Category Archives: building

Tell me more about Forest Stewardship Council Certification

forest stewardship council certification

Lumber is a pretty integral ingredient to how we build and furnish our homes. And luckily, when properly managed and harvested it is a sustainable and renewable resource. It is also an excellent natural carbon sequestration method. And seeing as how we can’t quite seem to figure out how to do that with technology, it seems like we should probably take advantage of Mother Nature when she does it for us. But you see that bolded sentence up there about managing and harvesting properly? That’s the kicker. How do we ensure that the lumber we are building with is managed and harvested in a sustainable manner? Well, that’s where the Forest Stewardship Council comes in handy.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a international not-for-profit organization devoted to responsible management for the world’s forests. It does this primarily through standard setting, certification, and labeling of forest products. The FSC was established in 1953 as a response to concerns about deforestation. It certifies and labels forest products which are harvested in environmentally appropriate ways, are socially beneficial, and economically viable.

How does lumber become FSC labeled

There are two types of certifications that the FSC offers, Forest Management and Chain of Custody. Both certification require evaluation by an independent FSC accredited certifier that the forest of chain of custody meets the principles and criteria that the FSC has developed.

The FSC maintains 10 principles to determine if a Forest can be certified:

  1. Compliance with all applicable laws and treaties, and all FSC principles and criteria.
  2. Tenure and use rights and responsibilities.
  3. Recognition and respect of indigenous peoples rights.
  4. Operations must maintain or enhance the long-term social and economic well being of forest workers and surrounding communities.
  5. Efficient use of products to ensure economic viability, and social and environmental benefits.
  6. Maintain the ecological functions and and integrity of the forest.
  7. A long-term appropriate management plan must be written and followed.
  8. Monitoring and assessment
  9. Maintenance of High Conservation Value forests.
  10. Plantations which are in accordance with principles 1-9

In order for lumber to be labeled by the FSC it must come from a forest which is certified in Forest Management, and it must follow a supply chain which has been certified in Chain of Custody.

What sorts of products are FSC labeled

More than just lumber can be labeled by the FSC. The label can also be used by paper products, furniture, jewelry, and medicines that were made by products in certified forests.

Want to learn about other environmental, energy, and sustainability certifications? Check out these posts:
LEED certification
Energy Star certification
Green Guard certification

Insulation

couple weeks ago I posted an Autodesk Academy video of my hero, Amory B. Lovins talking about integrative design. In this video Amory talks about insulating a house to the point that a heating and cooling system are no longer needed. I’d like to dive deeper into this idea. To start, let’s talk about some of the basics of insulation.

"Insulation Roll" by Mark Evans // CC BY

Insulation Roll” by Mark Evans // CC BY

Why we insulate buildings

Here in the northern part of the country we typically think of insulation as necessary for keeping the heat in during the fall and winter (and sometimes spring) months. But the most basic purpose of insulation is to prevent the movement of heat. Both out of and into a structure. Insulation is also quite useful for keeping heat out of a building in the summer. So insulation can cut down on the need for both heating and cooling a building when more extreme temperatures hit. Having a well insulated home can reduce your energy use (and costs!) all year round.

R Values

Insulation materials are rated using an R Value. R value is a measure of resistance to heat flow, and is based on the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors, the area of the insulation, time, and heat loss. High R values provide better insulation than low R values. Now, walls and ceilings and floors are made up of multiple layers of different materials, and to find the total R value of the system, we add together the R value of each individual layer. Oak Ridge National Laboratory put together a recommended R value calculator based on zip code, heat source, and part of the building that is being insulated.

How buildings are typically insulated

If you rip open the drywall in one of your exterior walls chances are you will find fluffy, pink, fiberglass insulation. This is known as batting, or fiberglass batt insulation. Fiberglass batt has an R value of about 3 per inch of thickness.

Because heat rises, in colder climates it is important to have a well insulated roof or attic to keep that heat inside the building. Typically, houses have a blown insulation (loose insulation that is blown into a space to fill it), that can be 15 inches or more in thickness.

In warmer climates , where you want to keep the heat out of the house, sometimes the insulation batt has a shiny metallic side. This is put on the outer face of the wall to help reflect heat away from indoors.

Common Types of Insulation

There are many more types of insulation than the fiberglass batt or blown fiberglass.

Mineral Wool is a material that resembles matted wool, but is man made rather than sheep made. In batt form, its R value is equal to fiberglass batt, but as a blown insulation it has a larger insulation, making it slightly better for attic spaces.

Cellulose is a material made from plant fiber that can be used as a blown insulation. It also has a slightly higher R value than blown fiberglass. Cellulose can also be mixed with water, adhesive, and moisture retardant and used as a spray insulation, which has the advantage of being better able to get into nooks and crannies to seal up a space. Cellulose also has the benefit of being a vapor barrier, preventing the buildup of moisture, which can help prevent rot.

Foam board insulation can be made from polystyrene or polyurethane among other polys. The boards are made of dense foam that can be cut to fit into wall spaces, and provides a good amount of insulation for a small amount of thickness.

Foam spray insulation may be made from a variety of different man made materials such as polyurethane, and is sprayed into the walls and ceilings. Foam insulation is excellent at sealing up walls or ceilings that have small cracks and/or holes, however it is much more expensive than fiberglass insulation.

So, now we have a base understanding of insulation, next time we can talk about insulating for greater energy efficiency.


Want to read more about insulation? Here are some good sources:
Energy.gov articles on Insulation
Insulation R Value Chart

Tell me more about Greenguard Certification

It seems these days that every packaged product has some symbol boasting its quality. But not every seal or certification is created or bestowed equally. The marks of a meaningful certification program are high standards, rigorous third party testing, and ongoing off-the-shelf evaluation. It also helps if the certifying body is not-for-profit.

Greenguard is a third party certification that is used for indoor air quality. It was started by the Greenguard Environmental Institute in 2001, and was acquired by UL Environment in 2011. The certification is for indoor use products that produce low emission amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

There are a couple different types of Greenguard certification that a product can receive. The Greenguard Certification is for indoor use products that meet strict chemical emissions limits and are suitable for use in a healthy indoor air quality environment. Greenguard Gold Certification is a stricter certification specifically for sensitive individuals such as children and seniors. The products that are certified as Greenguard Gold are appropriate for use in schools, childcare facilities and healthcare facilities.

How does a product become Greenguard certified

A product manufacturer applies for product certification. The product is evaluated and tested to make sure it meets the Greenguard standards for certification. The standards are set based on criteria set by key public health agencies. If a product is certified, it is then subject to annual testing for more than 10,000 different VOCs.

What sorts of products are Greenguard certified

Over 10,000 products from 350 different manufacturers currently carry the Greenguard seal. There is a wide variety of products that have received Greenguard certification, including paint, adhesives and sealants, building materials, furniture, electronics and textiles. If you are looking for specific products that have received Greenguard certification, you can look here.

Interested in learning about other environmental certifications? Check out these posts on LEED certification and Energy Star.

Amory B. Lovins on Integrative Design

I’m going to give you a little bit of homework before we get into the meat of this post. Watch this video:

(I’ve probably posted that before. I’m a wee bit obsessed with Mr. Lovins and his work)

Now let’s talk a little bit about integrative design. Integrative Design is a method of design based on working from the top down. Basically you look at the entire system – the entire car, the entire house, the entire factory, with the intention to make it as energy efficient as possible. By looking at design from the top down you ask how to make the best holistic design by intertwining the functions of the different components.

Integrative Design is different from traditional design methods which focus on optimizing each individual piece of the system and then fitting them together and adjusting how they interact. This traditional method creates the most optimized walls and plumbing and HVAC. But the integrative design approach allows you to say, what if we didn’t need the HVAC at all  (or at least not our idea of the most optimized HVAC) because we change the way we build the walls completely.

At the end of the Autodesk video Amory mentions the 10xE principles of integrative design, and I want to share those here:

  1. Define shared and aggressive goals.
  2. Collaborate across disciplines.
  3. Design non-linearly.
  4. Reward desired outcomes
  5. Define the end-use.
  6. Seek systemic causes and ultimate purposes.
  7. Optimize over time and space.
  8. Establish baseline parametric values.
  9. Establish the minimum energy or resource theoretically required, then identify and minimize constraints to achieving that minimum in practice.
  10. Start with a clean sheet.
  11. Use measured data and explicit analysis, not assumptions and rules.
  12. Start downstream.
  13. Seek radical simplicity.
  14. Tunnel through the cost barrier.
  15. Wring multiple benefits from single expenditures.
  16. Meet minimized peak demand; optimize over integrated demand
  17. Include feedback in the design.

In Amory’s lecture he talks about using integrative desing in building design for heating and cooling, in auto design for using less fuel, and in factory design for pumping fluid. Stay tuned for a bit of a deeper dive into these topics in the future, including how the integrative design principles lead to radically different approaches in each of these categories.

Tell Me More About Energy Star

Chances are you’re familiar with the blue and white logo that can be found on many types of home appliances, but do you know what being Energy Star certified actually means?

The Energy Star program was started by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in 1992 as a labeling program for energy efficient appliances. Energy Star is now an international standard for energy efficiency. The Energy Star label can now be applied to computers, servers, appliances, heating and cooling systems, home electronics, imaging equipment, lighting, and new homes and buildings.

In 2010 it came to light that the Energy Star label was being wrongly granted and misused. It was being granted to products that did not exist, and if a company had one product certified they were able to download the label and put it their other, non-certified products as well. Since then, a number of critical audits were completed, and the Energy Star label and certification process has been revamped to prevent these sorts of fraudulent claims.

Now each application is reviewed for approval. Products must be third-party tested in EPA approved labs. Additionally, each year off-the-shelf tests are conducted on a percentage of Energy Star labeled products to ensure that the consumer is receiving products that meet the standards.

So what does it mean if something has and Energy Star label

Each product has a set of standards that it has to meet in order to receive the label. For example, a refrigerator must save 20% of energy based on the industry minimum standard, an air conditioner must save 10%, and a light bulb must save 75% vs a standard incandescent. These standards are updated every couple years or so, in particular when at least 50% of the market is held by energy star labeled products.

The Energy Star label and buildings

There are currently Energy Star ratings for new homes, commercial spaces, and industrial plants. Buildings are evaluated for the energy efficiency of their heating and cooling systems, water management, and air quality. Buildings are evaluated by professional engineers or registered architects and have to receive a rating of 75 or higher (out of 100) in order to receive an Energy Star label.