Remodels Use Foam for More 'Energy Beautiful' Walls

Originally published by: Palo Alto WeeklyAugust 30, 2019

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Remodels, new builds and add-ons are booming. In July alone, the City of Palo Alto issued about 200 building permits for various home upgrades, everything from simple lighting improvements and installation of electric car chargers, to kitchen and bathroom updates, to the full deconstruction and rebuilding of a home.

So what goes on behind those (brand-new) closed doors in the neighborhood? Sometimes what's not visible is what makes the biggest impact when renovating a home: whether it's literally hidden away in the walls and ceiling, or more figuratively in the careful choice of materials and finishes — even in prepping for the technology that will keep it all running smoothly.

We talked to three local architects about about some of the newer materials, ideas and practices they've been incorporating in their work.

Tali Hardonag: Build and finish sustainably

Palo Alto architect Tali Hardonag, who has worked extensively on green building projects, draws on sustainable practices in her work, which among other considerations, includes the sourcing of materials.

Many clients are interested in incorporating LEDs or solar panels into their remodel, Hardonag said. To get the maximum benefit of these energy-saving components, she emphasizes making the home itself energy efficient.

Higher-grade insulation — and the variety of systems for delivering it, from framing alternatives like structural insulated panels (SIPs) and other wall systems — play an important role in increasing energy efficiency. She said that more efficient insulation, such as spray foam, which is denser and creates a better air seal, also offers the opportunity for smaller framing. For example, she noted that previously, a vaulted ceiling would require framing out significant additional space just to accommodate traditional insulation but now she can build it with a shallower frame.

In addition to better insulation, Hardonag draws on an array of materials and strategies to make homes more energy efficient, including "cool roofs, high-energy value windows and glass doors, appliances and light fixtures that are energy efficient."

Cool roofs deflect the sun's heat and can save energy. Materials used for cool roofing include some composition shingles, depending on their makeup, and metal. Roofs made of metal offer additional benefits in easily accommodating solar panels and in being recyclable, if homeowners ever want to remove the roof.

Davide Giannella: Choose the right materials

Thoughtful choice of materials can put workhorse elements like roofing, fixtures and climate control systems and insulation on the cutting edge of architectural trends.

"I'd say greener products, special synthetic woods, modern cabinetry from Europe, newer HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), more sophisticated insulation, metal roofs, computerized appliances and perhaps acrylic panels (are the future of building)," said architect Davide Giannella, of Acadia Architecture in Los Gatos.

One of Giannella's recent projects, located off Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto, was a complete teardown and rebuild of the existing home. The five-bedroom house features imported cabinets, laser-cut metal panels for railings, and, to improve energy efficiency, rigid foam insulation and radiant ceiling panels for heating and cooling.

Giannella kept to the traditional roofline of the home's original colonial style, but modernized it with standing-seam metal roofing. "It lasts forever, it's fireproof, and it's sharp and modern. It's more expensive in the beginning, but it doesn't need to be repainted or refinished," he said.

Metal makes a sturdy roof, but it also provided this home with exterior railings that are both secure and striking. Laser cutting creates delicate, intricate patterns in metal panels that are thin, but still strong enough to be functional, Giannella said, noting that the process lends itself to customization. Powder-coating the metal means it won’t rust.

Please review any more energy efficiency technical resources found at

For additional information, please review the following articles, as well as the previous videos in this series:

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  2. New Wall Design Calculator for Commercial Energy Code Compliance

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  3. Energy Code Math Lesson: Why an R-25 Wall is Not Equal to a R-20+5ci
  4. Continuous Insulation Solves Energy Code Math Problem
  5. Presentation: What Is the Value of Continuous Insulation?


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