Training the Trades to Get the Grade

Nov 30, 2016 3:58:08 PM By Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd
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Providence Logo jpg.jpgProvidence Homes has built more than 1,000 certified Energy Star homes – getting RESNET Grade One, a requirement of Energy Star Home Certification, using fiber glass batt insulation in each home. How does Providence do it, again and again when others say it’s difficult to achieve? One word: training.

Working with Building Science Consultant Steve Easley, Providence began a re-education effort with the many building trades involved in the construction of its homes. That meant identifying repeatable processes and practices to deliver better, more energy efficient and comfortable homes for buyers.

Getting Grade One with Batts

Energy Star Version 3.0/3.1 requires high-performance insulation, fully-aligned air barriers, air sealing and reduced thermal bridging. Providence Home meets those specifications using standard caulk products and fiber glass batt insulation, a notable achievement, some would say, since batt critics often lament how easy it is to install batts poorly.  However, most critics also agree that improving batt installation quality comes down to proper training and rigorous inspection.

“From the beginning our focus was a two-pronged approach of air sealing and quality of installation of all insulation,” Easley says. In half-day training sessions led by the consultant and including all subs, the company emphasizes the role each plays in hitting energy efficiency targets.  Insulation contractors learn the importance of controlling the air flow and getting the air sealing right before the batts go into the cavity, then making sure the batts are installed to Grade One specifications. But once the training is done, there’s the critical next step of ensuring that the knowledge is applied in the field. “Working with Providence, we developed a quality assurance process that entails rigorous inspection and measurement before the cavity is closed, focusing on likely problem areas such as penetration framing connections, to address any deficiencies in air sealing,” Easley notes.

The builder uses advanced framing techniques to minimize framing and allow for more insulation (high density R-21 batts) in its 2 x 6, 24-inch on center construction. This method allows the company to deliver homes averaging less than 1.5 ACH per hours and a HERS score of below the average of 54. Above all, training is key. “Providence Homes has a full on commitment to continuous training, so that new crew members  are taught where the air leaks can occur and why it’s important to seal those leaks properly from the beginning,” Easley added. “Builders who don’t focus on that level of detail and make the commitment to continuous training are doing themselves a disservice that may ultimately impact the performance of the homes they produce.”

High Performance for Less

With competition fierce among builders in the housing market, they must meet the expectations of homeowners who want affordability and energy efficiency.  Sean Junker, President and Chief Operating Office for Providence Homes say the company’s approach to insulation delivers on both fronts.  “We are able to get a better insulation system at a cost-effective price,” he said. “This is about the same performance that we could get with 5.5 inches of open cell spray foam, but for far lower cost – which is a win-win for both parties. Ensuring continuous Grade One installs means we have to inspect and measure what the trades are doing as well as train, because the labor force will have turnover which is why the commitment to training is so important.”

While the company builds roughly 200 homes annually in North Florida, this is a sought-after region of builders vying intensely for prospective homebuyers. “We see this as a way to distinguish ourselves from other builders – ultimately delivering a high-performance home at a reasonable price.  Our focus on continuous training and inspection permits us to do that using batts.”  

Easley added that getting Grade One installation should not cost homebuilders more, but they will have to accept that the most qualified contractor may not be the cheapest. “You have to set the expectation upfront that every job should be a Grade One and accept nothing less.”

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