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Green Building News

Martin Holladay is Retiring

Martin's commitment to green building, and his advocacy for the GBA community, has been unparalleled. Please join us in wishing him well.

For over 10 years, Martin Holladay has been the voice of Green Building Advisor.

When Martin was hired as an associate editor in 2008, he joined a robust staff of editors and experts—a joint effort between The Taunton Press and Building Green—with a mission to develop a new resource to meet the needs of a growing industry of architects, builders, remodelers, engineers, energy raters, and other professionals interested in building smarter, more energy-efficient, healthier, more durable, and more responsible homes.

That mission never changed, but the building market and the world of publishing did. It wasn’t long before Martin found himself a staff of one. With technical and marketing support from Taunton HQ and sharp freelance editorial support and reporting from Scott Gibson, Martin has built the deepest online resource for high-performance home building, the strongest virtual community for building professionals, and a thriving business for The Taunton Press.

Last year, Martin decided it was time to take a step back and work part-time. Now, he is retiring from the day-to-day duties of running GBA, though he will continue to write his popular Musings of an Energy Nerd blog.

Martin got his start at JLC

Martin worked for many years in the building trades before landing his first editorial position in 1999 at the Journal of Light Construction. There, he worked alongside Patrick McCombe, now a senior editor at Fine Homebuilding. In an email, McCombe said working with Martin was fun:

It was especially entertaining when he and Jon Vara, my other former coworker at JLC, would disagree on a topic. They’d get all riled up and they’d accuse each other of being uninformed or crazy.

As a construction journalist, his work at JLC was much like the stuff he did later at Energy Design Update and GBA, well-researched and critical. Critical often has a negative connotation, but Martin is impatient with marketing speak—he wants real answers and research-backed science. Even back then he wasn’t scared to challenge people who weren’t giving real answers or were contradicting themselves. Because of this, some people think Martin is prickly, but he’s really not.

I loved hearing his stories about how he and other back-to-the-landers homesteaded in Vermont. I don’t think too many had a clue when it came to homesteading, but they worked hard and their idealism has had a lasting effect on the social fabric of Vermont. Their efforts turned Vermont into a much more progressive place than it was when they arrived.

His integrity set a really good example for me and other construction journalists who learned from him.

EDU prepared Martin for GBA       

Martin stayed at JLC until 2002 when he became the editor of Energy Design Update. Here, he sharpened his focus on high-performance building. In 2008, he was hired to help launch and edit Green Building Advisor. Dan Morrison, now editor-in-chief of ProTradeCraft, explained in an email:

I hired Martin Holladay when we were building GBA for two reasons:

  1. He was the best energy efficiency editor in the country.
  2. If I didn’t hire him, someone else would have.

Having Martin on our team was a huge asset, allowing me to shift focus away from energy codes and technical details to media production and workflow. Because Martin was on the case, neither Rob Wotzak nor I had to try to keep up to date with new codes, products, or best practices. We could focus instead on producing videos, podcasts, and new collections of web pages. Martin also added an encyclopedic memory of existing building products and building scientists to our collective brain.

Every year or so he’d write a consumer advocacy piece on a snake-oil product (insulating paint, bubble wrap, etc.) or an exposé on a current industry darling (spontaneous spray-foam fires), which I knew would mean some difficult phone calls for me, but it meant clear, accurate information for the world’s energy-efficient building professionals and consumers.

Managing Martin was a breeze because he kicked ass at his job and didn’t need much direction. Instead, we talked about strategy and tactics for building GBA into the juggernaut that it is. His weekly blogs as The Energy Nerd were NOT what we expected to be the most important part of GBA when we built the site, but they turned out to be among the most important along with the inclusive and helpful community of green building advocates in the Q&A forum—which, for all intents and purposes, he built.

If we didn’t hire Martin to help us build and drive GBA, it never would have been as good as it is.

In 2017, Martin’s blog posts were compiled into a book, “Musings of an Energy Nerd,” published by The Taunton Press. Many of his more practical posts are compiled on this page: How to do everything.

Martin’s exit interview

Before we let Martin retire, we had a few questions.

GBA: You built your off-the-grid home in the 1970s and have lived in it since. Would you do it again today?

MH: In the immortal words of Edith Piaf, “Je ne regrette rien.” The benefits of living in a remote location—with clean air, clean water, the lack of urban noise, and opportunities to hike, ski, and snowshoe right outside our door—are hard to beat. As the years have passed, though, I’ve grown to recognize that, from an environmental perspective, it’s best if people live in relatively dense communities, with access to the electrical grid. That certainly saves transportation energy and eliminates the need for a gas-powered generator.

GBA: What has pushed the green building movement forward the most in the last 40+ years?

MH: That’s a tough question to answer. Honestly, I don’t think residential construction in North America is very green, and I can’t see signs that it is moving forward.

GBA: What’s changed the most in your own thinking about the green building movement since you first got involved?

MH: I have a greater appreciation for the environmental benefits of urban living compared to rural living.

GBA: What’s the biggest green gimmick that’s come across your desk in the last 10 years?

MH: Few people were victimized by the scam, but the most outrageous claims were probably made by distributors of so-called “insulating paint.”

GBA: What building question do you hope to never answer again?

MH: “What do you mean, solar thermal is dead?”

GBA: What’s the most commonly misunderstood building science principle?

MH: The distinction between an air barrier and a vapor retarder.

GBA: What one thing would you like to see the average builder change about their homes?

MH: An improvement in airtightness.

GBA: We assume that you’re not moving to a retirement community in Florida. So, what’s next?

MH: My wife Karyn and I will continue to live in our house in Vermont. We look forward to having more time to cut firewood, tend our gardens, and travel.

Congratulations, Martin

While we will miss having Martin around GBA on a daily basis, we are thrilled that he will continue to write Musings of an Energy Nerd and are grateful for his commitment to green building and his advocacy for GBA’s community. Please join us in wishing Martin well as he transitions into retirement.

—You can reach Brian Pontolilo at [email protected]

54 Comments

  1. Malcolm Taylor | | #1

    All the best to Martin - but this is terrible news. He is what brought me here to GBA, and I am deeply indebted for everything I've learned from him.

    Thank you Martin, and best of luck in your future freed from our repetitive questioning! You are definitely one of the good guys!

    1. Rick Evans | | #7

      Malcolm, don't get any ideas... We can't lose you too! :-)

    2. Russell Miller | | #8

      Well said!

  2. CollieGuy | | #2

    Best wishes for every success in whatever future endeavors you may choose.

  3. User avater
    Jon R | | #3

    > For 10 over years

    You are already missed :-).

    Best wishes and I look forward to reading your Musings blog.

  4. Andrew C | | #4

    Even if GBA continues to thrive, as I hope and expect it will, I will miss Martin. I’ve visited this website every day for years now, and appreciate his knowledge, his writing skills, his politeness, his patience, and his willingness to share. He’s an admirable example of many things.

    To Martin: best wishes

  5. User avater
    Christopher Briley | | #5

    Martin, this community will miss you deeply. Your patience, speed, skill, and vigilance have helped us all tremendously, and made us all better builders, architects and consumers. You are a hero to more people than you realize. I wish you the very best for whatever lies ahead. Let me know if you're ever in Portland Maine. I'll gather a group of your admirers and we'll buy you all the drinks you want! Cheers!

    Also... So that's what you look like without the mustache, eh?

    1. Deleted | | #22

      “[Deleted]”

  6. Rick Evans | | #6

    No more GBA and no more mustache... Martin, you are clearly ready for change :-)

    We have all learned a great deal from you over the years and we are all tremendously gratefulI for your work. I wish you the very best in retirement.

  7. John Woloshyn | | #9

    Thank you Martin for making GBA the great resource center that it is. I joined about 3 years ago when I knew that I was going to be embarking on my first build in an ‘energy expensive” rural location up here in Canada. I needed ideas and methods to make a highly energy efficient structure and I found all of that here on GBA. It is evident your compassion and desire for factual information backed by rigorous scientific study wherever possible, has been the main driver in the direction that GBA has taken. Congrats on your retirement.

  8. User avater
    Peter Engle | | #10

    Congratulations on the retirement. You have been one of the movers and shakers in the building and green building industries for so long that it will be a different place without you. I look forward to your continuing blogs.

  9. Keith Gustafson | | #11

    This place will be lesser for the loss.

    More time to chop wood, hope that is a euphemism for something!

    Congrats, good luck, and thank you

  10. User avater
    Geir Gaseidnes | | #12

    Thank you, Martin. Time for the rest of us to step up, I guess! Perhaps we'll still see you in the comments section (just you try and stay away).

  11. Aedi | | #13

    Thanks Martin for all your contributions here. Without you, I wouldn't know half of what I know today about green building, nor would this community thrived to the extent it has -- one of my favorite communities on the internet. It might be a little selfish, but I am glad I still have your column to look forward to. Enjoy your (semi-)retirement.

  12. Russell Miller | | #14

    I think you should visit some of the PROJECTS THAT YOU HELPED GUIDE, CREATE AND FIX. THE DOOR IS ALWAYS OPEN HERE!

  13. Elizabeth DiSalvo | | #15

    Bummer! We'll miss you Martin even if sometimes you infuriated us with what was probably the correct answer : ) Best wishes for an extremely pleasant retirement!

  14. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #16

    Well, I guess all good things come to an end sometime. Over the years at the GBA, we’ve all laugh and got mad at each other on occasions, we’ve cussed and discussed, taught and got taught, but most importantly, we’ve learned and continue to learn; and thru all of it, Martin has been the driving force. Always polite, patient, insightful and willing to stick his neck out. I for one will miss the on the spot advice he gave all of us for many years, even on the few occasions when we disagreed. You will be missed on your daily comments, but fortunately, we’ll keep reading your weekly column.
    Thanks for all your help, guidance and all you been to all of us for so long. Best wishes on your retirement.

  15. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #17

    I'd like to thank everyone for their kind words. It's been an honor to work at Taunton Press, and I've greatly enjoyed working alongside all of my fellow writers and editors at GBA and Fine Homebuilding. Now that Brian Pontolilo is taking over the reins at GBA, all of our loyal readers should know that Brian has my full confidence. He's an excellent builder, an excellent editor, an excellent writer, and knowledgeable about building science. I'm glad he's now in charge.

    I'd especially like to thank my bosses at Taunton Press for backing me up, even when product manufacturers were uncomfortable at the spotlight shone on some of their practices. I've been shielded from the details about some of the complaints that Taunton has received from product manufacturers and advertisers, and Taunton deserves credit for that policy.

    GBA is a healthy community that depends on the selfless contributions of countless volunteers. We are blessed with an unusually talented group here -- with many readers who are instinctively helpful and almost unfailingly polite. Everyone who reads the articles on this site and who posts comments here deserves part of the credit for what makes it all work. For everyone's contributions over the last decade, I'm deeply grateful.

    Readers should know that now that I have retired, I'm losing my Taunton email address. If anyone wants to contact me, my email address is martin [at] theenergynerd [dot] com.

  16. Peter L | | #18

    Thank you for all the advice and help you have given many people throughout the years. Better homes have been built because of it. We still have a LONG way to go but progress is slow with the US green building movement.

    Is that an "easter egg" in the above picture? I'm pretty sure Vermont doesn't have palm trees and that Hawaii shirt is another giveaway :)

    A toast to solar thermal & insulating paint!

  17. Nick Welch | | #19

    Martin, thank you for everything. I bought my first home in 2013 and hardly knew anything. I was interested in efficiency and you took me down a rabbit hole that became a full blown new hobby, maybe even a second career option. I'm glad you'll continue writing Musings of an Energy Nerd. The world needs it!

  18. User avater
    Robert Opaluch | | #20

    Shocking! Martin IS (was) GBA! At least we'll still have his Musings blogs to look forward to.

    Best of luck Martin and appreciate all you have done for the green building community. What a great contributor and career!

  19. User avater
    Mark Walker | | #21

    May your heels raise higher and your warm air not leak.
    Thanks for the (brief) answers to a newbie's questions.

  20. Alan B | | #23

    Thanks so much for everything Martin, your articles were always thought provoking and you have helped building science grow in scope and influence.

    On a personal note you answered many of my questions with wisdom and patience which i really appreciated.

    I wish you well for the future and do hope you will drop in to visit from time to time :)

  21. Jonathan Lawrence CZ 4A New Jersey | | #24

    Martin,

    Thank you for making GBA what it is today and best of luck.

  22. Bill Dietze | | #25

    Martin,
    Thanks for the steady hand and the ability to cut through noise to get at the heart of the matter. Thanks for not getting to the heart of the matter when the matter was actually unresolved. Thanks for the advice that I tried to follow! Thanks for creating a space where like minded people were glad to join the conversation and thanks for treating the newbies with the same respect as the professionals.
    & etc.
    I'm glad you're still here Fridays and I look forward Brian's stewardship of GBA.
    All the best.
    Bill

  23. User avater GBA Editor
    Peter Yost | | #26

    It's been great working with you over the years Martin, and that's from a Wingnut to Energy Nerd...

    Peter

  24. Jaccen | | #27

    To Martin,

    All the best! Your concise, expert advise will be sorely missed.

  25. Yupster | | #28

    I can't add anything that hasn't already been said, aside from an additional voice saying you will be missed! Thanks for vastly increasing my building expertise and providing a reliable trustworthy resource with a legacy that looks set to carry on.

  26. Scott Paulson | | #29

    Martin, Thanks for all your hard work and dedication. Your practical and realistic viewpoints were always appreciated. I look forward to any articles you contribute in the future, but enjoy the chopping of wood, gardening and travel.

  27. David_King | | #30

    Martin,
    As well as your always polite, concise, factual answers I've always been impressed with your skill as a writer and editor. I'm sure we've all benefitted subconsciously from the clarity and intention with which you write and I hope you'll use some of this "free" time to continue the writing. Thank you!

  28. Peter Martin | | #31

    Martin,
    I wish you well in your future endeavors. I've always looked forward to reading your column here. As one who lived in VT for 24 years, the first few off-grid with a meager set of PV panels and a 12V battery bank (in the early 80's), I've always admired your persistence and skills in living your chosen lifestyle. Not to mention your generous gifts of advice and analysis to the energy-efficient building community. I salute you sir!
    Peter

  29. Andy CD Zone 5 - NW Ohio | | #32

    Above all, thank you, Martin, for your patience and skill as a moderator. We watched as you had to grit your teeth sometimes, but it's a testament to the value of GBA when most building science internet queries return multiple GBA Q&A threads on the first page.

    With any luck, you'll come out of the woods and accept the nomination for our Secretary of Energy in the next administration.

    1. Malcolm Taylor | | #33

      I think Ben & Jerrys should do a Holladay flavour. Maybe maple syrup and pine nuts?

    2. Alan B | | #41

      "With any luck, you'll come out of the woods and accept the nomination for our Secretary of Energy in the next administration."
      This is genius.
      Now the question is would Martin be interested if this were done?

  30. Tyler Keniston | | #34

    Thank you Martin for all the sense you've provided! Your legacy lives on.

  31. Gordon B | | #35

    Thank you Martin for clarifying so much about building in more sustainable ways.

  32. Dave B | | #36

    All the best on your retirement!
    You have helped me many times, in my quest to build a green home.( It's almost done)
    Thanks to your advice my family will have a healthy, efficient home, that should last for many generations.
    Your knowledge will be missed by many.

  33. Sean W | | #37

    Your writing was a tremendous help to me during my research phase (5 years or so) and up to when we finally had our house built. I'm not a builder, just a homeowner interested in an efficient and healthy home. I could not even begin to count the times I was faced with a decision of some sort and did the old "site:gba.com martin holladay + search term" to educate myself. Many thanks and I hope you enjoy a well deserved retirement!

  34. User avater
    Greg Labbe | | #38

    Martin,

    You're a pillar in the building efficiency community and i appreciated your sharp, objective writing while at GBA. You are what brought me to the GBA trough often daily.

    You will be missed.

    Greg Labbe
    Toronto

  35. Kohta Ueno | | #39

    Martin--congratulations on your retirement! And thank you many many times for everything you've done for our community.

    Also, for everyone else--Martin gave a great talk at the Twenty-Third Annual Westford Symposium on Building Science (“Still Fighting the Same Battles, 40 Years Later”)--thanks for that one too!

    1. User avater GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #40

      Kohta,
      I'm just a journalist, while you are a building science researcher. The GBA community is certainly grateful for all of your work -- without researchers, journalists can't do much! So, thanks.

  36. user-7388783 | | #42

    Congratulations Martin. Our loss. Unfortunately, this is sad [from a selfish standpoint].
    Can you share one last gift with this homeowner? Some months ego, you posted a professional reference for us. I'm having trouble finding it on the site [I thought I saved it locally, but maybe not]

    Thank you and wishing you the happiest of times.

    1. User avater GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #43

      User 7388783,
      I don't think I can help you without more information.

      1. You haven't told me your name.

      2. The phrase you are using -- "you posted a professional reference for us" -- is mysterious. What do you mean? What information are you looking for?

  37. user-7388783 | | #44

    Martin - Sorry, my name is Henry. I think you wrote that there are many of us who have hard time finding good resources for our projects. Maybe your Jan. 4, 2019 post ‘I Can’t Find a Contractor to Do That’ was what I saw. Just can't remember. I'm looking for excellent resource for 1979/1980 contemporary residential construction with air source heating problems. It's an insulation, air leakage, maybe heat pump issue that maybe are the main factors in play. Thank you.

    1. User avater GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #45

      Henry,
      Where do you live?

  38. user-7388783 | | #46

    Martin,

    I'm in MA. [near RI, Cumberland]

    Thanks.

    1. User avater GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #47

      Henry,
      Check out this page: Green Building Bulletin Board.

      The energy consultants nearest where you live are shown below.

      Steve Baczek
      Reading, MA
      781-354-5839

      Building Evolution Corporation
      160 Burbank Road
      Sutton, MA 01590
      617-963-4006

      Building Science Corporation
      70 Main Street
      Westford, MA 01886
      978-589-5100

      Coldham & Hartman Architects
      155 Pine Street
      Amherst, MA 01002
      413-549-3616

      Mike Duclos, DEAP Energy Group
      667 Sawmill Brook Parkway
      Newton, MA 02459
      617-527-7871

      Sustainable Comfort, Inc.
      146 Main Street, Suite 301
      Worcester, MA 01608
      508-713-6680

      Peter Yost, Building-Wright
      167 Main St., Suite 302
      Brattleboro, VT 05301
      802-380-4744

      1. user-7388783 | | #48

        Martin,

        Thanks so much. A nice reverse retirement gift [to me]. That's the blog I was looking for.

        Hope all your days are pleasant.

        Thank you.

        Henry

  39. User avater
    Marc Rosenbaum | | #49

    Martin, I cannot think of a single person with whom I more enjoyed arguing with :-) I'll have to follow you into retirement, is all I can think of! In the meantime, I hope to see you and Karyn down here in the tropics.
    Thanks for the immense contribution you've made to our community.
    Marc

    1. User avater GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #50

      Marc,
      I'm touched. You're one of the experts I've depended on over the years to explain thorny concepts and provide fact-based assessments of all kinds of theories. Journalists like me stand on the shoulders of smart people like you.

      I understand that the climate in Martha's Vineyard differs from that in northern Vermont. (I'm not sure how your island was ever admitted to New England.) I'll have to visit some day to assess the situation.

      1. User avater
        Dana Dorsett | | #51

        >"I understand that the climate in Martha's Vineyard differs from that in northern Vermont. (I'm not sure how your island was ever admitted to New England.) "

        What do you mean "...admitted to New England...."? How about admitted into the USA? :-)

        Some MV natives even talk about taking the ferry to go "visit America" . (True fact!)

        In some MV neighborhoods Portuguese is the predominant language among the year-round residents. Martha's Vineyard is one of the northern-most islands of Brazil, but US visitors are still allowed to visit without a passport, and they're OK with English-only speakers. :-)

        But seriously, Martha's Vineyard is about MUCH more than just rich Yankees on vacation (though it's sometimes hard to tell between Memorial Day and Labor Day.) It's worth visiting MV if only to soak up some of the African American intellectual & political history, which runs long & deep on that island, and there is a thriving intellectual/political core culture of African Americans living there today, something that might escape the casual summertime beach-goer.

        In the winter it's pretty low key, but leave your skis at home. The XC skiing pretty much sucks.
        Even 2 days after a big Nor'Easter bringing copious amounts of ocean-effect snow it turns to glop, often disappearing within days. More than once I've bumped into MV refugees riding lifts in central MA making the grueling round trip to find snow for a day.

  40. user-7573496 | | #52

    Wow... I just signed up for a trial to GBA solely based on the fact that I kept running across Martin's thoughtful comments to people's questions here, every time I was searching for crawlspace encapsulation / conditioning. Luckily, Henry's question in August and Martin's quick reply was exactly what I was looking for - a reference to professional services. Internet searches for the above topics in the Portsmouth NH area seem to turn up companies that deal in waterproofing or radon abatement with minimal interests of the GBA mindset. Martin, thanks again. Hope retirement works well for you.

    1. User avater GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #53

      User 7573496,
      It would be nice to know your name -- but in any case, welcome to GBA.

      You can rest assured that even though I am retired, I still contribute to GBA -- both in the comments sections and as a blog writer. (I'm still contributing two articles per month).

      I'm glad you found an answer to your crawlspace question.

  41. user-7573496 | | #54

    Martin, it's Brent - didn't know you were still monitoring this, lol.
    I haven't found an answer really, but the list included a very nice list of consultants, architects and builders for New England, and I have already reached out today from the list to an architect for a consult. I still need to figure out the crawlspace work. A lot of folks on GBA seem to do the work themselves when discussing crawlspaces (as well as other work), but that's not possible for me.
    Glad we will still see you online :)

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