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  • A new home in Dillingham, Alaska, has set a world record for the tightest residential structure ever built, according to a news release from the World Record Academy. The 600-square-foot two-bedroom home, on the Bristol Bay campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, registered an air infiltration rate of 0.05 ACH50, or less than a tenth of the maximum allowed under the Passive House standard.
  • Homeowners who live in energy-efficient properties are less likely to default on their mortgages than those who don't, according to a recent study conducted at the University of North Carolina. Researchers compared a sample of about 71,000 Energy Star and non-Energy Star–rated homes with loan performance data. The more efficient the house, the lower the default risk, with each one-point decrease in a home's HERS index correlating to a 4% decrease in the risk of default. The study controlled for the size and age of the house, neighborhood income, the local unemployment rate, and other factors. However, a fact sheet from the nonprofit Institute for Market Transformation, which funded the research, notes that one possible explanation couldn't be ruled out: that "buyers of energy-efficient homes may be more financially astute than other borrowers."
  • Wood has long been used by humans as a source of fuel and building material, but if a process developed by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic University can be commercialized, it could become a food source as well. According to Science News, bioprocess engineer Y.H. Percival Zhang has used genetically modified bacteria to produce enzymes capable of re-forming cellulose molecules into amylose, an edible starch. Given the high cost of the enzymes, Zhang estimates it would cost about $1 million to produce enough starch to meet one person's carbohydrate needs for 80 days. But with more research, he says, it may be possible within the next decade or so to reduce that figure to 50¢ per person per day.
  • In another victory for big data, two UCLA economists have cross-referenced energy billing data from 280,000 California homeowners with voter-registration records and concluded that liberal households in liberal communities use significantly less electricity than conservative households in conservative communities. When compared with registered Republicans, Democrats consumed 5.1% less power and Green Party members 15.5% less.
  • NAHB and the International Code Council have jointly published a new book for contractors seek­ing to get a handle on the 2012 IRC, which is being adopted by a growing number of jurisdictions nationwide. The illustrated Quick Guide to the 2012 International Residential Code breaks down new requirements in the 2012 code, including provisions for ventilation, wall construction, duct sealing, hurricane protection, and fire safety. It's available in either hard copy or e-book form from NAHB's builderbooks.com.