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Transformation of the Week by:
Skilled labor is becoming difficult to find? Keep in mind who is saying this: the NAHB. If I may translate: Skilled labor is out there but it costs more than what the big national and regional homebuilding outfits would like to pay.
National Association of Home Builders is something of a misnomer. It would be more accurate to call them National Association of Residential Real Estate Developers and Mortgage Financiers. In other words, they don't represent the interests of tradesmen.
Meanwhile, considering what happened with the economy and the home mortgage bubble - why is anyone surprised? Even though the recession "ended" for the economy as a whole in October 2009 the construction industry didn't stop losing jobs until January 2011. The construction industry has about 2,000,000 fewer workers now than it did this time in 2008.
If you are a skilled tradesman and are driven out of the business you can't sit on your hands for 5 YEARS waiting for business to come back. You move on and find another line of work. Likewise, you can't blame young people for not entering the trades because the whole profession was in steep decline between 2007 and 2011.
Lastly, a reason there are so few "skilled" workers is that large employers have redefined what that means - it means you show up fully trained on Day 1. No one thinks they should have to train anymore. Instead they ask kids to put themselves through trade school, with their own time and money. Of all the machinists and electricians in my family not a single one went to Vo/Tech or trade school. They all got trained on the job, be it by General Electric or a local contracting business.
Section 408.2.4 plainly states that final mechanical inspection is contingent only upon the owner's receipt of the preliminary commissioning report. Likewise, the section plainly states that some tests can be deferred until the climate is appropriate. Ergo, the whole point about people being locked out of their completed buildings while they wait for the seasons to change is just plain wrong.
As the letter writer infers with "buildings with more than 40 tons of cooling capacity" the code requirement has a threshold of 480,000 Btu/h of cooling capacity below which commissioning isn't required at all. Rules of thumb don't work well with commercial cooling calculations but, for the sake of argument, let's say that 40 tons @ 400sf/ton = 16,000sf. So, we're going to build a 16,000sf building -which is easily a $1,000,000 project- but it's too much trouble to pay a commissioning agent to make sure the systems work as intended? Sorry, that is the very definition of penny wise, pound foolish.
These days I recommned basic commissioning for all new construction as a matter of course. I started out with it just on LEED projects about 5 years ago. After seeing the CxA uncover egregious errors by mechanical contractors on every project, errors that would cost the owner money and untold maintenance headaches, I became a believer.
Sadly, I have seen more 'fake' installations of vent baffles than I have correct ones. More often than not, the baffle stops somewhere short of the ridge or soffit vents it should be connecting.
The absolute worst case I ever saw was where the baffles were open to the soffit vent but stopped about a foot short of the right vent. The baffles had been covered with batt insulation that had an attached plastic vapor retarder. Of course, the insulation also totally blocked the the ridge vent. The homeowner noticed something was wrong when they were in the attic and saw water dripping from the seams in the plastic. When the insulation was pulled down you could literally wring water out of the batts.
AFM, building inspectors are charged with enforcing the building code. If the code doesn't address it, the inspector has no standing to do anything.
If one is unfamiliar with the details of construction codes it can be surprising to learn what isn't in there. To generalize, codes are about minimum standards of health and safety. Sometimes higher quality is a happy side effect of the code, but that's not really its focus. Taking the example of these photos, if the jurisdiction in question doesn't have an energy conservation code with provisions that would address the sloppy install a building inspector would have no right to comment on it.
I think there is an unspoken assumption in the drawing: that the 3/4" polyiso insulation is faced with aluminum foil. Foil being impermeable, it would create a second vapor barrier on the outside face of the wall cavity. The stud cavity would then be more or less encapsulated and any moisture that got into it (vapor barriers aren't perfect, after all) would have no way to get out and it would likely condense on the inside face of the foil sheathing if it were cold.
If I were detailing this wall as a rainscreen assembly with outboard insulation the materials would be: (starting from the outside face of the stud outwards): 1. plywood sheathing 2. vapor permeable air/moisture barrier 3. rigid insulation board 4. furring strips 5. exterior finish.
The key is the vapor permeable air/moisture barrier. It keeps liquid water out and limits air moving through the wall. However, since it is vapor permeable it allows water vapor to escape.
Who to blame? I would say builders and home buyers equally.
The throwaway consumerist mindset affects housing choices just as much as any other product. Many builders who have tried to do the 'right' thing and build and sell quality housing that exceeds minimum standards have found themselves punished for their efforts in the marketplace.
In one case I'm familiar with from the late 90s, a builder was marketing 30 houses in a new development. Among several upgrade packages were two similarly priced: one for higher-end kitchen finishes and casework, one for higher r-values and higher-efficiency mechanicals. You can see where this is going...he sold about 12 kitchen packages and 0 energy efficiency packages.
On the flip side, I'll relate my take on a code seminar I went to last year. It was shortly after my state adopted the 2006 I-codes, and several of us (commercial architects) from the office thought it would be good to get an overview of the changes. We thought it was peculiar that the class was heavily attended by residential GC's, that is, until we got a little further into things.
Both the tone and content of the seminar were heavily weighted to the interests of high-volume residential builders. It was clear they were all there because they wanted to learn what the minimum code requirements were, because that is what they built to, and no more. They wanted to be damned sure they didn't spend money on anything that exceeded code.
I have always taken the approach that the code is the minimum. It is the lowest acceptable standard for safety and, less so, quality. 'Meets code' means you passed, not that you got an A+. Not that I ever had much interest in buying the sorts of houses high-volume spec builders produce to begin with, but after getting this particular insight into their mindset I certainly had my preconceptions reinforced.
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