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Building Matters

Pretty Good House Online Training Series

An e-learning opportunity for anyone interested in building better houses

For years, our Maine-based building science discussion group has batted around ideas for designing and building homes that could work for our marketplace, budgets, and general durability of buildings in climate zone 6. Exchanging ideas and sharing information has led to notable strides in building better homes in our region.

Some may argue that it’s cold here, which makes it easier to justify high-performance building strategies, techniques, and materials. Of course, not everyone can afford to build to Passive House level in a cold climate, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing if we can’t build something to the highest performance level. The question is: How do we evaluate what we should be doing to design and build attainable, energy-efficient, durable, comfortable, healthy, and climate-smart homes?

The Pretty Good House (PGH) movement started because our group was frustrated by green building certification program requirements that had diminishing returns and high monetary and carbon costs. To be clear, PGH is not an argument for “good enough.” We encourage energy modeling, blower-door testing, and verification over throwing darts at the wall.

The PGH approach considers forward-thinking aspects of building projects such as upfront carbon emissions, water management strategies, and longevity/life cycle of products. Arguably, simply using all the latest cutting-edge, building-science-informed products on the market makes better buildings. But understanding the demands being put upon such products and thinking about the house as a whole system is critical.

Our Maine group had requests to video or live stream our in-person meetings so people around the country could build on their knowledge. But those discussions often take plance in a noisy space (that’s the beer part). Then, in April 2020, we moved onto Zoom to see how everyone was managing during the early days of the pandemic. It was the first time our group met in a format that allowed non-Mainers to join; and the Zoom meetings didn’t stay secret for long. That was the genesis of the BS* + Beer Show, and it was the next step toward bringing the PGH concept to a broader audience.

After a year of weekly BS* + Beer episodes, people were searching for more resources, more building science information, and additional ways to make their businesses and buildings better. With books on the rise, we decided to write one, “Pretty Good House: A Guide to Creating Better Homes.” It covers all the concepts that factor into designing and building a PGH. And, though there are several excellent building science resources available, many are too technical for beginners. There was a need for a neatly packaged summation of the ideas that should be front and center when designing or building a new home.

Of course, all of us learn best in different ways, and because our group’s mission is to share the information far and wide, we branched out and created an e-learning series, which launches January 4, 2023. It offers a different medium for absorbing the information, and an alternative way to get continuing education credits. Not everyone can sit down and read a book cover to cover, but maybe they can commit to a 10-minute segment, one day at a time, over several weeks. (Along with the video content, there is a live Q&A session, which is an opportunity to engage with some leading industry professionals.)

The course is structured around the PGH guidelines and includes images, drawings, and key discussion points. It is meant to be approachable for homeowners and professionals alike. The objective is to demystify the ideas behind building better buildings—not to tell you how to do it or take a deep-dive into technical jargon. This course outlines the PGH building blocks. You will also learn about resources for more information and possibly be introduced to topics you didn’t know you should be thinking about.

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Emily Mottram is an architect working in Maine, and co-author of “Pretty Good House: A Guide to Building Better Homes.”

7 Comments

  1. jadziedzic | | #1

    This seems like an excellent learning opportunity for information that can help transform the home building industry. However, there's an interesting dichotomy between the statement "our group’s mission is to share the information far and wide" and the $1,000 admission ticket to the entire e-learning series. The unfortunate reality is that barrier to entry will NOT motivate many builders (or homeowners, for that matter) with a casual interest in high-performance home building to learn more about this topic - and maybe start building (and requesting) better-built homes.

    I've purchased three copies of the PGH book and will be giving copies out to a younger relative in the building industry, the builder with whom I'm working, and another builder who has expressed interest in my personal attempt to traverse the high-performance building road. That's my small attempt at spreading the gospel.

    I'll choose the following words carefully. Maybe Taunton Press should consider the value to society inherent in making information of this type freely available, even if it doesn't cover the bills. If you want to change the world ...

    1. Expert Member
      Michael Maines | | #2

      I agree that the cost of admission to Emily's course is more than some people can afford or are willing to spend. But for others, especially professionals who want a better understanding of building science and sustainable building principles, it's an excellent value.

      If you or your client can't afford the cost of the course, the PGH book is pretty affordable and a good value. If you can't afford it, though, you can read many articles about the PGH concept for free right here at GBA. Or you can read what became the book's outline for free at prettygoodhouse.org, or you can watch hundreds of hours of free education through The BS* + Beer Show, or similar programming such as the Fine Homebuilding podcasts, the UnBuildIt podcast or The Build Show network.

      Or attend one of the Building Science Symposiums created by Travis and Joe from Catalyst Construction who also run the Kansas City BS+Beer group; they are very affordable and pack a lot of information into two days, with excellent speakers representing a variety of approaches to building science. The next one is coming right up at the end of February, near Washington, DC: https://bsandbeerkc.regfox.com/mid-atlantic-building-science-symposium.

      One more free resource: the PGH authors often do free webinars and podcasts; this Wednesday, Emily and I will be doing a free 1-hour webinar for the Green Home Institute: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pretty-good-house-free-ce-webinar-tickets-496337447667.

    2. user-723121 | | #3

      What is the old saying? Free advice is worth exactly what it costs which is nothing. The best money I have spent in my many years building energy efficient structures was the 2007 Passive House Conference. An unbelievable amount of collective knowledge there, very inspiring. We now routinely talk of sub 1 ACH50, we never did before Passive House.

      https://www.passivehouseprojects.org/

      Doug

      1. Expert Member
        Michael Maines | | #4

        I'd like to think that the many hours of unpaid labor we have put into BS+Beer and other avenues for disseminating BS education are worth more than nothing, but I agree with the sentiment--people tend to appreciate more highly the things that they had to work for.

        1. Expert Member
          Dana Dorsett | | #6

          No kidding!

          MY free advice is worth TWICE the price! :-)

  2. Debra | | #5

    I seem to mostly see good building resources for the cold north or the deep south. I live in Virginia, in climate zone 4A, and I'd love to learn more about designing and building good homes in this mixed humid climate. Any suggestions for good resources for this region?

    1. jollygreenshortguy | | #7

      Others may be able to offer better resources than this. But the Building America program has climate zone specific topics on their website. I hope this is useful to you.
      https://basc.pnnl.gov/optimized-climate-solutions

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