Credit: Sharpe + Harrell Photography
Building science studies the interaction between occupants, building components/systems, and the surrounding environment. It focuses on the flow of heat, air, and moisture in and around buildings.
Building science specialists (like me) work with architects and contractors to ensure that buildings operate efficiently and provide a healthy environment. It’s a good thing that the building industry has reached a consensus based on science. But it worries me that many building professionals have little, if any, knowledge of building science.
I was a contractor long enough to realize that it is impossible to have thorough knowledge of every aspect of construction — that’s why we hire trade contractors, architects, engineers, and other allied professionals to fill in the gaps in our own knowledge.
Unfortunately, most architects and contractors don’t even realize that their projects can benefit from a scientific analysis. This results in failures ranging from barely noticeable to catastrophic. Most failures fall somewhere in between, resulting in moisture problems, poor air quality, energy inefficiencies, etc.
Homes have a complex set of components that must be designed and constructed so that they work together as a smoothly operating machine — not unlike a car. What if when you bought a car, the company dumped all the parts on your front lawn and sent over people who worked for different companies to assemble it, in the rain, over a period of months? Would you even consider driving it?
Houses are just as complicated — they just have a wider margin of error before total failure. If we compare the average house to a car, it would have bald tires, leak and burn oil, and get about four miles to the gallon. It runs, but not well and not without major repairs.
Unfortunately, most homeowners don’t know enough to ask for a high-performance home and too many professionals don’t know how to deliver it.
Additional regulations are a hard sell these days, but it may be past the time that designers and contractors be required to understand how buildings work before they are allowed to plan or construct them.
It’s time to stop subcontracting out building science like it’s painting or tile work. Building science should be part of the project from the beginning, and everyone involved, especially the installers on the jobsite, should have some knowledge of it.
I may have just suggested eliminating my profession. Regardless, it is time for building science to be fully-integrated into remodeling projects and new homes.
—Carl Seville, a recovering remodeler, teaches, speaks, and writes about, consults on, and certifies green buildings. He is the co-author ofGreen Building: Principles and Practices in Residential Construction. greencurmudgeon.com, sevilleconsulting.com