This episode of the BS* + Beer show features Lloyd Alter, Kyle Macht, June Donenfeld, and Sean McStay discussing the book Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity by Joseph G. Allen and John D. Macomber.
Lloyd, a one-time real estate developer turned editor, offers a thoughtful and provocative, if harsh, critique. He makes the point that the content is directed at the commercial building market—and is specifically focused on office buildings, which he feels are a moot point post pandemic. “The building science part of the book is very successful but the business science of it is a complete mess because it came out at the same time as the COVID crisis hit,” he says. “We don’t need to read half a book that’s telling us to crank up the ventilation—everybody’s done it—and the building population is half as big as it used to be.” He feels it’s the housing market where the authors’ ideas would best be applied because it is in their homes that people are spending nearly 100% of their time now—with higher occupancy levels than ever before. He argues for retrofitting existing homes to include healthy materials, good quality air, and all of the other standards the authors described for corporations. “The big lesson out of all of this is that healthy buildings means healthy houses,” he concludes. (Lloyd has since posted a review of the book on treehugger.com, where he is design editor.)
June, a freelance writer, takes a more judicious perspective, citing some of the resources and articles in the book as enlightening and worthwhile. Although she, too, felt some frustration around the authors’ narrow scope. She brings up the important role that education plays in pushing building science and healthy buildings toward the mainstream.
Kyle, a certified Passive House Consultant at Macht Architecture, wonders if the authors are ahead of the game by targeting fortune 500 companies. Change is not currently coming from the perspective of building science or climate change, he argues, so perhaps corporate investment is a viable starting point. Sean, host of “Better Construction,” concurs. He read the book from a business perspective. He is also a Passive House Consultant and works in the high-performance construction industry. He notes cost as the biggest obstacle to green building, so he sees Fortune 500 companies as a funding opportunity. “If we can have these large corporations sponsor or fund projects that move toward buying green products and hiring high-performance architects and contractors, that brings costs down,” he says. “Anything we can do to shift a large amount of money and people into healthier buildings . . . is a big help. We need to bring costs down from the top through corporate investment, and up from the bottom through advocacy and education.”
The chapter on green building certifications spurs conversation. We are all in agreement that no one building standard is the holy grail, and that we will only make progress by using tools from many different sources. Kyle is a proponent of the Living Building Challenge—arguably the most elite among the existing standards, and therefore unattainable for the masses. Yet he is making use of its Red List and Declare labels. The buildings he designs and subsequently his clients are benefiting from the stringent and seemingly out-of-reach certification. We can easily criticize certifications like LEED, WELL, Fitwel, and RESET—and many do—but we can just as easily choose to benefit from them.
Are healthy buildings a capitalist venture to be exploited for the greater good? Are building certifications elitist? Do expensive flagship projects have merit despite their insurmountable costs for the majority of us? These are just a few of the topics explored on this episode.
Enjoy the show!
On Thursday, December 24, from 6 to 7 p.m. EST we aired a pre-recorded “Who We Are” episode featuring the Brew Crew. Michael Maines, Emily Mottram, Travis Brungardt, and Kiley Jacques share their personal and professional backgrounds, explaining their interest in building science, how they landed where they are, and where they hope to go. Check it out:
On Thursday, December 31, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. EST we will air the presentation that Michael Maines and Robert Swinburne gave at the 2020 Fine Homebuilding Summit: “Designing a High-Performance House With the Pretty Good House Approach.” Conventional construction is complicated enough; when you build high-performance homes, mistakes can be disastrous, as these projects often include unfamiliar components and assemblies, and low heating loads provide little energy for drying. Residential designer Michael Maines shows how he uses the Pretty Good House approach to think through every detail so there are no surprises once construction starts. Architect Robert Swinburne will share a project he designed that exemplifies Pretty Good House principles. Warning: if you enjoy the excitement of figuring things out on the fly and putting out fires when problems occur, you may find that running well-planned projects is boring in comparison.
Michael Maines designs homes and renovations that prioritize health and comfort, incorporating building science principles to create resilient structures with low environmental impact. A recovering carpenter, Michael still builds occasionally for friends and family. He is a contributing editor for Fine Homebuilding and co-hosts The BS* + Beer Show (*BS for Building Science, of course), which he started as a local discussion group.
Robert Swinburne was a mediocre student in high school. Bob’s grades were fine and he was a band geek but he was too busy reading, drawing, and building things to bother studying. During the summer in Harrison, Maine, he worked for one of those people who could do anything. Bob didn’t learn to do everything but he learned a lot. After a few false starts at college, Bob found architecture school and it was good—time-consuming and expensive, but good. After graduation, Bob headed for the hills of Vermont, worked for several architectural firms and spent six years as a carpenter before becoming a licensed architect and starting his firm, Bluetime Collaborative. Bob lives in Halifax, Vermont, in a little house with a big barn, lots of woods, a wife, two kids, and assorted animals. He takes off into the woods every day with the K-9 patrol. Lots of people think Bob is a pretty good architect.
-You can contact Kiley Jacques at [email protected].