GBA articles usually assume that readers share the author’s primary goal: an energy-efficient house with a low rate of air leakage. That’s why many GBA authors take it for granted that builders involved with a residential project will understand basic building science principles, and won’t be confused by expressions like “the stack effect” or “thermal bridging.”
If you hang out at GBA long enough, you internalize these assumptions. It’s easy to forget, however, that there are broad swaths of the United States where energy-efficient building practices are still uncommon. As Craig Savage, a former general contractor and JLC editor, recently noted, many builders, upon learning that new codes mandate blower door testing, respond with a “deer in the headlights” look.
If you’re a GBA reader who is planning to build a custom home in Arizona or Alabama or South Dakota, and you describe construction methods you’ve learned about on GBA to your local builder, you may be met by a quizzical expression and the simple response, “We don’t build it that way around here.”
No, your contractor didn’t pass an exam
Most U.S. builders haven’t had a chance to study building science basics. In much of the U.S., residential construction is lightly regulated (if it is regulated at all). In fact, it’s legal in many states for almost anyone with a pickup truck to call themselves a builder. Most U.S. builders begin earning a living without having undergone any classroom training in construction topics and without completing any job-site apprenticeship program. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common to discover that residential builders aren’t even familiar with local building code requirements.
That said, a subset of U.S. builders is highly competent. You’re looking for one of the builders…