By Tara Compton Half the summer's gone, so if you were planning to take advantage of those couple extra hours of daylight each day by upgrading the tech solutions in your home, you'd better get moving. Today's innovations include motorized window shades, do-it-yourself alarm systems and thermostats that learn your temperature preferences, all of which can be controlled remotely through your mobile device. As a construction professional, you've got a leg up compared on other homeowners when it comes to DIY projects – so check out what's new and exciting in home technology solutions. Here are some tips to working your way through what's out there:

Motorized Window Shades

Motorized window shades enable you to control how much light you let in or keep out of your home, regardless if you're home or not. You can use a mobile app to check and set your window shades throughout the day, provide light to your pets during certain periods, protect your furniture from the blazing summer sun or set the shades to open a few minutes before you arrive home. Learn more about motorized shades at the Customer Electronic Design and Installation Association site.

Wireless Security Systems

With more people choosing to use apps to control home automation, a wireless security system makes good sense today if a homeowner travels or is away from home frequently. Violent crime and property crimes continue to rise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, homeowners can have extra peace of mind with a wireless security system. With a mobile app, you control your home's security system from anywhere in the world. Wireless systems also manage your security through power outages and storms. Monitoring systems are made to continue to receive signals wirelessly, even if the neighborhood's power has been knocked out.

Smart Energy

This same mobile technology explosion enables homeowners to tinker with the amount of energy a home uses during the course of a week or month through use of a smart thermostat, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat. Controlled through Wi-Fi, this thermostat "learns" the temperatures you prefer and adjusts itself accordingly. Homeowners can check energy stats, wattage amounts and cost savings with various changes to energy plans. All of this is gleaned and controlled right from one's mobile device.

Tara Compton researches environmental sustainability, DIY home repair and holistic health and wellness practices. 
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By Frances "J.R." Babineau

Continuous insulation (CI) has quickly become the rule when it comes to meeting the higher efficiency requirements mandated by the most recent International Energy Conservation Code. As exterior foam sheathing becomes a more common means to achieve CI, it is important to understand the details that can detract from CI’s effectiveness.

Here are five considerations:

Avoid using just one insulating material While traditional cavity insulation is great, batts and rolls alone cannot prevent thermal bridging. Solution: A combination of exterior foam sheathing and interior cavity insulation ensures a seamless thermal barrier across the structure, making a great CI solution.

Properly install cavity insulation Cutting corners on the cavity insulation will decrease the overall effectiveness of the entire wall system. Batts and rolls, or spray foam are good options, but standard installation best practices must be followed. Solution: If installing batts and exterior sheathing, ensure the batts are trimmed properly and aren’t compressed into tight spaces. Interior cavity insulation should touch all six faces of the structure — the front, back and all four sides. If using spray foam, fill the full depth of the cavity to ensure proper R-value – but don’t overspray. If cavities are overfilled, contractors must trim or grind down the foam prior to gypsum board installation.

Choose the right sheathing material Not all materials are created equal: Be sure to use the material that will lead to minimum complications and maximum performance Solution: Of foam sheathing options, XPS and polyiso are the two most popular. XPS foams are durable, are less permeable and offer an R-value of about 5 per inch. At an R-value of about 6 per inch, polyiso foam is one of the most thermally efficient insulations on the market. Polyiso also contributes to a more fire-safe structure as it will not melt even at very high temperatures.  This makes for a great solution for commercial building.

Right-size and air-seal windows Window frames and panes are very conducive. Accounting for 25 percent (or more) of the total area in commercial buildings, they can constitute up to half the energy loss. Solution: Consider reducing the window-to-wall ratio and avoid floor-to-ceiling windows. Instead, design window locations and selection to maximize effective daylighting and views. It’s win-win: people still benefit from the sunlight and the view but the thermal bridges between the sill and the floor can be reduced with insulation. Also, note that gaps around windows should be air-sealed with foam, not fiberglass.

Make balconies energy smart Balconies are a high-demand element in commercial buildings, but they can be a thermal nightmare. Solution: Don’t create the balcony simply by extending the floor slab to project off the side of the building. Instead, create a balcony that is separated from the building structure using steel connectors and foam blocks to secure the balcony to the building. Or, consider using a less conductive material such as wood or wood-plastic composites or a standalone balcony connected to ground.  

As a building scientist for Johns Manville, Frances "J.R." Babineau is responsible for research and technology development of building products and applications, with an emphasis on indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency.  He has been with Johns Manville for 16 years and is actively involved in standards development through ASHRAE and the Building Performance Institute (BPI).  

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By Ron Antevy

As a designer or contractor, you want repeat customers, since multiple projects with the same facility owner will almost always result in higher profit.  Why is this the case?  For one, the sales costs go down with a repeat customer.  An element of trust is built between you and the owner so subsequent projects don’t have to be solely about cost, ensuring that you maintain your margins. Finally, as you gain experience with the same owner, the operational “unknowns” and risks are reduced. How do you go about increasing the odds that your customer will return for more? When the project is all said and done, the owner needs to look back and say that the scope, cost and schedule met their expectations. Try these three things during the project to standout with the owner and really "wow" them.

  1. Over-communicate: Provide regular status updates and report good news, as well as bad news. No job is perfect and owners know it better than most.  Are you sharing the whole story?  In the absence of information, people will naturally make assumptions, usually bad ones. Proactively communicate with clients, eliminating the chance of a bad assumption.
  2. Be Transparent:  The more information you are willing to share, the more vulnerable you become. That doesn’t sound like a good thing, but vulnerability builds trust. People do business with people they trust. For more on this, check out this book.
  3. Accept Accountability: If you build a reputation as someone who is willing to be held accountable, again you build trust. Even if that accountability results in a problem or two on the job, you will come out ahead in the long run.  On the other hand, if you spend your time and energy figuring out ways to cover your behind, you won’t have to worry about accountability – but don’t expect future work.

Ron Antevy is president and CEO of e-Builder, a cloud-based construction program management software provider.

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