Building envelope best practices to realize long-term savings

Photo courtesy of Bloom Luxury Apartments, for which VCA completed HERS testing, T24 acceptance testing and commissioning, energy modeling, and LEED certification.

Fluctuating material costs, constant code changes, and strict climate-oriented legislation can all dictate how project teams approach building structure and details. When determining the best path of action for your return on investment, building envelope performance can help you capitalize on true long-term savings.

Standardizing advanced building durability measures throughout the industry has streamlined how building owners can achieve both code requirements and long-lasting ROI. Foundations, walls, roofs, windows, and doors comprise the building envelope. A total quality management approach focused on building envelopes can significantly improve building life cycle, life-time budget, and overall quality.

The below implementations are typically included in a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) scope.

Construction Kick-off Coordination Meetings

These calls or in-person appointments facilitate introductions with the general contractors and our trade partners in the field. During the call, VCA Green provides in-field training to ensure measures can be met throughout installation.

Quality Insulation Installation

QII is a quality assurance process throughout which all thermal level insulation and rough phase air sealing is observed and maintained. This practice is required for some Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects.

Blower Door (Envelope Leakage) Verifications

Building science continues to show through field verifications like blower door envelope leakage that creating and further improving on a continuously sealed building envelope will improve building efficiency. This is accomplished through advance framing and air sealing techniques with the intent to control the way our spaces exfiltrated/exhaust use conditioned air within a building or volume of space.

Where Envelope and HVAC Intersect

Modern exhaust design features and products can exhaust large portions of air while naturally introducing fresh outside air through envelope assemblies, like doors and windows. Maintaining a continuously sealed and a high-performing envelope, while ensuring the fresh air is controlled through natural conditions rather than behind finished wall assemblies, can eliminate overhead price tags like maintaining equipment and labor for a potentially costly operating system.

The trick then becomes controlling where, when, and how much “fresh” air is being introduced to a building. Historically, designers and builders alike have assumed ventilation through manmade features such as engineered openings around windows and doors to allow drafting of air to occur. Another example is building chimneys to create a “stack effect,” assuming ventilation through air movement across the entire building.

These attempts to properly ventilate, while maintaining a high performing envelope are difficult to achieve in concurrence due to the high concerns for air infiltration through designed openings that may not need to be present even for code-related purposes.

These milestones are achieved with detailed callouts in design documentation in addition to basic construction-level HERS and commissioning verifications.

Conclusion

Overall, investing in a high-performance building envelope can lead to significant financial savings in energy output costs, maintenance, and the correlation between property value and building life span.

Sometimes the solution to long-lasting energy efficiency is found in easily achievable, low-cost changes. Improving the performance of a building envelope through design and construction level details can lead to tangible cost savings across all procedures from conception and through operation. Contact a VCA Green principal today for information on our HERS scope of work can address those concerns.

Moe Fakih, Principal
mfakih@vca-green.com

Robyn Vettraino, Principal
rvettraino@vca-green.com

Contributing Writer: Kevin Perez, HERS Rater and Project Manager