About Jared O. Blum

Jared O. Blum is president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association, Bethesda, Md.

The Building Industry Is Working to Reduce Long-term Costs and Limit Disruptions of Extreme Events

“Resilience is the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and to withstand and recover rapidly from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.” —White House Presidential Policy Directive on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast as a category 3 storm. Insured losses topped $41 billion, the costliest U.S. catastrophe in the history of the industry. Studies following the storm indicated that lax enforcement of building codes had significantly increased the number and severity of claims and structural losses. Researchers at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, found that if stronger building codes had been in place, wind damages from Hurricane Katrina would have been reduced by a staggering 80 percent. With one storm, resiliency went from a post-event adjective to a global movement calling for better preparation, response and recovery—not if but when the next major disaster strikes.


We can all agree that the U.S. building stock and infrastructure are old and woefully unprepared for climatic events, which will occur in the years ahead. Moving forward, engineering has to be more focused on risk management; historical weather patterns don’t matter because the past is no longer a reliable map for future building-code requirements. On community-wide and building-specific levels, conscientious groups are creating plans to deal with robust weather, climatic events and national security threats through changing codes and standards to improve their capacity to withstand, absorb and recover from stress.

Improvements to infrastructure resiliency, whether they are called risk-management strategies, extreme-weather preparedness or climate-change adaptation, can help a region bounce back quickly from the next storm at considerably less cost. Two years ago, leading groups in America’s design and construction industry issued an Industry Statement on Resiliency, which stated: “We recognize that natural and manmade hazards pose an increasing threat to the safety of the public and the vitality of our nation. Aging infrastructure and disasters result in unacceptable losses of life and property, straining our nation’s ability to respond in a timely and efficient manner. We further recognize that contemporary planning, building materials, and design, construction and operational techniques can make our communities more resilient to these threats.”

With these principles in mind, there has been a coordinated effort to revolutionize building standards to respond to higher demands.


Resiliency begins with ensuring that buildings are constructed and renovated in accordance with modern building codes and designed to evolve with change in the built and natural environment. In addition to protecting the lives of occupants, buildings that are designed for resilience can rapidly re-cover from a disruptive event, allowing continuity of operations that can liter- ally save lives.

Disasters are expensive to respond to, but much of the destruction can be prevented with cost-effective mitigation features and advanced planning. A 2005 study funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Emergency Management Agency and conducted by the Washington-based National Institute of Building Sciences’ Multi-hazard Mitigation Council found that every dollar spent on mitigation would save $4 in losses. Improved building-code requirements during the past decade have been the single, unifying force in driving high-performing and more resilient building envelopes, especially in states that have taken the initiative to extend these requirements to existing buildings.


In California, there is an oft-repeated saying that “earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.” Second only to Alaska in frequency of earthquakes and with a much higher population density, California has made seismic-code upgrades a priority, even in the face of financial constraints. Last year, Los Angeles passed an ambitious bill requiring 15,000 buildings and homes to be retrofitted to meet modern codes. Without the changes, a major earth- quake could seriously damage the city’s economic viability: Large swaths of housing could be destroyed, commercial areas could become uninhabitable and the city would face an uphill battle to regain its economic footing. As L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo said, “Why are we waiting for an earthquake and then committed to spending billions of dollars, when we can spend millions of dollars before the earthquake, avoid the trauma, avoid the loss of afford- able housing and do so in a preemptive manner that costs us less?”

This preemptive strategy has been adopted in response to other threats, as well. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., emerged as a national example of electrical resilience with its microgrid, an efficient on-campus power-generation and -delivery network that draws electricity from a gas-turbine generator and solar-panel field. When the New Jersey utility grid went down in the storm, police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency-services workers used Princeton University as a staging ground and charging station for phones and equipment. It also served as a haven for local residents whose homes lost power. Even absent a major storm, the system provides cost efficiency, reduced environmental impact and the opportunity to use renewable energy, making the initial investment a smart one.


Many of today’s sustainable roofing standards were developed in response to severe weather events. Wind-design standards across the U.S. were bolstered after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 with minimum design wind speeds rising by 30-plus mph. Coastal jurisdictions, such as Miami-Dade County, went even further with the development of wind- borne debris standards and enhanced uplift design testing. Severe heat waves and brown-outs, such as the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995, prompted that city to require cool roofs on the city’s buildings.

Hurricane Sandy fostered innovation by demonstrating that when buildings are isolated from the supply of fresh water and electricity, roofs could serve an important role in keeping building occupants safe and secure. Locating power and water sources on rooftops would have maintained emergency lighting and water supplies when storm surges threatened systems located in basement utility areas. Thermally efficient roofs could have helped keep buildings more habitable until heating and cooling plants were put back into service.

In response to these changes, there are many opportunities for industry growth and adaptation. Roof designs must continue to evolve to accommodate the increasing presence of solar panels, small wind turbines and electrical equipment moved from basements, in addition to increasing snow and water loads on top of buildings. Potential energy disruptions demand greater insulation and window performance to create a habitable interior environment in the critical early hours and days after a climate event. Roofing product manufacturers will work more closely with the contractor community to ensure that roofing installation practices maximize product performance and that products are tested appropriately for in-situ behavior.


Rather than trying to do the minimum possible to meet requirements, building practitioners are “thinking beyond the code” to design structures built not just to withstand but to thrive in extreme circumstances. The Tampa, Fla.-based Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has developed an enhanced set of engineering and building standards called FORTIFIED Home, which are designed to help strengthen new and existing homes through system-specific building upgrades to reduce damage from specific natural hazards. Research on roofing materials is ongoing to find systems rigorous enough to withstand hail, UV radiation, temperature fluctuations and wind uplift. New techniques to improve roof installation quality and performance will require more training for roofing contractors and more engagement by manufacturers on the installation of their products to optimize value.

Confronted with growing exposure to disruptive events, the building industry is working cooperatively to meet the challenge of designing solutions that provide superior performance in changing circumstances to reduce long-term costs and limit disruptions. Achieving such integration requires active collaboration among building team members to improve the design process and incorporate new materials and technologies, resulting in high-performing structures that are durable, cost- and resource-efficient, and resilient so when the next disruptive event hits, our buildings and occupants will be ready.

White Paper Identifies Appropriate Mean Reference Temperature Ranges and R-values of Polyiso Roof Insulation within this Range

A number of recent articles have explored the relationship between temperature and R-value with an emphasis on the apparent reduction in R-value demonstrated by polyisocyanurate (or polyiso) roof insulation at cold temperatures. The science behind this apparent R-value decrease is relatively simple: All polyiso foam contains a blowing agent, which is a major component of the insulation performance provided by the polyiso foam. As temperatures decrease, all blowing agents will start to condense, and at some point this will result in a marginally reduced R-value. The point at which this occurs will vary to some extent for different polyiso foam products.

a mean reference temperature of 40 F is based on the average between a hot-side temperature of 60 F and a cold-side temperature of 20 F.

A mean reference temperature of 40 F is based on the average between a hot-side temperature of 60 F and a cold-side temperature of 20 F.

Because of this phenomenon, building researchers have attempted to determine whether the nominal R-value of polyiso insulation should be reduced in colder climates. Because of the obvious relationship between temperature and blowing-agent condensation, this certainly is a reasonable area of inquiry. However, before determining nominal R-value for polyiso in colder climates, it is critical to establish the appropriate temperature at which R-value testing should be conducted.

TO DETERMINE the appropriate temperature for R-value testing of polyiso, it is important to review how R-value is tested and measured. Figure 1 provides a simplified illustration of a “hot box” apparatus used to test and measure the R-value of almost all thermal-insulating materials. The insulation sample is placed within the box, and a temperature differential is maintained on opposing sides of the box. To generate accurate R-value information, the temperature differential between the opposing sides of the box must be relatively large—typically no less than 40 F according to current ASTM standards. The results of this type of test are then reported based on the average between these two temperature extremes, which is referred to as mean reference temperature. As shown in Figure 1, a mean reference temperature of 40 F is based on the average between a hot-side temperature of 60 F and a cold-side temperature of 20 F. In a similar manner, a mean reference temperature of 20 F is based on a hot-side temperature of 40 F and a cold-side temperature of 0 F.

NOW THAT we’ve had an opportunity to discuss the details of R-value testing, let’s apply the principles of the laboratory to the real-world situation of an actual building. Just like our laboratory hot box, buildings also have warm and cold sides. In cold climates, the warm side is located on the interior and the cold side is located on the exterior. If we assume that the interior is being heated to 68 F during the winter, what outdoor temperature will be required to obtain a mean reference temperature of 40 F or 20 F? Figure 2 provides a schematic analysis of the appropriate mean reference temperature.

As illustrated in Figure 2, the necessary outdoor temperature needed to attain a 40 F mean reference temperature would be 12 F while an outdoor temperature as low as -28 F would be needed to obtain a 20 F mean reference temperature. And herein lies a glaring problem with many of the articles published so far about the relationship between temperature and R-value. Although a 20 F or 40 F “reference temperature” may sound reasonable for measuring R-value, average real-world conditions required to obtain this reference temperature are only available in the most extreme cold climates in the world. With the exception of the northernmost parts of Canada and the Arctic, few locations experience an average winter temperature lower than 20 F.

schematic analysis of the appropriate mean reference temperature.

A Schematic analysis of the appropriate mean reference temperature.

To help illustrate the reality of average winter temperature in North America, a recent white paper published by the Bethesda, Md.-based Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), “Thermal Resistance and Temperature: A Report for Building Design Professionals”, which is available at Polyiso.org, identifies these average winter temperatures by climate zone using information from NOAA Historical Climatology studies. As shown in Table 1, page 2, the PIMA white paper identifies that actual average winter temperature varies from a low of 22 F in the coldest North American climate zone (ASHRAE Zone 7) to a high of 71 F in the warmest climate zone (ASHRAE Zone 1).

In addition to identifying a realistic winter outdoor average temperature for all major North American climate zones, Table 1 also identifies the appropriate mean reference temperature for each zone when a 68 F indoor design temperature is assumed. Rather than being as low as 40 F or even 20 F as sometimes inferred in previous articles, this mean winter reference temperature varies from a low of no less than 45 F in the coldest climate zone to above 50 F in the middle climate zones in North America.

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French Kings, Solar Power and Sustainability

Louis XIV is not a frequent reference point in today’s discussions about the world’s energy and sustainability paths. However, this longest ruling French monarch (1643-1715) was known as the “Sun King” as he often referred to himself as the center of the universe and was enamored of the sun itself. He also was the builder of Versailles, the construction of which was viewed as very innovative for its day with gardens and roads that Louis XIV arrayed in a pattern to track the sun’s movements.

2014 International Solar Decathlon in Versailles, France. PHOTO: SDEurope

2014 International Solar Decathlon in Versailles, France. PHOTO: SDEurope

With this in mind, it is not such a stretch to understand why the organizers of the 2014 International Solar Decathlon chose the Versailles grounds in which to hold this extraordinary exhibition, from which I have recently returned. The 15-day exhibition featured more than 20 universities from around the world, with Brown University/Rhode Island School of Design and Appalachian State University as the two U.S. competitors.

During each day of the competition, the entrants were subjected to judges’ inspection to assess performance in categories, such as architecture, communications (ability to literally tell their house’s story to press and visitors), energy efficiency, engineering and construction, and sustainability.

PIMA’s sponsorship of Appalachian State and the providing of polyiso insulation by Atlas Roofing to ASU demonstrated the role high-performance insulation plays in the future of the built environment.

However, it is not individual product performance that most impresses the visitor to these extraordinary homes. Yes, they all make exceptional use of the solar power generated by their installed PV systems (they are limited by the rules to only 5 kWh of electricity production from which they must run refrigerators, air conditioning, washers and dryers) and each home has an array of innovative products. But it is the synergistic result of the products’ application combined with the unbelievable ingenuity of the students and professors that excited me the most.

2014 International Solar Decathlon PHOTO: SDEurope

The “decathletes” at the 2014 International Solar Decathlon in Versailles, France. PHOTO: SDEurope

Some buildings were representative of new construction. For example, the ASU entrant was a modular townhome with the potential to assemble into a collective urban building.

In addition, recognizing that existing buildings are the greatest energy challenge, the effort to improve our world’s retrofit capabilities truly caught my eye. For example, the Berlin Rooftop Project focuses on abandoned rooftop space in that city to create studios for younger urban dwellers, while the Dutch (Delft University) addressed the poorly insulated townhomes that make up over 60 percent of Dutch homes by applying a “second skin” while including a garden capability within the home.

The several days I spent at the event were educational, but nothing was more inspiring than speaking with the students themselves. Be they from Chile, France, Germany, Japan, the United States or any of the other countries involved, their passion was compelling. The intellect and commitment of these future architects, engineers, designers and urban planners to finding sustainable solutions for the planet gives me a distinct optimism for our future.

Energy-efficient Cool-roof Legislation: Creating Jobs and Reducing Energy Costs

Building on two roofing trends—higher thermal performance and cooler roofs in hotter climates—that have policymakers and architects seeing eye to eye, energy-efficient cool-roof legislation offers a significant opportunity to increase building energy efficiency and create jobs. Known in the last Congress in the Senate as S. 1575, the Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act, and in the House of Representatives as H.R. 2962, the Roofing Efficiency Jobs Act, the legislation is scheduled to be reintroduced this spring.

The intent of the legislation is to encourage improvement in the thermal performance of existing roofs and, where appropriate in the designer’s judgment, encourage the use of a white or reflective roof surface in hotter climates. This is a clear win-win for the environment and building owners in terms of reduced energy costs and reduced pollution associated with energy consumption.

energy efficiency

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SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS lie within the commercial roofing sector, where more than 50 billion square feet of flat roofs are currently available for retrofit, 4 billion of which are typically retrofitted each year. The legislation would provide a 20-year depreciation period (instead of the current 39 years) for commercial roofs that meet minimum R-values that are significantly higher (requiring more insulation) than those required under state and local building codes and that have a white or other highly reflective surface. This change would correct an inequity in the current depreciation system (the average life span of a low-slope roof is only 17 years). By providing this incentive, the federal government would allow building owners and architects to decide whether the combination of thermal insulation and reflective roofs are appropriate for a given climate.

The required R-values under the proposed legislation are identical to the prescriptive requirements found under ASHRAE 189.1-2011, “Standard for the Design of High-Performance, Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings”. This legislation would be limited to retrofits of existing low-slope roofs and would not be available to new buildings. The cool roof requirement would only apply to buildings in ASHRAE Climate Zones 1 through 5, which covers approximately the area of the country from Chicago and Boston south. Roofs may qualify for the depreciation in zones 6, 7 and 8 but would not need a cool surface. View a map of the ASHRAE Climate Zones.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Annual Energy Review, 2011, buildings account for 19 percent of the nation’s total energy usage and 34 percent of its electricity usage. Policies directed at commercial buildings are important to improving the economy, reducing pollution and strengthening energy efficiency. Although the country has over time maintained a steady pace in improving energy efficiency, a huge potential still exists, especially for commercial buildings. A wide range of credible estimates are available that point to this potential for cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements (see the graph).

THIS PROPOSED legislation complements the approaches taken in more comprehensive energy-efficiency proposals by focusing on the roof, which is the only building-envelope component that is regularly replaced but rarely upgraded to address energy and other environmental impacts.

Most buildings were constructed before building energy codes were first developed in the mid-1970s, or buildings were constructed under relatively weak codes, so these older, under-insulated roofs offer an important opportunity for increased energy savings. During the next 17 to 20 years, most of the weatherproof membranes on all commercial roofs will be replaced or recovered, which is the most cost-effective time to add needed insulation.

By accelerating demand for energy-efficient commercial roofs, the proposed legislation would:

    ▪▪ Create nearly 40,000 new jobs among roofing contractors and manufacturers.
    ▪▪ Add $1 billion in taxable annual revenue to the construction sector.
    ▪▪ Save $86 million in energy costs in the first year.
    ▪▪ Eliminate and offset carbon emissions by 1.2 million metric tons (equal to emissions of 229,000 cars).

THE LEGISLATION has the support of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association; National Roofing Contractors Association; Alliance to Save Energy; American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; Associated Buildings & Contractors Inc.; Building Owners and Managers Association International; United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers; and several more construction industry associations.

When Sens. Cardin and Crapo reintroduce the Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act, they hope it will influence the future debate about tax and energy policy. Although consideration of tax reform has stalled for the moment, when Congress returns to this issue it will be a golden opportunity to consider ideas for reforming cost-recovery periods and removing the disincentives that overly long depreciation schedules currently place on building energy-efficiency improvements.

Insulation and Roof Replacements

When existing roofs (that are part of the building’s thermal envelope) are removed and replaced and when the roof assembly includes above-deck insulation, the energy code now requires that the insulation levels comply with the requirements for new construction, according to a proposal approved by International Code Council at public comment hearings held in October 2013.

This high-performance roof system was recently installed on a high school north of Chicago. It features two layers of 3-inch 25-psi, double-coated fiberglass-faced polyisocyanurate insulation set in bead-foam adhesive at 4 inches on center, weighted with five 5-gallon pails of adhesive per 4- by 4-foot board to ensure a positive bond into the bead foam until set. PHOTO: Hutchinson Design Group LLC

This high-performance roof system was recently installed on a high school north of Chicago. It features two layers of 3-inch 25-psi, double-coated fiberglass-faced polyisocyanurate insulation set in bead-foam adhesive at 4 inches on center, weighted with five 5-gallon pails of adhesive per 4- by 4-foot board to ensure a positive bond into the bead foam until set. PHOTO: Hutchinson Design Group LLC

As a result of this proposal approval, the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) provides new language that provides clear unambiguous direction on how the energy code provisions apply to roof repair, roof recover and roof replacement.

Until this update there was a great deal of confusion given the various terms—such as reroofing, roof repair, roof recover and roof replacement—used to describe roofing projects on existing buildings in the International Building Code and the IECC. The clarification will help to mitigate this confusion.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the energy savings provided by a well-insulated roofing system. It is critical to minimize energy losses and upgrade insulation levels when roofs are replaced to comply with code requirements for new construction.

Each year about 2.5 billion square feet of roof coverings are installed on existing buildings and the opportunity to upgrade the insulation levels on these roof systems occurs just once in several decades when the roof is replaced or even longer when existing roofs are “recovered”. Until recently this requirement was prescribed using vague and confusing language, as noted.

Moving forward the IECC will use the same definitions found in the International Building code:

  • Reroofing: The process of recovering or replacing an existing roof covering. See “Roof Recover” and “Roof Replacement”.
  • Roof Recover: The process of installing an additional roof covering over a prepared existing roof covering without removing the existing roof covering.
  • Roof Replacement: The process of removing the existing roof covering, repairing any damaged substrate and installing a new roof covering.
  • Roof Repair: Reconstruction or renewal of any part of an existing roof for the purposes of its maintenance.

A survey of building departments in many states and regions in the U.S. found that online roofing permit application forms rarely included any information on the energy code and required insulation levels. With the changes to the 2015 IECC, it will be easier for building departments to correlate the building code and energy code requirements for roof replacements.

The clarification to the 2015 IECC makes the code easier to interpret and enforce. Along the way, it will help ensure that the opportunity to save energy when replacing roofs is not lost.

Another benefit of this update is that the exemption for roof repair is now clearly defined making it easier for building owners and roofing contractors to perform routine maintenance without triggering energy-efficiency upgrades, which would add costs.

Polyiso Roof Insulation R-value Update

An update to ASTM C1289, “Standard Specification for Faced Rigid Cellular Polyisocyanurate Thermal Insulation”, (ASTM C1289-13) features important improvements regarding the prediction of Long-Term Thermal Resistance (LTTR) for a variety of polyiso insulation roof boards. Members of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) began reporting LTTR values in accordance with ASTM C1289-13 on Jan. 1, 2014.

ASTM C1289

ASTM C1289 was first published in 1998. The standard is a series of physical property tests, including the measure of an insulation’s LTTR, conducted to ensure a polyiso product’s performance meets a minimum standard. The standard is used to predict an insulation’s R-value equivalent to the average performance of a permeably faced foam insulation product during 15 years.

To provide a comprehensive approach to predicting long-term R-value throughout North America, the updated ASTM C1289-13 standard incorporates two test methods: ASTM C1303-11 and CAN/ULC-S770-09. Each of these methods offers a similar approach to predicting the long-term thermal performance for foam insulation materials that exhibit air and blowing-agent diffusion or aging across time.

ASTM C1303, “Standard Test Method for Estimating the Long-Term Change in the Thermal Resistance of Unfaced Closed Cell Plastic Foams by Slicing and Scaling Under Controlled Laboratory Conditions”, is, in part, the result of a research project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The project was co-funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, PIMA, NRCA and the Society of the Plastics Industry.

CAN/ULC S770 is the result of work in Canada. This method is also based on the same thin-slicing and accelerated aging concept as ASTM C1303 but it also accounts for the effect of permeable facings, or skins, on the LTTR of foam insulation in addition to a number of other factors. Considered to be a prescriptive way to perform ASTM C1303 (a more narrowly defined procedure within the bounds described in the ASTM standard), CAN/ULC S770 predicts what the foam’s R-value will be after a five-year aging period—the equivalent to a time-weighted thermal design R-value of 15 years.

Based on extensive research during the past five years, including bias and ruggedness testing, most researchers now agree ASTM C 1303 and CAN/ULC–S770 provide similar and consistent results predictive of actual aged performance.

LTTR and Polyiso

The polyiso industry uses the newly revised ASTM C1289-13 standard for determining the thermal insulation efficiency of permeably faced products. LTTR represents the most advanced scientific method to measure the long-term thermal resistance of foam insulation products using blowing agents.

The use of an LTTR value provides numerous advantages:

  • It provides a technically supported, more descriptive measure of the long-term thermal resistance of polyiso insulation.
  • The thin slices are taken from current production insulation samples. Prior methods used samples that were at least three-months old with some up to six-months old.
  • Determining an LTTR value is fairly rapid and, depending on a slice’s thickness, can produce an LTTR design value for 2-inch-thick polyiso insulation board in about 90 days.
  • A formula is used to determine the aging time period for a particular thickness of insulation, instead of using the same conditioning period for products of all thicknesses as was done in the past.
  • It applies to all foam insulation with blowing agents other than air and provides a better understanding of the thermal performance of foam.

PIMA QualityMark

The PIMA QualityMark certification program is a voluntary program that allows polyiso manufacturers to obtain independent, third-party certification for the LTTR values for ASTM C1289 Type II, Class 1 and Class 2 permeable-faced polyiso foam insulation produced with EPA-compliant blowing agents. Participating companies are required to include each of their manufacturing locations in the PIMA QualityMark certification program. Polyiso is the only insulation to be certified by this program for its LTTR value.

The PIMA QualityMark program began reporting LTTR values in accordance with ASTM C1289-13 on Jan. 1. To participate in PIMA’s QualityMark certification program, a Class 1 roof is suggested to have a design R-value of 5.7 per inch.

FM Global, one of the world’s largest independent commercial and industrial property insurance and risk-management organizations, is the PIMA QualityMark certification administrator. Polyiso insulation samples are randomly chosen from each plant of a participating manufacturer in accordance with the program’s guidelines. An accredited testing laboratory then establishes and certifies to FM Global the 15-year LTTR value in accordance with ASTM C1289-13.