INsight: Air Barrier Auditing
What is Air Barrier Auditing?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 40% of the energy used to heat and cool a building is due to uncontrolled air leakage. In an ever-evolving industry and with upcoming code changes underway, air barriers will soon become a code requirement for all new projects across the country. The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently revised the building energy standard, Title 24. It incorporates the air tightness testing protocols established by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) for new homes and commercial buildings, effective January 1, 2014. These new energy efficiency standards for the State of California will enforce the goal to meet “net zero” energy homes by 2020, which means these structures will produce zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions on an annual basis.
Why Air Barriers?
The Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) defines an air barrier as “a system of building assemblies within the building enclosure—designed, installed and integrated in such a manner as to stop the uncontrolled flow of air into and out of the building enclosure.” The air barrier is not only an important energy saving tool, but an important component of a building enclosure that can:
- Improve HVAC system performance
- Improve smoke and fire control
- Increase occupant comfort by improving air quality indoors
- Reduce building enclosure moisture problems
- Reduce building heating and cooling costs
- Reduce greenhouse gas production
- Improve acoustical isolation
- Control Odor and contaminants
- Result in sustainable, durable buildings
By reducing the air infiltration and exfiltration through the exterior enclosure to almost insignificant amounts, the air barrier reduces energy consumption by lowering the associated heating and cooling loads, which then allows for a downsized HVAC system. Air leakage can have detrimental effects on how a building functions, and reduce the life span of a building.
Air Barrier Testing
Air Barrier Testing – otherwise known as boundary testing – is a vital part of new federal regulations that apply to construction projects in all government facilities, including military bases. If not addressed at the start of construction, general contractors could be left with expensive retrofits at the end of the project. California Title 24 (2013) Building Energy Efficiency Standards that go into effect in 2014 require that all commercial buildings (any non-residential structures) are to be constructed with a continuous Air Barrier System and tested to verify that the building envelope leakage does not exceed 0.40 cfm/ft2 at 75 pascals, in accordance with ASTM E799. Using the most recent ASTM standards, Randall Lamb provides Building Envelope Consulting/Air Barrier Testing and Thermal Imaging Services to verify performance and troubleshoot air barrier systems. In conjunction with the testing, thermal imaging is used as a diagnostic tool to determine air leakage pathways.
Randall Lamb first introduced Commissioning Services to our clients in 2010, under the direction of Michael (Mike) Kohler, CxA, CBCP, CBST, ABAA Auditor. With the increasing importance of optimizing a building’s performance, in particular air barrier testing, Mr. Kohler is expanding Randall Lamb’s role to include air barrier installation auditing, building envelope ASTM testing, and building envelope thermal imaging studies. Randall Lamb offers these services in response to the need and requirement for building efficiency, reduced costs, and healthy buildings.
With these upcoming mandates for participation by the Federal and State governments, these services will be necessary to confirm how a building is functioning. As one of the first ABAA Audit firms in California, Randall Lamb is committed and equipped to adapt to these new regulations.
Technical Services: Commissioning / Air Barrier Auditing / Mechanical QC
As part of Randall Lamb’s efforts to expand its Integrated Services, we have taken on a more expansive role in the study, evaluation, and improvement of a building’s performance. In addition to improving the life and efficiency of a building from the start, our commissioning team can also train owners and facility managers on how to care for their buildings for the long haul. Our technical services take form in many different ways, whether it’s providing these services during the life of a new construction project, making recommendations for systems that are already in place, or troubleshooting a defective system. We have the tools and experience needed to solve complex issues.
As described above, Air Barrier Auditing is a new and important piece of the energy efficiency puzzle. The following projects are examples of the increasing role we are taking in these specialized services that will soon become mandatory in our industry.
Solana Beach School District, Pacific Highlands Ranch School, Solana Beach, CA
In addition to several recent commissioning projects that we have completed for the military – building commissioning and/or LEED v2.2 enhanced commissioning – Randall Lamb is currently performing commissioning services for the Solana Beach School District in an effort to enhance the quality of system start-up and aid in the orderly completion and transfer of systems for beneficial use by the owner. We are working directly for the owner and collaborating with Balfour Beatty Construction in the commissioning of this project, currently at 20% completion. As part of our commissioning process, Randall Lamb will test and inspect all of the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems to verify installation, operation, and efficiency.
Other recent examples of completed projects include the Coronado Island Marriott Resort, where we conducted chilled water plant commissioning; the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina cooling tower project oversight and commissioning; and LEED Commissioning for architect NBBJ’s new San Francisco office.
AIR BARRIER PROJECTS IN PROGRESS:
MCB Camp Pendleton, P-109 CNATT Aviation Training Facility – Harper Construction
Naval Base Coronado, P-705 Fitness Center – RQ Construction
Randall Lamb was hired to perform inspection services as well as Building Envelope Consulting/Air Barrier Testing Services and Infrared Thermography for the two military projects listed above. As part of the consulting services, we will provide technical assistance to the contractors during installation, pre-test the air barrier system with the contractors, and assist in locating building leakage using infrared thermography. The deliverables include assembling a complete thermography report to present to each of the contractors, and performing building final pressure testing using Retrotec blower door equipment and software.