What s Wrong with this Project? Report

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1 NAHB RESEARCH CENTER INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIP FOR HIGH PERFORMING HOMES Task Order Agreement KNDJ Deliverable Task 11.3 What s Wrong with this Project? Report Prepared For: Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1617 Cole Boulevard Golden, Colorado Prepared By: Southface as part of the NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership 400 Prince George s Boulevard Upper Marlboro, MD December 2010

2 NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.i

3 Table of Contents Issue...2 Description of the Implementation Error...2 Risks...3 Required Corrections...4 Applicable Guideline Documents...5 Appendix A - Sealed and insulated crawlspace insulation detail...6 NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.ii

4 NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership What s Wrong With This Project? Design and Implementation Errors with Sealed Crawlspace Building a high performance home demands the proper execution of multiple details to ensure that the end product is energy efficient, comfortable, and durable. When details are incorrectly or imprecisely implemented, unintentional consequences that compromise the building s efficiency, comfort, or durability may result. Often, these unintended consequences are diametrically opposed to the builder s intentions Figure 1 details three improper design details that subject the home to durability risks including: 1. Rim joist insulation extends from the crawlspace floor to the top of the foundation wall. The bottom of the foam insulation should start at least 6 above grade and stop at the top such that there is a 3-inch gap of exposed wall above the top of the foam insulation for termite inspection. 2. Plastic vapor barrier is lapped over insulation. It should be installed behind insulation to separate the insulation from direct contact with the ground and prevent moisture intrusion into the foundation wall. 3. Fiberglass batt insulation is installed without first air sealing the rim joist area, causing air movement and, hence, moisture movement, through the area. Figure 1. Sealed crawlspace of an affordable home built in Atlanta including three improper design details NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.1

5 Figure 2. Affordable single family home in Atlanta, Georgia Issue: The developer of an affordable, single-family home in Atlanta (pictured in Figure 1) added many high performance energy efficiency details in a concerted effort to build housing that is affordable not simply to own but also to operate. Yet, because several details were not designed and/or installed improperly, the house is subject to performance issues and long-term durability risks. At the crux of the issue is the sealed and semi-conditioned crawlspace a system which has solved crawlspace moisture issues in many homes in the Southeast. In this home, crawlspace walls were insulated with continuous expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam sheathing and a small amount of dry supply from the HVAC system is intended to control crawlspace humidity. Unfortunately, the improper installation of several critical design details has left the home exposed to long-term durability risks, which include: The crawlspace vapor barrier was improperly placed over the foundation wall insulation instead of behind it, thereby allowing moisture to permeate through the vapor-permeable insulation into the crawlspace. No area for visual termite or moisture inspection was left between the top of the crawlspace wall and the wood framing above. The band joist was not air sealed and evidence of air leakage through this area, which is causing condensation on the interior of the rim board, is already evident. Description of the Implementation Error: Although intentions were good, the construction process, lack of proper foundation wall design detail, and the use of unskilled volunteer labor led to the improper installation of several crucial details. Design Issues Because of incorrect design details and a lack of coordination with the pest control contractor, the foam insulation was installed flush with the top of the foundation wall and without the 3-inch gap of exposed wall between the top of the insulation and the top of the foundation wall that is necessary for termite inspection. Further, per code (Appendix A), the bottom of the insulation should have been at least 6 inches above grade to prevent direct contact with the ground and provide a space for termite inspection. NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.2

6 Fiberglass batt insulation was used to insulate the crawlspace band area. Without proper air sealing, an air leakage pathway exists between the closed conditioned crawlspace and the exterior environment. During winter, moisture from the relatively warm and moist crawlspace is condensing on the wood rim board as it exfiltrates through the unsealed band area, as shown in Figure 3. Figure 3. Crawlspace insulation detail showing improper installation of vapor barrier and lack of termite inspection break Sequencing Issues - In the project, foundation walls were insulated prior to framing. Because the crawlspace was used for storing tools and construction materials, and out of fear of damaging the vapor barrier during construction, the crawlspace vapor barrier was installed at the end of construction. Hence, the vapor barrier was attached to the interior side of the foundation insulation, leaving the foam wall insulation exposed directly to the ground below and subjecting the vapor-permeable foam to continual ground moisture. Figure 4. Crawlspace band showing moisture concentration as evidence of air exfiltration Risks: The installation details described above provide a pathway for termites and other pests to reach the wood framing through the foam insulation, do not adequately prohibit ground moisture from entering the crawlspace, and allow air leakage (and resulting moisture issues) through the crawlspace band area. Each area of risk is detailed below. NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.3

7 Termites Although most manufacturers of foam sheathing for belowgrade use treat the sheathing products with pest resistant chemicals such as borate, foam should not be exposed directly to the underlying soil. Pest treatments have not been shown to stop termite infiltration completely and, further, may leach out over time, especially if the treated material is exposed to moisture. Therefore, termites may be able to travel through the insulation to reach the wood structure of the home above. Even with proper installation details, termites tunneling through foam insulation represent a risk (especially for pest control companies providing pest guarantees for homes). Foam insulation should stop short of wood framing at the top of the foundation wall, with a 3 inspection strip for the termite protection contractor. Moisture Compared to other foam sheathing options, expanded polystyrene has a relatively high perm rating (2.0 to 5.8 perms) making it semi-permeable to water vapor. With the foam in contact with the ground, there is a direct pathway for moisture to drive into the crawlspace. Further moisture risks are caused by the construction sequence, in which the crawlspace is left exposed until the completion of construction. Any moisture that enters the crawlspace while it remains exposed to the elements can become trapped in the crawlspace when the home is completed. Trade Contractors Affected: Many trade contractors foundation, HVAC, plumbing, pest control, radon control, insulator, framing and electrical must be coordinated and actively involved in the proper installation of a sealed and insulated crawlspace. For checklists and tools, see the NAHB Research Center s High Performance Homes Scopes of Work on (www.toolbase.org/best- Practices/Quality- Management/highperformance-scopes-ofwork) Air Infiltration Fiberglass insulation does not function as an air barrier. Therefore, the use of fiberglass insulation at the band joist, without adequate caulking and sealing, allows air leakage at this location. The moist air in the crawlspace has moved through the fiberglass insulation and caused a moisture issue on the rim board and end of the floor joists. Required Corrections: The issues described above can easily be corrected, even if the current construction process remains unchanged. The following details, as depicted in Appendix A, should be implemented in similarly-designed homes: Termite Inspection Gap A 3 gap should be created between the top of the insulated sheathing and the top of the foundation wall to allow visual inspection by the termite protection contractor. Further, a 6 gap between the bottom edge of the insulation and the crawlspace floor should be added. Extruded polystyrene, due to its lower vapor permeability, is preferable to expanded polystyrene. For added protection, a termite shield (e.g., metal flashing) can be added to the top of the foundation wall to prevent access to the wood framing. Vapor Barrier Before installing the foundation wall insulation, a vapor barrier, extending at least 12 up the foundation wall, mechanically fastened in place, and sealed at the top and all joints with fiberglass mesh tape and mastic or equivalent, should be installed. Insulated sheathing should be installed directly to the wall over the vapor barrier using mechanical fasteners. NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.4

8 Material Specifications: Crawlspace Vapor Barrier Minimum Specification: 6-mil polyethylene Better Specification: 10- mil cross-laminated, high-density polyethylene Foundation Wall Insulation Minimum Specification: Borate treated expanded polystyrene Better Specification: Extruded polystyrene Crawlspace Band Area Insulation Minimum Specification: Fiberglass batt with air sealing Better Specification: Open-cell spray foam To maintain the current construction sequence and the use of the crawlspace for storage during construction, one of the following approaches can be used: Install a skirt of plastic vapor barrier along the foundation wall, extending at least 12 away from the wall on the crawlspace floor, before installing insulation. After construction, this skirt can be connected to the crawlspace floor vapor barrier. Joints between the wall and floor vapor barrier (as well as all vapor barrier joints) should be lapped a minimum of 12 and sealed with fiberglass mesh tape and mastic or equivalent. Although this solution would permit storage in the crawlspace, having exposed dirt could leave the crawlspace wet once it is sealed. Therefore, if following this approach, dehumidify to <70% relative humidity (or <15% wood moisture content) after construction. Install a cross laminated, 10-mil vapor barrier prior to foundation wall insulation. Although more expensive than 6-mil, the 10-mil cross-laminated product will stand up to wear and tear during construction and is a more effective vapor barrier. Air Leakage at Band Joist If insulating with fiberglass batts at the crawlspace band joist area, the interior perimeter of each bay should be sealed (i.e., horizontal joist between sill plate and rim joist and subfloor and rim joist, and vertical joint between each floor joist and the rim joist) with construction adhesive, caulk, or, preferably, expanding foam before insulating. Alternately, open-cell spray foam could be used to insulate and air seal the entire area. Applicable Guideline Documents: The following documents provide comprehensive construction details and scopes of work for sealed, semi-conditioned crawlspaces in the mixedhumid climate. A Quick Reference on Closed Crawlspaces, Advanced Energy, 1 High Performance Scopes of Work for Mixed-Humid Climates: Vented and Unvented Crawlspace Scopes of Work, NAHB Research Center, International Residential Code, Table R301.2(6) and Section R Reference.pdf 2 NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.5

9 Appendix A - Sealed and insulated crawlspace insulation detail NAHB Research Center Industry Partnership for High Performing Homes p.6

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