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Community and Q&A

High-Performance Systems and Unknowledgeable Code Officials

charlygreen | Posted in General Questions on

I want to start by thanking all of the contributors here on GBA and also on the fhb forums for the valuable information and guidance while building our home over the last year and a half. We just moved in to our 2400sq/ft single story ranch and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Insulation we chose was Zip r-6 with r-23 rockwool batts for exterior walls, r-49 blown in cellulose in attic, basement wallls insulated with R-13 polyiso with 2×4 wall and rockwool r-15 in the bays. Sub slab R-10. Heated and cooled with Fujitsu mini-split units and hot water with an 80gal Steibel Eltron heat pump water heater. Zehnder q350 erv for air exchange.

Our final blower door came in at 1.3 Ach50 and I couldn’t be happier that we achieved this all while working full time as a nurse at night and building during the day.

On to the question.
My local building inspector, fire department,bank appraiser and essentially any other subs aside from my HERS/HVAC contractor have no idea what I am showing them when it comes to the erv, heat pump hot water heater, let alone heating my home with only mini-split units.

Is it common in this day and age for (albeit rural) code officials to be so uneducated in these types of builds? Are there classes/continuing education that code officials are required to complete?

It just seems odd that after all the research and effort spent building this house to be this tight/healthy, comfortable and efficient the fruits of my labor seem so…unimpressive to those who I would expect to know something about it.

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  1. Expert Member
    ARMANDO COBO | | #1

    I've been designing and teaching high-performance building around the country for 20+ years, and I still get amazed that the biggest majority of folks in the industry and building officials do not have a clue about high-performance building or even minimum code houses.
    What is so disappointing is that there's so much FREE education available for anyone who wants to learn that there's no excuses. Sad but true... Join the club!

    1. DC_Contrarian_ | | #4

      It's worse than that. You still get people who have been in the industry their whole lives saying things like "a house needs to breathe" or that insulation is just "government bull*." I swear half the people out there can't tell the different between conditioned and unconditioned space -- because they don't think there is a difference.

      The problem is the market doesn't reward people who build high-performing houses, or punish people who don't.

      1. charlygreen | | #7

        Which I found when the appraiser asked me to show him around. I asked if any of the building science aspects were going to increase the appraisal. He responded “oh yes, having air conditioning and heat will help”

      2. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #8


        When our code brought in full time mechanical ventilation, so many homeowners turned it off that they had to revise the provision to make the location of the switch harder to get at!

  2. Expert Member


    Well done. I hope you take justifiable pride in what you have achieved.

    1. charlygreen | | #3

      Malcolm, many of your posts have contributed to the overall success of our home. Thanks again!

  3. MartinHolladay | | #5

    Q. "Is it common in this day and age for (albeit rural) code officials to be so uneducated in these types of builds?"

    A. Yes.

    1. charlygreen | | #6

      Thank you Martin, for always having the wherewithal to clearly state your answers.

  4. GBA Editor
    Kiley Jacques | | #9

    This conversation puts me in mind of an article I asked Scott Gibson to write The Real Estate Value of High-Performance Homes, which was born from a discussion on the FHB podcast about training for Realtors—and that industry sector at large—to start appraising and marketing the things that make for an energy-efficient, sustainable, healthy home.

  5. gstan | | #10

    I was a "fat-butt bureaucrat" for years and have acquired a working knowledge
    of these type problems.
    It's a matter of incentive! I worked for one of the largest counties in the lower 48 states for about 25 years (Alaska has much larger ones, called boroughs up there, but with almost no population in them). I had a whole bunch of bureaucratic titles such as "Director of Blah Blah" . I spent a huge amount of time in meetings between building officials, builders, engineers, architects, homeowners, Etc. and I tell you - It's a matter of incentive! Mostly negative incentives!
    The unwritten rule, never to be broken in these organizations is "Thou shall not cause controversy"! WHY? Because controversy causes elected officials to become former officials!
    Therefore, the bureaucratic default answer for any new or non-standard building proposal or design is --- NO!
    Now consider how many elected officials are competent in engineering, architecture, or any other technical field (very few- usually none) they're politicians and they have no incentive to consider anything which could lead to controversy. New or non-standard usually, or at least often, produces arguments and controversy with builders, existing homeowners, renters, etc.
    This does not mean that no progress is possible, but it usually comes about when it becomes obvious to the general public that the new non-standard ways use less energy, are more environmentally friendly, and that it would be even more controversial not to approve them.
    So! Who needs to be educated here? Not the building departments, not the engineering departments, not even the elected officials. Nope, it's the general public - good luck with that!

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