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Tiny Houses Booming

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, March 13, 2015

While the economy has started to recover from the great recession, many people are still feeling the lingering effects.  There is a cautious optimism amongst homebuyers and lenders alike to ensure a crisis of this nature never happens again.  This idea is even more apparent among millennials, who grew up and graduated college during the downturn and are now seeking to avoid making the same mistakes as their parents. The combination of these issues has led to a boom in the popularity of so called “tiny houses,” as people from every generation look to downsize and simplify their lives.

Tiny houses can often fit a variety of descriptions; including converted school buses, floating tiny house boats, or tiny log cabins perched on four wheels. While simplifying life is often given as a reason why someone would embrace the tiny house lifestyle, for many people economics is the motivating factor.

Tiny homes also cater to the growing trend of mobile workers who do not need to be in an office everyday and can work anywhere with a reliable internet connection. This mobile lifestyle is attractive to members of every generation, including millennials just starting out and retirees who may be still doing some consulting on the side.

Besides the lower initial costs to build a tiny home, the maintenance and energy costs are considerably lower. While this would seem obvious due to their smaller size, it’s also due to the typical building practices used to build tiny homes. Many tiny homes are built using cutting edge energy efficient building technologies including polyisocyanurate foam insulation. In fact, polyiso seems to a top insulation choice amongst builders of tiny homes as demonstrated by the following projects:


“Mentoring Girls in Construction” Program builds Tiny House Using Polyiso


Colorado Couple Converts School Bus to Tiny Home and Chooses to Insulate with Polyiso


Shipping Container Tiny Home Uses Polyiso


While the tiny home lifestyle is not for everyone, it’s something to consider for those who wish to have a mobile lifestyle and are budget and environmentally conscious. As more and more people seek to simplify their lives and are no longer tied to a desk in a traditional office, it is inevitable that the tiny house trend will continue to grow. 

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PIMA Proud to Sponsor Sustainable Energy in America Factbook

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, February 27, 2015

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance have once again teamed up to publish the 2015 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The Factbook serves as an objective, scientific document containing valuable information for policy makers, journalists, and industry leaders.  

One focus of this year’s Factbook is the evolution of energy productivity in the United States. Historically, an expanding economy required an equal expansion of energy production to meet demand. This is changing however with advances and innovations in energy generation productivity and efficiency technologies.  According to the Factbook, “By one measure—U.S. GDP per unit of energy consumed—productivity has increased by 54% since 1990. Between 2007 and 2014, total energy use fell 2.4%, while GDP grew 8%.”

Increasing productivity is not the only positive change to the U.S. energy economy however. Contributions to the energy grid from renewable sources rose by an estimated 12.9% in 2014, with wind and solar tripling in capacity since 2008. This brings the total U.S. investment in clean energy in 2014 to $51.8 billion, the second highest in the world.

Energy efficiency has also seen tremendous gains. While advances in smart meters and energy efficient appliances often dominate the headlines, the Factbook found that “commercial buildings have showed the greatest progress on energy efficiency over the last several years.” It is evident that this progress is in direct correlation with the increased use of high performance building practices and materials such as polyisocyanurate foam insulation.

In the world of energy policy, information can be the most important asset to making smart decisions regarding the future of our energy economy and built environment. PIMA is happy to sponsor the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook and recognize it as an invaluable tool to policy makers around the country. The Factbook can be read in its entirety by visiting the Business Council for Sustainable Energy website.


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Energy Audits Go Full Scale

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, January 30, 2015

Energy audits are not a new concept, but the technology used for them is rapidly changing. Traditionally, the audit of your home or office would be conducted with tools such as a hand-held held thermal imaging camera, which is often a labor intensive and expensive process.  Now there is a new technology developed by Boston based company Essess.

Similar to the technology employed by Google to produce its “Streetview” maps, Essess has developed a car topped system that can thermally scan thousands of homes a night. This is accomplished by using relatively low resolution thermal imaging cameras combined with proprietary software that stitches the images together to produce usable, high quality thermal images of buildings. Instead of requiring thermal imaging cameras that cost upwards of $40,000, Essess can achieve the same high quality results with $1,000 cameras. This scalability is what separates the technology developed by Essess from traditional one-on-one energy audits.

Essess does more than provide raw thermal image data however. They have developed algorithms that that allow energy utilities and other organizations to identify which customers would be more likely to take steps to mitigate heat leak issues. This is accomplished by using software they call Thermal Analytics which uses data such as mortgage payment rates, average of tenants, and utility costs in these calculations. Similar software could potentially be used by manufacturers of insulation to identify customers who would benefit from an insulation retrofit.

Drive by technology is not the only place innovation is happening in the world of energy audits. In 2011, the UK city of Coventry hired planes equipped with thermal imaging cameras to fly over the city and record which residents were having problems with heat loss through their roofs. This allowed the city to identify vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, and enroll them in programs aimed at helping to lower their energy costs and improve their homes.  In the end, Coventry was able to assist more than 600 residents. 

When more people are armed with the knowledge gained from an energy audit, they can begin to make smart decisions about how to improve the quality and comfort of their buildings – both commercial and home. While simple steps such as replacing incandescent bulbs with LED’s or purchasing new appliances can be the most apparent, major benefits can be earned from taking a look at the building envelope and ensuring that your home or business is adequately insulated. 

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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 http://www.energystar.gov/products/certified-products 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: http://www.dchabitat.org/about-us/green-building/passive-townhomes/ 

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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