Sheathing Rollback, NetZero Projects, Methane Misdirection
Weekly news and views about housing-related climate and sustainability issues.
Will North Carolina’s Roll Back of Sheathing Inspections Matter?
Building groups wanted one less inspection, and got their wish legislatively, but critics say the omission could lead to catastrophic losses in the next hurricane. Who’s right?
Sometimes builders clearly take the wrong side of performance issues, or should I say, their associations do (such as opposing low-flow toilets and fire safety sprinklers).
Their resistance to a recent change to the NC building code (House Bill 488) however, has its merits. The N.C. Home Builders Association made at least two good points, when they claimed that inspection of sheathing for proper attachment A: slows down the homebuilding process in a time when more housing is needed, and B. Exposes raw wood (often OSB) to UV and water damage if the inspection is delayed. Wraps can’t be put on until sheathing passes inspection.
The thrust of what the builders argued is that the sheathing inspections under North Carolina’s new building code should not apply to inland areas. Homes inland are less likely to face Cat 4 or Cat 5 winds, and shouldn’t be subject to the same inspection intensity. Critics countered by saying that storms are getting more powerful, and often move inland. That may be true, but it’s tough to support an argument based on forecasts of future risks (although it’s arguably what insurance companies do all day long).
Fastening sheathing for maximum required wind resistance, as shown in the IRC 2018 chart below, means following nailing schedules diligently. Research has shown that nails hold better than staples. Screws (the correct size and coating type) have even more holding power than nails. Oddly, slightly rusty nails grip better than new nails, as oxidation increases their connection strength with the wood.
With the legislation passed, the real test begin. Will contractors continue to install sheathing as specified, without cutting corners?
In the Meantime …
One way to settle this matter more fairly would be to look at the data on sheathing under stress. To do so would require a look at the historical record (how big a role sheathing failure caused in recent hurricanes), a track record of whether fastening has demonstrably improved statewide, and studies of different types of fasteners and how they perform against high winds.
May I suggest that critics of House Bill 488, such as some in the Insurance industry, conduct some detailed analyses of post-mortem performance of inland North Carolina homes built under the current code (without sheathing inspections) that have encountered hurricane winds? Are homes less than 10 years old suffering catastrophic losses in inland areas? If not, it may be that builders are indeed policing themselves with regard to nailing and fasteners. If their track record is poor, however, top-down regulations might need to be put back on the table.
Although Net Zero homes still represent only about 2 percent of all U.S. dwellings, several ambitious new developments aim to shift that balance. Here are three that hit our editorial radar recently.
1. “The Farm”--Dubuque, Iowa
- Location: Dubuque, Iowa.
- Project: Just completed groundbreaking of a new community of net-zero energy homes called "The Farm" by Switch Homes.
- Features: The community will produce as much renewable energy as it consumes over a year. It includes community parks, gardens, trails and other “green” amenities.
- Timeline: Construction has started, and the project should take 3 to 4 years to complete.
- Impact: The Farm fits in to Dubuque's Climate Action Plan to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030.
Switch Homes of Dubuque is offering Net Zero living on a community-wide scale.
2. “Array Sustainable Living,” Orange County, North Carolina
- Location: Orange County, North Carolina.
- Project: Construction of North Carolina's first net-zero community, "Array Sustainable Living."
- Features: Homes will generate enough energy to run the entire household using Energy Star appliances, solar power. They also feature advanced framing and insulating techniques.
- Timeline: The first home is under construction, and a family will move in by November 2023.
- Impact: This small project showcases the viability of and marketability of net-zero energy housing in North Carolina.
3. “Arverne East,” New York, New York
- Location: Arverne and Edgemere neighborhoods, Queens' Rockaway Peninsula, New York City.
- Project: Arverne East, a 116-acre oceanfront site development aiming for net-zero energy.
- Features: Includes a 35-acre nature preserve, 1,650 units of housing (80% affordable), retail corridor, beachfront hotel, community center, and outdoor public spaces.
- Timeline: The first phase has closed, focusing on a $30.3 million nature preserve and Nature Center.
- Impact: Sets a new standard for resilient and energy-efficient development in coastal areas.
Arverne East will offer seaside living with Net Zero performance.
Evidence suggests that a secretive board of directors pocketed millions in HOA dues, and the spending continues, as lawyers attempt to unravel various schemes.
Petty dictators. That’s how HOA boards are often described, and this scandal in Miami reinforces that generalization. It’ a tale fit for a Netflix mini-series, of rather dull people letting the flush of money and influence in their little neighborhood go to their heads.
According to the Miami Herald:
“The Hammocks is a case study in what can go wrong when HOA leaders go rogue, and what little recourse homeowners in Florida have to banish them and regain control. “It’s like we exchanged one dictator for another,” said Carlos Villalobos, a longtime Hammocks resident who is serving on the new board. “The Hammocks is a big cow to milk. Our concern is that the receiver is eating up the money he hopes to win back. He’s been given a blank check with no deadline.”
The article notes that the HOA is currently paying for “14-15 lawyers, plus paralegals, and lots of lawsuits.”
Where did the dues money go? According to the Herald, they ”stopped holding public meetings, refused to release financial information, conducted elections homeowners believe were rigged, invalidated a recall election in which they were defeated, neglected maintenance of facilities and landscaping, raised fees 300-400 percent last year, and harassed residents with foreclosure warnings, liens and code violation fines.”
Where Green Goes to Die
I’ve never been a fan of HOAs to begin with, especially large ones like the Hammocks. Give a bunch of unqualified, untrained people, often with little legal understanding of privacy or property rights or the difference between personal choice and dictating aesthetics, and you’re asking for trouble. They’re often on the wrong side of sustainability, too, pushing back against solar panels, food-producing gardens, advocating for excessive lawn maintenance and generally raising the CO2 bar due to cookie cutter standards of maintenance and appearance.
Methane Eating Bacteria Provide Cover for Diet Denialism
Scientists are reporting on bacteria that “eat” methane, but wouldn’t it be easier to remove the largest source of methane, and get healthier in the process?
The science news this week has been full of new about bacteria that eat methane. This falls in to the dangerous category of “Keep living like there’s no tomorrow! No sacrifice needed! Science will fix it” that big industry loves to trumpet.
But see if you can spot the faulty thinking in this excerpt from The Guardian:
“Bacteria that rapidly eat methane at the higher concentrations found around cattle herds, etc., could make a huge contribution to cutting methane emissions, especially from tropical agriculture,” Euan Nisbet, professor of Earth sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London.”
Why so much emphasis on bacteria versus the root causes of methane pollution? Because the former means we don’t have to DO anything, and latter exposes the fact that human beings are not willing to change to plant-based diets, even as evidence grows that it could save shift the balance in manmade pollution. In fact, a study at Stanford suggests that “If animal agriculture were phased out over 15 years and all other greenhouse-gas emissions were to continue unabated, the phase-out would create a 30-year pause in net greenhouse gas emissions and offset almost 70 percent of the heating effect of those emissions through the end of the century.”
So sure, scientific breakthroughs are great, and adding methane gobbling bacteria to the nation’s aging landfills, for example, might be a way to correct some of our disposal sins of the past. But human behavior is the real pollution engine. But let’s not get starry eyed about treating the illness, when we have the means (but lack the will) to prevent the illness altogether.
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