Air Sealing Best Practices and Code Compliance for Multi-Family Area Separation Walls


Air sealing in buildings reduces energy consumption and in multifamily settings it can also reduce the migration of noise and odors.  But these same separation walls in multifamily buildings are also important fire rated assemblies which separate the units.  In this December 2016 webinar sponsored by US DOE’s Building America research program, the presenters cover the basics of UL fire rated assemblies, explore how energy and fire code requirements can cause conflicts, and describe best practices for air sealing.

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A New Way to Meet the Energy Code

Joe Nebbia of Newport Partners was interviewed by the Journal of Light Construction as their content expert in a recent article published in July 2017. “A New Way to Meet the Energy Code” speaks about following the prescriptive code versus a performance pathway to meet the residential energy code standards. Joe is quoted a number of times throughout the article. Read the full article below.

A New Way to Meet the Energy Code

By Ted Cushman, Published by the Journal of Light Construction

Ever since the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index was introduced by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), people have been talking about whether builders should be able to use HERS as a way to comply with the building code. In some states, that’s starting to happen. The International Code Council (ICC) voted in 2013 to create an Energy Rating Index (ERI) pathway to code compliance, based on the HERS index. To allow its inclusion in the code, RESNET has also converted the formerly proprietary HERS index to a consensus standard maintained under the open stakeholder procedures of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

A permissive option rather than a requirement, the ERI pathway lets builders use a HERS rating to comply with the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) if they wish, and so far 10 states have adopted versions of the IECC that include the ERI. If you work in a jurisdiction that has adopted the 2015 edition of the IECC, you can get a new house approved by obtaining a HERS rating that meets the ERI threshold for your climate zone, specified in a table in the code.

For help understanding the options, JLC turned to an expert: Joe Nebbia, a code consultant with Newport Partners, based in Davidsonville, Md. Nebbia, who teaches comprehensive energy-code education sessions for builders, has been participating in a multistate Department of Energy (DOE) study to assess whether education outreach can boost the industry’s compliance levels and improve the performance of houses. Maryland was one of the first states in the nation to adopt the 2015 IECC, and it does offer the ERI pathway to builders. Nebbia walked us through the various options for code compliance under the 2015 IECC, starting with the basic “prescriptive pathway.”

“In Chapter 4 of the residential code,” said Nebbia, “you will see a whole lot of requirements that are basically a checklist. You put in this much insulation or more, you use windows with this rating or better, you use this much efficient lighting—that sort of thing.” If you follow the prescription, you pass.

But if you know what you’re doing—or if you have expert help—you can choose to follow the “simulated performance alternative” pathway to compliance, which has existed in Section 405 of the IECC for many years. To take that pathway, you have to model your proposed building using appropriate software and compare the model of your plan against the model of a “twin home” specced out to comply with all the mandatory requirements and prescriptive measures in the base code. If the model says your proposed building will have energy costs equivalent to (or lower than) the prescriptively compliant baseline house, then your proposal will be approved—but at inspection time, your local inspector will want to verify that you actually built what you drew.


The performance pathway offers trade-offs, but only in certain defined areas. Many parts of the prescriptive code are also “mandatory”—meaning that even if you follow the simulated performance alternative, you can’t get out of those requirements. So, for example, Nebbia explained, the band joist of a wood-framed floor system always has to be insulated to the code-required minimum, and air-sealed as specified in the code—that’s mandatory. On the other hand, slab perimeter insulation is prescriptive, but it isn’t mandatory—so if you follow the prescription, you will pass, but if you don’t follow it, you might still pass. Suppose it’s impractical for some reason to install rigid foam insulation on the edge of the slab up to the top of the concrete, as prescribed in the code. With the simulated performance alternative, you may be able to omit the slab edge insulation from your design, as long as the modeling substantiates that your house will perform as well as a baseline house.

The simulated performance alternative is more flexible than the prescriptive pathway, but it is still limited and constrained, Nebbia explained. Ever since the 2009 edition of the IECC, for example, the code has not allowed builders to trade off equipment efficiency against envelope requirements. “So let’s say I plan to install a super-efficient ground source heat pump or something like that,” said Nebbia. “Well, the building that I’m being compared against also gets a super-efficient ground source heat pump. I don’t get any credit.”


Enter the ERI. Written into the 2015 IECC, the ERI “was mainly a change that was requested by the larger production builders,” said Nebbia, “because so many of them were already getting an energy rating done on their homes. The goal was to have a path that uses that same energy rating system to show code compliance.”

Like the simulated performance alternative, the ERI pathway does not get a builder off the hook for mandatory items in the code. But it does expand the available trade-offs, said Nebbia, including HVAC: “Unlike section 405, you can use heating, cooling, and water heating—basically any load in the building—and take credit for that efficiency.” There are backstops, though: You can’t go below the minimum insulation requirements from the 2009 IECC.

So far, builders have been slow to take up the ERI option. One reason, said energy rater Gary Boyer of EDGE Energy in Beltsville, Md., is that most advanced builders can already pass code easily using simpler methods. Instead of using advanced software such as REM/Rate to model their buildings (which requires time-consuming data entry), builders can show compliance using the much more rudimentary REScheck app (a free download from the DOE). Another reason, Nebbia suggested, is that the HERS rating thresholds set by the ERI are quite a bit more stringent than the rating a house would earn just by complying with prescriptive code. In the 2018 edition of the energy code, he said, the step up won’t be so sharp.

This high-performance townhouse project, although precertified as a Passive House building, didn’t comply with Maryland’s prescriptive energy code.
This high-performance townhouse project, although precertified as a Passive House building, didn’t comply with Maryland’s prescriptive energy code.
Some of the windows, chosen for a winter solar heating contribution, exceeded the state’s maximum Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC).
Some of the windows, chosen for a winter solar heating contribution, exceeded the state’s maximum Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC).


So far, Gary Boyer said, he has been asked only once to help a builder use the ERI option—for the townhome project shown on page 29, built by developers Jessica Pitts and John Miller of Flywheel Development, based in Washington, D.C. “They built these super-cool modular net-zero row houses,” said Boyer. “The walls were like R-50—it was way over the top. But REScheck was penalizing them because the windows didn’t meet what it wanted. So I had to model it for them with REM/Rate.”

Pitts and Miller described the problem to JLC in a phone call. The building, it turns out, was precertified as a Passive House and designed using the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) to meet the stringent airtightness and energy-conservation specifications of the Passive House program. Clearly, the building exceeded code.

“But we had a challenge around the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) factor for the windows,” Miller explained. “Our south-facing glass is designed to be oriented in such a way that it does admit light in the winter to help warm the house. That’s what the Passive House Planning Package expected us to do, so we went with that because we needed that solar heat gain in the wintertime for heating. And it was not code compliant because it didn’t meet the minimum SHGC factor for the code.”

In the design, most of the south-facing glass is sheltered under front porch roofs that will block summer sun, but allow low-angle winter sun in—a smart passive-solar technique. But REScheck couldn’t capture that benefit, and the prescriptive pathway in the code wouldn’t allow the trade-off.

Maryland has an industrial and modular building program that regulates plan review and inspections of modular projects, Miller said, and Flywheel is using a modular manufacturer that works directly with a third-party plan reviewer. “They needed to see something in their package that checked the right box, and we couldn’t check that box,” Miller said. “So we needed the REM/Rate model.”

Passive House buildings use far less energy than average code-compliant houses. But you don’t have to be that far beyond code to get value from the ERI compliance pathway. Joe Nebbia said he expects to see more mainstream builders picking up the approach. “It’s not here to save the builder who has no understanding of energy performance and can’t meet the prescriptive code,” Nebbia said. “It is going to be used by a lot of big builders who have a standard product where they know where that HERS rating is going to be coming in, and they know that they can get efficiencies by trading it off, but they are much better than code minimum. It also might be used by builders who are doing a lot of above-code programs like Energy Star, because they know that they’ve got an efficient product, and this just simplifies their code compliance.”

Photos by Flywheel Development


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The Industry’s First Smart Range Hood

U.S. Department of EnergyKitchens are a principal source of some of the most harmful pollutants generated in the home. Kitchen range hoods can mitigate the impact of these pollutants, but range hoods can be ineffective at capturing pollutants and are often not used either because of noise or because occupants are unaware of when ventilation is needed. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, Newport Partners, in partnership with Broan-NuTone, will develop and validate a “smart” range hood that senses pollutants and automatically operates to remove the contaminants efficiently. The proposed smart range hood will be quiet (<1 sone), five times more energy efficient than today’s ENERGY STAR® models, and will capture nearly 100% of pollutants.


A smart range hood can improve residential indoor air quality (IAQ), extend the lives of residents, and save billions of dollars in health-related costs annually. By effectively addressing a major indoor pollutant source with a new smart range hood at a target price point competitive with the intermediate market for standard kitchen range hoods, Newport Partners and Broan-NuTone will enable residential building envelopes to be built tighter while still preserving healthy, acceptable IAQ.

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Newport Speaks at National Fire Protection Association Annual Conference

Sam_NFPA-conference2017On Monday, June 5th, Sam Bowles of Newport Partners spoke at the 2017 NFPA Conference and Expo in Boston, MA. Recently, Newport had completed a study on behalf of NFPA regarding the perceptions of different stakeholder groups in state’s that have mandatory requirements for home fire sprinkler systems. At the conference, Mr. Bowles discussed some of the findings of that study and how these results can be leveraged for other state’s that might be looking to adopt requirements for sprinkler systems in new construction.

The debate on whether or not to adopt code requirements mandating sprinklers has been ongoing across the country for a long time now. In 2006, sprinklers were included in the International Residential Code (IRC) but were added as an optional appendix and in 2008 they became a standard requirement. However, since being included in the IRC, only two states, Maryland and California, have adopted statewide sprinkler requirements. The debate still continues across the nation, with fire protection professionals heavily advocating for sprinkler requirements while being met with pushback from some other stakeholder groups.

What made this study interesting is that nothing like it has been done before. The majority of previous studies related to home fire sprinkler systems looked at the cost impact, but until we had states that had experience without mandatory requirements, we could not look at how some of the more common perceptions that hindered widespread adoption actually played out. Maryland and California both adopted requirements in 2011, so at the time the study was conducted, they had nearly 5 years of experience in living and working with residential sprinkler systems. (Many areas of these states actually had sprinkler requirements long before they became statewide mandates.)

Below is a summary of some of the key findings from the study. You can read the full report here.



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The Internet of Things


What is the Internet of Things (IoT) and how does this relate to Newport’s LED project? The IoT is the interconnection of any device for communication purposes either wired or wirelessly. Basically the devices would be able to sense or collect data that in turn generates some kind of response to the acquired data. With LED lighting, since LEDs are essentially computer chips that glow, the range of possibilities for the Internet of Things is almost limitless. We need lighting in our buildings so why not take advantage of the abundance of lighting, especially in commercial buildings

“Beyond simple illumination, this “Internet of Buildings” built on top of next-generation lighting systems will forever change the way we interact with the spaces in which we live.

In your kids’ elementary school, biometric sensors will track students’ alertness, subtly shifting spectrum to automatically boost their focus any time it starts to wane.

Around the corner at the grocery store, beacons embedded in connected fixtures will track every movement you (or your mobile phone) make — from produce to dairy — beaming coupons at you along the way.

streaming-data-codeEven the lights around your home will be intelligent, learning from and responding to the steady stream of data generated by your wearable devices — using light to help de-stress you after a long day or to perk you up on a cold, dark winter morning.

All of these scenarios (and more like them) are just around the corner. Intelligent lighting will be one of the first markets to realize the dream of the Internet of Things — millions (if not billions) of connected devices, silently sensing and acting on our behalf.” Excerpted from

As you can see there is a lot of buzz about what the Internet of Things can be and how it can help simplify our lives. Though major concern about interconnecting all of the devices is security. Would it be possible to access a network through one of these internet enabled devices?

While still in it’s infancy, we will see how the market accepts and adopts this newer technology.

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LEDs Highlight Open House in Stillwater, NY

Visitors of this past weekend’s open house event in Stillwater, NY left very impressed with the 100% LED lighting system inside the new home from Belmonte Builders.  The EnergyStar certified home is one of five homes participating in a NYSERDA Solid-State Lighting Demonstration Project throughout New York.   Each home includes a 100% LED lighting system and is monitored for energy usage and costs for a minimum 9 month period.

matt led

A couple listens as Matt Evans (Newport) explains the savings produced to date for the 5 homes involved in the Solid-State Lighting Demonstration Project. 

Throughout the daylong event, visitors were invited to tour the home and learn about the various LED lighting installed.  Newport Ventures was on hand to conduct lighting demonstrations and discuss the various benefits of LED technology.  Also on display was Lutron’s Caséta Wireless control system, which is installed throughout the home providing the homeowners with added convenience, aesthetics, security, and savings.

Of the five homes included in this project, the Brown residence has the largest lighting system with a total of 155 bulbs and fixtures installed.  (By comparison, the home with the second most bulbs/fixtures hadonly 97).  Included in these are a variety of advanced LED technologies, such as under cabinet lighting and surface mount LEDs.  With such a large number of lights in the home, the use of highly efficient LED lights, as well as the Lutron Caséta control system are critical to helping the homeowners keep their electric bills low.

While only two months’ worth of data has been collected, early results show the potential for savings to exceed $250 in just one year!  The total cost for lighting during the months of December and January was $25.26.  By comparison, a typical code built home (assuming 50% incandescent and 50% high efficacy bulbs) would have cost anywhere from $70-$97, depending on bulb specs.  The home will continue to be monitored for the next seven months with the final results to be summarized in a final report for NYSERDA.

Learn more about this project and the benefits of LED lighting by visiting our project page!

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LEDs Provide More Than Just Energy Savings

By now, most consumers have heard that LED lighting is supposed to be long-lasting, highly efficient lighting.  Imagine only changing your light bulb every 20 years or so!  The data we have collected so far in our NYSERDA LED Lighting Demonstration Project clearly supports those claims.  The LEDs are performing as expected with regards to efficiency and cost savings, but again, we expected that to take place.  You can read our project update report for more info on consumption, costs, and savings.

Unfortunately, efficiency is not enough to drive market growth of LED lighting technology.  If consumers don’t like them, they won’t buy them.  If there is no demand for them, builders and electricians won’t spec them to be included in their homes.  Even as code requirements are pushing the market towards “high efficacy” lighting, a recent U.S. Department of Energy Residential Field Study shows a significant percentage of homes nationwide are not meeting this requirement.

Many consumers are wary of energy efficient lighting products, partially due to bad experiences with CFLs, and are the savings are not enough to persuade them to take the LED leap.  But LED technology has seen rapid advancement and product expansion in recent years and their capabilities and benefits far exceed simple energy and cost savings.  When Newport first started this project, the number of different types of


LED Edison Bulb

bulbs and fixtures was extremely limited.  That was just two short years ago!  Fast-forward to today, and our options are virtually limitless.  Bulbs and fixtures come with all different specifications for brightness (lumens), color (kelvin), and efficacy (lumens/watt).  They are more compatible with smart light systems and have capabilities that far exceed than their predecessors.

And what’s most important is that when experiencing LED lighting first hand, the vast majority of people not only like the LEDs, but they actually prefer them to other options.  Our Consumer Perception Report highlights the results of several lighting survey’s conducted over the first year of the project.  The results clearly show that most participants (over 60%) prefer the LED light when compared side by side with an equivalent incandescent and CFL bulb.

Ok, but lighting in a small box is a lot different than lighting a big room or an entire home.  As part of the project, we asked our participating builders and homeowners to provide some feedback about the lighting systems in their homes.  Here’s what they had to say:


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Homeowner Testimonials

“We tried CFLs in our old house and they would burn out in less than a year.  We are very happy with the LED’s that are in this home.  We like and use the dimmers all the time. We would have not chosen dimmer switches to start but, since we have them now we really enjoy using them. We are especially fond of the under cabinet lights, which we like to use at night, and the LED lights in the ceilings.”  (Homeowners- Canadaigua, NY)  

“The LED lighting and Lutron system rocks! It was extremely easy to install and program. As for the convenience, life changing. You approach leaving and coming home in a whole new manor. We never forget to turn a light off, or struggle to find a switch on the way in with our hands full. Going to bed has changed as well. It will change the way you think about moving from room to room.”  (Homeowners- Saratoga, NY) 

“I really like the quality of light and that it is low cost.  The lighting in our new home is much better than the lighting in our previous house.  Overall, our experience with the LEDs has been very positive, it’s low-cost, modern, and easy to use. I will continue to purchase LEDs in the future and would definitely recommend them to friends and family.” (Homeowners- New Paltz, NY)

Builder Testimonials

“The LED lights in the home exceeded all of our expectations.  The whole process, from design to installation was very smooth and the lights really make the home look beautiful.  The Lutron Caseta control system is awesome and so easy to install.  We are so impressed with the system we are now offering it to our other homeowners.” (Fedyk Builders- Fairport, NY)

The homeowners in New Paltz, NY were so happy with the lighting in their home and the Lutron Caséta system that the builder (Greenhill Contracting) now offers it as a package available with every
home.  Since, completing the home for this project, the builder now installs 100% LED lighting in all homes.

“Since installing the LED lights in 20 Cooper St., I install LED 100% in all of my homes.” (Greenhill Contracting- New Paltz, NY)

Check out our most recent update for the LED Demonstration Project and see how the homes are performing in regards to energy and cost savings.  To learn more about this project, and for more information on Residential LED Lighting, visit our project page.

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