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Disseminating Building Science Knowledge

It’s time to stop preaching to the choir, and start implementing green principles on our nation’s job sites

It's always cheaper to catch problems at the design stage than when construction has already started.

Each time I meet with the “choir” of sustainable builders or building scientists, I gain more knowledge and solidify the existing knowledge I have. The only problem is that the members of this choir are often fairly constant, and the tune we sing is the same: “How do we teach our song to the masses?”

This isn’t a topic that should remain confined among a select few; we need energy savings, resource regeneration, and sustainability in all manners — now!

The greatest opportunity to effect change is through design

I recently met a colleague from Turkey who said he was an architect working for a utility company.

“In what context?” I asked.

“To learn and to teach” he said.

Apparently, this utility company needed to balance electricity demand with generating capacity. Since the number of users keeps rising, the only way to balance the equation is by reducing the per capita consumption — especially on new construction.

The utility company recognized that the greatest opportunity for impact was in reducing the base load energy requirements in new construction, and the greatest opportunity to effect that change was through design.

The classic change mechanisms are subsidies for energy-saving equipment, or maybe even the lure of a quick plan review if energy efficiency is included in the design. But this is premised on sufficient knowledge on the part of the architects. Thus, the greatest point of impact is in the training of the architects – hence, the job description for my new Turkish friend. He is tasked with providing technical support and training to architects. Very smart.

It’s time to move past experimentation

How else can we disseminate the knowledge? Back when I worked in the ICF industry, our field staff provided training sessions to building officials and architects. Most of the professional trades need some ongoing educational credits, and usually welcome the opportunity to learn about new products and systems.

On the educational front, it is long overdue for all the Architectural / Engineering / CAD Technologies programs to include a solid base of information in building science. And it’s time for research to move past the models, the experiments, and the software innovations to concentrate on getting these ideas to market. Do they pencil out? If not, how can we improve our material costs, become more efficient in the delivery, and gain the benefits of volume?

It is time to be asking the hard questions. And, like my Turkish colleague, it’s time to rethink the distribution of responsibility for sustainability. Because at this point, sustainability should be part of all of our job descriptions and goals.

Dr. Vera Novak was recently awarded a PhD in Construction by Virginia Tech. Her work is dedicated to increased depth and breadth of sustainability in construction, by leveraging the points of greatest potential impact. She is currently working on optimizing corporate sustainability practices to support regenerative design, as well as adapting a lean thinking process for smaller scale projects. She also writes the Eco Build Trends blog.

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