When I began working at the Journal of Light Construction in 1999, I was assigned to edit the magazine’s Q&A column. At all of my various jobs since then, I’ve been called on to help answer questions submitted by residential designers and builders.
Over the last twenty years, I’ve been asked the same three questions again and again:
- How do I insulate a cathedral ceiling?
- How do I insulate the interior side of a basement wall?
- Why is my HVAC contractor specifying oversized equipment?
No matter how many times my colleagues and I try to wrestle with these issues, the questions persist. I feel a little like Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day. If I was effective at my job, you might think that these questions might taper off in frequency — but they don’t. These stubborn questions return again and again, and experts’ efforts to answer them are ineffective.
So why are these questions so thorny? As I began to ponder these issues, I wondered:
- How can energy experts do a better job of answering these questions? Should our advice change?
- Can we envision code changes (or changes in manufacturers’ advice) that might help builders understand these issues?
After mulling these issues, I realized that I don’t have any simple answers. But it’s worth untangling a few threads to figure out what’s going on.
We need to raise the bar
These problems elicit a variety of reactions from builders, including some shoulder shrugs. But these aren’t trivial problems. Imperfect knowledge can result in expensive mistakes — and these are not victimless mistakes. Every month of the year, GBA hears from homeowners facing $20,000 and $30,000 repairs for avoidable problems.
The residential construction industry inexplicably accepts a high rate of defects — defects that…