What on Earth is a "Breathing Wall"?
We ask a very interesting question. We know of course that people, pets and plants all breathe, but how can a wall breathe? the answer lies in a long word that is hard to say, let alone define, called "hygroscopicity." Look at the word that makes it up: Hygro means water, and when a substance is "hygroscopic," it is said that that substance allows water to pass through. The trick in whether water will pass through lies in how large the water molecule is and what form it takes.
The answer to our question is, a wall is "breathable" when it allows moisture, in the form of vapor, to pass through. Now most people think of breathing as involving the movement of air, and it does, but air can also carry water in the form of vapor, small water molecules dispersed in air. You are familiar with that when you feel hot and sticky on a humid summer day, or sitting in a steam sauna. That is because a great deal of water is dispersed invisibly in the air as water vapor.
When we say a wall is breathable, we are not talking about its ability to pass air through. No one, not even proponents of breathable, hygroscopic, walls wants that. Why? Because if your wall allows air to pass through, it is not well insulated, and you lose heat in the winter, and warm outside air can infiltrate into your air-conditioned house in the summer.
The whole green building movement is first and foremost based upon the notion that a modern, energy-efficient house needs to be "tight" in order to be "green" and energy-efficient. Their motto is, "build tight, ventilate right."
We agree with this laudable goal in theory, but every builder will at some point admit that in the real world, this system is prone to failure. This is because when water enters a wall, it often cannot get out because multiple plastic barriers that are designed to keep moisture out trap moisture within when it does get inside. In fact, even if a wall is built to "dry to the outside" with plastic house wrap on the exterior that is supposed to allow water vapor to pass through, that house wrap can get overwhelmed if the amount of moisture in the wall becomes too great, an all too often occurrence.
The problem is, no matter how tight you make the wall, moisture will eventually get in. Mold experts say every building, without exception, will experience a water event at some point in its life. Moisture enters walls either by infiltration of rainwater leaking through caulking or flashing (the layers of material around windows and doors) or rainwater leaking through failures in your external waterproofing system under your siding. Other causes include roof leaks, including ice dams, causing rainwater to drip onto attic insulation and down into walls.
From the inside, we have a whole host of ways moisture can enter a wall, including moisture-laden warm indoor air finding its way through gaps around electric outlets, windows and doors. Even if you tape everything real tight when you build the wall, how long will that taping job last? And what will happen when you pound a nail into a wall to hang a picture? You pierce the plastic vapor barrier on the inside of your sheetrock. All these, and many other ways, create a small path for warm air to seep into the wall cavity. That air carries moisture.
The problem is, once moisture gets into a wall, it can condense and make the insulation and other materials wet. How does this happen? Because in the winter, your wall has an air temperature range between 68-70 degrees F. just inside the wall, to possibly zero degrees F. or less outside the wall. Somewhere in between the interior and exterior lies the dew point, the point at which moisture will condense.
How long does mold need to grow on wet surfaces before it becomes unhealthy? Most experts say all it takes is 24-48 hours for mold to get to spore formation, which is considered the point of no return.
Studies show that up to 50% of modern walls with fiberglass insulation and plastic vapor barriers have water problems, meaning they have mold growing within them. That is a huge, and costly, problem and shows the failure of modern walls to keep us healthy. Unfortunately the paradigm of building tight may work on paper, but it is flawed when implemented in the field. This is because you never achieve the 100% air-tight and vapor-tight wall you designed in the first place. Plus, the tighter you make the wall, the greater the pressure exists for vapor pressure to equalize on both sides, driving more moisture into the wall. So you can exacerbate the problem. Ultimately you are left with the reality that when a "tight" wall fails, it fails in a big way.
We say instead, design a wall to be thermally insulating, meaning keep warm indoor air from leaking to the outside, but allow any moisture vapor or rainwater that seeps into the wall to move out. The wall can then dry out within the 48 hours needed for mold to grow.
Our motto is, make walls "waterproof but vapor permeable." We accomplish this with our envelope materials and the natural, "breathable" finishes we use.
Old walls built in the 1920s and 1930s had no vapor barriers. They also had no significant insulation, except possibly horsehair or crumpled up newspaper, but often nothing at all. They have always been leaky to air flow and heat loss, but they dried out within 48 hours if they ever become wet. Ask any remodeler who opens walls in old houses and they'll tell you they never see mold in older walls unless there is a constant source of moisture dripping in. These remodelers only started seeing mold in homes built in the past few decades when vapor barriers started to be used to make the houses tighter. The problem is even worse since the late 1990s, when builders began making houses supertight.
I use the term "draft proof" in my writing and literature...it is fully interchangeable with "tight," with both being the complete opposite of "airtight," a hideous practice in my view... I do know the company, and if I had a better business head on my shoulders I would have gone that route decades ago with more formalized contracting and book publishing...Instead I like teaching and traditional historic architecture which took be down a similar path...just in a different way.
I saw "our" a few times...are you involved with this company, or is the above "quoted" writing?
Thanks for sharing the above...
He does an assessment of non-naturally wrong foam and plastic barriers in the book I'll look at. You can read of mine in this thread: http://www.permies.com/t/42641/natural-building/General-Discussion-Natural-Traditional-Heavenly..
Jay, yes, I seen those ICFs I'll take a closer look at. Much, much, better than foam and plastic.
I am one of those remodelers who have opened and examined many, many walls. I am of the same opinion as the authors when it comes to the matter of breathability of entire wall system and hygroscopic finishes to ensure the inside of the wall dries. Hygroscopic interior finishes also moderate humidity fluctuations, esp. in baths and kitchens.
I mostly do historic restorations, so I see a lot of these no insulation walls and I have yet to see mold in one, even with roof issues. I could tell many gross stories about newer homes with extensive mold problems. The last one that I restored was only 15 years old. Built in the '90's with the EIFS system on the exterior and a poly vapor barrier on the inside; the water had nowhere to go when the roof leaked. The poly was well detailed, so there was little indication on the inside of the extensive damage going on in the interior of the wall. When I cut out a square of synthetic stucco and EPS foam, I could squeeze water from the foam and the completely blackened OSB wall sheathing had rotted to the point where a small tap with my hammer went right through! $30,000 later, the home is back to square 1 and the owners are selling their trophy green home for $750,000 and they are not giving my name to potential buyers!
I have been trained and certified by BPI as one of the build tight, ventilate right crowd, but I let my certification lapse because of this very issue of breathable walls. I still use my blower door and infra-red camera to inform me of things I can't see, but I have left most of the BPI protocol behind. I have lived in the same breathable adobe home for 20 years. The lime, clay and gypsum plasters moderate humidity and sweeten the air. The large thermal mass insulates and regulates temps in winter and summer. Through energy audits, I have seen many utility bills and not a single one of these modern homes uses less energy than my 120 year old adobe.
I hope this book can turn people away from the ongoing catastrophe that is modern building.
Bill Bradbury wrote:Hi Terry,
The last one that I restored was only 15 years old. Built in the '90's with the EIFS system on the exterior and a poly vapor barrier on the inside; the water had nowhere to go when the roof leaked. The poly was well detailed, so there was little indication on the inside of the extensive damage going on in the interior of the wall. When I cut out a square of synthetic stucco and EPS foam, I could squeeze water from the foam and the completely blackened OSB wall sheathing had rotted to the point where a small tap with my hammer went right through! $30,000 later, the home is back to square 1 and the owners are selling their trophy green home for $750,000 and they are not giving my name to potential buyers! .
Bill great stuff and a validation that any competent Engineer should be able to determine by the manufacturing data or lack of it. Let me explain, please, anyone feel free to challenge the technical content of what my post or this thread, we want accurate info. I value technical content, not opinions.
There is no getting around the lack of field or lab observed creep and deflection data of rigid foam under dynamic compression-bearing and bending-flexural loaded foundations, walls, roofs; termites and critters degradation potentials. Flex modulus of foam is around 50psi, concrete 500-600 psi, no creep, bending, fatigue (life cycle) data from the manufacture to design to. MGo much higher properties as proven for 2500 years. Thanks to Bills we have some field data. You can also see the contact materials to avoid listed on the manufactures website such as, “acidic rain waters and soils” that chemically break it down over time…..low LCA (life cycle assessment), of the plastic Polyethylene “smart” moisture barriers (Steggo, Membrain, Water Sheild, etc) they couple foam with to both handle insulation, water intrusion, and vapor pressures. The plastic membranes @ 15 mils, around 8 lbs(SM of 3) of point load max determined @ the OEM by dropping darts at it. When, not if, they decompose by strong oxidizing agents, such as nitric or sulfuric acids, halogens, and chlorinating agents, they tear-grind-fail too and leach toxins to indoor air, ground, water, etc. The additives in these products are encapsulated in a “thermoplastic film” with limited release under “normal” conditions of transportation and storage. I do not see a UV additive so the chemical break down can happen in the back of the installers truck, if not stored properly. Increased release may occur when the resin is melted, ground to a smaller pellet size or subjected to decomposition, as by excessive heat or mechanical actions, molds and fungi are produced. The specific potential for release under user’s conditions of this material should be evaluated by a qualified health specialist or Engineer which most do not obtain.
If not plastic, some designs are getting their barriers (air, water, vapor) and air seal at plastic resigns in OSB, caulks, sealants, that have the same issues.
I read a report that a study in the NW (forgot the city & state) shows a LCA (Life Cycle Assessment manufactures do not perform in a lab) in some ground test where they dug up the foundation and determined now that the Polyethelene needs to be 15+ mils, not 4-6 most use to withstand tearing and point loads (@ 15 mils around 8-10 lbs) in that local area that depends on a lot of variables, such as creep an deflection of mating materials (concrete is 6-10xs higher than rigid foam), soil expansion and contraction, frost cycles, etc……Perhaps as more is learned that will become a 1/4 thick HDPE sheet of plastic...Only other study I seen of digging out foam-plastic foundation was out of Switzerland in a different environment than the USA….That puts foam-plastic in the “experimental” category. Fastening (where leakage can occur), mastic, asphalt petroleum based gluing of “Foamglas” doesn’t appear to be a sustainable solution to this Midwest cowboy anyway. Industrial applications of it, roadway empirical evidence of foam, is not evidence, we need home evidence to put it in the “non-experiment”. As bill explains above roads don't have roofs that connect to walls and foundations.
Bill, nice to read a first hand report of a Breathable Wall, you just put a smile on face for spending the money on the book. My final design is on hold until I read more....Thanks again.
I don't think there is anything that makes a material wrong if a product is produced such as mag-board. I as a natural builder will sell a product my spec homes there is nothing that makes that product technically wrong, other than shipping and a CO2 foot print if it can be avoided. It be nice if we lived in a perfect world or where these products are readily available like China and Europe, so we do the best we can until we change the way the building world thinks. Who knows maybe someday I can produce my own mag board locally with none to low carbon foot print. Premier is producing an MGO at 600-800 F called "light burned" compared to China's dead 2000, compared to Portland cement 3000F. I have some coming to get my hands dirty with
As someone that is extremely well versed in multiple cultural disciplines of vernacular architecture of natural and traditional systems, I perhaps have a "leg up" sometimes on this conversation, so really just try to listen to questions and address them the best I can. I also have a solid background in "modern mainstream building practices.” I often explain to folks that mixing and matching different concepts into one build is often (very often!) a recipe for disaster.
I go on to explain that if someone intends for a building project to follow the "air tight" principles, the project really cannot have any type of material that will react negatively to moisture or moisture build up in any way! The walls really need to be of "closed cell" foam systems and EXTREME diligences...must...be placed on "sealing" everything. Moisture will...inevitably...get into interstitial zones of floors, walls, and roofs, add to this the issue of "dew point" and we are left with a building project that must have very modern systems with very modern technology working in... absolute...concert with each other to render these "air tight" systems germane and in good working order. I have seen it done, and all that are done well... have design build teams that really understand the technical systems of ventilation, resource recovery, mitigation, etc. I have yet to find one that works at all beyond a decade that mixes modalities...nor do I recommend to clients the "technologically burdened" systems. Yes...they can work...but we do not have any established chronology of just how long they will work, nor at what cost to maintenance and general upkeep...I also... jokingly tell potential clients that ask ...that I am not into designing spacecraft or submarines... which these better designed "air tight" architectural assemblies resemble...much more than just a house...
As for some of the "terminology" we have come to use...it is a matter of "developmental etymology and semantics" as much as anything else is. I leave it to the individual reader to understand (and or like) some of this language...such as..."breathable.” I can share that it is a common term today in industries from textiles to aeronautics...to...architecture and ceramics...It is all over the place, and well accepted. I will also share that I have been privy to many very advanced technical conversation about "building dynamics" and "human physiology.” With me being the only person in the room without a PhD (or several) and all agreed that if a human has lungs...then...ergo...the space they occupy also has lungs...and breathable is an applicable aspect to apply to the materials needed to have the space work well.
This brings us to Bill's points. As a fellow builder and historical restoration specialist, we both have...virtually...the same observations and conclusions over the decades we have been doing this that are much more than..."just anecdotal"...They are empirical and numerous. I have...more than once...on modern builds and inappropriate "restorations" literally drilled holes in walls to examine the interstitial zones only to have gallons of water pour from the hole. In one case on a remodeled bathroom/kitchen wall on a vintage timber frame now inundated with foam...and rot...it filled a bathtub with the most noxious soup of fluids that I had ever seen. No roof leaks! Just accumulated condensation that...always...finds its way into these voids in architecture. The frame was a complete loss and the fact that the contractor was a very good one and had followed...very well I might add...all the principles of the BPI...the client had no idea what was happening behind the tile in the bathroom. It took almost a decade for fluid levels to get high enough to start leaking out in the kitchen counter top area as the contractor had even sealed well all the electrical components and these didn't reflect the moisture either.
Natural building methods are well proven with millenia long records of accomplished success. They can more than achieve modern goals of sustainability, durability, and efficiencies. I will further suggest that it is the only way to build well for the future...in my view. I have a long history behind this "opinion" and a great deal of empirical evidence...not speculation. I have had the fortunate life to be in places like outside the Rock of Ages quarry in Vermont when an 1850's timber structure is torn into. This then revealed tamarack, hemlock, and cedar sawdust insulation in the wall voids that was over 250 mm (~10") thick, held in place with lath and lime plaster and wood siding outside with a pseudo rain screen assembly. This structure was "strangely" warmer than most in the area. We found that several homes in the neighborhood (stone carvers, and quarrymen residences of the period) had been built by a very perceptive Housewright. This vintage architecture was consuming a fraction of the fuel of homes only 10 years old well insulated, with there detailed housewraps of plastic, and "air tight" modalities, and other modern materials. These vintage structures had no mold, no moisture, and if it were not for the remodeling being done, no one would have understood the simplicity of the system the original Housewright had employed. Permeable systems (synonymous with breathable when referencing materials)...seem...to reflect a better approach to many of us...some of us natural and traditional facilitators of architecture follow the "draft proof" model...understanding the concept...to us...as superior to the methods of ” air tight."
This is a view, and should not be argued about...it is up to the readers to ask their own questions about these systems and draw their own conclusions...
Jay, good, read, I like the way you think it is like the way I do. I can tell you have a lot of experience and a great vocabulary and writing skills I don’t so please excuse me. You know back in the 70’s when I got my bachelors of science in Aerospace there was little bang for the buck to get a Masters or PHD, companies only paid a few bucks more per hour and education is expensive, much more today and many graduate today and cannot find jobs. Most of the PHDs ended up in think tanks in Silicon Valley, CA or teaching at Universities where the salary is lower than the private sectors. After a while they become out of touch with reality, some over educated and can’t find jobs since the market for that level of education in most Design Engineering departments is over qualified. After looking at the mainstream “Building Scientist” it appears some of the Physics PHD have tapped into a “Building Science” job resource that is not regulated like the FAA and NASA does the credentials for an Aerospace Engineer. Just about anyone can become, create a website including carpenters and call themselves a “Building Scientist”. It results in a lot of “Green” websites these days giving bad advice for profits that hurts the industry. If you look at the credentials of a lot of these Building Scientist they don’t have a lifelong history of monitored proven designs throughout the globe, or America, on their resumes. In other industries (e.g.: Aerospace, Submarines) they never get past Human Resources or their resume would never make it the hiring managers, PHD or not. They found a weakness in the Building Industry and tapped into it, one of the few that would even allow it. I’m not saying you have to have an education to be qualified to advise in Building’s, but more regulated industries require it for legal reasons. I hope these advisors carry Errors and Omissions insurance. You are correct, I have worked hand and hand with many Aerodynamic, Thermo-Fluid Dynamics, Weights and Balance, Engineers as a CAD designer and we do not need to seal homes like pressurized aircraft, nor do we need pressure domes or bulkheads for walls and a roofs. What George stated above vapor pressure wanting to equalize that can make the pressures and infiltration higher in an airtight envelope makes sense. The concept of air changing naturally within a wall vs mechanical device makes sense.
In the last lab I worked in we would create environments for mold and fungi’s by generating spores for certain materials and environments found across the globe. We’d studied, measured, tested how they developed based on many variables such as dew we measured and accurately predicted the location of. It can be done given the proper tools. George points out that in the breathable wall it is somewhere between the inner and outer surface, foam walls try and move it to foam where it does not belong since foam cannot manage it well, especially when in contact with plastic that will chemically degrade and cause nasty stuff. The book has some testing about all this I am looking forward to studying. When I talked to George he told me of a German that obtained a passive house certification with a breathable wall I want to find out more about.
I found this interview with Joe Lstiburek applicable to current conversation. Joe has a PHD but in Engineering, I find him to be a straight shooter, admits when he is wrong, which I admire. He teaches at the University now. I don’t follow him since he does not promote natural building products, but he has a following. He has an interesting perspective on the fall of the American Architect’s education that does not teach them the Sciences and has made “artist” out of them, also noting that if they were “doing their job there would be no need for Building Science” and I’ll add all these people that call themselves such out on the internet. Here is a quote,
“Back in the day, 100 years ago, or maybe 50 years ago in Europe, architects were trained like master builders. They understood structure. They understood mechanical. They understood physics. They understood material science. They understood how everything worked together. The focus now on the architectural education is all art and what’s missing are all of those other pieces — one of those missing pieces is building science or building physics.”
I like this next one, he’s partially correct on the cause or the epidemiology, most of the warnings on the MSDS (as I pointed out above about foam-plastic) get ignored by so called “Building Scientist and Advisors”, contractors, selling the toxic industries to our public. On one site, GBA, myself and another well versed professional in today’s building materials related health issues were called and asked to stop proving the site wrong or face banning, they want to “control what their readers read”….this also explains the current state of the bulk of building industry,
Joe: “The answer is source control, dilution is not the solution to indoor pollution and increasing ventilation rates is a horrible problem. The right way to do it is to not have the contaminant built into the building in the first place. And despite all of the people saying that there’s a clear link between certain levels of contaminants and medical effects, the epidemiology hasn’t been done”
People claim that it’s been done, but believe it or not, we don’t have the information in houses. We don’t know what the contaminants are. They have not been measured carefully and we’re making national policy decisions on ventilation going blind, with a bunch of people just getting together and offering an opinion. And the opinion is based on which political faction has managed to stack the ASHRE committee with their dominant voting block.
That’s not the way to do this. I mean you’d think with the amount of energy that buildings consume, and the amount of energy that residential buildings consume, that maybe somebody, like the federal government, would actually fund a study. You would need $20 million or $30 million and to go around and measure a whole slew of things in houses. That’s not been done, but yet, changing the ventilation rate by 15 or 20 percent is going to have more than that impact cost-wise on energy within the first year.
This kind of stuff drives me crazy. They manage to piss away money on stupid s*** and they can’t seem to fund something that’s important. “
And the same thing in commercial buildings. You know, people are claiming that this level of formaldehyde is dangerous and this level isn’t. What’s all of this based on? I mean most of the limits and for indoor air in buildings we’re simply taking occupational numbers and dividing by ten. Why not dividing by 12? Why not dividing by 15? In California, because California is crazy on every conceivable level, they divide by 100. So, in one state the occupational number because the indoor number by dividing by ten and California divided by 100. If people knew how arbitrary and capricious this was they’d go, “Well, you’re kidding me.”
I have always said there is no link in the ventilation requirements for the mechanical devices they are putting in homes to toxins, the ASHRAE specs are flawed! A lack of the proper analysis to generate the proper design criteria, such as the lack of mechanical, chemical, thermal, properties to design foam-plastic to.
Is California basing their numbers on European models?
Joe: No. “It wasn’t based on any models. What’s amazing is formaldehyde in houses doesn’t respond to ventilation rate changes. So if you’re ventilating at 0.1 versus 0.2 versus 0.3, the formaldehyde concentration remains constant. The reason is the more you ventilate the more it emits. You ventilate less it emits less. Don’t put it in the building, that’s a phenomenally successful way of dealing with the problem.
I’ll give you another example, which will never happen, but late at night I dream about it — have you’ve heard of the MSDS sheets?
They tell you absolutely nothing. What people think that the MSDS sheets tells us is what the manufacturer puts in their product. The answer is no. That would be useful if they told us everything that went into this product and the quantities, but that’s viewed as a trade secret
What that means is that people are idiots to take anything from that list, to put it in there. So they use a whole bunch of other things that nobody knows anything about or haven’t made it to the list, but they don’t have to tell you about it. I always laugh –LEED and other people want you get to the MSDS sheet – and I’m saying “Why?” What you need to do is you need to take one of the guys who makes this stuff out to dinner, get him drunk, and ask him: “What’s in there?”
Spot on! However, I think there are some warning that it reveals, the problem is they are for the installers not the homeowner and do not disclose outgassing over time.
Joe: Building enclosure is an environmental separator. You want to keep the outside out and the inside in, except when you want to bring the outside in and when you want to have the inside out. That’s it and there are certain rules on how to do that.
So you feel confident that building science is at the point now that we can build a quality envelope that we’ll feel comfortable with 40 years from now. We go back, we tear that thing up, and we’ll feel that everything’s done what it needs to?
Joe: Oh, we were able to do that 50, 60 years ago. The answer is yes, we’re able to do that now and we were able to do that before I was born. The irony is that even though that information has been known for so long, it’s not been used. And my observation on that is that people don’t use stuff until it becomes impossible for them to not use it. In other words, things become intolerably bad before there’s a change or an intervention. It’s only recently that things are becoming intolerably bad enough that we have to intervene and fix, even though we knew or some folks knew how to avoid the problems 50 or 60 years ago.
None of this is very complicated, none of this is a big mystery. What’s happening now is that we need to get this information into the people who need to make the decisions in an informed matter. In other words, people aren’t inherently bad. They just don’t have the information they need at the right time to make the right decision. So this is an information issue as opposed to a research issue. We don’t need to do anymore research. We need to do better transfer of what we know to the people who need to make the decisions at the right time.
Spot on! A lot of folks look to BSC when todays building designs fail, he stays quite busy it sounds like.
Joe: “The best way we learn all of this is to build it and you see what happened. You say, “Ah, this worked. This didn’t,” and that’s the best education or information. That information lies in the experience base of the older engineers, architects and contractors.
One of the biggest problems we have is what I call our own institutional memory. We do a lousy job in construction, engineering and architecture, passing on the lessons of one generation to the next. So we are this huge, dysfunctional family. We need a Dr. Phil to get us all to talk to one another, or an Oprah, or somebody.”
I think the biggest lesson to past on to the next generation is todays manufactured building materials are highly flawed, look at more natural materials and methods that were proven centuries ago….we need to look back at history. We see more and more moving to this solution and tired of “greenwashed”…We employ 8 of the current generation, I teach them what I learn in natural building and make them aware of the issues of the materials we replace every day for clients. At the end of day, the client makes the final call.
In closing this is classic, there are a lot of Ego’s and debating over and over what is already known….more should follow his advice and put their egos aside….
Joe L: It’s funny. I am one of the most frustrated, egotistical engineers on the planet. I thought I was a clever, smart guy who figured out stuff and it turns out that nothing I’ve ever thought I figured out did I actually figure out. It had been already done – better, earlier, more elegantly by not just one person, by lots of people. And we’re having all of these same discussions and arguments over and over and over again.
You know what? I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, except I don’t have an Andie MacDowell.
although i can not say for certain, i would be willing to wager a big bag of rockwool that there are many lurkers here that are in similar situations. therefore, if these types of discussions do not properly belong in the "natural building" forum, i would like to kindly ask TPPTB to consider creating an additional subforum so that these discussions can continue, as there are many very wise and experienced people that have gathered here and it would be a shame for them not to have to an opportunity to share their knowledge and bounce off ideas & suggestions with the rest of us passionate novices.
Yes. There is at least me. I'm not doing what I'd prefer due to codes and even the stuff that's not weird I'm still getting nonsense for.
I wish there were 2 building inspectors in each area, one "conventional" one "alternative" so you could get the inspections done by a person who understands what you are doing, and just makes sure it's done safe and well (which is theoretically what codes is for)
Where's my alternative inspector when I need him?!
I have read George Swanson's book a couple years ago, and spent some time talking with him (listening to him) on the phone. A real wealth of information.
I saw somewhere in this thread that you mentioned someone getting a passivhaus certification with earthen walls. Did you ever get any more information about that by chance? Passivhaus is starting to gain some interest in my province. Ironically and unfortunately, it is about 40 years after it was essentially started here by a local engineer, Harold Orr. He is a great guy, retired now, but he would sometimes stop by the site of a rammed earth house I was building to see what was going on and to chat.
I am connected to a few of the main guys doing passivhaus builds and education in my area, but we are a bit at odds it would seem, as their focus is on air tight, ventilate, insulate like crazy, no matter what the composition of the materials being used, whereas I am attempting to use non-toxic, natural materials as much as possible (though I am still using cement until I can figure out how to incorporate MgO into the build). I like many aspects of passivhaus design, and would like to come up with a hybrid of sorts using earthen walls and many of the passivhaus standards, so if you had more information regarding that project, it would be greatly appreciated if you could share that info with me.
I have a sheep barn and people are absolutely disgusted that my barn in Maine, on my commercial sheep farm, is wide open. It has a roof of course, end and side walls and a concrete floor, but above 4 feet everything is wide open. Now down low; within 4 feet of the floor it is draft-proof and what a difference. Since lambing takes places in mid-winter, drafts can kill lambs quickly, yet my sheep barn has eliminated my mortality rate by about 25%! That is HUGE. It all boils down to keeping my sheep in dry bedding, out of drafts, and wide open above their heads for ventilation.
Ventilation with livestock is so important because they not only give off heat, they give off moisture too and that needs to be dissipated. As humans we often associate being cold to animals being cold, but that is not true at all. My livestock prefer temps around 20 degrees, which for us would be our 70 degrees. That is a HUGE difference. And of course as their urine and manure builds up, so too does the ammonia levels causing breathing issues.
While a super tight building might cause rot and mold issues within a structure for humans, in a barn designed for livestock, failing to adequately adjust for ventilation is a killer.
Happiness is not a goal ... it's a by-product of a life well lived - Eleanor Roosevelt. Tiny ad:
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