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