Title:
Dynamically ventilated exterior wall assembly
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A dynamically ventilated exterior wall includes a sealed exterior wall assembly and a ventilation assembly fluidly coupled to the exterior wall assembly. The exterior wall assembly includes an interior wall portion and an opposing exterior wall portion, and insulation and a flexible porous grid disposed between the interior and exterior wall portions. The ventilation assembly includes a head end unit coupled to air supply conduit(s) and air return conduit(s), where each of the conduits communicates with the porous grid of the exterior wall assembly. The head and unit is configured to supply conditioned air through the air supply conduit(s) to the exterior wall assembly and remove humidity from the exterior wall assembly through the air return conduit(s).



Inventors:
Stender, Mark Larry (Norwood Young America, MN, US)
Application Number:
11/252350
Publication Date:
05/03/2007
Filing Date:
10/17/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E04B1/70
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
FIGUEROA, LUZ ADRIANA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
DICKE, BILLIG & CZAJA (MINNEAPOLIS, MN, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A dynamically ventilated exterior wall system comprising: a sealed exterior wall assembly including an interior wall portion and an opposing exterior wall portion, and insulation and a flexible porous grid disposed between the interior and exterior wall portions; and a ventilation assembly fluidly coupled to the exterior wall assembly, the ventilation assembly including a head end unit coupled to at least one air supply conduit and at least one air return conduit, each of the conduits communicating with the porous grid, wherein the head end unit is configured to supply conditioned air through the at least one air supply conduit to the exterior wall assembly and remove humidity from the exterior wall assembly through the at least one air return conduit.

2. The dynamically ventilated exterior wall system of claim 1, wherein the insulation is disposed within the wall assembly adjacent to the interior wall portion, and the porous grid is disposed between the insulation and an inner surface of the exterior wall portion.

3. The dynamically ventilated exterior wall system of claim 1, wherein the flexible porous grid comprises: a core defining at least one air passageway communicating between the insulation and the exterior wall portion and at least one air passageway extending along the core between the interior and exterior wall portions.

4. The dynamically ventilated exterior wall system of claim 3, wherein the at least one air supply conduit and at least one air return conduit communicate with the core of the flexible porous grid.

5. The dynamically ventilated exterior wall system of claim 1, wherein the ventilation assembly defines a plurality of zones, each zone comprising at least one air supply conduit, at least one air return conduit, and at least one humidity sensor communicating with the at least one air return conduit.

6. The dynamically ventilated exterior wall system of claim 5, wherein each humidity sensor of each zone is coupled to the head end unit, and further wherein the head end unit is configured to control a supply of conditioned air through the air supply conduits to control a relative humidity of the exterior wall assembly.

7. The dynamically ventilated exterior wall system of claim 1, wherein the head end unit comprises a heating ventilating air conditioning (HVAC) unit.

8. A method of dynamically ventilating a sealed exterior wall that includes an interior wall portion and an opposing exterior wall portion and insulation adjacent to the interior wall portion, the method comprising: disposing a porous grid between the insulation and the exterior wall portion to define an air space within the sealed exterior wall; supplying conditioned air through the air space; and removing humidity from the air space.

9. The method of claim 8, wherein disposing a porous grid between the insulation and the exterior wall portion comprises disposing a flexible porous grid including a core defining at least one air passageway communicating between the insulation and the exterior wall portion, and at least one of a longitudinal and a lateral air channel extending along the core.

10. The method of claim 9, wherein supplying conditioned air through the air space and removing humidity from the air space are performed by a ventilation assembly having a head end unit coupled to at least one air supply conduit and at least one air return conduit, the conduits communicating with the core.

11. The method of claim 10, wherein the ventilation assembly comprises a zoned ventilation assembly, each zone including: at least one air supply conduit extending between a blower of the head end unit and the core; at least one air return conduit extending between the core and the head end unit; and a humidity sensor coupled between the at least one air return conduit and the head end unit.

12. The method of claim 11, wherein removing humidity from the air space comprises removing humidity from the air space of one zone, including: pressurizing the porous grid by blowing air from the head end unit through the air supply conduit into the core; removing air from the air space through the air return conduit; sensing a humidity level of the air removed from the air space with the humidity sensor; and controlling a flow of low humidity conditioned air from the head end unit through the air supply conduit into the core.

13. The method of claim 12, wherein controlling a flow of low humidity conditioned air through the air supply conduit comprises: cycling from a first zone to a second zone of a plurality of zones in the sealed exterior wall a flow of low humidity conditioned air from the head end unit into the core of a respective one of the plurality of zones.

14. An exterior wall system comprising: an exterior wall assembly including an interior wall portion and an opposing exterior wall portion, and a flexible porous grid disposed between the interior and exterior wall portions; and means for transporting moisture through the flexible porous grid and out of the exterior wall assembly.

15. The exterior wall system of claim 14, wherein the means for transporting moisture through the flexible porous grid comprises a ventilation assembly including a pressurized air source coupled to the porous grid.

16. The exterior wall system of claim 14, wherein the means for transporting moisture through the flexible porous grid comprises a ventilation assembly including a driven air return conduit coupled to the porous grid.

17. The exterior wall system of claim 14, wherein the exterior wall assembly forms an insulated exterior wall of a building, the building including a heating ventilating air conditioning (HVAC) system, and the means for transporting moisture through the flexible porous grid fluidly couples the HVAC system to the porous grid.

18. The exterior wall system of claim 14, wherein the means for transporting moisture through the flexible porous grid comprises a ventilation assembly including at least one humidity sensor configured for sensing a relative humidity level between the interior and exterior wall portions.

19. The exterior wall system of claim 18, further comprising: a programmable controller coupled to the at least one humidity sensor, the programmable controller configured to activate an air conditioning head end unit of the ventilation assembly in response to data read from the at least one humidity sensor.

20. The exterior wall system of claim 18, wherein the means for transporting moisture through the flexible porous grid comprises a ventilation assembly including at least one air supply conduit, at least one air return conduit, and at least one humidity sensor communicating with the air return conduit.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This Utility patent application is related to commonly assigned and concurrently filed Utility patent application Ser. No. ______, entitled EXTERIOR WALL ASSEMBLY having Attorney Docket Number M420.101.101, and which is herein incorporated by reference.

BACKGROUND

Recent improvements in the construction of homes and buildings have resulted in the fabrication of highly energy efficient structures. New construction materials, improved construction methods, and more stringent local and state building codes have all combined to provide highly energy efficient structures. In particular, exterior walls that are insulated and sealed, made according to code, and with the latest construction materials, increase the energy efficiency of these structures.

Insulated and sealed wall structures (i.e., “airtight” structures) reduce heat loss by substantially preventing drafts that remove heat from the wall structure. In addition, insulated and sealed wall structures are constructed to prevent the passage of moisture through the wall. Thus, insulated and sealed walls are airtight and moisture resistant, and are highly energy efficient. However, since insulated and sealed walls do not “breathe,” breached or damaged insulated and sealed walls can harbor moisture and provide nearly ideal breeding grounds for mold and bacteria.

In addition, environmental climate changes can create temperature differences between the internal and external spaces of the insulated and sealed walls that can contribute to the formation of condensate on interior surfaces of the walls. For example, during northern cold winter months, the air outside of an insulated and sealed wall is cold and dry, and the air inside of the wall is warm and humid. Thus, a natural humidity gradient is formed where moisture vapor in the air of an interior of the wall structure naturally migrates to the exterior of the wall structure. Thus, large gradients in outside and inside air temperatures can lead to an accumulation of moisture within even an insulated and sealed wall.

The opposite conditions occur during the summer months, when the air outside the structure is warm and humid, and the air inside the structure is conditioned to be cooler and dryer. Thus, during summer months a natural gradient exists driving warm humid air toward an interior of an insulated and sealed wall. Consequently, moisture can accumulate within an insulated and sealed wall due to normal, climate-induced temperature and humidity gradients.

Moisture includes bulk liquid, such as rain or rain droplets, and moisture vapor, such as in warm and humid air. Moisture, whether bulk or in the form of moisture vapor, can accumulate on surfaces of an insulated and sealed wall, as described above. In some cases, moisture is the result of natural condensation, but may also be the result of wind driven water that enters the wall along a window or door seam. For example, forming a window or a door in an exterior wall provides locations where water can enter the wall assembly and accumulate behind the wall covering. In some cases, moisture entering in the form of water is the result of poor workmanship, or alternately, a deterioration of flashing or sealants around the window/door.

In general, moisture accumulation within a wall, whether in the form of bulk liquid or in the form of moisture vapor, structurally damages the wall and can lead to health and safety issues for the occupants of the structure. In particular, moisture within a wall is known to create a breeding ground for insects, and can form other health hazards, such as the growth of molds and/or bacteria. The deleterious effects of moisture accumulation within a wall are accelerated in hot and humid environments.

This undesirable moisture penetration and accumulation within a wall assembly in new building structures has created challenges for the construction and insurance industries. Thus, there is a need for a system and a method to prevent moisture from accumulating in a sealed exterior wall assembly of a building structure, and for the removal of moisture that potentially collects within an exterior wall assembly.

SUMMARY

One aspect of the present invention is related to a dynamically ventilated exterior wall system. The dynamically ventilated exterior wall system includes a sealed exterior wall assembly and a ventilation assembly fluidly coupled to the exterior wall assembly. The sealed exterior wall assembly includes an interior wall portion and an opposing exterior wall portion, and insulation and a flexible porous grid disposed between the interior and exterior wall portions. The ventilation assembly includes a head end unit coupled to at least one air supply conduit and at least one air return conduit, where each of the conduits communicates with the porous grid of the exterior wall assembly. The head and unit is configured to supply conditioned air through the air supply conduit(s) to the exterior wall assembly and remove humidity from the exterior wall assembly through the air return conduit(s).

Another aspect of the present invention relates to a method of dynamically ventilating a sealed exterior wall that includes an interior wall portion and an opposing exterior wall portion and insulation adjacent to the interior wall portion. The method includes disposing a porous grid between the insulation and the exterior wall portion to define an air space within the sealed exterior wall. The method additionally provides supplying conditioned air through the air space. The method ultimately provides for removing humidity from the air space.

Another aspect of the present invention relates to an exterior wall system. The system includes an exterior wall assembly and means for transporting moisture out of the exterior wall assembly. The exterior wall assembly includes an interior wall portion and an opposing exterior wall portion, and a flexible porous grid disposed between the interior and exterior wall portions. In this regard, means for transporting moisture through the flexible porous grid and out of the exterior wall assembly is provided.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The accompanying drawings are included to provide a further understanding of the present invention and are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification. The drawings illustrate the embodiments of the present invention and together with the description serve to explain the principles of the invention. Other embodiments of the present invention, and many of the intended advantages of the present invention, will be readily appreciated as they become better understood by reference to the following detailed description. The elements of the drawings are not necessarily to scale relative to each other. Like reference numerals designate corresponding similar parts.

FIG. 1 illustrates a cross-sectional view of a structure including a dynamically ventilated exterior wall system according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 illustrates a cross-sectional view of an above-grade exterior wall assembly according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3 illustrates a cross-sectional view of a below-grade exterior wall assembly according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 4A illustrates a cross-sectional view of a flexible moisture grid according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 4B illustrates a perspective view of another flexible moisture grid according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 4C illustrates a cross-sectional view of another flexible moisture grid according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 5 illustrates a perspective view of the flexible moisture grid illustrated in FIG. 4C.

FIG. 6 illustrates a flexible grid coupled to a construction board according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 7 illustrates a perspective view of a head end unit including air supply and return conduits according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 8A illustrates a structure end of an air supply/return conduit including a single row of orifices formed in a conduit wall according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 8B illustrates a structure end of an air supply/return conduit including a plurality of orifices disposed helically about a circumference of the conduit according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 8C illustrates a structure end of an air supply/return conduit including a plurality of orifices disposed in parallel columns along the conduit according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 9 illustrates a system flow chart directed to the removal of moisture from a zoned structure according to one embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

In the following Detailed Description, reference is made to the accompanying drawings, which form a part hereof, and in which is shown by way of illustration specific embodiments in which the invention may be practiced. In this regard, directional terminology, such as “top,” “bottom,” “front,” “back,” “leading,” “trailing,” etc., is used with reference to the orientation of the Figure(s) being described. Because components of embodiments of the present invention can be positioned in a number of different orientations, the directional terminology is used for purposes of illustration and is in no way limiting. It is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized and structural or logical changes may be made without departing from the scope of the present invention. The following detailed description, therefore, is not to be taken in a limiting sense, and the scope of the present invention is defined by the appended claims.

FIG. 1 illustrates a structure 20 including a dynamically ventilated exterior wall system 22 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Structure 20 includes a first sealed exterior wall assembly 24, and a second sealed exterior wall assembly 26. Sealed exterior wall assemblies are structures that are sealed against the passage of moisture and air and include, for example, finished exterior wall structures having caulked seams, sealed seams, fitted flashing, and/or exterior claddings configured to prevent the transmission of air and moisture through the wall.

In one embodiment, the first sealed exterior wall assembly 24 is an above-grade exterior wall, and second sealed exterior wall assembly 26 is a below-grade exterior wall. The ventilation assembly 22 is fluidly coupled to the exterior wall assemblies 24, 26, and in one embodiment, includes a head end unit 28, air supply conduits 30, 32, and air return conduits 34, 36, where the conduits 30-36 extend from head end unit 28 into an interior of the sealed exterior wall assemblies 24, 26.

For example, in one embodiment head end unit 28 supplies conditioned dry air through air supply conduits 30, 32 into above-grade exterior wall assembly 24 and below-grade exterior wall assembly 26. Air return conduits 34, 36 remove air, for example relatively humid air, from the sealed above-grade exterior wall assembly 24 and below-grade exterior wall assembly 26, and deliver the return air to head end unit 28. In one embodiment, a humidity sensor 40 is coupled between air return conduit 38 and head end unit 28, although other suitable locations for humidity sensor 40 along a return path from exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 to head end unit 28 are also acceptable.

In one embodiment, desired structural openings, such as a window 50 and a door 52, are formed in the exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 that provide a pathway for the ingress of moisture into structure 20. While it is desirable to have window 50 and door 52 formed in structure 20, such openings provide a potential pathway for the entrance of moisture into the sealed exterior wall assemblies 24, 26.

In one embodiment, air supply conduit 30 is disposed in a zone adjacent to window 50, and air supply conduit 32 is disposed in a zone adjacent to door 52, to supply these potential moisture entry areas with conditioned, dry air. In another embodiment, air supply conduit 30 surrounds window 50, and air supply conduit 32 surrounds door 52. In any regard, air supply conduits 30, 32 supply conditioned, dry air to exterior wall assemblies 24, 26, and air return conduits 34, 36 remove air (at a typically higher humidity) from exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 and deliver the humid air back to head and unit 28 to cyclically condition exterior wall assemblies 24, 26.

FIG. 2 illustrates a cross-sectional view of above-grade exterior wall assembly 24 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Exterior wall assembly 24 includes an interior wall portion 60, an opposing exterior wall portion 62, insulation 64, and a flexible grid 66. In one embodiment, insulation 64 is disposed adjacent to interior wall portion 60 and defines an opening 68 between insulation 64 and exterior wall portion 62. In one embodiment, flexible grid 66 is disposed within opening 68 to form an air passageway between exterior wall portion 62 and insulation 64.

Insulation 64 is a thermally insulating filler configured for placement in an exterior wall. In one embodiment, insulation 64 is a fiberglass insulation. In another embodiment, insulation 64 is a blown fibrous insulation. In general, insulation 64 is disposed between studs used to frame exterior wall assembly 24, and can include rolls or sheets of insulating material.

In one embodiment, interior wall portion 60 includes a sheathing board 70 and an air barrier sheeting 72 attached to sheathing board 70. In one embodiment, and is best illustrated in FIG. 2, air barrier sheeting 72 contacts insulation 64.

Sheathing board 70 is generally a structural board suited for construction of new homes and commercial buildings. In one embodiment, sheathing board 70 is an oriented strand board, although other structural boards suited for the construction of walls are also acceptable.

Air barrier sheeting 72 is generally a single layer of polymeric film suited for adhering to sheathing board 70. In one embodiment, air barrier sheeting 72 is a polyethylene film, although other films and construction fabrics suited for covering sheathing board 70 are also acceptable.

In one embodiment, exterior wall portion 62 includes a second sheathing board 80, a water barrier sheeting 82 attached to sheathing board 80, and exterior cladding 84 attached to the water barrier sheeting 82.

Sheathing board 80 is highly similar to sheathing board 70. Water barrier sheeting 82 is attached to an exterior face of sheathing board 80 to provide a level of weather resistance for exterior wall portion 62. In one embodiment, water barrier sheeting 82 is a flash-spun polyethylene nonwoven fabric that is adhered, for example by stapling, to the exterior face of sheathing board 80. Exemplary materials for water barrier sheeting 82 include Tyvek® house wrap, wax coated fabrics, tarpaper and the like, although other suitable materials and/or fabrics are acceptable.

Exterior cladding 84 includes suitable exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) such as, for example, stucco finishes, shakes including cedar shakes, vinyl and metal siding, plastic and wood siding, and the other suitable exterior wall coverings.

In one embodiment, flexible grid 66 is disposed within opening 68 and bounded by sheathing board 80 on one side and by insulation 64 on an opposing side. In this manner, flexible grid 66 provides an air passageway between insulation 64 and exterior wall portion 62, and is configured to transport moisture that accumulates within exterior wall assembly 24 along opening 68 and away from insulation 64 and exterior wall portion 62.

FIG. 3 illustrates a cross-sectional view of below-grade exterior wall assembly 26 according to one embodiment of the present invention. In one embodiment, exterior wall assembly is a below-grade wall assembly forming a portion of a foundation of structure 20 (shown in FIG. 1). Exterior wall assembly 26 includes an interior wall portion 90, an opposing exterior wall portion 92, insulation 94, and a flexible grid 96 disposed within an opening 98 formed between insulation 94 and exterior wall portion 92.

In one embodiment, interior wall portion 90 includes a sheathing board 100 and an air barrier sheeting 102 attached to the sheathing board 100. Sheathing board 100 and air barrier sheeting 102 are highly similar to sheathing board 70 and air barrier sheeting 72 described with reference to FIG. 2. With this in mind, air barrier sheeting 102 is attached to sheathing board 100 and contacts insulation 94.

In one embodiment, exterior wall portion 92 forms a foundation of structure 20 (shown in FIG. 1) and includes concrete blocks 104, 106, 108. In another embodiment, exterior wall portion 92 is formed of a continuous concrete wall, although other suitable below-grade foundation materials can also be employed.

Insulation 94 is highly similar to insulation 64. As illustrated in FIG. 3, flexible grid 96 defines an air passageway between insulation 94 and exterior wall portion 92 and is configured to transport moisture along opening 98 and away from insulation 94 and exterior wall portion 92.

FIG. 4A illustrates a cross-sectional view of a flexible grid 110 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Flexible grid 110 is representative of flexible grid 66 (shown in FIG. 2) and flexible grid 96 (shown in FIG. 3). In this regard, flexible grid 110 includes a first surface 112, an opposing second surface 114, and a core 116 disposed between first surface 112 and second surface 114. Flexible grid 110 is, in general, pliable and porous to air flow. In this Specification, porous to air flow means that air and moisture vapor, and air containing moisture vapor, can be transported (dynamically and/or passively) through the flexible grid.

In one embodiment, flexible grid 110 is a single layer structure formed of a random distribution of fibers in a matt or fabric-like sheeting. In one exemplary embodiment, flexible grid 110 is a nonwoven sheeting including a fibrous core 116. For example, in one embodiment flexible grid 110 is a nonwoven web of randomly distributed polyolefin fibers where first surface 112 and second surface 114 are thermally treated (e.g., by embossing, or calendering, or by hot can treating) to define a relatively smooth and flat surface.

Generally, core 116 defines a plurality of chambers that form a network, or air space, between first surface 112 and second surface 114. In one embodiment, core 116 defines a “dead” air space. In another embodiment, core 116 defines an air space configured to permit air and moisture transport.

In one embodiment, flexible grid 110 is permeable to moisture vapor and impermeable to liquid water, and includes a surface energy-reducing additive, such as a fluorochemical, added to fibrous core 116. The surface energy-reducing additive is melt-added to the fibers during formation in one embodiment. In another embodiment, the surface energy-reducing additive is added topically to the fibers after formation.

FIG. 4B illustrates a perspective view of a flexible grid 117 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Flexible grid 117 includes strands 118a-118e, and strands 119a-119f overlapping and contacting strands 118a-118e to define a core 121. Strands 118 and 119 overlap to form voids between the strands, where the voids permit airflow through core 121. In addition, the overlapping strands 118 and 119 defining air channels M1-M5 longitudinally along core 121, and air channels N1-N4 laterally along core 121. In one embodiment, strands 118 and 119 are each approximately 0.125 inch wide and 0.125 inch thick, such that overlapping strands 118/119 combine to form a core 121 having a 0.250-inch thickness. Other suitable dimensions for strands 118/119 are also acceptable.

In one embodiment, strands 118 are aligned in a first direction, for example a horizontal orientation, and strands 119 are aligned in a second direction not equal to the first direction, for example, a vertical orientation. In this manner, air channels M1-M5 and N1-N4 are defined in at least two orientations. In one embodiment, the voids formed by the overlapping strands 118/119 provide air passageways extending through core 121, and air channels M1-M5 and N1-N4 provide air passageways that are approximately orthogonal to the air passageways through the core defined by the voids.

In one embodiment, air channels M1-M5 are vertical air channels and air channels N1-N4 are horizontal air channels. In one exemplary embodiment, and with reference to FIG. 2, strands 119a-119f are aligned along respective wall studs (not shown) and define vertical air channels M1-M5 configured to aerate, for example, an above-grade exterior wall assembly 24. Strands 118a-118e in this embodiment are aligned horizontally relative to strands 119a-119f and define horizontal air channels N1-N4 that are configured to transport air and moisture along, for example, insulation 64.

FIG. 4C illustrates a cross-sectional view of another flexible grid 120 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Flexible grid 120 is representative of one embodiment of flexible grid 66 (shown in FIG. 2) and flexible grid 96 (shown in FIG. 3). In this regard, flexible grid 120 includes a film layer 122, an opposing porous backing 124, and a reticulated core 126 disposed between film layer 122 and porous backing 124. In one embodiment, flexible grid 120 is a three-layer composite structure that is pliable. However, it is to be understood that flexible grid 120 can include a single core layer, or multiple layers (i.e., two, three, or more layers) including more than one core layer.

Film layer 122 is generally a substantially continuous surface and is suitable for contact and/or adhesive attachment to a solid construction surface. In this regard, film layer 122 is in one embodiment a polymeric film that is permeable to moisture vapor and impermeable to liquid water. In another embodiment, film layer 122 is a polymeric film that is mechanically perforated to permit the passage of air, moisture vapor, and water. In another embodiment, film layer 122 is a mesh netting permeable to air, moisture vapor, and bulk moisture.

As described above, film layer 122 is permeable to moisture vapor and impermeable to liquid water, according to one aspect of the present invention. In one embodiment film layer 122 includes a surface energy-reducing additive, such as a fluorochemical, a wax, a silicone, or an oil. In one aspect of the present invention, the surface energy reducing additive (for example, a carbon-8 fluorochemical) is applied as a topical additive to film layer 22; in another embodiment, the surface energy reducing additive is a melt additive added to film layer 122 during processing of film layer 122.

Porous backing 124 is generally configured for contact with insulation 94 (shown in FIG. 3). In this regard, porous backing 124 generally defines a highly open structure that permits free air exchange. In one embodiment, porous backing 124 is a plastic mesh netting. In another embodiment, porous backing 124 is a woven fabric. In another embodiment, porous backing 124 is a nonwoven fabric formed of, for example, a polyolefin material such as polyethylene or polypropylene. In any regard, porous backing 124 is highly porous to air flow and is configured to abut against insulation 94 and impede an entrance of insulation 94 into flexible grid 120.

Reticulated core 126 generally separates film layer 122 and porous backing 124 to form an air passageway configured to fit within opening 68 (shown in FIG. 2) or opening 98 (shown in FIG. 3). In one embodiment, reticulated core 126 defines a honeycomb lattice that includes a plurality of chambers 130a, 130b . . . 130z defined by walls 131. In this regard, chambers 130a-130z extend between film layer 122 and porous backing 124. Generally, reticulated core 126 defines a plurality of chambers that form a network, or air space, between film layer 122 and porous backing 124. In one embodiment, the network defines a “dead” air space. In another embodiment, the network defines an air space configured to permit passive and/or dynamic air and moisture transport.

In one embodiment, reticulated core 126 is an expanded polymeric film that is porous to air and liquid. In another embodiment, reticulated core 126 is a felted network of fibers. In general, reticulated core 126 provides a measurable degree of separation between film layer 122 and porous backing 124 to form an air spacing therebetween. In this regard, in one embodiment reticulated core defines a thickness D of between 0.05 inch and 2.0 inches, preferably reticulated core 126 defines a thickness D of between 0.1 inch and 1.0 inch, and more preferably reticulated core 126 defines a thickness D of between 0.25 and 0.75 inch. To this end, a thickness of flexible grid 120 is compatible with insertion of grid 120 into an exterior wall assembly such that the wall assembly will comply with building and construction codes.

In one embodiment, each of the flexible grids 110, 120 is sufficiently flexible to be rolled onto a core and suitable for delivery to a construction site in, for example, roll form. In another embodiment, each of the flexible grids 110, 120 is sufficiently flexible to be folded multiple times and suitable for delivery to a construction site in, for example, a folded sheet form.

FIG. 5 illustrates a perspective view of flexible grid 120 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Film layer 122 forms a substantially continuous surface against which one end reticulated core 126 is supported. In one embodiment, film layer 122 is porous to air and moisture vapor. For example, in one embodiment film layer 122 includes macroporous holes or orifices that enable the grid 120 to be “breathable” and transport air and moisture vapor between film layer 122 and porous backing 124.

Porous backing 124 is secured over another end of reticulated core 126. In one embodiment, film layer 122 and porous backing 124 are thermoplastically sealed to reticulated core 126. In an alternate embodiment, film layer 122 and porous backing 124 are adhesively adhered to reticulated core 126. As illustrated in FIG. 5, in one embodiment reticulated core defines a honeycomb lattice 132 including the plurality of chambers 130a-130z that extend between film layer 122 and porous backing 124. Film layer 122 is suitable for adhesively sealing to construction boards, such as oriented strand boards. As illustrated in FIGS. 4 and 5, in one embodiment walls 131 are porous to airflow and enable air and moisture vapor to flow longitudinally and laterally along core 126.

FIG. 6 illustrates a perspective view of an exterior wall portion 140 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Exterior wall portion 140 includes a sheathing board 142 and a flexible grid 144 attached to sheathing board 142. In this regard, sheathing board 142 is highly similar to sheathing board 80 (shown in FIG. 2), and flexible grid 144 is highly similar to flexible grid 120 (shown in FIG. 5). Thus, optionally, sheathing board 142 includes a water barrier sheeting, for example a plastic film, attached to a side of board 142 opposite flexible grid 144.

In one embodiment, flexible grid 144 is adhesively attached to sheathing board 122. In this manner, exterior wall portion 140 is suitable for use in the construction trades in forming a sealed exterior wall assembly, for example exterior wall assembly 24 (shown in FIG. 2). Similar to flexible grid 120 (shown in FIG. 5), flexible grid 144 includes film layer 146, an opposing porous backing 148, and a reticulated core 150 disposed between film layer 146 and porous backing 148.

In one embodiment, reticulated core 150 includes a honeycomb lattice of chambers defined by walls 151 that extend away from sheathing board 142. In a manner analogous to FIG. 5, the honeycomb chambers permit airflow through core 150 such that air and moisture vapor is transported away from sheathing board 142. In one embodiment, walls 151 are porous to air and moisture vapor and are configured to permit airflow longitudinally and laterally through core 150 and along sheathing board 142.

Flexible grids 110 and 120 provide for a passive transportation of moisture away from interior surfaces of exterior wall assemblies 24, 26. In one embodiment, flexible grids 110 and 120 are disposed in an interior opening, for example opening 68 (shown in FIG. 2) or opening 98 (shown in FIG. 3), to form a moisture-transporting air passageway inside the sealed and insulated exterior wall assemblies 24, 26. Moisture is transported along the air passageway formed by flexible grids 110 and 120, thus removing moisture from interior wall portions, exterior wall portions, and insulation inside the assemblies 24, 26.

In another embodiment, and as best illustrated in FIG. 6, an entire exterior wall portion 140 includes sheathing board 142 and flexible grid 144 attached to sheathing board 142. During the construction of an exterior wall assembly, exterior wall portion 140 can be erected in one step, such that upon finishing the interior portion of the wall assembly, insulation is simply unrolled over flexible grid 144 and interior wall portion 60 (shown in FIG. 2), for example, is fixed in place. The exterior wall portion 140 can provide one-step erection of a sheathing board 142 and moisture-transporting flexible grid 144.

FIG. 7 illustrates a perspective view of head end unit 28 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Head end unit 28 generally supplies conditioned air through air supply conduits, for example air supply conduits 30, 32, and receives air removed from a structure, for example exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 (shown in FIG. 1). In one embodiment, head end unit 28 is a stand-alone unit configured to supply dry, conditioned air to exterior wall assemblies 24, 26, and configured to remove relatively humid air from exterior wall assemblies 24, 26. In another embodiment, head end unit 28 is electrically coupled to an existing forced air heating and cooling system (not shown) within structure 20, such that head end unit 28 cooperates with the existing forced air heating and cooling system to supply dry, conditioned air to exterior wall assemblies 24, 26, and remove relatively humid air from exterior wall assemblies 24, 26.

With this in mind, in one embodiment head end unit 28 is a heating ventilation air conditioning (HVAC) unit including a compressor (not shown) maintained in a compressor side 160, a blower and a blower motor (neither shown) maintained within a blower housing 162, air return ducts 164, and humidity sensors 166 aligned with air return ducts 164.

As illustrated in FIG. 7, air return conduits 34, 36 couple with air return ducts 164, and humidity sensors 166 fluidly communicates with air return conduits 34, 36. A plurality of controls 170 is provided on head end unit 28 to enable an automated control of air conditioning delivered through supply conduits 30, 32 and moisture removal pulled through return conduits 34, 36. In one embodiment, a programmable controller (not shown) is coupled to controls 170 (internal to head end unit 28) to permit a computer/logic-controlled operation air supply and return. Controls 170 can be selectively adjusted to cycle conditioned air through air supply conduits 30, 32 in response to a humidity level sensed by humidity sensor 166 for air returned through air return conduits 34, 36.

In one embodiment, controls 170 are set to a desired set point to maintain a relative humidity level within exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 (shown in FIG. 1). For example, in one embodiment controls 170 are set to maintain a relative humidity within exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 of approximately 70%. In this embodiment, controls 170 cycle head end unit 28 to an on configuration where dry, conditioned air is supplied to exterior wall assemblies 24, 26, and relatively more humid air is removed from exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 by air return conduits 34, 36 of head end unit 28. Head end unit 28 remains in the on configuration until humidity sensor 166 communicates a relative humidity in the return air of less than the desired humidity set point (i.e., 70%).

Thereafter, a blower within head end unit 28 continues to remove air from exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 to enable humidity sensor 166 to continue sensing a relative humidity within the exterior wall assemblies 24, 26. In one embodiment, consecutive readings of the relative humidity by the humidity sensor 166 indicating that air extracted from exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 is below the desired humidity set point will activate head end unit 28 to an off position.

In one embodiment, head end unit 28 is programmed to cycle between on and off positions over a set time interval (e.g., every 30 minutes). In another embodiment, head end unit 28 is programmed to cycle between on and off positions based upon a relative humidity reading from within exterior wall assemblies 24, 26 by a separate humidity sensor (not shown) within exterior wall assemblies 24, 26. One aspect of the present invention provides for a continuous operation of head end unit 28 in continuously supplying dry, conditioned air to exterior wall assemblies 24, 26, useful, for example, in drying exterior wall assemblies in tropical climates.

As illustrated in FIG. 7, air supply conduits 30, 32, define a respective head end side 180a and 180b, and a structure side 182a and 182b. In a similar manner, air return conduits 34, 36, define a respective head end side 190a and 190b, and a structure side 192a and 192b.

FIG. 8A illustrates a perspective view of structure side 182a of air supply conduit 30 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Structure side 182a defines a closed end 200 and a plurality of orifices 202 formed in a wall 204 of structure end 182a. In one embodiment, the plurality of orifices 202 defines a single column of orifices aligned along a longitudinal axis of structure end 182a that is useful in delivering conditioned air into exterior wall assemblies 24, 26. Orifices 202 are formed through wall 204 and communicate with an interior portion of air supply conduit 30. That is to say, in one embodiment conduit 30 defines an annular structure and a single column of orifices 202.

Structure 182a defines an outside diameter O.D. and an inside diameter I.D. In one embodiment, the O.D. of structure end 182a is between 0.1 inch and 1.0 inch, preferably the O.D. of structure end 182a is between 0.2 inch and 0.5 inch. For example, in one embodiment a 0.25 inch thick flexible grid 120 is secured within exterior wall assembly 24, and a structure end 182a of air supply conduit 30 having a 0.25 inch O.D. is coupled to flexible grid 120. Wall 204 defines a thickness that is suited for supplying air through conduit 30.

Orifices 202 are configured to deliver a flow of air, for example conditioned air from structure end 182a of air supply conduit 30 into an exterior wall assembly, such as exterior wall assembly 24 (shown in FIG. 1). It is to be understood that although structure end 192a (shown in FIG. 7) of air return conduit 34 is not illustrated, structure end 192a of air return conduit 34 is, in one embodiment, similar to structure end 182a of air supply conduit 30 illustrated in FIG. 8A.

FIG. 8B illustrates another embodiment of a structure end 210 of an air supply conduit 212 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Structure end 210 defines a closed end 214 and a plurality of orifices 216 formed circumferentially in a wall 218 of air supply conduit 212. In one embodiment, orifices 216 are formed in wall 218 in a helical pattern about a circumference of structure end 210. Structure end 210 defines an outside diameter O.D. and an inside diameter I.D. that are highly similar to the outside diameter and inside diameter described above in FIG. 8A.

FIG. 8C illustrates yet another embodiment of a structure end 220 of an air supply conduit 222 according to one embodiment of the present invention. Structure end 220 defines a closed end 224 and a plurality of orifices 226 formed in a wall 228. In one embodiment, orifices 226 are formed in parallel columns along structure end 220 of air supply conduit 222. In another embodiment, orifices 226 define a pair of staggered, parallel columns of orifices formed in wall 228. Structure end 220 defines an outside diameter O.D. and an inside diameter I.D. that are highly similar to the outside diameter and inside diameter described above with reference to FIG. 8A.

FIG. 9 illustrates a system flow chart 250 directed to the removal of moisture from a zoned structure according to one embodiment of the present invention. With additional reference to FIG. 1, a zone is defined by at least one air supply conduit, at least one air return conduit, and at least one humidity sensor communicating with the air return conduit. For example, air supply conduit 30, air return conduit 34, and humidity sensor 40 combine to define one zone in structure 20.

Structure 20 can include a plurality of zones, for example a zone directed to removing moisture from around a window, and a separate second zone for removing moisture from around a door. In another embodiment, an entire exterior wall assembly, for example exterior wall assembly 26, is serviced by a single zone. It is to be understood that structure 20 can include multiple zones within multiple exterior wall assembly structures, all controlled by head end unit 28. Reference is made to FIG. 1 in the following description where air supply conduit 30, and air return conduit 34 combine to define a zone around window 50.

During use, and with additional reference to FIGS. 1 and 8A, air supply conduit 30 is extended away from head end unit 28 and positioned to drive moisture away from a potentially moist area, for example window 50. Orifices 202 are positioned to fluidly communicate with reticulated core 126 of flexible grid 120 (shown in FIG. 4C). Dry, conditioned air exits orifices 202 and transports moisture along an air passageway formed by opening 68 (shown in FIG. 2). Air return conduit 34 draws the transported moisture away from window 50 and delivers the relatively humid air back to head end unit 28.

With additional reference to FIGS. 1 and 7, humidity sensors 166 sense a humidity level in a zone of an exterior wall structure, for example exterior wall structure 24. Controllers 170 in combination with humidity sensors 166 sense a relative humidity of air returned from exterior wall assembly 24. The sensed humidity level within exterior wall assembly 24 is compared to a desired relative humidity level set point, as controlled by controls 170. The process for comparing the sensed humidity level within exterior wall assembly 24 to the relative humidity set point is provided by process 252.

Process 254 queries whether the relative humidity level within a zone of exterior wall assembly 24 is acceptable. If the relative humidity level is acceptable, process 256 provides for sensing a humidity level in a next zone of the exterior wall assembly 24 or of structure 20. In an iterative manner, process 258 provides for sensing a humidity level in a last zone of an exterior wall assembly 24/structure 20 where prior zones of the structure were evaluated to have an acceptable relative humidity level. In the case where each zone of structure 20 has an acceptable relative humidity level, process 260 provides for a timed out wait period prior to cycling system 250.

With additional reference to process 254, in the case where the relative humidity level within a zone of exterior wall assembly 24 is not acceptable, process 262 provides for cycling head end unit 28 to supply conditioned dry air through air supply conduits 30, 32. Thus, head end unit 28 supplies conditioned air to the zone having a relative humidity level that is above the set point, and process 266 provides for sensing the relative humidity of air returning through air return conduits 34, 36 extracted from the too humid zone. A further query is made of the zone in process 254, consistent with one drying cycle of system 250.

In one embodiment, and in particular during periods of relatively dry weather, process 260 signals to head end unit 28 that conditioned air is not called for by any zone. Thus, head end unit 28 does not cycle between the on and off positions, but rather is maintained in an off position, but ready for subsequent cycling.

In addition, and with reference to FIG. 2, during periods in which head end unit 28 does not cycle, flexible grid 66 provides for a continual passive transport of moisture vapor away from interior wall portion 60 and exterior wall portion 62. In other words, flexible grid 66 forms an air passageway within opening 68 that permits the transport of moisture vapor away from the interior surfaces of exterior wall assembly 24 without cycling head end unit 28.

In contrast, winter seasons and summer seasons can create a natural humidity gradient across surfaces of structure 20 that results in frequent cycling of head end unit 28. For example, during winter months associated with cold and dry exterior air temperatures and relatively warm interior air temperatures, the large temperature and humidity gradients between the interior air of structure 20 and the environment outside of structure 20 combine to cause moisture vapor in the air to condense upon surfaces of exterior wall assemblies 24, 26. Thus, during winter months, humid air within structure 20 will condense on, for example, sheathing board 70 and air barrier sheeting 72.

This condensation can lead to moisture accumulation along air barrier sheeting 72 and insulation 64. Aspects of the present invention provide for humidity sensors 166 that sense a relative humidity associated with exterior wall assembly 24. When the relative humidity within exterior wall assembly 24 exceeds a desired set point, head end unit 28 is activated to an on condition, supplying condition dry air through air supply conduits 30, 32, and removing moisture from within exterior wall assembly 24 via air return conduits 34, 36. Thus, moisture within exterior wall assembly 24 is driven to opening 68 and transported through flexible grid 66, to be conditioned by head end unit 28.

With the above in mind, in one embodiment head end unit 28 cycles between on and off settings periodically (e.g., every fifteen minutes) to maintain the desired relative humidity within wall assembly 24. In contrast, during relatively dry months, head end unit 28 might not cycle to the on position for periods of greater than one week.

Aspects of the present invention have been described that provide for dynamically venting an exterior wall assembly to remove moisture from inside a sealed and insulated exterior wall. In particular, sealed exterior wall assemblies have been described that can accumulate moisture either through natural condensation processes or through a failure in weather proofing or sealing of, for example, doors and windows in an exterior wall assembly. Embodiments of the present invention provide for dynamically ventilating conditioned air through the flexible grid within the exterior wall assembly to displace humid moisture within the exterior wall assembly with conditioned dry air.

Other aspects of the present invention provide for a flexible grid that provides an air passageway within the exterior wall assembly for the passive removal of moisture. Embodiments of the present invention provide for statically ventilating the exterior wall assembly via the flexible grid to remove humidity from the exterior wall assembly.

A sealed exterior wall assembly that is highly energy efficient and in compliance with local and state housing codes has been described that provides for dynamically, and/or passively (statically), venting moisture from the sealed exterior wall assembly.

In one embodiment, the dynamic, and/or passive, venting of moisture from a sealed exterior wall assembly improves the overall energy efficiency of the wall assembly and its associated structure. The removal of moisture from a wall assembly results in increasing the “R-value,” or insulation value of the wall assembly. Since the wall assembly does not retain the potentially harmful moisture, the insulation performs better, the insulating quality is improved, and moisture that otherwise might conduct heat out of the wall assembly is reduced or eliminated, thus increasing the energy efficiency of the wall assembly. Embodiments of dynamically, and/or passively vented exterior wall assemblies as described above will remain warmer in winter, cooler in summer, and can cost-effectively satisfy even the most stringent building codes.

Although specific embodiments have been illustrated and described herein, it will be appreciated by those of ordinary skill in the art that a variety of alternate and/or equivalent implementations may be substituted for the specific embodiments shown and described without departing from the scope of the present invention. This application is intended to cover any adaptations or variations of the specific embodiments discussed herein. Therefore, it is intended that this invention be limited only by the claims and the equivalents thereof.