Building Science Summer Camp

One of the big advantages so far to being part of the Green Building Advisor team is that I finally got invited to Joe Lstiburek's Building Science Summer Camp this year. This is an invitation-only gathering of 200 of the top building scientists in America. Of course I didn't get invited as a scientist but as a member of Peter Yost and Dan Morrison's new Green Building Advisor project, so technically I was there as a "journalist". But the experience was absolutely amazing none-the-less.

Me and Joe Lstiburek at "The Club House"

Summer camp is largely an indulgence-of-curiosity project for Joe. He just looks at the Building Science community and asks himself "who is doing interesting research these days?" and calls them up and offers them a chance to speak about what they are passionate about. The talks can range over a pretty wide area. We had a guy from Johns Manville talk about how the fiberglass insulation of today is different on a micro-structural basis to the fiber glass of five years ago and why that matteres. We had Pierre-Michel Busque talk about water envelope penetrations in Western Canada and various pressure assisted rain screen strategies being used successfully to keep walls dry. And, we had Ron Anderson from the National Renewable Energy Lab talk about the work they are doing in the reconstruction of the tornado ravaged town in Kansas to value engineer advanced energy performance into the new homes that are going up there. He says they have found a way to get to 58% better than code at neutral cost, balancing energy savings against increased mortgage costs, and that with a 40% increase in fuel costs they can get to 90% better than code at neutral cost.

BSC summer camp lecture for 200 from 8:30 am 'til 3:30 pm each day.

After the lectures we all would reconvene at Joe and Betsy's house for feasting and drinking and science discussion and debate until late in the evening. There was a significant contingent of folks from Alaska, where they are really getting hit hard by the global warming problem. As the temperatures rise the pack ice that used to protect the out islands in the polar seas is coming in later in the season so the shores, which are a composite of sand and permafrost, are getting exposed to fall storms that they never experienced before, and the islands are just melting into the sea. I spoke with people who were working on the social and logistical challenge of trying to relocate entire villages of people onto the mainland. While building durable, healthy, "green" and energy efficient housing for these people who have been living a subsistence life on remote islands is enough of a challenge the social implications are very knotty. Many of the elders would just prefer to sink into the sea with the rest of their way of life. The ethical and moral complications are mind boggling and the folks who are working on them are awe inspiring. To bring home the reality of what they are dealing with, they brought along a gift from the community, raw bow fin and beluga whale and seal jerky with seal oil dip. I couldn't bring myself to sample the seal oil, but the raw bow fin was quite good. The rest may be an acquired taste…

Me and Betsy Petit, day three of Summer Camp.

I was welcomed to "the club house" by Betsy Petit a renowned architect and writer/ speaker who shares the place with her husband Joe Lstiburek when it's not being used as summer camp HQ and runs Building Science Corp with him. The house is a 150 year old Massachusetts farm house that they renovated into a very energy efficient building. You can read about the process at Joe calls himself a "Building Science Insultant" and is known for his colorful language and lack of tact. Betsy takes it all in stride.

The summer camp house band has a great band leader, Rick, who keeps all the guitarists, bass players and drummers in the crowd sorted out and makes sure they all get a chance to play their best while rocking the house all night long & reading lyrics from a Blackberry propped up on the piano.

Most of the presentations were really interesting but one by Henry Gifford was particularly earth shattering. Recently the USGBC had published a report from the New Buildings Institute that showed the LEED certified buildings perform 25% better than non-LEED certified "CBECS" buildings. Henry is a building efficiency expert in New York city, and he thought he smelled a rat because he sees these all-glass LEED buildings going up and he, at least, is sure they don't perform that much better than the CBECS average. So he downloaded the data and discovered they were comparing mean data for all age CBECS buildings to median data for new LEED buildings . He made some adjustments so they were comparing mean to mean for equivalent age building and was able to demonstrate that the new CBECS buildings were using 81.6 thousand BTUs/year/sq ft and the LEED buildings were using 105 thousand BTUs/year/sq ft so not only were the new LEED buildings not performing as well as the "normal" comparison buildings but
they were actually performing 30% worse. Of course LEED buildings tend to be very high budget, and high profile buildings with a lot of glass etc. but the point he was making is that the science may be good, but until we go back and test the work we are doing we're not doing building science, we're doing building theory (and getting pretty close to religion if we just take things on faith.) Read Henry Gifford's report!

This was a great set up for Peter Yost to step in and announce that Building Green Inc. publishers of Environmental Building News is forming a Partnership with Taunton Press, publishers of Fine Homebuilding Magazine to form Green Building Advisors and one of their (our) initiatives will be to support third party auditing of existing green certified homes (I'm starting with four of our recent homes as part of the first wave of the study). It's an exciting project to see how the theory really works out over time as compared with other excellent builders across the country, if a little intimidating.

Not to be out done, Sam Rashkin from Energy Star got up to announce the latest "version three" release from Energy Star and their newest "Advanced New Home Construction" program. The version three builds on the 2006 enhancement of the Energy Star standard to add new ventilation, humidity control, water management, thermal bridging, HVAC installation testing, radiant barriers, and overall size limitations. Sam is a guy who likes to knock at bee hives with a stick and his announcement that energy star for homes was going to get a whole lot harder and that homes with more than 1,200 sf per occupant were going to be disqualified from the program in version three set the whole room to buzzing.

He went on to show what would be required to meet the Advanced New Home Construction standard; 50% better than code, triple glazed windows, super HVAC, and no more than 1,000 sq ft per occupant and even I was thinking this will work at $10/gallon maybe but America's not ready to go there yet. Saying "no more Hummer Houses" is one thing but this feels like he's taking Energy Star away from the market. It's a very interesting time to be part of the green building movement.


  1. Megan Billard said...
    This is really cool! It's great to hear about such a cool place for a summer camp. I love the use of high efficiency heating systems in Taunton, MA. It can get so cold there, it's great to hear that someone is initiating a way to keep the heating costs low.
    analisa jain said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
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