Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mind The Gap

Slogans, mottos, catchphrases, mantras. Every company develops them to position and establish an image or association for their product or service.

Bridging the Gap Between Broadband and Construction™ is ours at Homepath Products and here is why.

We’re adding the ability to change wiring as a structural element in energy conserving homes....helping homeowners achieve energy efficiency without compromising their desire for advanced technology.

If ever you have lived in a mature home, a house built before the arrival of telephone, cable TV or the internet, you’re familiar with the various methods of upgrading wires to add modern appliances. Approaches range from completely tearing out sections of lath and plaster, rewiring, and wall repair to others like these:

  • Holes drilled in floors to pass wires through
  • Wires running along exterior walls before entering the home
  • Wires stapled to interior walls
  • Surface mounted raceways hiding wires
  • Crown moldings and chair railings hiding wires
  • Wires run beneath carpets and area rugs
  • Wires “fished” through insulation within walls
Given a challenging installation environment all these solutions solve the immediate problem of cable routing and, in some cases, hiding wires that deliver the home entertainment experience we so desire.

If you’re fortunate to live in a home that has permanent “structured wiring” for today’s electronics, security, and data systems, you enjoy seamless connectivity and ease when it comes to adding new consumer electronics. That is, of course, until you find yourself adding a new gadget where one was not planned or, perhaps, when making the inevitable upgrade to the structured wiring driven by the latest “gotta have” gear. Technology does not stand still.

An Emerging Challenge for Homeowners

When designing, building new, or remodeling, focus has shifted toward pragmatic long-term value with less emphasis on cosmetics. Spaciousness is taking a back seat to efficient use of smaller spaces providing more value and utility per cubic foot. An example of this is heightened interest in design for energy conservation. Building smaller to minimize energy required plus the use of highly efficient systems to manage the inside environment. By taking a conservational approach, homeowners see benefit in permanently reduced HVAC costs with low annual maintenance and operational expenses. Occupants experience the intangible perks of living a less cluttered life while society benefits through cumulative reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and delayed climate change. The trend is to simplify and focus on qualitative rather than accumulative living.

Compared to traditional HVAC methods, homeowners opt for new approaches like geothermal heating. The initial cost for such technology is higher with investment justified by weighing installed cost against permanent reductions in energy consumption (30 to 40% more efficient) and reduced annual operating expense.

The Gap

Energy conserving homes use modern forms of insulation like expanding Polyurethane sprayfoam. This material is sprayed into the open wall cavities during construction where it rapidly expands, filling all voids and adhering to all surfaces leaving little opportunity for energy-sapping air infiltration. Unlike traditional forms of insulation, sprayfoams do not degrade or sag with time so their benefits are lasting. The new materials perform well at what they were engineered for but inadvertently add hurdles for future wiring upgrades. When first occupying a space this is not obvious, but it becomes so as the first change is required. “Fishing” wires through tight insulation is time consuming, costly and destructive. A real gap exists between how we design and build and how prepared the homes are to change with the times.

How We Bridge the Gap

Homes are built to stand the test of time, consumer electronics come and go. Knowing this, why do we permanently embed wires within walls? Doing so ignores the likelihood that change will occur well within the lifespan of the structure.

Our aim, at Homepath Products, is to bridge this divide with eXapath. This in-wall system complements best insulation practices while leaving accessible pathways for easy changes to wiring. With it, homeowners can wire where necessary today while leaving the frame of their home ready for change.

Broadband, once a luxury, is now indispensable. The data rates of today’s broadband are the Dial-Up of tomorrow. Technology moves forward at a blistering pace and dramatically faster speeds are being driven to us through our internet providers. The faster they get, the richer our experience becomes, the more frequent we upgrade home systems to support them.

Not only is the eXapath system a breeze to install during construction, it’s equally helpful long after the drywall is up. Unlike traditional conduit systems, eXapath can be located through the drywall using a common stud stud finder. The design lends itself to the addition of new outlets from floor to ceiling without destroying walls, disrupting insulation, or fishing through tight spaces. Providing pathways ensures that the insulation envelope of the home remains intact and efficient for the life of the home. Simple but revolutionary.

If you are building, considering a deep energy retrofit, or major remodel where you will be opening the walls, add eXapath while there and build flexibility for change into your home, value for you to enjoy and pay forward to the next owner.

Does your home bridge the gap?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dealing with Risks (or "What Eeyore Can Teach Us About Sustainability")

For today’s post we touch on the legal environment surrounding sustainable or “green” construction. With any building project, large or small, the law holds a prominent and important place helping define roles for all parties to contracts, clarifying expectations, minimizing risk of disagreement and, finally, serving to help resolve disputes when they do occur.

As society shifts toward environmentally responsible architecture the promise of energy savings, optimized water management, and improved environmental quality become significant in both meaning and implementation. Traditional legal precedents may no longer apply or may fail to recognize the nuances of this important emerging market. Change, in the legal sense, may lead to unforeseen confusion.

I’ve asked a friend and noted construction law attorney, Christopher Hill, to provide a layperson's perspective on the matter. Chris is nationally respected in legal circles and adds value as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional. For those unfamiliar with the LEED AP designation, accreditation requires deep understanding of sustainable design as defined by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Chris is serious about sustainability and assumes leadership with the emergence of “green” in law. He’s also an entertaining writer. Please enjoy the post:

I am a great believer in sustainable building and the benefits (both economic and environmental) that will come with a more universal adoption of sustainable, more resource friendly, building practices. However, and as I’ve said at Musings before, Eeyore is one of my favorite characters from A.A. Milne.  Eeyore, you may remember, is the donkey on whom it’s always raining.  He is the loveable character that always feels like the sky is falling, but plugs along anyway.

I can relate. I think that the economic impact, combined with the moral imperative, make such a goal both worthy and required.  However, certain risks are inherent in any new use of technologies and any new mode of thinking, no matter how worthy.   Some of the issues that will need to be dealt with by contractors, architects, owners and, yes, lawyers, are the following:

  • Insurance- the insurance industry is still catching up with energy related underwriting
  • What standard of care applies to a green building claim?
  • Potential Trademark claims
  • Longer time horizons and contractual or government requirements on energy goals
  • Even the possibility of a broken window.
  • Zoning
While I sometimes feel like we are rushing past these issues without the careful thought that we need to give such risks in our (understandable) enthusiasm and that it is human nature to be overtaken with excitement at a new venture and the vision of a better, cleaner, world, I am cautiously optimistic that these issues will be hammered out (hopefully through contract rather than litigation).  More and more attorneys and building professionals like Mike (@eXapath) are aware of the potential risks, and this is a great start.

The sooner the risks are at least out in the open, if not resolved, the sooner the private sector will get fully behind sustainable construction and building management. Awareness of the issues is more than half the battle.  From this awareness will come solutions.  I fully believe that these solutions will lead to a better built environment and to contractors and subcontractors that no longer find sustainability to be a novelty, but the normal practice.

My hope is that by pulling back on the reins a bit and hopefully forcing a discussion of these issues, I (and my alter ego that down in the dumps donkey) will help lead to a more robust, and less legally risky, building landscape.

Until then, Eeyore and I will keep plugging through the rain.

Christopher Hill is a LEED AP and construction lawyer in Richmond, VA.  He is a member of Virginia’s Legal Elite in Construction Law and authors the Construction Law Musings blog.  You can also follow him on Twitter at  @constructionlaw.