Do I have to be a building scientist to build green?

Knowing something about building science helps, yes.

Builders who are just starting to dive into green building will need a grasp of basic techniques: how to make sure the building envelope is tight, the pitfalls of sloppy HVAC installations, how much insulation to install and which types work best, how to install windows and doors so they don’t leak, what kind of roofing is appropriate for the climate.

Underlying all of these nuts-and-bolts issues are the principles of building science. For example, if a builder understands how and why moisture can be driven into wall and ceiling cavities, he or she will be more effective at preventing it. A builder may follow local practice by installing a polyethylene vapor barrier on the warm side of an exterior wall. But if the plastic is installed improperly, or is ripped and torn here and there, it’s really not going to be very effective. In this case, understanding the theory improves performance.

Building science is helping a lot of people build better houses. Research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and many other public and private facilities is making it easier to construct durable, safe and energy efficient houses. An enormous amount of information is available over the Internet, as well as in books and magazines.

What about the homeowner? Those who have taken the time to educate themselves about the basics of building science will have more fruitful conversations with their builders, and in the end will probably make better decisions about where to put their money.
Builders should not be expected to be scientists, too. But life will be a lot easier with an appreciation for the “whys” of building along with the “how.”

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