Home energy efficiency, 2011-style

Building Science: from home performance retrofits to Passive House.

As I’ve watched Hammer & Hand’s growing home performance team conduct dozens of home energy performance audits and home energy retrofit services in recent weeks, I’ve been reflecting on how different the green building landscape is now versus, say, 20 years ago.  Heck, even 10 years.

What’s changed?  Our understanding of building science: how a building’s various components interact with one another in a holistic system.

Back in the day, I studied ecology, another systems-based field of study, and the parallels with building science are striking.  Changes to one part of the system have far-ranging impacts elsewhere.

But there’s a critical difference between ecology and building science.  Ecosystems are wildly complex.  Buildings?  Not so wildly.  Yes they are complex, but they are knowable and manipulatable.  That’s great news for the building scientist looking to improve a home’s energy performance while also boosting indoor air quality and thermal comfort.  Today, you can make those multifaceted performance improvements to a house thanks to the systems-understanding conferred by building science.

It wasn’t always so.  Many will recall that in the dark days before building science, boosting energy performance could cause serious unintended consequences for the health and integrity of buildings.  But it’s a new day.

home energy audit services PortlandAnd when it comes to building science, the field of home performance – home energy audits and retrofits – is just the start.  Building science praxis is a continuum that flows from home performance through to Passive House design and construction.  In fact, the same building science tools, like the blower door fan pictured here, are employed in both home performance work and Passive House projects.  The same science is drawn upon, too, though Passive House arguably demands a deeper knowledge of it.

High performance building is where the construction industry and real estate market are headed.  The upshot is that builders will soon need to become scientists to stay on top of their game, or partner very closely with one at the very least.

At Hammer & Hand, we’ve dived in with both feet.  It’s time to embrace the new identity: Builder, Craftsman … Scientist.

– Zack

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