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Mark has been a teacher, lecturer and consultant to the green building industry for more than 25 years. He helps builders and manufacturers put building science to work, creating high-performance homes that are more durable, energy-efficient, cost-effective and more enjoyable to live in.
News from the Field

Monday, December 1, 2008

Weather Barriers, HVAC and Energy Use VIDEO

Building a weather tight home helps to ensure the durability and longevity of the structure. It also creates an opportunity for significant energy savings. But does a tight house compromise indoor air quality by restricting fresh air and natural ventilation? In the following short video, I explain how to avoid this predicament.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What's Old is New Again

I have been consulting with builders and conducting training sessions about building technology for more than twenty years. Much of my time is spent on the road, and I typically visit hundreds of different job sites during the course of a year.

This past May I took a break and traveled for a month through Europe. Though my intent was to NOT think about building science for awhile, I found my eyes were drawn to construction details in every city and village I visited.

What I saw in Europe was a whole different level of craftsmanship than I see on most job sites. It seems that in our endless quest to do everything faster, easier and more efficiently, we have forgotten some basics; like how to build something if you expect it to still be solid and beautiful 300 years from now.

I noticed in my travels through France that one of the largest builders in the US has offices there. Their focus is multi-family track projects, and in Europe they have developed a reputation for high quality construction. I have little doubt that the standards they’ve had to establish to impress their European customers are considerably higher than what’s expected by their U.S. offices.

Masonry sills were a construction detail I noticed again and again. From Holland to France, England to Ireland, whether the house was 3 years old or 400 years old, it was clear that builders knew how to slope for proper drainage. Now I doubt the Europeans have a better understanding of gravity than we do. But they do seem to have more respect for it!

The pictures here illustrate what I’m talking about. They're the sort of details that I saw in new construction and retrofits as well as in buildings that were built 400 years ago.

Look at the slopes on these homes in Amsterdam. Notice the consistent use of rounded corners and pitched sills. In France, I saw several places where pre-sloped masonry sills were installed into the window openings prior to window installation.

One place I have seen this technique used in the U.S., was in masonry home construction in Florida, where CMU’s were used for the first floor walls. Unfortunately, they abandoned this technique once they get to the second floor and switched to wood. At least they got half of it right!

I guess the point here is that we have a choice. We can choose to employ construction methods that demonstrate a high level of engineering prowess, or, we can choose to employ construction methods that we know are destined to fail.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Market Slowdown Sharpens the Focus on Quality

What interesting times we are living in right now. The housing market is in upheaval and the building industry is wondering how to respond.

Too often, the assumption is that in tough times, lower cost is the only way to move houses. With a glut of houses on the market, lowering the margin on new homes was and is inevitable. But one place I believe we cannot afford to cut expenses is in housing quality.

In the last five or ten years, many of us have made significant gains in housing quality by utilizing good design, careful load calculations, efficient construction practices and innovative materials. These improvements have given us a competitive edge over our competition; an edge that only widens with rising energy costs and the rising expectations of today's better informed home buyers.

So what should be our response to the changing housing market? I maintain that a focus on quality is the best strategy you can pursue. Building better homes is better for our customers, our business and our country.

To all of you who have worked so hard to earn market differentiation through improved quality – only to see price erosion – I say “hold fast”. Find your savings in improved construction efficiencies, reduced callbacks, higher customer referral rates and better marketing, not through reducing quality to find a magic price you think buyers will like. Sell quality and don’t apologize for it!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Production Builders Can Still Be Innovative

DR Horton is one of the largest builders in the country. I've been working with their Sacramento Division for over 5 years and they are building some of the most innovative housing available. They are also implementing some of the best new marketing ideas I've seen.

A few of their communities qualify for the LEED for Homes Silver designation, one of them meets the American Lung Association Health House criteria, and they all exceed California Title 24 by at least 15%, some by as much as 50%. All their homes also meet Energy Star guidelines. Horton has even created a solar community called Provence, in which every home has a photovoltaic system.

The Sacramento Division is using touch-screen televisions to educate prospective buyers about what they should be looking for in the home-buying process.

Innovation is happening everywhere in the home building business. Regardless of where you are in the housing industry, and how the downturn is affecting you, this division of DR Horton is demonstrating a path to innovation. When the market returns to a better place, they'll be well positioned to capture tomorrow's more knowledgeable, more cautious and more demanding homeowners.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Better Way to Vent Siding

Moisture-related problems are appearing more and more frequently in both commercial and residential buildings. It is now being strongly recommended that all exterior claddings be vented off the building to create a better opportunity for drainage and drying to occur.

The usual technique is to install treated plywood battens (as shown above) to create an air space between the cladding and the sheathing. Because these battens are made of treated plywood, they must be installed with stainless fasteners, and they also require installers to handle a chemically-treated product.

Eldorado Battens has an innovative alternative with some significant benefits:

Manufactured from a high quality plastic, they are installed in the same way as wooden battens without the problems associated with the treated product.

The fluted design allows air to circulate behind the cladding both vertically and horizontally. This air movement helps sheathing and cladding dry more quickly.

Because the battens are made of plastic, they won't absorb moisture or rot. They also do not require special fasteners. Just use staples or galvanized nails.

Check out Eldorado Battens. They are addressing a critical construction detail with a lower cost, better performing product.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Artistic Homes Makes a Difference

Artistic Homes
, a high performance home builder in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has decided to take their homes to a new level. The State of New Mexico recently established a new set of tax incentives designed to encourage green building. To date, Artistic Homes is the only builder in the State that's been able to meet the new performance requirements. Doing so, allows them to offer their buyers a more affordable home -- under $250,000 -- as well as tax credits of up to $10,000.

On my last trip to Albuquerque, I spoke with Jerry and Tom Wade, owners of Artistic Homes, about this new opportunity. They were exited that in a tight market, this incentive could make the difference for consumers hoping to buy a new home. It is also motivating that at any price point, it is possible to build a home that is efficient, healthy, safe, durable and affordable to operate and maintain.

The final benefit is to Artistic Homes. These homes have fewer warranty calls and customer satisfaction is high. This will result in higher profits and more referrals. Just smart business. Visit Albuquerque and see what dedication and commitment to quality can do. These guys are doing it right.