Not long ago I was sitting in an educational session for builders in upstate New York. The speaker was a retired code official turned real-estate inspector, addressing the audience on recent changes to the energy code, also known as Chapter 11 of the Residential Code of New York State. "Recent" in this case meant the 2010 edition, because the state hasn't yet settled on adoption of the 2012 IECC. (Rumor has it that the new air-sealing standard that lowers the tested air-leakage rate from 7 ACH50 to 3 ACH50 is one of the primary sticking points.)

The speaker had a PowerPoint slide showing an exterior wall section that looked like an illustration out of an old Audel’s Carpenters and Builders Guide, and he had just finished explaining the “new” insulation requirements for climate zones 5 and 6, and the differences between cavity insulation and continuous insulation. He then pointed to the...

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