthy economy along with a healthy environment.

Due its immense popularity worldwide, many analysts believe soccer has the potential to become the next big sport in the United States. Energy efficiency shares that potential and is often described as the “low hanging fruit” of the energy sector. With increased concerns of climate change and new rules on carbon emissions from the EPA, I know we are on the cusp of a breakthrough in improving the efficiency of our buildings in all sectors of the economy. 

The United States hasn’t been known for its success on the soccer pitch, but we have the potential to lead the world in reducing carbon emissions and creating a better world for future generations of World Cup fans.  

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Recession Recovery and Climate Change – The Link

Posted By Jared Blum, Friday, June 13, 2014

Despite a significant rebound from 2007-2011 recessions which hammered construction industry employment, many people are still struggling to find work. With the threat of climate change on the horizon, our economy is bound to be in for some major changes in the near future. These two issues are inextricably tied together.

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) recently introduced the ‘‘Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Jobs Act," (S. 2388.) The legislation seeks to spur job creation in the construction segment while also improving the efficiency of our buildings.  The bill is estimated to incentivize the creation of nearly 40,000 jobs.

Besides the obvious direct economic benefit of job creation and cost savings for consumers, the bill is vital to the fight against climate change. Renewable energy technologies often get the top billing in discussions about reducing carbon emissions. While they are certainly central to this goal, energy efficiency is of equal or, arguably, greater importance. Estimates show that this legislation has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 800,000 metric tons annually.  This reduction is not achieved by radically changing the nation’s energy infrastructure, but simply by ensuring that buildings are held to the best standards and built using the best materials on the market today, such as  polyiso.

Although the Sheehan-Portman bill has been repeatedly stalled in the Senate, Senator Cardin’s energy efficiency legislation has the potential to break the gridlock in Washington.  In fact, this legislation was co sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) while a companion bill has been introduced in the House by Tom Reed (R-NY) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ).Speaking about the bill, Senator Cardin said “we don’t need to choose between good jobs and helping the environment – we can do both with the same policy.” I couldn’t agree more. 

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Polyiso Goes the Extra Mile for the Solar Decathlon

Posted By Jared Blum, Thursday, May 29, 2014

Every two years, teams of students representing universities from around the world gather for a competition to build the energy-independent solar houses.  The competition, known as the Solar Decathlon, started in the United States and now includes a separate European contest.  

Students from Appalachian State University were selected as one of three teams from the United States to participate in the 2014 European Solar Decathlon.  The team from Appalachian State has joined forces with the French Université d’Angers in this endeavor and calls the joint project Maison Réciprocité.

The team is using polyiso as its insulation material of choice citing its superior thermal performance. The house will have 4 inches of polyiso as continuous insulation in the walls, allowing the long row house to have plenty of natural daylight without sacrificing thermal performance.  The house will be built almost entirely in the United States, flat packed, shipped across the Atlantic to Versailles, France, and rebuilt on site for the competition.

Belief in climate change is becoming more main stream every day with the debate shifting from if climate change is happening, to when it will happen and what kinds of impacts it will have.  PIMA and the polyiso industry understand that net zero energy buildings are the future of the built environment.  Combating climate change will require a number of different strategies including an increased reliance on renewable energy and a commitment to energy efficient buildings. Of these strategies, implementing energy efficient building practices has the some of the most direct and cost effective impact.

The research happening at universities around the country like Appalachian State is vital to the fight against climate change.  Competitions such as the Solar Decathlon serve as laboratories of innovation that lead to beneficial discoveries in the field of building technology.  These projects demonstrate that innovative building techniques are not just for environmentalists with boutique architectural plans, but can help the average home owner save money. PIMA is proud to sponsor this important research, and wishes team Maison Réciprocité all the best as they compete at the 2014 European Solar Decathlon.  For more information about the project, visit the website at:

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The Need to Address the Lack of Consensus Procedures in Developing LEED

Posted By Jared Blum, Friday, April 18, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Editors Note: This work originally appeared in Retrofit Magazine.

The work being done by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and its flagship LEED program has done a great deal to promote green construction and bring concern for high-performance buildings to the mainstream. As a long-time energy-efficiency advocate and supporter of the work of the USGBC, I believe, however, it is important to recognize flaws in the process as epitomized in LEED v4 and work to address them.

Those of us in the high-performance building sector understand that developing new standards and guidelines requires a consensus and deliberative process. Members of the American High Performance Building Coalition, to which PIMA belongs, manufacture products that greatly contribute to the green-building environment.

Unfortunately, these manufacturers are often left out of the conversations concerning updates to LEED, while a only a small percentage of advisors to the LEED process have actual building-products-manufacturing experience. Foam insulation, for example, has been shown to save more than 233 times its embedded energy over the life span of the product. Earlier versions of LEED v4 would have discriminated against all foam insulation and a great number of sustainable roofing products. This oversight was only changed when USGBC could not ignore the tsunami of opposition from those who understood the impact of this well-intended proposal.

These controversies reached a breaking point recently when the Ohio State Senate passed Ohio Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 (SCR 25), which asserts that LEED v4 should no longer be used by Ohio state agencies and government entities. Instead, Ohio is looking at other rating systems, such as Green Globes, that take a more consensus-based approach. The legislation has also been introduced in the Ohio State House of Representatives.

This is not the first time LEED has come under fire by a government body. In October 2013, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) issued a memo stating that federal government agencies can now use either LEED or Green Globes for rating federal buildings. With many government agencies holding vast building portfolios and operating with tax dollars, it is imperative that they look critically at any rating system to ensure they are producing the most value with public funds.

In fact, the EPA is currently seeking comment for its Draft Guidelines for Ecolabels and Performance Standards, which emphasize the use of ANSI/ASTM consensus procedures to develop green product standards. This is important given the industry’s frustrating experience so far with the lack of true consensus in the development of recent green standards, such as LEED v4.

The LEED program has evolved to be the dominant rating system for buildings in the public and private sectors. The commitment to one green rating system, however, has produced some unintended consequences, such as pigeonholing certain products as “not green”. All observers can admit that competition in the codes and standards sector is beneficial; consider the ICC and ASHRAE as an example. Stakeholders will benefit by working together to produce a system that promotes innovation, and through competition, allows the best products to be used in buildings.

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