Building Science for non-architects.

Last week I attended a two-day course on Building Science Fundamentals. Why, you may ask, would a non-architect opt to use their spare time (and money) in such a way? Well… aside from having been interested in architecture since childhood, I was encouraged to attend by several (also non-architect) friends in the name of learning more about Green Building. This particular course came highly recommended by Chris Benedict, a NYC-based architect who is known for designing extremely energy-efficient buildings at a LOWER than average cost (and what could be more “Green” than that?). The two lecturers, Dr. Joseph Lstiburek and Dr. John Straube, are considered gurus in their field; I am happy to report that they are also quite entertaining, which is how I was able to avoid being knocked unconscious by the wealth of highly technical information as it flew right over my head. Mixed in with architectural and scientific terms were statements I could easily understand and contextualize, such as the notion that constructing a poorly-insulated building that guzzles energy but cannot breathe and thus provides a breeding ground for mold is… STUPID.

What I walked away from this course with is the idea that a truly “Green” building is one built to consume as little energy as possible, and to last for generations while providing its occupants a comfortable home free of contaminants. The key to all this, according to Joe and John, is the building enclosure – the outside and inside walls and everything in between. Unfortunately, despite all the hooplah around LEED standards and bamboo floors and recycled glass countertops and solar panels, not to mention the hypocrisy of calling a 12,000 square foot single-family home “Green” (!!), very little attention is being focused on this simple solution of creating intelligently-designed, appropriately-sized, well-insulated buildings. Why? Well, I guess to some people it’s not very sexy. But, really… what could be sexier than NOT being STUPID??

2 thoughts on “Building Science for non-architects.”

  • Sounds like a great course…in spite of the high cost! Looking at their website, they do seem to have an irreverent take (R in R-VAlue…is rip-off).

    There is much misinformation about green residential building, not least because builders are so linked to tradition. Chris and Gifford are not, so they can design from a fresh viewpoint.

    I have always wondered about whether a tight house that *requires* mechanical ventilation 24/7 can be more energy-efficient than a well-insulated one that does not. Running a ventilator 24/7 seems counter-intuitive.

  • thanks chandru for representing the Trained Professionals! as for ventilation, one intriguing idea they mentioned is that a well-insulated building may need little to no a/c in the summer, only dehumidifying for comfort… of course at the moment there is apparently no centralized fixture available that ONLY dehumidifies, so these guys are pressuring the industry to make one. joe and john also stressed that buildings that appear to be tight are not only energy hogs, their *vapor* tightness is what makes them hugely prone to mold. ecccch.

    (by the way, for some reason this course was less than half the cost they advertise on their website… if this happens again i will post it here.)

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