Basement Wall Insulation

The more and more I read about energy efficient construction the more and more it makes perfect sense. The following is another article from the Green Building Advisory:

If you get a chance check them out at:

Musings of an Energy Nerd

How to Insulate a Basement Wall

If you want to avoid moisture problems and mold, choose your insulation materials carefully

By Martin Holladay | June 29, 2012

The interior of a basement wall can be insulated with rigid foam or closed-cell spray foam. 

Here at GBA, we regularly receive questions from readers about the best way to insulate a basement wall. Since these questions pop up frequently, it’s time to pull together as much information as possible on this topic.

In this article, I’ll try to explain everything you always wanted to know about insulating basement walls.

Is it worth insulating a basement wall?

If you live in Climate Zone 3 or anywhere colder, it’s cost-effective and wise to installbasement wall insulation. This advice applies to those who live in most of New Mexico and most of Alabama, as well as all of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and South Carolina, and anywhere colder than these states. (Click here to see a climate zone map.)

Canadian researchers who studied basement insulation methods and costs in five Canadian locations (Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Edmonton and Victoria) concluded that “for all types and sizes of basements assessed in this study, the lowest total life-cycle cost was associated with basements insulated internally, full-height to a nominal level of R-20.”

How much money will basement insulation save you annually? According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Energy, the annual savings attributable to R-20 basement insulation in a 1,500-square-foot home ranged from $280 per year in Washington, DC to $390 per year in Buffalo, New York, assuming that natural gas costs $0.72/therm. (However, energy consultant Michael Blasnik cites two Minnesota studies that show lower levels of savings. See his 6/29/12 comments posted below.)

What do building codes require?

The 2012 International Residential Code requires basement insulation in Climate Zones 3 and higher. Here are the minimum code requirements for basement wall insulation — assuming that you are insulating with foam, not fiberglass batts:

  • Climate Zone 3: R-5

  • Climate Zone 4 (except Marine Zone 4): R-10

  • Marine Zone 4 and Climate Zones 5, 6, 7, and 8: R-15.

Should I insulate the wall on the inside or the outside?

I used to believe that the best location for basement wall insulation was on the exterior. In recent years, however, I’ve decided that interior basement insulation makes a lot of sense.

However, there are valid reasons for both approaches, and either way can work fine. So if you prefer one approach, don’t hesitate to use it.

Here are the advantages of exterior basement insulation:

  • Exterior insulation keeps the concrete within the home’s thermal envelope; this increases the amount of interior thermal mass and reduces the likelihood of temperature swings if heating and cooling equipment stops working. (However, it’s worth pointing out that the advantages of interior thermal mass are often exaggerated.)

  • Exterior insulation protects the dampproofing or waterproofing layer from damage during backfilling.

  • Insulating on the exterior allows a builder to install an uninterrupted layer of rigid foam from the foundation footing to the rafters. While this approach isn’t required— you don’t have to insulate above-grade walls with exterior foam if you don’t want to — many builders like it.

  • Exterior insulation provides more interior space in your basement than interior insulation.

  • It’s easier to insulate and air-seal the rim joist area with exterior insulation than with interior insulation.

  • If you insulate on the exterior, you avoid the expense of interior studs and drywall.

  • Exterior insulation leaves the interior of the concrete wall exposed (assuming the basement is unfinished) so that the concrete can be inspected at any time for cracks.

Here are the advantages of interior basement insulation:

  • The insulation work integrates more smoothly with the construction schedule, since it happens after the building is dried in rather than when the excavation contractor is eager to backfill the foundation.

  • It’s easier to provide an uninterrupted connection between the below-slab insulation and the wall insulation when the insulation is on the interior. If you install the wall insulation on the exterior, the footing will usually interrupt insulation continuity. (For more information on this issue, see Foam Under Footings.)

  • If you insulate on the interior, you avoid the hassle of figuring out how to protect the above-grade portion of the exterior basement insulation.

  • If you plan to install brick veneer on your above-grade walls, interior basement insulation makes more sense than exterior insulation. (For more information on the incompatibility of brick veneer with exterior basement insulation, see Image #4, below.)

Briefly, how are basement walls insulated on the exterior?

After the basement wall has been protected with a dampproofing or a waterproofing system, insulation is installed from the top of the footing to somewhere near the top of the rim joist. Acceptable insulation materials include extruded polystyrene (XPS), expanded polystyrene (EPS), closed-cell spray polyurethane foam, or mineral wool. Polyisocyanurate insulation should not be used because it can absorb water.

Below-grade insulation does not need to be attached to the concrete; it is held in place by the backfill. The best backfill material is a fast-draining granular material like gravel or crushed stone with a thin cap of soil or clay.

Above-grade insulation may or may not need to be attached to the concrete — fastening methods include foam-compatible adhesive, TapCons with washers, and specialty fasteners like Hilti IDP fasteners or Rodenhouse Plasti-Grip PMF fasteners— depending on the height of the exposed foam and the method used to protect it.

Some builders cantilever their 2×6 perimeter walls so that the basement insulation isn’t proud of the siding. If the basement insulation ends up proud of the siding, you’ll have to protect the top of the basement insulation with metal flashing. The top of the flashing needs to include a vertical leg that extends upward and is lapped by the housewrap; the flashing should be sloped, and the bottom of the flashing needs to terminate in a drip leg that extends beyond the insulation and the insulation protection materials.

If I insulate on the outside, how should I protect the above-grade foam?

The above-grade portions of all types of exterior insulation must be protected from physical abuse and sunlight. Among the products than can be used for this purpose are the following:

For more information on this topic, see How to Finish Exterior Foundation Insulation.

Briefly, how are basement walls insulated on the interior?

The best way to insulate a basement wall on the interior is with foam insulation that is adhered or attached directly to the concrete. Any of the following insulation materials are acceptable for this purpose: closed-cell spray polyurethane foam, XPS, EPS, or polyisocyanurate.

Rigid foam can be adhered to concrete with foam-compatible adhesive or can be attached with special fasteners like Hilti IDP fasteners or Rodenhouse Plasti-Grip PMF fasteners. (For more information on using Hilti IDP fasteners to attach rigid foam to a basement wall, see Marc Rosenbaum’s article, Basement Insulation — Part 2. For more information on Rodenhouse Plasti-Grip PMF fasteners, see New Green Building Products — June 2013. For more information on methods of fastening rigid foam or furring strips to a concrete wall, see Fasteners for Concrete and Brick.)

To prevent interior air from reaching the cold concrete, make sure to seal the perimeter of each piece of rigid foam with adhesive, caulk, a high-quality European tape, or canned spray foam.

Building codes require most types of foam insulation to be protected by a layer of gypsum drywall. Many builders put up a 2×4 wall on the interior of the foam insulation; the studs provide a convenient wiring chase and make drywall installation simple. (If you frame up a 2×4 wall, don’t forget to install fire blocking at the top of the wall. For more information on fire blocking, see Fire-Blocking Basics.)

One brand of rigid foam, Dow Thermax polyisocyanurate, meets code requirements for a thermal barrier and can therefore be left exposed in a crawl space (and in some jurisdictions, in a basement) without the need for a layer of gypsum drywall. If your basement doesn’t need wiring, studs, and drywall, then Thermax is probably the brand of insulation to use. (However, be sure to check with your local building official before going this route.)

If you plan to insulate your basement walls with spray foam, the best approach is to frame your 2×4 walls before the foam is sprayed, leaving a gap of 1 to 2 inches between the back of the studs and the concrete wall. The gap will later be filled with spray foam.

For information on insulating rim joists, see Insulating Rim Joists.

If you live in an area where termites are a problem, your local building code may require that you leave a 3-inch-high “inspection strip” of bare concrete near the top of your basement wall. To find out what details are required in your area, talk to your local building official.

What if the basement has an interior French drain?

Some basements have an interior French drain at the base of the basement walls. This type of French drain may be installed on just one or two walls, or it may be installed around the entire perimeter of the basement. Usually, the French drain (a shallow trench) includes perforated drain pipe that leads to a sump; the drain pipe is usually surrounded by crushed stone.

Before insulating a basement wall with an interior French drain, you’ll probably want to cover the wall with a dimple mat. The dimple mat allows any water that seeps through the wall to find its way to the French drain at the base of the wall. (For more information, see “Using a Dimple Mat to Keep a Basement Wall Dry.”)

Can I insulate on the interior with fiberglass batts, mineral wool batts, or cellulose?

No. Fiberglass batts, mineral wool batts, and cellulose are air-permeable. When this type of insulation is installed in contact with concrete, the moisture in the interior air condenses against the cold concrete surface, leading to mold and rot. That’s why I advise builders that fiberglass batts, mineral wool insulation, and cellulose should never be installed against a basement wall.

The risk of moisture problems is reduced if the concrete is first covered with a continuous layer of rigid foam or closed-cell spray foam. If that is done, some builders then install a 2×4 wall on the interior side of the foam insulation and fill the stud bays with fiberglass batts. This approach is less risky than installing fiberglass directly against the concrete. However, I don’t think that fiberglass batts belong in a basement. My advice: if you want a higher R-value, just install thicker rigid foam, and leave the stud bays empty.

If you decide to combine rigid foam installed on the interior side of the basement wall with fluffy insulation between 2×4 studs installed on the interior side of the rigid foam, you may be wondering, “How thick should the rigid foam be to keep the wall free of moisture problems?” A conservative approach for below-grade walls is to follow the guidelines for above-grade walls detailed in this article: Calculating the Minimum Thickness of Rigid Foam Sheathing.

Does interior basement insulation need to be vapor-permeable?

No. The idea that a damp concrete wall should be able to dry towards the interior — in other words, that any insulation on the interior of a basement wall should be vapor-permeable — is mistaken. In fact, you don’t want to encourage any moisture to enter your home. Your concrete wall can stay damp for a century; that dampness won’t hurt the concrete.

For more information on this topic, see Joe Lstiburek Discusses Basement Insulation and Vapor Retarders.

Should I include a polyethylene vapor barrier?

No. Basement wall systems should never include any polyethylene. You don’t want poly between the concrete and the insulation; nor do you want poly between gypsum drywall and the insulation. You don’t want poly anywhere.

Paul Ellringer, an energy and mold consultant in Saint Paul, Minnesota, has a collection of slides showing moldy basement insulation. In most cases, these basement walls were insulated with fiberglass batts, and included two layers of polyethylene — one on each side of the studs. Ellringer calls this a “diaper wall,” and reports that most of them are a mess. “Fibrous insulation and poly are inherently problematic, and should not be used in below-grade walls,” says Ellringer. “Sometimes when you open it up, the fiberglass is soaking wet. If the house is two to four years old, the studs are often beginning to rot.”

What about ICFs or the ThermoMass system?

If you build a new basement with insulated concrete forms (ICFs) or the ThermoMass system, your wall already includes insulation, so you don’t need to add any more.

Both approaches work. The main disadvantage of these systems is their high cost compared to conventional poured concrete walls.

ICFs have a core of concrete sandwiched between two layers of rigid foam. ThermoMass walls have a core of rigid foam sandwiched between two layers of concrete. It seems to me that the ThermoMass sandwich makes much more sense than the ICF sandwich: since foam is more fragile than concrete, it makes more sense to protect the fragile layer with concrete than to put the fragile material on the outside of the sandwich.

If you decide to use either ICFs or the ThermoMass system, pay close attention to the wall’s R-value. Many ICF and ThermoMass walls have relatively low R-values. If you’re going to buy such an expensive wall system, be sure to specify thick foam.

What do I need to know if I am installing insulation on an existing house?

If you want to insulate an existing basement, you’ll probably be working from the interior. Before installing a layer of foam insulation on an existing wall, the first step is to verify that the basement wall doesn’t have a water-entry problem.

Diagnosing and fixing water-entry problems in existing basements is a big topic in its own right, and is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that if your basement walls get wet every spring or every time you get a heavy rain, the walls should not be insulated until the water-entry problem is solved.

Among the possible solutions to this problem:

  • Adjusting the grade around your house so that the soil slopes away from the building on all four sides;

  • Installing roof gutters connected to conductor pipes that convey the roof water away from the foundation;

  • Excavating the exterior of your foundation and installing new footing drains leading to daylight;

  • Installing an interior French drain around the perimeter of your basement and connecting the drain to a sump equipped with a sump pump; and

  • Installing a layer of dimple mat against the basement walls before insulating.

For more information on these issues, see Fixing a Wet Basement.

If your basement has stone-and-mortar walls, you can’t insulate the walls with rigid foam. The only type of insulation that makes sense for stone-and-mortar walls is closed-cell spray polyurethane foam.

If your basement has poured concrete or concrete-block walls, you can proceed with the same methods used for new construction — as long as you’re sure that the walls don’t have a water-entry problem.

about crawl space walls?

Crawl space walls should be insulated with the same methods used for basement walls. For more information on insulating a sealed crawl space, see Building an Unvented Crawl Space.

Basement wall insulation is a cost-effective measure

Remember: if you live in Climate Zone 3 or anywhere colder, installing basement wall insulation is almost always cost-effective. Performing this work will lower your energy bills, and will also provide an important side benefit: insulated walls are less susceptible to condensation and mold.

That means that insulated basements stay dryer and smell better than uninsulated basements.

Last week’s blog: “Understanding Energy Units.”

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Green Building and Sustainability

The following article can be found at the
Environmental Protection - and is well worth the read - here is a small sample

Increased awareness of not only the value, but the necessity of adopting green building initiatives in new builds and retro fits is critical.

Our climate is changing. A shift in the number of wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts, and heavy rainfalls has been attributed to climate change. These changes have had an impact on agriculture and wildlife, including the introduction of new pests and depleting habitats.

Humans and our current life style practices remain the leading contributors to climate change, with carbon being the main culprit.

The Impact of Carbon
According to Architecture 2030, nine hundred billion square feet of buildings will be newly constructed or renovated by 2030. Buildings are one of the leading contributors to carbon emission, mainly from their use of fossil fuels during operations. In fact, cities and urban areas are responsible for approximately 75 percent of carbon emissions. If these buildings continue to be developed and run in the traditional manner, the environmental damage will only progress.

Thankfully, with an increased focus on the hazards that buildings emit into the atmosphere, companies are starting to consider adopting greener initiatives. Cities worldwide are investing in climate action plans with the goal of reducing their environmental footprint. This includes "Smart City" initiatives to better manage existing infrastructure, zero waste policies, alternative energy sources, and researching the potential of developing net zero buildings.

Resource Efficient
Integrating sustainable resources that are long lasting is key to ensuring that a structure is fully sustainable. Products such as reclaimed wood, recycled plastic or glass, as well as energy-efficient, locally sourced materials such as concrete that naturally contains a high thermal mass, will ensure that the building is resource efficient.

Net Zero as a Solution
Net zero, however, for several companies and homeowners, still feels largely unattainable. Cost, restricting policies and procedures, and limited information often create roadblocks for making these energy-neutral buildings a reality. To be able to create these buildings, end users and investors need to both understand and value the chosen solution. This includes investing in energy-efficient solutions and advocating for standards that are environmentally responsible while being cost effective at the same time.

Top 10 framing errors - and how to prevent them

The following information was obtained by visiting Pro Builder Magazine (

An expert engineer in wood structures identifies the most common framing mistakes and offers advice on how to avoid them.

By Bob Clark, senior engineered wood specialist, APA | February 17, 2012

Sometimes it’s the simple things that can make the difference between quality construction and satisfied customers and the home construction that dogs you with callbacks and complaints.

The typical errors that we see in the field are both common and highly preventable. Reducing callbacks is all about paying attention to detail and keeping up with wood construction systems that deliver the best structural and building science performance. While home construction isn’t a field that is usually known for its technological advancements, there are, in fact, important developments in building materials and systems that significantly improve both the building’s performance and the buyer’s satisfaction with the home.

The top 10 list of common framing errors includes:

  1. Sheathing installed as a simple span. Sheathing should be installed over two or more spans, or three supports, at a minimum.

  2. The strength axis is installed in the wrong direction. In general, panels should be installed with the long dimension or strength axis of the panel across supports.

  3. Sheathing is ripped less than 24 inches and not properly supported. A narrow-width panel will deflect more than a panel 24 inches or greater in width. These panels are often installed on roof ridges, where workers are likely to walk during construction. The addition of blocking or edge-support clips will provide narrow-width panels with the support needed to handle heavy loads.

  4. Glulam is installed upside down. When glulam beams are manufactured as unbalanced beams, there are different bending stresses assigned to the compression and tension zones, and the beams must be installed accordingly. When “Top” is stamped on the top lamination, that end of the beam should be up.

  5. Panels are not spaced 1/8 inch at installation. Wood structural panels (plywood and OSB), like all wood products, will expand or shrink slightly with changes in moisture content. If expansion is prevented with tightly butted panel joints, buckling can occur. To prevent buckling and ensure optimum performance, the panel end and edge joints should be spaced 1/8 inch.

  6. Overdriven fasteners. Improper fastening — including incorrect fastener location or size, or installation of fasteners through the panel and into the framing member — can result in structural and aesthetic problems that commonly lead to callbacks.

  7. Inconsistent joist spacing. If the floor doesn’t “feel right” to the homeowner, you can expect a callback. A consistent deflection across the entire floor will keep the customer happy.

  8. Inconsistent floor gluing. The number-one complaint about floors is squeaking. A properly glued-nailed floor system will work as a homogeneous unit, preventing most floor squeaks.

  9. Improper water management. It’s important to prevent moisture intrusion in the building envelope and to allow for proper drying when moisture does get in.

  10. Notching and hole cutting in the wrong places. Improperly made field notches or holes may reduce the structural capacity or the load-carrying capability of the structural framing member.

New Plate Washer Requirements for Engineered Shear Walls

New provisions in the 2009 and 2012 International Building Code will require the use of plate washers on most sill plate anchor bolts in engineered structures, such as multi-family and commercial projects, as well as one- and two-family homes designed using the IBC.

Although builders in high-seismic regions have been using plate washers since the late 1990s to improve the performance of wood shear walls, this requirement will be new for most low-seismic regions, according to Shane Vilasineekul, P.E., branch engineering manager with Simpson Strong-Tie. Vilasineekul offers a few important details to keep in mind:

The purpose of the new requirement is to limit the tendency for sill plates to split length wise between the anchor bolts. This can occur when anchor bolts are supporting the center of the sill plate while the sheathing pulls up on the edge of the sill plate, creating a prying action.The new plate washer requirements apply to shear walls designed under the IBC. There are no changes to the plate washer provisions prescribed in the International Residential Code, which only requires plate washers in high-seismic regions or when designing for extreme winds.The plate washer must be a minimum 3 x 3 x 0.229 inches (3 gauge) and extend to within ½-inch of the sheathed edge of the sill plate.To allow for larger tolerances in anchor bolt placement, the code permits the plate washer to be slotted when a standard cut washer is used.New, slotted plate washers that are 4½-inch wide can be used for 2x6 framing that is sheathed on both sides or for anchor bolts centered in 2x6 framing that is sheathed on just one side.

There are five framing principles that are the basis for preventing these common errors:

  • Wood has a strength direction. Adhere to this principle and avoid many deflection problems.

  • Wood expands and contracts. Buckling is the most common complaint in sheathing applications. Properly space panels to avoid these preventable callbacks.

  • Consistency counts. Inconsistent alignment, framing, materials, nailing, spacing, spans, and gluing all create problems — both real and perceived — for homeowners. Many of these problems can be avoided with consistent building practices.

  • Prevent moisture intrusion. Special attention to housewraps, flashings, shingling of underlayments, and use of vapor retarders is vital to preventing moisture-related problems.

  • Load path continuity. Continuous sheathing and proper fasteners will provide uplift resistance against high winds.

This last principle is a big one. While wood-frame construction makes it easy for builders to construct strong, durable buildings, wall studs alone can’t withstand high wind and seismic forces. A continuous load path safely transfers the lateral, vertical, and racking loads caused by severe weather and earthquakes from the roof, wall, and floor systems to the foundation. The continuous load path is achieved by connecting the structural frame, wood structural panel sheathing, and fasteners together. The result is like a chain that ties the house together from the roof to the foundation. If any link in the chain breaks, the overall structural system could weaken. If each link is strong enough to handle the applied loads, however, a continuous load path will provide tremendous resistance against the forces of nature.

Wall bracing is one of the most important structural elements of any house, but it can also be one of the most confusing. Wood structural panel sheathing is the easiest and most economical way to meet International Residential Code prescriptive bracing requirements. Continuous sheathing with wood structural panels provides superior bracing to resist uplift loads, lateral loads, and wind pressures while providing a secure connection to the roof and protecting the occupants. Additionally, wood structural panel sheathing provides impact resistance from storm-blown objects and holds fasteners securely for siding application.

Fasteners are the final link in the chain, and the effectiveness of the structural system relies on the quality and quantity of the connections. In hurricanes, the loss of roofing materials and sheathing is the leading cause of structural failure in wood-framed buildings. The central reasons behind these failures are improper connection detailing between structural systems and inadequate fastening of sheathing to supporting members. Understanding connection detailing and adhering to a prescribed fastener schedule is critical to completing the load path.
By adhering to these framing principles, paying attention to details, and maintaining a commitment to understanding wood frame systems, builders can reduce callbacks, satisfy homeowners, and increase profits.

Founded in 1933, APA represents approximately160 plywood, oriented strand board, glulam timber, wood I-joist, rim board, and laminated veneer lumber mills throughout the U.S. and Canada. Its primary functions are quality auditing and testing, applied research, and market support and development.

Solar Water Heaters

Here is some very interesting information regarding Solar water heaters -- also called solar domestic hot water systems. These can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water for your home. They can be used in any climate, and the fuel they use -- sunshine -- is free.

The following article can be found at;


Solar water heating systems include storage tanks and solar collectors. There are two types of solar water heating systems: active, which have circulating pumps and controls, and passive, which don't.

Active Solar Water Heating Systems

There are two types of active solar water heating systems:

  • Direct circulation systems
    Pumps circulate household water through the collectors and into the home. They work well in climates where it rarely freezes.

  • Indirect circulation systems
    Pumps circulate a non-freezing, 
    heat-transfer fluid through the collectors and a heat exchanger. This heats the water that then flows into the home. They are popular in climates prone to freezing temperatures.

Passive Solar Water Heating Systems

Passive solar water heating systems are typically less expensive than active systems, but they're usually not as efficient. However, passive systems can be more reliable and may last longer. There are two basic types of passive systems:

  • Integral collector-storage passive systems
    These work best in areas where temperatures rarely fall below freezing. They also work well in households with significant daytime and evening hot-water needs.

  • Thermosyphon systems
    Water flows through the system when warm water rises as cooler water sinks. The collector must be installed below the storage tank so that warm water will rise into the tank. These systems are reliable, but contractors must pay careful attention to the roof design because of the heavy storage tank. They are usually more expensive than integral collector-storage passive systems.


Most solar water heaters require a well-insulated storage tank. Solar storage tanks have an additional outlet and inlet connected to and from the collector. In two-tank systems, the solar water heater preheats water before it enters the conventional water heater. In one-tank systems, the back-up heater is combined with the solar storage in one tank.

Three types of solar collectors are used for residential applications:

  • Flat-plate collector
    Glazed flat-plate collectors are insulated, weatherproofed boxes that contain a dark absorber plate under one or more glass or plastic (polymer) covers. Unglazed flat-plate collectors -- typically used for 
    solar pool heating -- have a dark absorber plate, made of metal or polymer, without a cover or enclosure.

  • Integral collector-storage systems
    Also known as ICS or batch systems, they feature one or more black tanks or tubes in an insulated, glazed box. Cold water first passes through the solar collector, which preheats the water. The water then continues on to the conventional backup water heater, providing a reliable source of hot water. They should be installed only in mild-freeze climates because the outdoor pipes could freeze in severe, cold weather.

  • Evacuated-tube solar collectors
    They feature parallel rows of transparent glass tubes. Each tube contains a glass outer tube and metal absorber tube attached to a fin. The fin's coating absorbs solar energy but inhibits radiative heat loss. These collectors are used more frequently for U.S. commercial applications.

Solar water heating systems almost always require a backup system for cloudy days and times of increased demand. Conventional storage water heaters usually provide backup and may already be part of the solar system package. A backup system may also be part of the solar collector, such as rooftop tanks with thermosyphon systems. Since an integral-collector storage system already stores hot water in addition to collecting solar heat, it may be packaged with a tankless or demand-type water heater for backup.


Before you purchase and install a solar water heating system, you want to do the following:

Also understand the various components needed for solar water heating systems, including the following:


The proper installation of solar water heaters depends on many factors. These factors include solar resource, climate, local building code requirements, and safety issues; therefore, it's best to have a qualified solar thermal systems contractor install your system.

After installation, properly maintaining your system will keep it running smoothly. Passive systems don't require much maintenance. For active systems, discuss the maintenance requirements with your system provider, and consult the system's owner's manual. Plumbing and other conventional water heating components require the same maintenance as conventional systems. Glazing may need to be cleaned in dry climates where rainwater doesn't provide a natural rinse.

Regular maintenance on simple systems can be as infrequent as every 3–5 years, preferably by a solar contractor. Systems with electrical components usually require a replacement part or two after 10 years. Learn more about solar water heating system maintenance and repair.

When screening potential contractors for installation and/or maintenance, ask the following questions:

  • Does your company have experience installing and maintaining solar water heating systems?
    Choose a company that has experience installing the type of system you want and servicing the applications you select.

  • How many years of experience does your company have with solar heating installation and maintenance?
    The more experience the better. Request a list of past customers who can provide references.

  • Is your company licensed or certified?
    Having a valid plumber's and/or solar contractor's license is required in some states. Contact your city and county for more information. Confirm licensing with your state's contractor licensing board. The licensing board can also tell you about any complaints against state-licensed contractors.


After your water heater is properly installed and maintained, try some additional energy-saving strategies to help lower your water heating bills, especially if you require a back-up system. Some energy-saving devices and systems are more cost-effective to install with the water heater.

Geothermal Cooling and Heating Concept Explained

Outdoor temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons but underground temperatures don’t change as dramatically, thanks to the insulating properties of the earth. Four to six feet below ground, temperatures remain relatively constant year-round. A geothermal system, which typically consists of an indoor handling unit and a buried system of pipes, called an earth loop, and/or a pump to re-injection well, capitalizes on these constant temperatures to provide “free” energy.

(Note that geothermal HVAC should not be confused with “geothermal energy,” the process by which electricity is generated directly from the heat inside the earth. That takes place on the scale of utilities and uses different processes, normally by heating water to boiling.)

The pipes that make up an earth loop are usually made of polyethylene and can be buried under the ground horizontally or vertically, depending on the characteristics of the site. If an aquifer is available, engineers may prefer to design an “open loop” system, in which a well is drilled into the underground water. Water is pumped up, run past a heat exchanger, and then the water is returned to the same aquifer, through “re-injection.”

In winter, fluid circulating through the system’s earth loop or well absorbs stored heat from the ground and carries it indoors. The indoor unit compresses the heat to a higher temperature and distributes it throughout the building, as if it were an air conditioner running in reverse. In summer, the geothermal HVAC system pulls heat from the building and carries it through the earth loop/pump to re-injection well, where it deposits the heat into the cooler earth/aquifer.

Unlike ordinary heating and cooling systems, geothermal HVAC systems do not burn fossil fuel to generate heat; they simply transfer heat to and from the earth. Typically, electric power is used only to operate the unit’s fan, compressor, and pump.

A geothermal cooling and heating system has three main components: the heat-pump unit, the liquid heat-exchange medium (open or closed loop), and the air-delivery system (duct-work) and/or the radiant heating (in the floor or elsewhere).

Geothermal heat pumps, as well as all other types of heat pumps, have efficiencies rated according to their coefficient of performance, or COP. It’s a scientific way of determining how much energy the system moves versus how much it uses. Most geothermal heat pump systems have COPs of 3.0 to 5.0. This means for every unit of energy used to power the system, three to five units are supplied as heat.

Geothermal systems require little maintenance. When installed properly, which is critical, the buried loop can last for generations. The unit’s fan, compressor, and pump are housed indoors, protected from the harsh weather conditions, so they tend to last for many years, often decades. Usually, periodic checks and filter changes and annual coil cleaning are the only required maintenance.

Additional information can be found at

Why you should Hire an Architect

So you’ve finally decided that you want to build your new home. What’s next? Should I talk to an architect first or directly to a contractor? Is it worth hiring an architect for my new home? Building a house is a complex job, so you need to hire the right person to have the process run smoothly.

Is there an alternative to using a licensed architect? Yes, many people allow a general contractor to handle the whole design and construction process — and in certain cases, such as minor remodeling jobs that is the way to go. But what about a new home? For any new building, we recommend hiring an architect to handle the complexity of the building process. 

What is an architect?

An architect is a professional who is specifically trained and licensed to work on the planning and design of buildings. The facets of an architect’s role are as varied and fascinating as their work; these are professionals who lead the process of creating functional spaces, from concept and design to a full realization of those designs.

So, why should you hire an architect?

1. Greater understanding of your needs

Architects will explore a homeowner's lifestyle and use of their current house and draw up construction plans that address both the owner's desires and the structural requirements. Just by listening to you, they are able to transform your needs and wishes into an architectural expression that also complies with building and city codes and the construction best practices. Depending on their city's codes, homeowners may also need to submit plans with an architect's seal before beginning work.

2. Better design overall

Architects deliver more interesting and creative design work, a better relationship with the site, and a superior functional floor plan. Depending on the situation you may need to submit plans with a licensed architect’s seal before breaking ground.

3. Architects avoid design errors

Specifically errors common in plan books or with inexperienced designers. As mentioned before Architects have design experience, so it’s a good idea to let them handle the design process because that’s what they are trained to do.

4. Architects provide creative ways to solve problems

That’s what they are trained to do based on their education and experience. For instance, they can find the right strategies and materials to make the project cost effective according to your budget, while still bringing an interesting design to the table.

5. You can save money

Preparing detailed and accurate drawings significantly reduces design mistakes. Today's technologies allow designers to exercise a greater control over each part of the building by designing and presenting architecture projects in 3d versus the old school 2d floor plans and elevations. This in turns ensures that all the critical and most of the minor decisions are made and approved way before the construction starts. Changes on drawings are a lot less expensive than field ones (materials, manpower). This approach will also make it easier for the contractor to precisely estimate and build your project. 

6. Good design is a profitable investment

Good design adds extra value to your building: well-designed homes have a greater resale value.

7. Architects help you choose the right materials and finishes

Their knowledge of wide range of materials enables them to recommend the congruous materials for your project, based on budget requirements, proportions, and functionality of the space/room. Good designers can show you different materials options with the use of extremely realistic computer-generated images, sometimes even in real time during the meeting with you!

8. Integrated energy efficiency

Following the building, orientation, location and layout are good design practices and a licensed professional will definitely give your home the basics requirements for energy efficiency. This means optimizing the amount of natural light and heating from the sun and in turn make you save on electric bills over time.

9. It's about trust

Conceiving and building a home is a personal matter, and you can relate even more if it’s your own. The architect can be your agent, the professional figure that takes care of your interests throughout the project and with the other professionals involved (contractor, engineer, consultants, etc...). This particularly applies when it comes to design decisions and field changes.

10. Negotiations with your contractor

Your architect can handle the tough aspects of contract negotiations on your behalf, allowing you to maintain a friendly, cooperative relationship with your contractor.

11. An architect will make your life easier

Building is a long process that is always intricate and troublesome, especially because you as the owner are already busy with your life. Hiring a designer can benefit you especially as it helps toward keeping a piece of mind by making sure that the design and building process go smoothly.

12. Project coordination

During the design and construction process you might require additional services such as engineering and interior design. The architect can coordinate all these professionals in order to keep drawings and ideas shared and consistent and to avoid conflicts. In addition, the architect will help you get through the complex procedures to obtain the required building permits. If the agreement with your designer includes construction administration, he or she will visit the project site to make sure that the home is being built according to drawings and specifications.

While some local regulations regarding architecture vary from city-to-city and state-to-state, most of the points above are applicable everywhere, as architects are professionals with a civic responsibility toward the local community.

Building a new house is challenging. You need a professional with experience to guide you through the process and avoid any unforeseen events, especially because the end result will most likely affect your family life for a long time.


The Windy City

There are three different theories why Chicago is called the Windy City. The first is: The Cincinnati and Chicago rivalries, the second: 1890's World Fair and the third is the weather. 

Cincinnati and Chicago were rival cities in the 1860s and 1870s. Cincinnati was well known in the meatpacking trade and it was called "Porkopolis" from at least 1843. Starting from the early 1860s, Chicago surpassed Cincinnati in this trade and proudly claimed the very same “Porkopolis” nickname. The baseball inter-city matches were especially intense. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings were the pride of all of baseball, so Chicago came up with a rival team called the White Stockings to defeat them. "Windy City" often appeared in the Cincinnati sporting news of the 1870s and 1880s. For the Cincinnati papers, "Windy City" had meant a Chicago that was full of bluster.

In 1890, Chicago won the bid to host the World's Fair, also known as the World's Columbian Exposition. Many prominent New Yorkers were extremely irritated that a "frontier town" could beat them. Once again the notion that Chicago was full of hot air.

We are going to focus on the weather theory.  With Chicago being located on Lake Michigan, the city has a tendency to cool breezes blowing off Lake Michigan.  And with its unique city layout and the wind tunnels that form from the tall buildings make some areas a gold mine of untapped free wind power.

To harness that power Wind turbines can be employed.  These wind turbines can typically connect to your home via a 220 volt line run under ground from the turbine to a safety disconnect switch then into the main breaker.  There are typically no changes required in the home.  By using some of these wind turbines your power will first be drawn from your turbine and then the power grid.  If you make more than you use the power can be credit back to the utility company.  There are great software packages out there that help monitor your production.

The downfall of these turbine systems is the price.  They can range from $8,000 all the way up to $20,000 installed.  However there are federal tax incentives and sometimes local utility companies will give credits for it use. The duration of time that it takes to offset the initial cost depends greatly on your location.


It is not for everybody but it is a good place to start harnessing the power of the wind.

Masonic Temple Renovation

TES Architects has recently joined with Fox Valley Cabinets to redesign the interior of the Masonic Temple in Downtown Naperville, IL.

The project consist of renovating the second floor kitchen, new toilet rooms, new ceilings, cabinets, counters, flooring and a host of other finishes.

Stay tune for pictures of the completed project in the next few weeks.

The domoliton is completed and on to framing and plumbing!

Green Water



As architects, moisture is usually considered an enemy of any building.  It can cause wood to rot, create mold and be an overall nuisance. But what if there was a way to extract that moisture out of the air and then, a little while later, enjoy that extracted moisture as a cool crisp glass of 99.99% pure water.  This helps


There is always water in the atmosphere. Clouds are, of course, the most visible manifestation of atmospheric water, but even clear air contains water—water in particles that are too small to be seen. One estimate of the volume of water in the atmosphere at any one time is about 3,100 cubic miles (mi3) or 12,900 cubic kilometers (km3). That may sound like a lot, but it is only about 0.001 percent of the total Earth's water volume of about 332,500,000 mi3 (1,385,000,000 km3). If all of the water in the atmosphere rained down at once, it would only cover the ground to a depth of 2.5 centimeters, about 1 inch. 


Oh the mighty tree!


Wood is a renewable resource if it is harvested in a sustainable manner. What types of woods are called sustainable?  The most popular types of sustainable woods are bamboo, cane (both of which are considered grasses), the mango tree, (which is a great fruit by the way), and the American favorite, maple.  Did you know that a maple tree could grow up to 18” in a year and who doesn’t love maple syrup!  For sustainable wood, look for recycled wood products, or wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as coming from well-managed forests.


Trees are a major reason why we are able to survive on this plant.  We eat their fruit, we construct with their wood and we breath their oxygen-O2 while they help rid the planet of dangerous and ever present CO2.  That is why we need to make sure that the wood we use is stamped FSC or is one of the above-mentioned sustainable woods.


If you buy any lumber this weekend, go out and plant a tree.  It could be just a little sapling but every tree counts.

Starting with a Foundation

In my many hours of research I began to notice that anything and everything could be found on the web.  So being an architect and a web searcher I decided to combine the two and design a home from the ground up and going green doing it.

Our first step of construction is the foundation.  After searching hours and hours I came across the following list of suggestions on going green that will help you to increase energy efficiency, reduce your environmental impact, and create a healthier home.

Green Suggestions for an Environmentally Friendly & Energy-Efficient Foundation

So, just what are your options when it comes to going green with foundations, retaining walls, and waterproofing? Here's a list of suggestions on going green that will help you to increase energy efficiency, reduce your environmental impact, and create a healthier home.

  • Use Concrete that Contains Recycled Waste—The bad news is that cement production is a major source of world carbon dioxide emissions. The good news is that as much as 50 percent of the Portland cement added to concrete can be replaced by recycled waste materials, including fly ash from coal fired power plants, rice hull ash, and ground blast furnace slag. Even better, these additives can increase the strength, water resistance, and durability of the concrete (though they will slow drying times).

  • Insulate Your Foundation Using Rigid Insulated Concrete Forms or Rigid Foam Insulation—Insulated concrete forms (ICFs) are innovative interlocking rigid foam blocks and panels that hold concrete in place during the curing process, and serve as an extra layer of insulation for your foundation once things have dried. If you don't use ICFs, consider adding a 2-inch layer of rigid closed cell foam insulation to the exterior of your foundation before you backfill.

  • Use Environmentally Friendly Building Products—Many products associated with foundation construction, such as petroleum based form-release agents and damp proofing materials, can release harmful VOCs into the air and lead to soil and groundwater contamination. Use environmentally friendly, biodegradable options instead.

  • Reuse Form Boards or Use Metal Forms—Form boards often consist of larger, solid lumber harvested from old growth trees that are discarded after a single use. Use reusable metal forms instead, or save old form boards for use on future projects.

  • Use Recycled Concrete for Backfill and Retaining Walls—There is a lot of old concrete out there that can be broken into blocks and used to build retaining walls or crushed to provide backfill and facilitate good drainage. You'll save money over buying more expensive materials, and save some useful "waste" from ending up in the landfill.

  • Install Non-vented Crawlspaces & Insulate Crawlspace Areas—Since crawlspaces are uninhabited, outdoor ventilation isn't really necessary. Unventilated crawlspaces will stay cooler in the summer, and drier in the winter when moisture buildup can be a problem. Furthermore, consider insulating your crawlspace walls and applying a layer of polyethylene sheeting to the floor and walls to keep moisture levels down.

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