As an architect, I like to think it is designers who drive innovation in buildings. Architects are out-of-the-box thinkers. We come up with new ideas. We have contractors implement our new ideas.
Alas, is this the case? Certainly not all the time. Most of the time? Maybe not even that.
We know a lot of innovation in buildings comes from innovations in materials and methods, the two domains typically outside an architect’s control. Innovations in glass, for instance, comes from the Federal labs and from the private sector manufacturers working in that area. Architects have no other role than to realize new glass products are out there, and then specify them.
But it is on the methods side that I want to present an insight: Contractors are driving innovation in energy efficiency.
Arguably one of the most effective ways to increase energy efficiency in buildings is through the quality of the building envelope. Yes, the basic design of a wall or roof system is a starting point. You can’t get high thermal performance if adequate insulation and an air barrier aren’t specified or detailed. But the final, incremental increase in energy efficiency comes from the quality of the installation. Air barriers do not work with leaky joints. Continuous insulation does not work if there are gaps and discontinuities. This is why we do blower door tests. It is great that a designer’s wall sections and specifications show what the ideal wall should look like, but so much of the wall’s potential lies with the installation practices of the contractor.
It is for this reason that, here in Maine, we see contractors really being the agents of change with building energy efficiency
here in Maine, we see contractors really being the agents of change with building energy efficiency
The take-away? Energy efficiency and reduction in carbon footprint is going to benefit from insights gained during the design process, but also by advances in the experience and methodology of contractors who take it upon themselves to raise their own bar.