Alex Wilson and Peter Yost of BuildingGreen in Brattleboro, Vt., don’t typically have a lot of free time to dream about the future; for the most part, they’re in the trenches ferreting out the environmental impacts of building products and their inherent properties and educating and promoting the principles of building science to anyone in the construction industry who will listen.
But I caught them at a good time, and here’s some of what they wished for by 2020 … or sooner:
- Consensus regarding the principles of building science and their application within a highly fragmented and constantly changing building environment. “Already, we’re seeing more fine-tuning instead of dramatic changes in the accepted principles,” says Wilson, who launched Environmental Building News in 1992, long before green was cool. “But the variables for applying them can drive you crazy.”
- Integrated and packaged solutions of complementary products and components delivered (if not preassembled) by manufacturers—either by consolidation or partnerships—that combine to achieve assemblies and performance standards that suppliers can warrant. “Already the building industry is pushing back on manufacturers to provide more information about how to properly apply their products based on reliable building science,” says Yost, a respected researcher, building scientist, and educator.
- Building science licensing, both say, would go a long way to qualifying and validating the sea of information—some of it way off the beam of good science—so that building professionals could know and rely on the difference between a true expert and a crackpot. “Why NIBS (National Institute of Building Science) doesn’t have a certification or licensing program is a mystery to me,” says Yost. But perhaps the push doesn’t come from within, says Wilson, but rather from ancillary forces such as the insurance, mortgage, or legal industries involved (and invested) in better building performance. “If I’m paying out claims for mold and moisture damage, I’d be pushing pretty hard for a building science stamp on a set of plans,” he says. “It wouldn’t take much in terms of preferential insurance [or mortgage] rates to drive that change.”
- Charging the true cost of energy would be another catalyst for change, says Wilson. “If we included all the costs of energy in someone’s monthly utility bill [from carbon emissions to the military costs to protect fossil fuel interests], it would not only drive dramatic changes in what we design and build, but where we build,” he says, namely away from suburban sprawl and toward higher-density urban centers. One big hurdle is political will. “Every time you hear someone talk about a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, it’s a nonstarter.”
- Coordination among the federal agencies that have a hand in building performance, namely HUD, EPA, and DOE. “We could make far better use of our federal research dollars, which are far behind other industrialized countries already if those agencies would come together and present an integrated approach to improving building performance,” says Yost.