EPDs Provide a New Level of Environmental Transparency to Building Products

The sustainability movement has impacted the building industry in many ways. Today’s architects, owners and occupants have much greater expectations for the environmental performance of the buildings they design, operate and dwell in. Part of this expectation is focused on the components that make up the building. For example, did the wood come from responsibly harvested forests? Is the metal made of recycled material? Do the paint and interior finishes contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?

An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is developed by applying a Product Category Rule, or PCR. PCRs are developed, maintained and warehoused by program operators. Examples of program operators include ASTM, CSA, ICC-ES, Environdec and UL Environment. Program operators also verify that an EPD and its associated life-cycle assessment conform with ISO 14025 and the ISO 14040 series. PCR development is commonly a collaborative effort between industry associations, manufacturers, and/or others.

An EPD is developed by applying a Product Category Rule. PCRs are developed, maintained and warehoused by program operators. Examples of program operators include ASTM, CSA, ICC-ES, Environdec and UL Environment. Program operators also verify that an EPD and its associated life-cycle assessment conform with ISO 14025 and the ISO 14040 series. PCR development is commonly a collaborative effort between industry associations, manufacturers, and/or others. IMAGE: Quantis US

Information technology has encouraged and facilitated this increased demand for in-depth data about building components and systems. People have become accustomed to being able to gather exhaustive information about the products they buy through extensive labeling or online research.

In response to the growing demand for environmental product information, building component manufacturers have begun rolling out environmental product declarations, or EPDs.

It’s a term now commonly heard, but what are they? EPDs are often spoken in the same breath as things like LCA (life-cycle assessment), PCRs (product category rules) and many other TLAs (three-letter acronyms). The fact is they are all related and are part of an ongoing effort to provide as much transparency as possible about what goes into the products that go in and on a building.

“An EPD is a specific document that informs the reader about the environmental performance of a product,” explains Sarah Mandlebaum, life-cycle analyst with Quantis US, the Boston-based branch of the global sustainability consulting firm Quantis. “It balances the need for credible and thorough information with the need to make such information reasonably understandable. The information provided in the document is based on a life-cycle assessment, or LCA, of the product, which documents the environmental impacts of that product from ‘cradle to grave.’ This includes impacts from material production, manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal of the product. An EPD is simply a standardized way of communicating the outcomes of such an assessment.”

The concept of product LCAs has been around for some time and has often been looked at as a way of determining the sustainability of a particular product by establishing the full scope of its environmental footprint. The basic idea is to closely catalog everything that goes into a product throughout its entire life. That means the energy, raw materials, and emissions associated with sourcing its materials, manufacturing it, transporting it, installing it and, ultimately, removing and disposing of it. In the end, an LCA results in a dizzying amount of data that can be difficult to translate or put in any context. EPDs are one way to help provide context and help put LCA data to use.

“The summary of environmental impact data in the form of an EPD can be analogous to a nutrition label on food,” says Scott Kriner, LEED AP, technical director of the Metal Construction Association (MCA), Chicago. “There is plenty of information on the label, but the information itself is meaningless unless one is focused on one area. An LCA determines the water, energy and waste involved in the extraction of raw materials, the manufacturing process, the transportation to a job site and the reclamation of waste at the end of the useful life of a product. With that data in hand, the various environmental impact categories can be determined and an EPD can be developed to summarize the environmental impact information.”

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It Is the Roofing Industry’s Responsibility to Help Clients Recognize the Importance of Roofing Insulation

In many cases, commercial roofing insulation is the most expensive component of a new roof assembly. Often, building owners do not understand how the insulation selection made today is really a long-term financial decision. The advice a roofing contractor provides to a building owner regarding insulation is critical to helping the building owner make the correct decision from a technical-roofing perspective and business-decision perspective. Many questions we typically hear from prospective low-slope commercial roofing clients revolve around the insulation to be utilized in their new roof system.

  • What is the best type of insulation?
  • How much insulation is most appropriate?
  • What are the advantages of certain types of insulation?

As with everything else in roofing, there is no “one size fits all” insulation solution. There are endless permutations of building use, geography, investment-time horizon, and other factors that can and should influence the amount and type of insulation used in roof systems. However, in most cases, we’ve found that polyisocyanurate insulation is the optimal insulation for a roof system.

Polyisocyanurate insulation provides a substrate for the waterproofing membrane and thermal resistance.

Polyisocyanurate insulation provides a substrate for the waterproofing membrane and thermal resistance.

THE ADVANTAGES OF POLYISOCYANURATE

From a purely technical roofing perspective, polyisocyanurate insulation in a low-slope roof assembly performs two basic functions. First, it provides a substrate for the waterproofing membrane. Second, the polyisocyanurate insulation provides thermal resistance.

There are all sorts of ancillary benefits and purposes for the polyisocyanurate insulation, but the primary function of the insulation is simply to provide the substrate for the roof system and to complete the thermal envelope on the top of the building.

Much like concrete work, or any other kind of construction for that matter, the performance of a roof system is 100 percent correlated to the substrate upon which it is placed. The math is simple: the better the substrate, the better the roof will perform.

The current industry standard for polyisocyanurate insulation comes with an organic facer and a published density of 20 psi. The standard polyisocyanurate insulation is the most widely specified and utilized insulation in the industry by a wide margin.

Standard polyisocyanurate insulation is widely used, frankly, because it works well. Polyisocyanurate provides several attributes that make it the first choice in most commercial roof assemblies.

PHOTOS: BLOOM ROOFING

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PIMA Announces Environmental Product Declarations for Polyiso Roof and Wall Insulations

Consistent with its delivery of energy-efficient and sustainable building insulation solutions, the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) announced the receipt of third party-verified ISO-compliant Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for polyisocyanurate (polyiso) roof and wall insulations as manufactured by PIMA members across North America. An EPD is an internationally recognized and standardized tool that reports the environmental impacts of products.

These EPDs document that the energy-savings potential of polyiso roof and wall insulation during a typical 60-year building life span is equal to up to 47 times the initial energy required to produce, transport, install, maintain, and eventually remove and dispose of the insulation. In addition to a high return on embodied energy, the EPDs document that polyiso roof and wall insulation offer high unit R-value per inch, zero ozone depletion potential, recycled content, opportunity for reuse and outstanding fire performance.

Beyond providing consistent and comparable environmental impact data, the PIMA polyiso EPDs also present information about additional environmental and energy characteristics, including the high net return on energy provided by polyiso roof and wall insulation.

Specifically, the polyiso EPDs describe the environmental impacts of the combined weighted average production for PIMA member manufacturing locations located across the United States and Canada, based on an established set of product category rules applicable to all types of building thermal insulation. The environmental impacts reported in the PIMA polyiso EPDs are derived from independently verified cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) process, including all critical elements related to the resourcing, production, transport, installation, maintenance, and eventual removal and replacement of polyiso roof and wall insulation.

Using the LCA process, the PIMA polyiso roof and wall insulation products are evaluated on a number of impact categories including global warming potential, ozone depletion potential, eutrophication potential, acidification potential, and smog creation potential, as well as other environmental indicators including primary energy demand, resource depletion, waste to disposal, waste to energy, and water use.

PIMA polyiso roof and wall insulation EPDs also meet the requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED v4 Green Building Rating System under Credit MRC-2 Building Product Disclosure and Optimization: Environmental Product Declarations as industry-wide or generic declarations that may be valued as one-half of an eligible product for the purposes of credit calculation.

“These third party-verified EPDs for polyiso roof and wall insulation products produced by PIMA manufacturers reflect our industry’s commitment to sustainability and transparency in reporting environmental performance,” says Jared Blum, president of PIMA. “These EPDs will be a valuable tool to provide environmental information to all building and design professionals, and they should be especially helpful in meeting emerging criteria for green building design.”

PIMA Approves Four Testing Labs for QualityMark Certification Program

PIMA announced that four accredited testing labs have been approved for use by participating polyiso insulation manufacturers in its QualityMark program, the only third-party program for the certification of the thermal value of polyiso roof insulation.

“The integrity of this third-party certification program, which has been overseen since its inception by Factory Mutual, is maintained by the quality assurance obtained through the use of these well respected labs, which all have International Accreditation Service accreditation,” says Jared O. Blum, president of PIMA. “Exova, R&D Services, QAI Laboratories and Architectural Testing are all members of national and international accreditation bodies.”

The PIMA QualityMark certification program is a voluntary program that allows polyiso manufacturers to obtain independent, third-party certification for the Long Term Thermal Resistance (LTTR) values of their polyiso insulation products. Polyiso is the only insulation to be certified by this unique program for its LTTR value. The program was developed by PIMA and is administered by FM Global.

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. PIMA member manufacturers will publish updated R-values for their polyiso products later this year. Polyiso is unique in that the R-value increases with the thickness of the foam, so three inches of polyiso has a higher R-value per inch than 2 inches.

ARMA, ERA and PIMA Research Advanced Roof Systems in Northern Climates

A coalition of trade groups is funding a research project about advanced roofing systems that were installed on an upstate New York correctional facility to evaluate the benefits of thermal insulation and cool roofing in Northern climates.

The Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA), Washington, D.C.; EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), Washington; and the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), Bethesda, Md., are sponsoring continued analysis of a reroofing project at the Onondaga County Correctional Facility, Jamesville, N.Y. The Onondaga County Department of Facilities Management identified a need to study building energy use and stormwater runoff from roof systems. Temperature and rain data from the project, which includes vegetative roofing, increased insulation levels and “cool” roofs, will provide information about building performance and roof covering selection.

“ARMA members promote a balanced approach to roofing performance, especially when it comes to saving building energy,” says Reed Hitchcock, ARMA’s executive vice president. “Using a whole-building approach, where roofing reflectivity, insulation levels and other design elements are considered in the decision-making process, will help ensure the right system is selected; this project can only help with that decision.”

When the correctional facility was due for a major reroofing project in 2009, Onondaga County saw a unique opportunity to evaluate the water-retention and energy-efficiency performance for a variety of different roof covering assemblies. The project also offered valuable information that could be used to identify the best options for future reroof projects across the county’s entire building inventory.

The county worked with Ashley-McGraw Architects, Syracuse, N.Y., and CDH Energy, Cazenovia, N.Y., to design and install a field monitoring system to collect data on thermal performance, weather conditions and roof runoff from four buildings at the Jamesville facility. CDH Energy released a report in October 2011 that made recommendations on roof covering selection.

Hugh Henderson, P.E., CDH Energy, remarked the original report laid the groundwork for future roofing projects in Onondaga County. “The use of vegetative roof systems as a stormwater control mechanism was the most important takeaway from the first years of the project,” he explains. “Continuing the project will provide a better evaluation of cool roof and insulation products as part of roof designs in colder climates.”

With the instrumentation still in place, it was a simple decision to continue evaluating the roof coverings over a longer time period to better see how roof coverings interact with weather conditions. Of particular interest is the effect of accumulated snow on roofs that may affect the buildings’ thermal performance.

“Roof insulation is an integral part of the design strategy for a building’s energy-efficiency footprint, and this study will help building owners, contractors and architects assess a roof’s performance from a broader basis and ensure the best energy efficient components are used,” adds Jared Blum, PIMA president.

The Onondaga County reroofing project includes an analysis of the comparison of cool roof technologies, consisting of reflective roof surfaces and high-performing well-insulated roof covering assemblies. “Our members produce reflective and absorptive roof coverings; this study will provide meaningful data that can help designers select the right products for their particular project, regardless of where in the country the roof will be installed,” notes Ellen Thorp, ERA’s associate executive director.

The project is expected to run through 2015.

Polyiso Insulation to Be Used in Innovative Apartment Complex for the Homeless

Polyiso roof insulation will be used in an innovative apartment building project that combines state-of-the-art environmental features with affordable rents for homeless families. The polyiso insulation, donated by the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Associations (PIMA), Hunter Panels and Atlas Roofing Co., will be used in the Transitional Housing Corp.’s Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons (Weinberg Commons).

The Washington, D.C., Weinberg Commons will reclaim three blighted buildings in Southeast D.C., using Passive House architectural principles that reduce the carbon footprint and the utility costs for low-income tenants.

When finished in mid-2015, the apartments will provide 36 low and moderate income families including 12 homeless or formerly homeless families with below-market rents, employment services and other support for youth and families. One-third of the units will be reserved for families with more intensive needs.

“Our goal is sustainability, not just in the environmental sense, but in an economic sense to keep these families in a stable, supportive situation,: said Polly Donaldson, executive director of the Transitional Housing Corporation, a D.C.-based nonprofit that functions as the co-developer, landlord and service provider on this project.

Generally considered the most stringent energy standard in the world, Passive House building is an innovative approach to net-zero building. Instead of relying on active energy reduction systems with high installation costs, Passive House buildings concentrate on energy use reduction. Passive House buildings work with natural systems to manage heat gain and loss, saving up to 90% of utility costs. In fact, the U.S. DOE recognizes the Passive House approach as the most efficient means of achieving net-zero building operations

“It is a privilege for our members to be part of a project that addresses both homelessness and sustainable housing,” said Jared Blum, President, PIMA. “Polyiso insulation is known for it high thermal performance and will be a key contributor for this net-zero building that is extremely insulated, heated by passive solar gains and requires ultra-low energy for space heating or cooling.”

The groundbreaking ceremony for Weinberg Commons was held in October and attended by Washington Mayor Vincent Gray.

‘The International Energy Conservation Code as Applied to Commercial Roofing’ Brochure Is Released

A new energy code brochure, “The International Energy Conservation Code as Applied to Commercial Roofing”, has been released explaining reroofing clarifications in the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The reroofing clarifications make it very clear that almost every commercial reroofing project involving the removal and replacement of the existing roof covering must be upgraded to the current IECC R-value levels.

The Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), with the assistance of the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing (the Center) and the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Associations (PIMA), developed and released the new energy code brochure.

“Billions of square feet of low-slope of commercial roofs (roofs with insulation above the deck) are replaced every year in the United States,” said Jared Blum, President, PIMA. “The clarification in the IECC means that whenever an existing low-slope roofing membrane is removed before a new roofing membrane is installed, the underlying roof insulation must be brought up to current code-mandated R-value levels.”

The new code clarification establishes specific definitions for each major type of roofing activity that may occur on a commercial building:

    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 an 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.

The new brochure, similar in format to many other IMT brochures, contains:

  • A detailed listing of the key definitions and energy regulations that apply to commercial roofing.
  • Illustrations of typical roofing conditions.
  • A decision tree to determine the specific compliance path for any roofing application.

“Because it is considered a clarification rather than a new addition to the code, officials can start enforcing the update now and don’t have to wait until the 2015 version of the IECC is adopted in their jurisdiction. This brochure is succinct, easy to follow and clearly explains how to comply with the clarification,” added Blum.

“The International Energy Conservation Code as Applied to Commercial Roofing” brochure will help local code officials better understand the energy efficiency requirements for all types of commercial roofing projects and also serve as a useful guide to explain the code requirements to roofing contractors seeking construction permits, design professionals (architects, engineers, roof consultants) involved in roofing selection and specification, as well as building owners as the ultimate end-user of the code.

“The brochure is a part of a comprehensive effort by PIMA to inform members of the design community about their legal obligations to comply with the reroofing energy upgrade requirement,” added Blum.

In addition to advocating for increased building energy efficiency via improved building codes, IMT also works to increase compliance with energy codes by developing and distributing informational materials suitable for use in local code jurisdictions, not only for code officials but also for owners, designers, and contractors.

Washington, D.C., Habitat for Humanity Uses 8 Inches of Polyiso on Roof

Six passive townhomes that are part of Habitat for Humanity’s Ivy City community of Northeast Washington are including 8 inches of polyiso insulation on the roof. These passive townhouses are designed to reduce overall energy consumption by 70 percent and heating and cooling demand by 80 to 90 percent.

The six townhouses are being built to meet the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) Passive House specifications. Founded in 2007, PHIUS is the leading certifier of passive buildings.

“The Ivy City townhouses show the role high-performance insulation plays in the built environment, particularly when it comes to designing homes that are more affordable to operate,” said Jared Blum, president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA). “We are proud to be involved with this Habitat for Humanity project that will provide much needed affordable housing in the nation?s capital.”

PIMA member companies—Atlas Roofing, Firestone Building Products, GAF, Hunter Panels, JM, and R-max—donated the polyiso for this project in celebration of the association’s 25th anniversary.

“The passive house model embodies Habitat for Humanity’s vision that all people deserve safe, comfortable, affordable and sustainable housing, and the polyiso insulation contributes to that vision,” said Andrew Modley, production manager, Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. “Passive housing will provide our homeowner families with an ability to consume significantly less energy overall by using passive integrated design, climate appropriate insulation, and airtight construction. These benefits will not only save the homeowners money, but will empower them to create a more sustainable lifestyle.”

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.

Polyiso Industry Praises Proposal for Reduction in U.S. Carbon Emissions

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft proposal under Section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act calling for greenhouse-gas emissions reduction of 30 percent by 2030. The new rule is geared to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants across the United States by providing states with a flexible menu of policy options for compliance.

“The proposed regulation from the EPA and the White House provide the tipping point in coalescing this country’s already strong technical capabilities to lower our carbon output,” said Jared Blum, president, Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA). “It is PIMA’s strong belief that energy efficiency in buildings can achieve much of what needs to be done.””

According to the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, America’s total annual energy consumption in 2013 was 5.0 percent below 2007 levels. This long-term trend was in part prompted by the economic downturn of 2008-2009, but as economic growth has returned, energy use is not growing at a commensurate rate, and today our economy is far more energy-efficient than before.

“Our military, industrial and scientific leaders have requested that our government provide an actionable path forward. The 111(d) proposal is one such path that deserves broad business support,” added Blum.

A significant opportunity to increase building energy efficiency lies within the commercial roofing sector. Waterproof membranes on commercial low-slope roofs (flat roofs) last, on average, 17 years. When these membranes are replaced, building owners could add a reasonable amount of insulation, a practice that would save $12.2 billion in energy costs in just the first ten years. The annual savings after ten years would be $2.4 billion. This activity would also avoid 105 million tons of CO2 emissions, an amount that is equal to the annual emissions of 27 coal-fired power plants.