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Divided by an Ocean

GBA Editor | Posted in Project Management on

I will leave this parting thought behind, as my week long sojourn fades away. Back to the day job on Monday – but its been fun mingling amongst the folks at Green Building Advisor.

There are a couple of laws which pertain to the growth of networks. One of them, Metcalfe’s Law speaks about a power of ‘2’ increase in value of networks, once they are joined together. Another Law, Reed’s law goes a bit further and talks about a cubed increase in the value of networks as they are joined together. See wikipedia or such for a more extensive explanation. My thesis is very simple – what we witness today in the field of eco-building and eco-architecture, is a divided community. A question that has puzzled me for a year since I first discovered Green Building Advisor – is how can communities connect? How does a European, involved in green architecture even hold a conversation with someone from across the pond? Would it result in an increase in value of either ‘network’ if such a conversations took place? You will find a number of contributions by myself on GBA. Was it worth the effort? Should the communities of green builders on either side of the ocean stay separate? Is that the best way to proceed? Does the effort required to surmount the different cultures, mathematical formulae and conventions outweight the benefit gained? For the integration to succeed, there should be more to it than Europeans selling a few extra copies of PHPP into north America. That seems like a lost opportunity. Personally, I have a real appetite to consume much more north American knowledge and techniques in relation to green buildings. Only, we are non-consumers here in Europe at present. I would be very happy to hear from people, who have gone the opposite direction to myself – that is, from the north American green building environment, to the European.

All the best, Brian O’ Hanlon

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  1. Allan Edwards | | #1


    I haven't seen your name here before but then I'm relatively new, and don't read GBA that often. Are you an architect or contractor or involved in residential construction? Do you happen to have a website showing any of your work or interest in green building?

  2. homedesign | | #2

    I have found all of your comments,questions and links to be very interesting.
    I am glad that you have taken the time to share and hope you continue in the future.

  3. homedesign | | #3

    I have been extra busy at my "day job" lately and have not had time to look thru all of the great links that you posted.
    I have bookmarked them and will continue to explore them.
    thanks again.



    I've appreciated your contributions and agree that we have much to gain by better connections the pond and around the globe. I get some good insights from in Japan esp on the battery technology and high tech innovations coming out of Asia these days.

    In the end we do need to spend time on each others turf to form those connections. Which may mean burning jet fuel to visit each other and soak up ideas and new perspectives. Perhaps I'll make a trek to Ireland someday soon, or you could come visit here in the states, I can think of many folks who would love to show you around and share ideas, myself included.

  5. Brian O' Hanlon | | #5

    We recently had a property crash in Ireland - I'm busy learning the basics of financial management, in the hopes that I can step into that role. But it means, back to school and back to the night classes for me, for the next few years. Other than that, I can't think of any way out for the folk here on the green island of Ireland. We enjoyed a party that lasted most of 15 years and now we have to face the consequences. All the best, B.

    Allan, I am new to the green building scene - I used to operate in the high volume end of residential construction - think up to ten stories etc. We have serious problems with negative equity and management companies which have gone bust etc, here in Ireland. Putting it simply, the numbers don't pencil out anymore - even for existing completed projects. Search for 'developing on the back of a cigarette box' and my name and you'll find an article I published last year. All the best.

  6. Allan Edwards | | #6

    Thanks Brian. Yes, financing for builders, developers, and consumers is still tight.

  7. Brian O' Hanlon | | #7


    Check out my blog 'Designcomment' if you like. Much of the subject matter became dominated by economic and financial musings - but there are also some entries, where I delved into the issue of green, renewable futures. Very much a political hot topic here on the west of Europe. I wrote something the other day about 'Divided Communities' for the blog - the scientists involved in global warming prevention, and those involved in energy conservation - how to make both work financially is going to be a challenge. I sometimes wonder if there is too much confusion existing between the two challenges. There is debate here in Ireland at the moment, on the fact we have many state agencies involved in renewable wind energy generation. The peat cutting semi-state, the gas semi-state and the electricity supply network semi-state. In 2009, with time on my hands I made it my business to talk with many of the various branches of the green energy movement on this small island. I found a lot of activity, but very little coordination and communication between various groups. That is the topic I tried to touch upon in my recent blog entry, Divided Communities.

    One final point I would like to bring to bear - is that north America has always had the benefit of a very large, free, open domestic marketplace. That is a wonderful thing for starting off - especially in technology for for instance. If your concept and business plan is good enough, it stands a real chance of getting off the ground, owing to size of your domestic market. We often have north American companies coming here to Ireland, many of whom started very small and grew very quickly. I worked for Dell computers myself for a year in 2001-02. There was a multi-billionaire dollar enterprise, that literally started in someone's dorm room.

    The other side of the coin to be aware of, is with such a huge domestic economy to sell your wares and services into, it is possible to become complacent. We all have heard the story of the Japanese and many Asian countries who were constrained by very small domestic markets, and were forced to build automobiles for export and greater efficiency. The same applies in the retrofit industry. I would like to see more emphasis in the United States on schemes where the home occupier only installs a couple of thermostats, and receives the benefit in a higher energy rating or such. The idea of the 'deep retrofit' is great, but is it like the large engine cadillac version for the buoyant domestic market? One thing I notice, is many of the Irish wind renewable companies have broken into the north American market lately. One of the reasons for that, is the Irish renewable energy generation companies got such a difficult time dealing with state bureaucracy here in Ireland - they became really efficient at dealing with problems, and solving them.

    I do read magazines such as Construct Ireland over here, and there are some great ideas. But I would love to see a much greater flow of information. I would love to open up 'Construct Ireland' magazine some day, and see a retrofit project in Maine by Chris Briley, or Ty Newell's Equinox project at Urbana, Illinois. Visa versa, I look forward to the day when Bill Quigley's Nutech Solar Passive home is featured in 'Fine Homebuilder'. One of the few publications which managed to stretch the divide in my view, and it has set a very high benchmark, was the Whole Earth Catalogue. I have spoken to folk from all over, who remember that magazine from when they were young. Funny thing that. Thanks again, BOH.

  8. Allan Edwards | | #8


    I really don't think this country will get serious about energy efficiency until the cost of energy doubles or triples over today's costs. Whether that increase comes about from added taxes or scarcity of resouces, I don't see a lot of interest in conservation (this forun excluded) as a view the landscape of people buying houses.

  9. Brian O' Hanlon | | #9


    I was thinking of one last thing I might say. The attention to detail displayed by contributors to GBA on the subject of high performance windows for instance. Bearing in mind, the conversation may have revolved around the price for a couple of hundred square feet of glazing. I was very impressed by the willingness of window dealers and manufacturers to supply information for the benefit of the community here.

    I remember not so long ago, having bought a couple of thousand square feet of high performance glazing from a European manufacturer. I phoned up the dealer about a year ago, and told him I was doing training in energy rating of buildings. I could only get a U-factor from him, that was around 1.4 w/m2k. He had no idea what I meant by a Solar heat gain coefficient, or the European term, solar transmission ratio. So the software would not allow me to input one non-default number without the other. Rightly so. I asked the dealer to find out for me, the numbers specifically for the large glazing package I had received, and 12 months later I still have heard a dickey bird.

    I know a fact, their contract price for a development containing 1,500 residential units, was €22 million euro (they did cladding as well as glazing in a combined system). I still haven't got a certification for U-value and SHGC for those either, though I have asked. In total that glazing company supplied us with €100 millions worth of product. I am so impressed by the GBA team in being able to demand information on a $100 thousand euro order, where I couldn't get it for a €100 million one. I guess I should get tougher!

    What I really advise people to watch though, who are into the high volume residential business like I was, is this. Get a grip on your glazing contractor from the get-go. Don't allow the glazing contractor to drive a program of build. What I mean is, the window company will try to deliver their orders horizontally. Meaning, if you have say seven residential blocks, the window company will try to install all windows on the ground floor of the seven blocks first. Then proceed to the second and so on. It allows them to organise their work gangs most efficiently. But it comes at the expense of productivity in all other gangs, who do plumbing, electrical, sheetrock and all of those things that guarantee you great airtightness. If you start glazing the ground floor on all seven blocks in July, it feels great, you think the windows are coming. Wrong. By December, before holiday break the seventh floor glazing on block 'A' is just going in. At the same time as seventh floor glazing on block 'G' is also going in. The interior fitout gangs in block 'A' are going hell for leather, because they want to open that block first. No time to worry about air tightness by that time.

    As for different specifications of glass in terms of U-factor and SHGC, similarly. You want your glazing company to do their work vertically per block, not horizontally by floor as they like it. Normally in high density urban sites, you have different orientations. The passive solar heating conditions can be very different for different blocks. So you need the benefit of high SHGC's where you get the sunshine, and the higher U-factor where you don't get the sunshine. On the blocks with poor orientation, I would focus my use of heat pumps, bore holes, energy piles and so on. On blocks with good passive gain, I would reduce expense on renewable generation gadgetry. But you need airtightness of construction in all blocks. And for that, you need your glazing company to work with you, and not against you. Sorry for the length, BOH.

  10. Brian O' Hanlon | | #10

    One mention I should have made - I was looking at some excellently rendered 2D details of eaves by John Brooks, in one of Martin's blog entries. I guess, the point I would like to make is, details need to be looked at in 3-dimensions, preferably using freehand paper and pencil. One architect who I had a great deal of confidence in, because his 3-D detail perception was razor sharp - used to always refer to drawings on cavitytray dot co dot uk. There are a range of cavity tray products, from A to Z, with brochures on the website, and for their display of the 3-dimension-ality of the weathering problem, they are hard to beat.

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