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The Pretty Good House, Part 2

The building science group in Maine has a second meeting to discuss specifications for the Pretty Good House

Image 1 of 4

A lively discussion about Pretty Good Houses. Dan Kolbert listens as someone in the group makes a point — or perhaps makes an announcement that the neighboring business would be towing parked cars if they were not moved shortly. (One downside to the discussion group's popularity.)


Image Credit: Michael Maines

A lively discussion about Pretty Good Houses. Dan Kolbert listens as someone in the group makes a point — or perhaps makes an announcement that the neighboring business would be towing parked cars if they were not moved shortly. (One downside to the discussion group's popularity.)


Image Credit: Michael Maines

Phil Kaplan (of Green Architects' Lounge fame) makes a pitch for Building Energy 12, the conference that NESEA will host in Boston on March 6 through 8.

Image Credit: Michael Maines

Standing room only at the building science discussion group.

Image Credit: Michael Maines

Part II of our discussion generated more good ideas.

Image Credit: Michael Maines

What is truly important when designing and building a green home? Some of the many existing programs don’t go far enough, some are accused of going too far, and some just miss the mark. What should be included in a Pretty Good House?

We had a pretty good turnout, 50 people or so, at the most recent building science discussion group, held each month at Maine Green Building Supply in Portland. Plugs were made for the upcoming Maine Indoor Air Quality conference and the NESEA conference in Boston. We did a quick round of self-introductions, and then we got down to business — Part 2 of the Pretty Good House discussion.


More suggestions for a PGH

Dan Kolbert, builder and moderator, kicked it off by briefly recapping the results of the first discussion and the comments to Part 1 of this blog series. He clarified that, in his mind at least, the PGH is not meant to be a prescriptive measure for all climate zones (and that in fact he’s not really sure what it’s supposed to be at all), but that we should try to focus our discussion on our zone (Climate Zone 6) and to consider how other climates might relate.

With many sharp minds in the room and no strong agenda, the discussion wandered around, and as usual there was no consensus on what the PGH metrics should be or even what the PGH concept really means. Good things came out of the discussion though, including the following ideas of what should be included in a Pretty Good House:

Near net zero. Jason Peacock suggested this, and he practices what he preaches. He propsed that a PGH should have utility bills of no more than $500 to $700 a year, and that no house should be built without renewable energy systems as part of the mechanical mix.

Zoned heating system to reduce the load. Jim Godbout, one of Maine’s premier plumbing and heating experts, says that one relatively inexpensive way to reduce demand on the heating system is to provide separate zones for different parts of the house. He said that if you are using a boiler, a popular choice in Maine, you can also use the boiler to heat domestic hot water — an approach that usually requires a boiler rated at 80,000 Btu/h or more. He says that in a tight, well-insulated house, the heat load could be reduced to 20,000 Btu per square foot per year or less, at which point electrically supplied heat can make sense — but you will need another heat source to supply domestic hot water.

Mechanical ventilation should be a given. An HRV or ERV, or possibly an exhaust-only ventilation system, is required with the airtightness level expected of a PGH.

At the previous discussion, Mike Pindell of I&S Insulation had suggested 2 ach50 as a reasonably easy target to hit; informal feedback seems to indicate that tighter levels may be preferred. Mike says, “We’re standing here in rarified air,” arguing about the difference between 1 and 2 ach50, when the vast majority of people out there are nowhere near these numbers. Is this a case of building nerds being nerdy, or are supertight blower door numbers really necessary?

No fossil fuels. Phil Kaplan offers this concept, and has achieved it in his firm’s Bright Built Barn, which produces more power than it uses. Using no fossil fuels at all may be more than Pretty Good, so the suggestion was amended to “no fossil fuels burned on site.” Affordably sized grid-tied renewable energy system, here we come.

Renovating vs. new construction. Dan states that until we get our heads around the concept of the PHG, let’s stick to new construction. Architect Liz Newman argues that in 50 years, 90% of the housing stock will be stock that exists now, so thinking about retrofits is vitally important. Margo Billings of Horizon Energy Services asks whether retrofits should meet the same standards as PGH specifications for new homes. Clearly this group is focused on retrofits, and further discussion about retrofits, when we get to it, will be interesting.

Client concerns. Sam Zuckerman of Solaris says that we should bring the discussion back to the customers. Their concerns about achieving a reasonable return on their investment are something he hears about all the time when talking to people about energy upgrades and installations. Should the PGH specifications be a list of “Do this, don’t do that,” or should it be about giving the client the best house you can for the money they are willing to spend?

On one hand, Dan relates a story about a leading green builder in New England, who tells customers: If you already have 500 square feet per person, I will not build you an addition.

On the other hand, Bob Earnest of Spring Island Builders says, “If you can help people build a greener house than they would have otherwise, then yes — we should continue to encourage smaller footprints. But don’t run away from a house that’s bigger than you might prefer.  Each case has to stand on its own.  Every time we can make a house greener, or smaller, or better — that’s a win.”

A house that uses little fuel will cost less to operate, allowing for a bigger mortgage, and energy incentives also make a difference in what homeowners can afford, so the cost vs. square foot debate is a moving target. Client education is a big part of this too; Dan suggests a Pretty Good House coloring book to help all parties visualize what is important.

Energy-efficient assemblies. Wes Riley, an energy rater and consultant, suggests we follow the latest energy code requirements — specifically the 2012 IECC, which has some interesting changes over past iterations. As most of us are not yet aware of the upcoming changes, he says that there is going to be a move from insulation R-value to overall wall assembly U-factor, taking into account thermal bridging and window and door performance. Wes suggests that any house with a HERS performance rating of 40 or less is Pretty Good.

Margo agrees that the tipping point is right around HERS 40; that’s where you start to see serious reductions in energy use. Wes says that the easiest thing you can do is to minimize thermal bridging; Sam agrees that it doesn’t cost a lot and makes a big difference in wall U-factors. Wes says that in the 2012 IECC, air leakage is also going to be a major factor.

Tom Fullam points out that in any wall assembly you need to be aware of moisture management issues — there’s no sense in building a superinsulated house if it’s not going to be durable.

Prescriptive vs. performance. Jim Godbout says that he recently went to a meeting of ten reputable builders — these are guys who are proud of the way they are building — and all ten were insulating in different ways: proof that prescriptive paths don’t work.

Mike Pindell and Chris Corson agree that if the PGH is going to require high performance levels, the standard has to be performance-based. Chris, who recently built a house that “killed the Passivhaus standard,” says that PGH could be the beginning of a potential paradigm shift. Sam agrees, and says that there doesn’t need to be one solution with a ribbon around it; simply planting five ideas in someone’s head will make a big difference.

Steve Konstantino, owner of Maine Green Building Supply (our gracious host and provider of delicious sausages and other snacks), thinks that including an energy model up front is very important, in addition to testing performance at the end of the project.


What’s the point?

At the end of the night, there seemed to be a few recurring questions:

  • Should you quantify the PGH, and if so, how?
  • And what is the purpose of the PGH?

The best response so far to the second question came from Shepard Bosworth, a builder: you get a Pretty Good Plaque. But I think there may be other good answers to both questions. Let’s hear them.

Want to learn more about building a pretty good house? Sign up for the Sustainable Building Accelerator and learn directly from author and architect Emily Mottram.


  1. Jason Peacock | | #1

    Great post
    Hey Michael,

    Thanks for getting the bulk of the information from the night. It's exciting to see a group effort pushing toward a better way of building. Not every house is going to go for certification of one type or another, so having general benchmarks is a great idea. I especially like Phil Kaplan's comment about designing to eliminate fossil fuels. I second that opinion! Also, I wanted to reiterate that Intus windows are really changing the feasibility of using triple pane windows. Their window values are impressive and their costs are similar to double pane windows.

    And lastly I can't help but point out that GBA did a write up on my house:

  2. user-1103036 | | #2

    Nice Blog Mike
    Another nice piece Mike!

    I also wanted to mention that I'm not against tighter buildings, but 2 ach@50 is a reasonable number to achieve. We would be far better off to get as many buildings as we can in that range, than to have a very select few get to .6ach@50 in my opinion. Another reason for my thinking on this is that blower doors are geat tools for quantifying and finding air leakage in the building enclosure, but they don't accurately reflect real world building performance. I think this is a bit of a case of building science geeks being geeky- and I'm guilty as well. I get excited about really tight blower door numbers too, but ultimately lots of pretty tight house would be pretty good, and better than a few really tight ones.

  3. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #3

    Thanks guys
    Mike, I didn't mean to imply that you weren't in favor of tighter houses, but I did love your "standing in rarified air" comment--at the discussion group and here at GBA we are indeed in rarified air, while most of the world lives in buildings you probably couldn't GET blower door numbers on, they're so drafty.

    Jason, good point about Intus windows, and I also liked Phil's No Fossil Fuels admonition. I did include a link to your GBA house article, it's embedded in the phrase "practices what he preaches." I Included links for everyone I could, in fact--Liz Newman was the only person for whom I couldn't find a website.

    To everyone I quoted: I tried to accurately record your comments, but it's hard to write and drink beer at the same time. so if I got it wrong please email me (mike at finelinesmaine dot com) and let me know.

  4. dante03 | | #4

    Great post
    Thanks so much for posting on this topic. I live in Iowa, and as far as I can tell at this point - we are pretty limited on likeminded thinkers around here. I've been considering trying to start a group like this around here. So far, I take the criticism that it costs too much or just plain laughter at some of the building science ideas that I discuss with people. Whether the blue collar worker mentality or the slow moving transition (to the center of the country) on this line of thinking - I love the idea of getting a group of like minded folks together to process the many different avenues you can take with building science. Thanks for the post! It is a great way to push the envelope and I think we need more of it.

  5. dankolbert | | #5

    Starting your own
    As was mentioned in Mike's last blog, I wrote a piece for JLC recently on our discussion group and ways to start your own. I'm happy to share it - e-mail me at dan at kolbertbuilding dotcom.

  6. 4y23MuNF7N | | #6

    Free Lunches incentives also make a difference in what homeowners can afford...

    The energy incentives will no doubt be funded from taxation, higher utility bills or some combination.

    Energy incentives make a difference to what everyone can afford.

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Defining energy incentives
    The argument is oft-repeated, but I can't help pointing out that there are all kinds of energy incentives, ranging from the federal government's decision to take on the insurance liability of nuclear power plant owners, to favorable tax incentives for the oil industry, to our military commitments to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

    If all economic controls on energy were lifted, the only way we would be generating electricity is with coal-burning power plants without any pollution controls at all. We need regulation, an intelligent tax policy, and incentives to prevent energy companies from choosing the low-cost route that will lead to rapid climate change and environmental collapse.

  8. user-987846 | | #8

    Central Colorado chimes in
    I must admit I am a bit torn between the effectiveness and good energy of this PGH thing, and the feeling that we are trying to re-invent the wheel? I kind of see this as a case of builders being sick and tired of talking about if they are busy or not, and wanting to talk about the specifics of their craft - which is great - I am one of them!! However, do we really need to go through the basics of what makes a house good? I suspect anybody that subscribes to this website/blog is doing above average to way above average work. So, what's the objective? Are we just trying to blow our own horns? Are we trying to just make our own product better? Or are we trying to change the industry as a whole?

    That being said, I don't know? I'm just a builder (and probationary rater) trying to survive - just like 80% of the folks reading this right now - am I right? It seams that the problem is - you can spend as much time as you want making your product the best in the business, but if the market does not really recognize it, you're just an overpriced builder with an energy star sticker on your truck.

    I think someone mentioned taking it to the consumer? I would think this is the crux - as long as lesser builders can out do you with granite countertops and large "foyers", we don't stand a chance to really change the fundamentals of good building. I do acknowledge that in some part this is actually happening - great programs around the country have addressed the energy and durability of mainstream building, we all know the players. BUT - I happen to live in a rural area where market driven "certification" does not really exist. Although not entirely true - there are a few builders doing great things and using that as a marketing tool, but when I talk to them as a fellow builder and possible rater - very single one has expressed doubt about its worth.

    Those of you still hanging on to this rant... In conclusion, I guess my two cents is that although I want to talk about how to build things as much as the next guy/gal, I think our efforts should be geared towards the message, not the method. I know - we're builders, and we don't want to talk to realtors or marketing people, but maybe we should?

  9. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #9

    So, what's the objective?
    "Are we just trying to blow our own horns? Are we trying to just make our own product better? Or are we trying to change the industry as a whole?"

    Those are some recurring questions, Greg. As you say, the field of official certifications is crowded and the demand for more is not strong.

    If the 100+ comments on part 1 of this blog are any indication, we do in fact need to discuss the basics of what goes into a good house. We all come at building from different angles and by discussing what we consider important (or not important) we all benefit.

    Your last paragraph presents a an interesting addition to the list of PGH features: it's well marketed to the consumer. I would put that in a category with attractively designed--it may not excite the hard-core geeks but it is vitally important to the house being accepted, loved and cared for.

  10. user-987846 | | #10

    I agree
    Hey Mike. First of all - I did not mean to sound like we should not have this conversation - we should, and I fully applaud the effort. I wish I could be there with a beer in hand to participate! I guess that I am fearful that if we spend too much time debating over 1.5 ach50 vs. 2.0ach50, etc.. we could miss the boat. It seems as though we are slowly starting to climb out the financial doldrums, and when we finally get back to being busy, we as an industry will have the opportunity to change the status quo, I just hope we do. Probably a much more effective conversation in person with a beverage than the confinements of the "comment box".

    I did go back and reread the summary of the first meeting, and some of the responses. I must admit it is very interesting and stimulating.

    Second, I fully agree that the aesthetic component is important. I don't worry too much about this though, because I believe that proper design for proper function breeds attractive structures. I think that the size arguments are very interesting, and not sure there is a specific answer, but I do think the trend towards smaller homes has taken hold.

    Keep up the good work, I'll definitely stay tuned.

  11. user-716970 | | #11

    as to marketing...
    If you are serious about the marketing aspect of these homes, I think that it is fairly obvious that "Pretty Good House", as a name just will not do the trick. Why not call it what it is...a "Really Good House".

  12. dankolbert | | #12

    Split the difference
    How about The Good House? Has a nice, Shaker-ish simplicity.

    Anyway, as the one responsible for the stupid name, I have to say it has "clicked," but maybe that's only among us in the "in crowd."

  13. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #13

    Very Good
    How about two levels--if you invest at least a little thought into the impact your house will have, it's a Pretty Good House. If you really put some effort into it, it's a Very Good House.

    Of course, knowing Dan and his dry sense of humor, Pretty Good makes sense in a semi-ironic way, but I can see that it may not translate well. I also like The Pretty Darn Good House.

  14. user-987846 | | #14

    I like think is should be the totally good house - start appealing to the younger consumer. Seriously, I like the PGH - It has that feel of attainability without breaking the bank. BTW - anybody in Colorado out there interested in getting together to talk about this?

  15. 4y23MuNF7N | | #15

    Free Lunches II

    I can't help pointing out that there are all kinds of energy incentives

    I can't help pointing out that the free lunch in question is the subsidizing of the homeowner, for the homeowner, by the people. It seems an odd way to promote social equity...

  16. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #16

    Response to Peter Hastings
    I'm not in favor of PV incentives. Many of my blogs address the problems inherent in PV incentives.
    However, I think you're mistaken when you assume that the purpose of PV incentives is "to promote social equity." Even the architects of PV incentives don't make that argument. The most common justification of PV incentives is to reduce carbon emissions, not to promote social equity.
    By the way, I'm strongly in favor of both goals -- promoting social equity and reducing carbon emissions. PV incentives aren't very efficient ways to attain either goal -- but they help balance the existing incentives that subsidize nuclear power and oil drilling.

  17. 5C8rvfuWev | | #17

    This is off topic
    I've resisted commenting on the marketing angle because it's not what y'all are about ... but the thread has veered, so I'll venture in. You worry about what a PGH is, as it is right for you to do. That's what you do and you do it well. It's why I'm here, to learn how to "shop" and what questions to ask about things you help me understand.

    Don't worry about the marketing. But if you want to sell a whole buncha PGH's, you're going to need to lobby the manufacturers of the products and designs you want -- vs. the stuff on your crap list -- to shift a load of resources (and potential profit) to pay a staff of successful marketers.

    Heck, marketers can dress up toilet paper so one brand looks better than another ... why not have them do that for the high-price stuff y'all want people to use in their walls. And while they're at it, convince them that only the best, most status worthy homeowners have thick walls, and the really top of the line people (some celebrity) have air sealing .... and of course the marketers will make sure it's done in a way that a pricey looking badge is at the front door ... or maybe even in splendid sign fashion in the middle of the frigging yard.

    Seriously ... no one had a clue we needed things like deodorant, or mouthwash, until a marketing wizard invented "body odor" and "halitosis."

    There are all sorts of approaches. You guys keep designing good uses for good products and lobby the manufacturer to realize that they really have to do something about marketing the stuff. That's their job. On a concurrent Q&A thread a guy like me is trying to convince his wife to build a tight house while his wife is digging in her heels because she insists on a traditional fireplace ....

    Someone needs to talk to all the people who don't give a damn about "tight" and instead want "pretty" or status or designer or elegant or dramatic or ..... whatever. Most consumers dont' care about efficiency when they are making a purchase and that is where marketers come in. Marketers can make people want cellulose and a hot guy with six-pack abs and dimples smiling next to a blower door.

    Silly but true.

  18. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #18

    A marketing slogan
    Here's my suggested marketing slogan: "Choose a Pretty Good House -- it's so much better than a not-so-good pretty house."

  19. user-755799 | | #19

    "There are only 2 types of Houses: Pretty Good and Not-So-Pretty Good."

    Joe W: Help us out. What drew your attention to have a PGH (title for now)? It's taken me years to realize that I need to turn down the geek factor when I talk with potential homeowners. Even if they want an "energy efficient" house or "green house", they don't want to be slammed with info on how to get there. I've tried taking lessons from the Hot Rod geeks: "Are you all show and no go?", i.e, all bling and no substance, sort of a reverse snob appeal.

    As far as letting the manufacturer's market PGH, I think they've had a pretty good run at it (think Greenwashing). When I speak with people about their homes, among the first few things they discuss is Spray foam, tankless water heaters, and fibre cement siding. They all have their places, sometimes, but usually not.

    Would a short, bald, fat guy (I would be the model) holding a six pack by a double stud wall, claiming, "this is a premium wall built from Billet SPF(SprucePineFir) work?

  20. 5C8rvfuWev | | #20

    Greenwashing is marketing
    Sure, lots of it is greenwash, John. Or, better, "BS." But that's true with every product technology brings us ... think of prescription meds on TV and the very scary fine print that goes on and on underneath pretty people .... It's true of cars, too ... I'm no marketer, but it does all get sorted out eventually. Quality wins.

  21. dankolbert | | #21

    Market differentiation
    Just re-read Greg's posts. On a somewhat mercenary note, I have to say that being known for "green" (a term I hate) or energy efficient building has been a boon to my business. It's not the reason we do it, but on the other hand if there was no market we presumably would have stopped pushing it at some point. We still have a ways to go toward integrating it into everything we do, and some clients make it clear that it's not of interest to them. But we will always push for more energy efficiency, less toxic products and embodied energy, healthier buildings, etc.

    But at a time when builders are struggling, being known for doing something different, or better, than the rest can only be for the good.


    What's in a name?
    I have to admit that I didn't like the "Pretty Good House" name when Dan suggested it, since it sounded like we would be settling for something just ok. But I should've known Dan and our crew better than that. What I do think it does address well is the perception among many potential clients that they should not go "too green". The title itself brings down that baseline to the point where just asking for something that's pretty good will make them more accepting quickly. What's less than pretty good? Just barely ok? Who wants that?

    That said, I do kinda' like the simplicity of "The Good House", except that it sounds like a bad tv drama.

  23. wvPqQSpXJw | | #23

    What's in a name?
    I'm speaking as an increasingly well-informed consumer. We expect to build in the next couple of years and we know that we want a home that goes well beyond a basic Energy Star rating. So, we're doing research through a number of channels. So, first, I want to sincerely thank all of you here for the variety of information and perspectives you've shared.

    I know that we're also in the "rarefied air" of consumers in that we are researching, not shopping. It's been an interesting experience in that several discoveries, such as the Passive House concept, have forced us to reconsider a number of assumptions. (Yes, I've followed the debates.) Like you, we've been trying to balance things like cost, design, embodied energy use, pollutants, fossil fuel use, projected energy costs, etc. There are trade-offs, obviously.

    For the record, "green" means nothing to me and I rather sneer at the term. It's overused, underdefined, and touted on products and by producers as the fad du jour.

    I like the idea of the "Pretty Good House" in that it is more attainable and less laboratory-like than the Passive House standards. I can see issues, however, with using the term when communicating with consumers who have been indoctrinated with the idea that an Energy Star house is a Great House.

    All that said, I've come to think that what we want to build is a Light House, or as light of one as possible. Light on the environment, light on energy costs, light on our savings. When I think of the dual use of the phrase, I also think of it as built solidly to withstand storms and, maybe even learning something from it that can guide others.

    Thanks again for the education you've provided.

  24. user-987846 | | #24

    This is GREAT!
    MH - thank you for your feedback! See guys, we're reaching an audience! I guess we can move on? I am in the process of making up my idea of the PGH for Colorado. Sort of tough one, actually. Technically, my county is in Zone 6, but in reality you could argue for as many as three zones (5-7)in our small county - based on elevation and exposure. We have been struggling with this with the building department as to what temps we should be using for Manual J. It's probably real close to what Armando Cobo posted a while back. When I do get to it (what can I say, it's been snowing...) could you please let me know again where to send that instead of posting here? Thanks.

    I just wanted to reiterate that I think this is a great discussion, when is the next meeting? Not that I can make it, but chances are I could drink a beer in solidarity and read my EBN or something.

  25. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #25

    Response to Greg Follett
    You can either post your bullet points for a Pretty Good Colorado House here, or you can e-mail your proposal to me:
    martin [at] greenbuildingadvisor [dot] com

  26. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #26

    Greg, I would argue that considering microclimates is a very important consideration in every climate zone. When I posted the question "What would YOU include in a PGH" on my Facebook page, several non-building nerd friends commented on site-related issues.

    The next discussion group at Maine Green Building Supply is a week late this month, to avoid conflict with the NESEA conference ("Building Energy 12," a green building conference)--next Tuesday, March 13th.

    Steve (owner of MGBS) has been providing some really tasty sausages from Whole Foods lately, if that gives you inspiration for something to go with your beer. (Have a Fat Tire for me.) The topic is not (technically) going to be PGH but a recap of what the many of us who went to the conference learned.

  27. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #27

    A Proposal
    On the drive home today I had a flash of inspiration (or delusion, not sure). It's easy to get sucked into specifics with PGH discussion, and general comments tend to get overlooked. Both are important. I propose the following structure to PGH concepts:

    PGH Principles. Perhaps based on the Hannover Principles (, or Pattern Language principles (, or even better, just come up with our own overarching ideals of what Pretty Good means for all climates, clients, designers and builders. This is the "why."

    PGH Strategies. These are the prescriptive measures to make a Pretty Good House, specific to climate zones. Every Green Building Advisor strategy and detail, and more, would fit here. This is the "how."

    PGH Metrics. These are the numbers to hit. Net zero, HERS 40, 2.0 ach50, etc. This is the "how much."

    Having a structure to hang our ideas from may help galvanize the momentum that's building up. (

  28. 3sWhaHmGTV | | #28

    michael's proposed structure to PGH concepts
    I just started following your articles and references about the "Pretty Good Home" concept with great interest.

    I would hope those of you much closer to this discussion will give michael's proposed organizing structure your serious consideration.

  29. user-1107213 | | #29

    Another consumer chiming in here. Just wanted to let you know that we're out here and following the discussion with interest. Our numbers may not be overwhelming, but they are growing... even in rural areas.

    When I built my home a few years ago, the small home movement (?) was fairly young, so I'm glad to see that size of homes is part of the discussion.

    Thanks for this approach, and for the efforts you're making to promote it.

  30. jambo13 | | #30

    who is the target?
    This PGH topic is exciting. I finally feel like this is an initiative with a structure and basis that can be effectively conveyed to homeowners considering a construction project without the "processes" of current leading standards and/or certifications. This seems like it may be the avenue leading all of us average builders to the promised land. Allowing us to finally use all of the wonderful ideas, techniques and expertise provided by this website on homes other than our own!

    I agree with the earlier posts that placed an emphasis on marketing (or call it consumer education). I would further those points by asking who is the target of this initiative? Much to my chagrin, I feel I am equal parts salesman and builder these days. I spend as much time ensuring I have work as I do pulling triggers. Even worse yet is any time I try to work in an insulation upgrade or talk about the benefits of mini split heat pumps those ideas are dismissed without consideration. My point is that to make this stick, for small residential construction companies like mine to be able to actually implement this, it must gain traction and value at the mass-homeowner level. Something the other more aggressive standards and certification programs have not been able to achieve.

    Admittedly, my sales skills are mediocre at best and contributing to the lack of success I have had in pushing more of the practices discussed here. However, I can not simply up and leave the market that my business exists within, and in my opinion it is a market that is relatively unresponsive to date to the value of these superior building practices and the benefits they provide.

    I apologize if I am missing the point here, especially if the goal is to target builders and industry professionals with this information. And I respect the argument that we should be building in this manner regardless of what our customers know or understand. But, as most of the practices outlined are more expensive than the industry standards we are posed with the problem of trying to stay competitive in a small local market. I hope the value of this idea is not over looked as we continue to develop this PGH standard, or whatever it may ultimately be named.

  31. dankolbert | | #31

    Mike's structure
    I like the thought, Mike. I read the Hanover principles - they seem as nebulous as PGH, which perhaps isn't getting us anywhere. I think we should talk about it at our next group - having some guiding principles seems like the next step. Either that or designing the t-shirt.

  32. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #32

    James, you nailed something here....
    "I finally feel like this is an initiative with a structure and basis that can be effectively conveyed to homeowners considering a construction project without the "processes" of current leading standards and/or certifications. This seems like it may be the avenue leading all of us average builders to the promised land. Allowing us to finally use all of the wonderful ideas, techniques and expertise provided by this website on homes other than our own!"

    This fledgling "movement" seems to have struck a nerve, and it's been a bit strange trying to figure out why. Passivhaus is so impressive, Energy Star and the NAHB programs are relatively easy (compared to Passivhaus anyway), and there a million other programs out there. The key to the PGH seems to be that it's a stepping stone, primarily a set of principle and not an overly rigorous, paradigm-shifting set of standards.

    A paradigm shift is what we need of course, but just like Sarah Susanka's "Not So Big House" books have (arguably, perhaps) had a bigger impact than Christopher Alexandar's hard-to-read but brilliant "A Pattern Language," which Susanka's concept is based on, maybe the PGH will have appeal to the masses who want to do better but don't want to get TOO involved.

  33. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #33

    The principle issue
    Dan, you're right of course, the Hannover Principles are nebulous, but they are also simple and it's hard to argue against any of them. We should brainstorm a list of Pretty Good Principles and then distill it down to 10-15 items.

  34. wjrobinson | | #34

    A Pretty Good House, is where
    A Pretty Good House, is where less is more;
    Less people, land, materials, nonrenewables. ©

    One item, Less ©

  35. wjrobinson | | #35

    Pretty Good Homes in a Pretty
    Pretty Good Homes in a Pretty Good Community
    living locally thinking globally
    in a connected sustainable world.©

  36. kimbark | | #36

    Pretty Good House
    I am also an educated consumer like MH. I am more interested in Pretty Good Renovation. I agree with Liz Newman. The real opportunity for energy impact is retrofits. I study a lot of the concepts discussed here and try and figure out how to modify them to improve my existing house. Then I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find local contractors to work with who not only understand what I am trying to execute but have some experience in doing so.

  37. user-1121191 | | #37

    PGH in Northern Michigan
    okay, this is Jim's wife, Diana---really I'm the new house goffer. Just purchased a lot on Sutton's Bay north of Traverse City & have been researching passivehaus for a couple of years.....long story short..can't see the point of investing the dollars for the uncertain payback...but we do like your PGH concept...superinsulated-tight-hi SHG southern windows and a ventilation system. I think that is what makes sense to us....the consumer.

    Our dilemma is finding a PGH builder....any suggestions/referrals would help alot. I have spent a couple of hours on the phone talking to bpi professionals at Martin Holladay's suggestion.

    thanks for your help,

  38. Gary_G | | #38

    Marketing / Name
    Hello, My wife and I are interesting building a home in the future and I have been studying and following what I can about Passivaus. I really like this Pretty Good House idea; much more common sense than the German standards.

    I would have to say I think of PGH ( Pretty Good House ) as Performance Goal House. Where ever we end up building there will be different performance goals for the house.

    As far as marketing goes this "number" or "standard" could vary based on climate, cost to the client, type of house, etc.

    Just a thought.

    Gary G.

  39. Benneaf | | #39

    TIC list for PGH
    1. A HERS Rating of 40 or below.
    2. A manual to go with the house detailing design considerations (at the layman's level) and systems use. The manual should not get into technical details of HVAC maintenance or stuff like that...there are owners manuals for that stuff. The manual should help a buyer know what they are getting and let someone on down the road know what is going on within the walls when renovations are undertaken.

    That's all...or should it just be the HERS rating? I say keep it as simple as possible. There are a fair number of raters out there now, more are being trained, and it allows all the freedom in the world for design and product spec.

    ...and a nice plaque.

    Thank you


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