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Community and Q&A

The Green Building Industry Today and GBA’s Place In It

Kiley Jacques | Posted in General Questions on

Hi y’all,

I’ve been asked to do a presentation for the editorial, sales, and marketing staff behind GBA and Fine Homebuilding. They want to hear about the state of the “green building” industry (yes, that term begs some questions) and GBA’s role in it. I’d like to gather some opinions from people who are active in the Q&A forum–for a number of reasons: 1. You have your finger on the pulse when it comes to issues pertaining to the industry 2. You care 3. You are engaged 4. You regularly articulate valuable information. It’s my hope to share some of your thoughts with my team. I believe it’s important they hear from you. Thanks in advance for taking the time.

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  1. jonny_h | | #1

    Speaking from the perspective of a non-professional subscriber / reader / commenter of GBA, who is currently remodeling my house, the position that GBA occupies is that of providing a platform for the exchange of information in a field that, while growing, is far from mainstream. My environmental concerns and the building performance levels I'm interested in would be completely foreign to nearly all construction companies / contractors in my area (despite being pretty normal / middle of the road when compared to other projects I've seen written up on GBA), so I'm doing most of the work on my house myself. This site, both the archive of articles and the Q&A section, provide an exceptionally valuable resource for a non-professional like me to have access to a worldwide network of both professionals and other non-professionals who have done similar projects.

    Broadly speaking, I see "green building" / "green builders" at the cutting edge of pursuing various facets of reducing the energy use and environmental impacts of the built environment. Mainstream construction (outside of perhaps a few small regions) is far behind, mostly getting dragged along by increasing code requirements (to the degree that they are enforced.) There's a bit of middle ground, with some custom builders and conscientious contractors pursuing a higher standard, but in at least some regions of the country, they're hard to find. That said, I believe knowledge of - and interest in - "green building" is expanding, and resources like GBA can help avid hobbyists find the middle ground as well as help professionals share experiences and debate best practices.

    Again, from the non-professional perspective, a site like GBA is significantly more approachable and affordable than more "strictly professional" venues like trade shows and conferences -- though to be honest I don't know that I'll be able to justify the cost of continuing my subscription once my projects are complete.

    Hope this is helpful!

  2. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #2

    My view is that GBA is more realistic, providing practical advice and ideas from other professionals, but is accessible to one-off builders and DIYers too. The "realistic, practical" part I think is important because there are a lot of idealistic "green" sites that put out a lot of ideas based on pseudoscience and the like. GBA is a sort of professional forum for a specialized niche in the industry, and helps to promote some of the better ideas from that niche so that they get adopted by more conventional builders as well. I think that's a Good Thing.


  3. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #3

    To the question of the state of the green building industry: DC, where I live, has adopted a very aggressive enforcement of the energy code. They are requiring actual blower door testing of all new construction and significant renovations, for example. They are requiring a Manual J by a mechanical engineer in new construction. This is what is getting people to sit up and take notice, not idealism.

    Thinking about insulation and sealing is not really in the mainstream. Most new construction guys just want to spray the whole house with open cell foam and hope for the best. I was talking to a local rep for AeroBarrier. He said he gets a lot of calls from builders who have built a new house, the buyer is all ready to move in but the city won't issue a certificate of occupancy because the blower door test hasn't been done. The house fails. The builder spends a couple of days having guys go around with spray foam and caulk, and the house still fails. So he calls AeroBarrier.

  4. charlie_sullivan | | #4

    It's really amazing and unique. There's a giant gap between the skills of the average builder and the most advanced academic understanding of building science. That's partly because most of that research is outside the US, and partly because the research funding in the US mechanisms favor nanomaterial pipe dreams over practical solutions to wet basements. It's also because of weak licensing and education requirements for builders.

    I think the value of the site goes beyond helping new contractors up their skills and providing homeowners with expert advice. I think the collective knowledge and wisdom that has been developed here goes beyond the knowledge that the individual participants brought to the table. An example of that is the Pretty Good House concept. I don't think that originated here, but I think it really blossomed here. That concept fills the gap between code or sub-code built houses and passive house standards.

    I think that FHB has moved towards including more of the same concepts over the years. One thing to consider might be options for a membership that gives you full access to GBA and partial access to FHB, or vice versa. Or full access to both with a modest discount over both purchased separately.

  5. bob_swinburne | | #5

    I see a big disconnect between academia and research institutions and the hands on, ground level work be done and discussed by GBA readers and contributors. Perhaps this viewpoint is from the perspective of being an architect. There is some overlap such as with the Solar Decathalon but I see large institutions and large architecture firms receiving grant money to pursue research involving more impractical and complicated solutions to building carbon neutral and beyond. There is a place for that - more eyes on the problem is good. My impression is that there is not much communication between academia and the hands on people making positive change happen in more real world situations.

  6. plumb_bob | | #6

    I am a carpenter by trade and have now moved into the role of building official. My past several years have been spent upgrading my education, mostly on building code and building science. This site is a good bridge between the tradesman and building science applications, with practical advice from industry experts. However, like any internet forum, advice must be taken with a grain of salt and further research is always required.
    From the perspective of a carpenter, modern building science is not something that you learn in school. You may learn some of the techniques and material applications but these are usually applied without understanding the underlying principals. For example, many contractors do not understand the basic concept of a continuous air barrier (I didn't) even though they put up the poly sheet on every house. I think as codes change to increased energy efficiency the knowledge base will grow and your average tradesman/woman will have to understand the theory better. This site is a good interface between the hands-on and technical aspects of the industry.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #10

      plumb bob,

      Our local building inspector for the last 20 years is retiring next month. I'm dreading the whole process of dealing with a new one.

  7. JC72 | | #7

    The Green Building Industry is still a niche market for DIY and custom builders with deep pocketed clients. Code adoption is made at the state and/or local level and it's the codes which drive the majority of housing in the US. GBA is in a nice spot however as more populous states adopt stricter code I think GBA runs the risk of radicalization. It's a phenomena inherent with all causes who have a financial incentive to continue looking for more dragons to slay.

  8. creativedestruction | | #8


    As you say, "green building" carries with it some broad connotations. Does it mean energy efficient? Durable? Low embodied carbon? Built with grown stuff? I love how GBA is brimming with the ideas and whims of people who believe one or many of those, with varying priority. There will always be some inertia to change within such a vast industry but that in itself is the drive and not a deterrent; get the wheels turning on building things better. Period. Help people not fail in their task to build something they feel is "green".

    Keep doing what you do! Cheers.

  9. Expert Member


    I don't have anything useful to say about the state of the green building industry, but GBA has been my primary source of professional development, and link to the larger building science community. It's not being hyperbolic to say it completely changed the way I think about design and building.

    1. Expert Member
      NICK KEENAN | | #11

      And the discussion is really more "building science informed" than green. Joe Lstiburek, one of the gods of building science, seems to have views on energy conservation roughly in line with Dick Cheney, and speaks of "greenies" with pretty obvious contempt.

      It's really hard to calculate the total environmental impact of individual actions. But we can all agree that vapor drive tends to follow heat flow and build accordingly.

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #12


        I like that GBA is a big tent. I don't care what people's motivations are. We are here to learn to build better.

      2. Expert Member
        BILL WICHERS | | #13

        >"And the discussion is really more "building science informed" than green."

        I agree, but those two things aren't mutually exclusive. I'm not a big fan of the "embodied carbon" concept, but if others want to use that idea in their design, I can try to offer some help to help them achieve their goal. I'm more into maximizing efficiency of everything as much as possible, which I see as a win-win.

        The nice thing on GBA is that most on here are interesting in melding the two to get a better overall result. I like that. Try to get the best ideas, best overall understanding, and build a bit better. Everyone can learn from that. Not trying to force any one mindset is a good thing.


  10. brian_wiley | | #14

    Hi Kiley,

    Obviously the term ‘green building’ is amorphous. If you had asked me, as a non-building professional, what that term meant before I had spent any time on GBA my answer would have undoubtedly included something about an environmentally friendly building process.

    After a few years on GBA, my answer would probably still include that facet, but through a much more pragmatic and data-driven lens, and i think that is what GBA brings to the table: pragmatism and practical advice. GBA, for me, connects the areas of academic research and real-world application that Robert mentioned that normally don’t overlap in any sort of intentional way.

  11. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #15

    Let me ask this, as a way of stirring the pot: What is the difference between "fine" building and "green" building? What are the overlaps between FHB and GBA, and where do they not overlap?

    I see both as promoting well-built buildings -- durable, energy efficient, comfortable for the occupants, low maintenance. Also practical, affordable for the owner and profitable for the builder. I see "fine" building as incorporating an esthetic element -- a house that is pleasing to the senses, not just sight but touch and sound and even smell. "Green" building has an experimental side, pushing the boundaries, exploring new technologies and techniques, attempting proof-of-concept.


  12. creativedestruction | | #16

    I will add one more thought. When I was fresh out of architecture school a decade ago I regarded the subject of "green building" as too nebulous to be worth study. I actually now believe that's the main value and thrust of it--it does and *should* mean different things to different people as we're quite often not geographically or socioeconomically bound. There isn't, nor should there be, only one way to design and build once and for all everywhere. There is plenty more room for new ideas in the continuing attempt to both contend and harmonize with mother nature. GBA seems a great host for those competing priorities and ideas. As Malcolm put it, it's "a big tent" with room for many applied-science solutions for today as well as some conjectural 'green' philosophy for tomorrow.

    Any time you have lots of differing yet respectful opinions on the same thread, you know you're doing something right.

  13. user-5946022 | | #17

    This is the only reliable site (of which I am aware) that covers green building techniques, products and issues without a bias towards particular brands, and at which one can obtain a variety of professional perspectives, informed by experience rather than just opinion.

    Because the discussions are available to everyone, it allows consumers to be informed and push the professionals towards better practices. Thus, this site contributes greatly to increasing the quality, energy efficiency and "green-ness" of residential construction by driving informed demand.

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