Home Science Series Part 1: Walls and Insulation

On average, there is a difference of approximately $40K in unseen building upgrades between a home built by an á la carte builder and a semi-custom New Era Built home. While not visible to the naked eye, the benefits are seen in overall comfort and in long-term durability.

In recent years construction practices have benefitted from the use of science to study the best ways to build homes to ensure long-term comfort and durability. This relatively new discipline is called building science. Choosing a builder and embarking on the home building process can be overwhelming but knowledge of modern building science and techniques will help put you in the driver’s seat.

Why is building science important? We are learning ways to build homes with less wood thereby reducing the amount of lumber required while still maintaining structural integrity. We have learned how to build homes to better withstand seismic activity and severe weather climate. We have learned to seal homes better to prevent moisture, wind and fungi intrusion. We have learned how to heat and cool a home using the right sized equipment and the best practices for delivering that air. These are just a few of the things we are learning and implementing in new homes today. The net benefit to the home buyer is a better built home that is more comfortable and durable than ever.

In our House Science Series, we will cover specific examples of how New Era Homes uses modern building practices backed by science to build homes that are designed for comfort and longevity. We will equip you with hard-hitting questions to ask potential builders.

To begin, let’s examine walls and insulation to learn how modern building science and New Era Homes’ Uncommon Standards work together to build a better home.

WALLS AND INSULATION

A well built home begins with a quality shell. The shell comprises the windows, roofing, insulation, structural components, drainage plane, flashing systems and HVAC delivery system. Like most technological advances, building science has taught us so many new things and refuted old-school rules of thumb. As a builder it is important to embrace the new science and change building methods and products accordingly as it advances. 

To begin with, New Era Homes uses a Knopf brand foam air sealing membrane that seals along the vertical and horizontal cracks of the exterior walls to prevent air leakage. This air sealing membrane prevents air from migrating into the home through cracks in the interior reducing energy loss. This is not a code required insulation application but we feel it’s an important step we can take to ensure your New Era Home is comfortable and efficient.

New Era Homes uses an upgraded blown-in blanket insulation system that allows us to achieve an R/25 r-value. Typical fiberglass insulation that comes in batts is rated with an insulation value of R/21. This doesn’t tell the whole story, however, as batts are often split to fit around wiring, switch boxes and piping which significantly reduces the true r-value. Also, batts are pre-cut in length and width so the insulation typically is left short of edge-to-edge coverage. This further reduces the true r-value. Blown-in blanket insulation fills the entire wall cavity from stud to stud, plate to plate, and all parts in between. By using a blown in insulation, we aren’t splitting batts like you would with typical fiberglass insulation. This prevents cold pockets or gaps within the walls. The result is an r-value rating well above building code standards.


New Era Homes partners with leading building companies that develop products and techniques that balance cost with best practices according to what modern building science shows us. We have partnered with Tyvek, a DuPont company, to incorporate their building wrap and flashing systems to insure that we have superior moisture protection from the outside. Dupont developed Tyvek and the suite of products that interface with Tyvek to provide superior moisture management. Partnering with the largest and most well-funded company in their category has another significant benefit for the owner; each New Era Home is covered by a 10 year installation warranty against moisture intrusion–a promise you won’t find from an á la carte builder. 

Most house wrap companies do not make their own flashing tapes or fastening systems. Tyvek is vertically integrated in this space and provides a 10 year warranty when we use their products according to their installation procedures–which we strictly adhere to. Most builders will not talk about this aspect of the home building process because it requires a greater investment in the unseen innerworkings of the home. There are cheaper options to meet code but they do not provide the continuity or protection of the Dupont brands.

New Era Homes incorporates an OSB subsiding over the entire framed structure of the home. This provides structural sheer wall, backing for siding, a true secondary moisture plane and it allows our windows full length backing for superior sealing and flashing. To complete the assembly we install the Tyvek building wrap coupled with Tyvek flashing tape to completely seal the sub wall from any moisture that may get behind the siding. Á la carte builders omit subsiding completely and use only one layer of sheet siding–most often using an inferior building wrap as the sole source of moisture protection. Generally these decisions are meant to meet the very minimum code requirements at the lowest cost to the builder–regardless of the best interests of the home owner.

There are many less expensive and less effective building wrap options that utilize inferior methods of meeting the code minimum standards. The issue we have discovered is that while these building wraps meet code in a testing facility they are very difficult to install in a manner that replicates the ideal conditions they were tested under. Using Tyvek costs New Era Homes more per house than less expensive building wraps but we feel this is an extremely important element of every home and therefore spend more for a superior product.

As a consumer, it is important to work with a contractor that understands and implements the techniques and products that are supported by building science. Ask your builder what building science has taught them and how they have changed the way they build as a result.