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By Mary in PA on 10/11/2009


I’m still pondering building envelopes and needing to get this settled, as it makes it rather difficult to move forward with drawings if the envelope is undecided. I was thinking about a frame structure, and how they put a hard-foam panel on the outside of it for insulation. And I was wondering if “more is better”. So I was looking around for some examples and found the following.

 

If you’ve got the time and inclination, take a look and let me know your thoughts. I’m not experienced in construction, so would love to hear from others who are. This envelope was developed specifically for Alaska – I was wondering if it would work, be overkill, or worse - a disaster, for a more mild climate like south-central PA (with hot humid summers).

 

Thanks!

 

Cold Climate Housing Research Center  (home page)

Page on Building Envelopes

PDF manual with good explanations, detail drawings and photos


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By David in Greenville, SC on 10/12/2009


Hey Mary,

Thanks Mary, I never knew that website even existed, much less had such interesting information. However, in reviewing the information you specifically inquired about, I'd have to say there isn't enough information to give you an answer. The authors of the study themselves state that the data gathered was over a very short term and could not be used to determine the viability or long-term performance of this wall system. So, they don't even know if the system would work long term in the area it was designed for much less anywhere else!

Also, even though the REMOTE wall system did achieve some impressive ACH50 numbers, the home still used heating fuel at a rate of almost double what their computer estimates were! Just goes to show that what looks good on paper isn't always the actual result. At any rate, the REMOTE method would appear at this point to be an interesting yet not fully evaluated system. Which would mean you would be playing the part of guinea pig if you built your home this way. Not a good idea.

To be honest, other than the impermeable membrane, this system is not unlike several other methods of placing insulation on the outside of the wall sheathing. Even some production builders have been using foil-faced foam board in my area for years. Although not usually specifically advertised as exteriorly-insulated products, ICF's and SIP panels do basically the same thing. I've never known anyone who lived in an ICF home, but I do know someone who lives in a SIP-paneled home and they work extremely well! Very comfortable at any time of year and the combined electric and natural gas bills have averaged 1,200 dollars A YEAR! This is for a year-round-occupied 3,800 square foot home in the mountains of North Carolina at about 3,500 feet elevation.

Look, I'm as guilty as they come when it comes to "paralysis by analysis!" So I understand the desire to get "the best" or "the most" for the money. However, there comes a point where you just have to make a decision and move forward. There are many viable and proven methods for building an efficient, strong, and even affordable home. Although it's not as sexy and trendy as ICF's, a standard 2x6 wall system when properly constructed and air sealed still makes a great choice. Add spray foam and it gets better. Add rigid insulation over the exterior sheathing and it gets better still.  Other systems typically just offer varying levels of refinement rather than revolution.

The truth is, there is no "best" system for all situations. And the truth is that without a reasonably developed and specified home plan, there is no way to tell what wall system will fit into your budget. If you decide that a 2x6 spray-foamed system is the minimum you will accept, then you apply those costs to your plan and see what the total is. If it's within your budget - great. You can decide to upgrade to another level of refinement in either the mechanicals or the envelope. If it's not in your budget then you may have to adjust your plan to save some cash and apply those savings to your envelope. Again, you can't start with the wall system. You have to start with the plan and see how your choices (all your choices) affect the budget. Then make sacrifices where you are willing to or improvements where you can afford to.

Hope this helps a little.


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/13/2009


Hi Mary, 


Interesting site. And you'd think that if they're trying to make things efficient and sustainable in Alaska, those principles should apply in slightly warmer climates also.  I like the idea of what they're proposing. It makes sense to me to keep the framing on the warm side of the insulation.

I did a fair amount of research on building science before building. The best resources I found were at the Building Science website. If you haven't found it already, its at buildingscience.com. They even recently released a white paper on building enclosures: buildingscience.com/documents/the-building-enclosure

I looked at the cost of different options during the planning phase. For me, the initial cost of doing either ICF or SIP was too high. I thought about advanced framing, but even decided against that when I couldn't find any local framers who really wanted to do it.  You might run into the same problem with the REMOTE system.  If none of the contractors in your area have experience with the system, they might be reluctant to experiment with your house. 

We chose to do normal 2x6 stick framing, with blown fiberglass insulation in ceilings and walls--mainly because of cost.  Although I liked the extra R-value to be realized with foam insulation, it cost almost three times as much as blown fiberglass.But even with the less efficient blown fiberglass insulation, our gas bills were less than $150 per month during construction last winter.  A great savings when you consider that we spent as much at $850 per month in our drafty old Victorian. 

Jeff

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By Mary in PA on 10/25/2009


David,

 

Thanks for taking the time to read the links and provide your input. It is indeed helpful and in some ways reflects/reinforces where I’m headed.

 

You stated: To be honest, other than the impermeable membrane, this system is not unlike several other methods of placing insulation on the outside of the wall sheathing. Even some production builders have been using foil-faced foam board in my area for years.

 

Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too and it was one of the reasons I was interested in this technique. It didn’t seem to be a totally new or expensive technique. It seemed (from my limited experience) to be fairly standard materials with some variation in how they’re applied. I liked the very detailed info in the document. It seemed like maybe even something an owner could sorta’ add (i.e. double layer of foam outside) with only the cost of extra stock materials – if, for example, the framer preferred to just stick with their standard way of doing it. Of course if this technique overall is not suited for my local (heating/cooling loads), then it’s a no-go all around.

You stated: Although it's not as sexy and trendy as ICFs, a standard 2x6 wall system when properly constructed and air sealed still makes a great choice. Add spray foam and it gets better. Add rigid insulation over the exterior sheathing and it gets better still.  Other systems typically just offer varying levels of refinement rather than revolution. If you decide that a 2x6 spray-foamed system is the minimum you will accept, then you apply those costs to your plan and see what the total is. If it's within your budget - great. You can decide to upgrade to another level of refinement in either the mechanicals or the envelope.

I agree with you, I’m not necessarily looking for something sexy or trendy… just trying to get the lay of the land, so to speak. I think we will likely be applying the 2x6 spray foam to the plan as an initial starting point. Once again, thanks for your thoughtful input.


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By Mary in PA on 10/25/2009


Jeff,

Very useful comments on your experience in pricing envelopes for your house and where you eventually wound up. Thanks! Also, the links are new to me and much appreciated.

It's great to hear that you're happy with your final results and a reminder that the quality of the work is a huge factor and can yield very good results with easily available materials and methods. And I agree with you that the "experiment" factor a contractor might have to go through with an unfamiliar technique or material might lead to less than desired results or higher than expected costs (due to learning curve time).

Thanks again -- and enjoy those low bills this winter!

 


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