Building scientist Terry Brennan is the crime scene investigator of the remodeling industry. He uses forensic analysis to solve vexing issues regarding mold, lead, heat loss, moisture, and general inefficiencies in existing buildings.

With a quick wit and good humor, Brennan presented the Remodeling Leadership Conference audience with technical solutions as well as stories, anecdotes, and photographs of home remodeling gone awry from moisture build up in the foundation of a Phoenix office (his wry solution: "Turn the sprinkler head around.") to sad tales such as a first floor apartment fire causing the smoke inhalation death of a fourth floor resident due to poor building air circulation and severely elevated formaldehyde levels within plywood cabinets purchased from an unknown source.

courtesy Jeffrey Lee

Murphy's Law abounds in Brennan's world and he warned his audience that "people are crazy."

"Remember who you are building for and keep in mind what can go wrong," Brennan said. "Make it easy to do the hard thing and hard to do the easy thing, because people will no doubt do crazy things" - like the grounds crew that put a lamp over a heat sensor so they could get more air conditioning into their office.

Brennan went on to suggest product databases such as GreenSpec; books like those by Joe Lstiburek on building in various climates, and Bruce Haley's "Insulate and Weatherize Like a Pro"; Web sites like, which has free downloadable information, and; and publications such as "Environmental Building News."

He also offered practical tips on assessing and fixing existing structures - admonishing the audience to "start with the health and safety stuff; it's bad to kill your customers" ? what to consider before remodeling, and how to determine whether to insulate walls or seal and insulate a crawlspace.

To really make changes in the way things get built, Brennan said to always try to "design so it's easy to keep buildings dry, clean, and pest-free." To help consumers change their energy-using habits, he suggested having them purchase a kilowatt-hour meter and hang it in a prominent place.

To comment on this speaker/article, please e-mail writer Stacey Freed.