Paying attention to the details that improve building performance can help you to distinguish your company from the competition. It can also increase your bottom line by enabling you to offer additional services based upon your special expertise.

But those may not be the truly important reasons for building performance work in the 21st century.

First, a disclosure: I’m as close to a tree-hugging, enviro-advocating, global-warming–believing, green-encouraging, placard-carrying, energy-conserving building performance geek as you will find this side of the socks-and-sandals set. Some people who know me well have whispered behind their hands that I am not realistic.

Dose of Realism

But here’s the reality for you: If there is oil a mile down — whether in the Gulf of Mexico or the Persian Gulf, in Nigeria, or directly under the South Pole — it is going to be drilled for and pumped out and refined and used. There’s nothing we can do about it. People around the world want oil, and economics dictate that they will do and put up with whatever is necessary to get it.

Yet we are confronted individually and collectively with serious limits and challenges in terms of resource depletion, climate change, and environmental issues. No single entity will be able to overcome these challenges. Only science and technology can possibly find answers that work, and even then the odds are not good.

Nothing will stop the energy and resources from being harvested and used, but the process can be slowed down, and that just might (might, not will) buy enough time to find the answers to the problems we face.

Buying Time

In the U.S., buildings account for 48% of the energy used and the greenhouse gases produced. Improving our buildings is a target we can aim at and hit. The Germans, the Czechs, the Scandinavians, and the Canadians have already figured this out.

Building performance helps to buy time for science and technology to develop sustainable and viable alternatives to dwindling and climate-affecting fossil fuels, to better manage fresh-water resources, to minimize environmental devastation, and to slow down and eventually reverse harmful changes in the oceans and atmosphere.

The heart of the matter is simple: Every little bit helps. Every cfm of air leakage saved, every watt, every BTU slowed down as it moves through the wall has an infinitesimal but real effect. It slows the process and it gives science and technology one more nanosecond to meet the challenges that face us.

The visionary modern architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) said (although he did not originate the aphorism) that “God is in the details.” It’s hard to imagine a context in which his words are truer than in the work of building performance and how we humans manage our resources.

—Ed Voytovich is a principal at Building Efficiency Resources. Reach him at