Even back in 1999, when I was an unknown editor at the Journal of Light Construction, Joseph Lstiburek, a principal at the Building Science Corporation in Massachusetts, graciously answered my questions about heat flow, air flow, moisture movement, and building materials. Since those early years, I’ve interviewed Lstiburek dozens of times, and he’s never failed to enlighten me (and sometimes, surprise me).
Lstiburek’s answers to ten recent questions are presented below.
(1) Compared to 40 years ago, are residential builders in the U.S. doing a better job?
A. Yes and no. They have a much better understanding of how things work, but the skill set of people doing the work is not as good as it was. The business grew faster than the available school of skilled talent. We used to have apprenticeships, and people had time to learn fundamental skills. That’s not happening anymore. The builders are aware of that, but there is no easy answer that I can see. But builders have a better understanding of how things work—things like indoor air quality, combustion safety, water management, thermal management, and comfort. All of this is much better understood by the day-to-day builder than 40 years ago. I used to be a builder, and—I can’t believe I’m saying this about the 1970s—back then we were skilled at our skill sets. But we didn’t know how things worked. Today’s builder is very sophisticated in terms of financial management, scheduling, and how things work. The problem is delivering. We don’t have the skills to do it.
(2) What aspects of residential building in the U.S. are still frustratingly sloppy or wrong?
A. I’m very disappointed with mechanical systems—heating, cooling, and ventilation. We have insanely good pieces—we have good equipment. What we can…