EcoVative: Dan Wildenhaus on Why Energy Efficiency + Best Green Building Practices are a No-Brainer

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Dan Wildenhaus is a well-versed man when it comes to green building best practices and integrating sound building science with energy efficiency. He’s been a contractor, energy auditor, consultant, trainer, speaker and college instructor. One thing he’s never lost sight of is the role common sense should play in the building industry—and today he shares that point-of-view with us on the topics of energy efficiency and green building.

EcoVative: You’ve got first-hand experience—just how valuable of a skill set are energy auditing, weatherization and efficiency specializations? What’s in it for the builders, contractors and vendors who take on training in these areas?
Dan Wildenhaus: Understanding building science—how houses work—is the fundamental element of both energy auditing and weatherization. This skill set is also valuable to contractors and builders. An appreciation for how the various parts of a building interact and impact each other can lead to better buildings with fewer call backs, greater efficiency, potentially better indoor air quality, more consistent comfort and increased building durability. One of my former students, who happens to now be a builder once told me, “every builder should have a building scientist on staff!”

EV: Is there demand for these services? Has it grown or shrunk during the recession?
DW: The demand is still there, however it has been more of a requirement in up-skilling the existing work force. In certain parts of the country, those with high utility rates or other strong driving forces, there has been a slight increase in the demand on the market for well-trained folks. That being said, the construction industry remains one of the hardest hit by unemployment.

EV: If demand is rising for more sustainable homes, why do you think that is? Where are the biggest opportunities going forward?
DW: I think that buyers in general want more—more for the same price. What that “more” is will always be dependent on both the economy and culture. We are in a time and place where a focus on efficiency and responsibility are expected. This is what high performance homes are all about—delivering the home that does what it should do (be comfortable, good IAQ, reasonable to heat and cool, durable and safe) with a price point as close to normal as possible.  Other elements of sustainability are also on the rise in certain parts of the country. However these are more fluid concepts and with today’s economy, many of them are simply not in the forefront of most home buyers minds.

EV: What is the biggest opportunity missed by builders, contractors and vendors working on new or existing homes that would support their profit margins, make positive impact on the environment AND benefit their clients? How can they seize that opportunity?
DW: In my opinion, the biggest opportunity missed is taking advantage of programs designed to guide builders and contractors toward better built homes and provide third party verification. There are over 80 major regional or national green building and labeling programs in America. Many of these programs require third-party verification that the home or project has been done correctly.

A lot of folks ask, “Why should I get the home labeled? Why can’t I just install the features and let my clients know?” I have to ask them back, “Would you trust the word of a manufacturer about its product performance over the word of third-party?” Probably not. I want more than just my auto makers’ assurance that my new car gets over 30 miles per gallon, right?

EV: We hear a lot about LEED, commercial building retrofits and sustainable buildings under construction, but less about the benefits of greening your home. What are the biggest benefits regarding homes? And what kind of impact can a shift in building practices towards sustainability make on both our economy and public health?
DW: We hear less about homes because there are so many different verifications. But the benefits are still great.  Even if we take some of the more politically charged opinions out of the equation, building or retrofitting homes so that they cost the homeowner less to own and operate is a good thing—is it not?  You can extrapolate that to the societal benefits when you talk about re-using materials, practicing waste and water use reduction techniques, and creating neighborhoods where homeowners stand a better chance of keeping their homes since they don’t have to pay as much each month on bills and maintenance.

EV: Are there any reasons not to employ energy efficient techniques and technologies? Or have we reached the point where these kind of outfits and retrofits are a no-brainer?
DW: There are still some energy efficiency techniques and technologies that do not pay for themselves over the average time a homeowner lives in their home (about 7 years). That’s not to say these are not good ideas or should not be considered. And that being said, it should be common sense, when properly explained, that a great many of these features are no-brainers, do pay off and should be readily adopted. The folks that focus their construction on more advanced techniques are a great help as well, because they drive down costs for advanced features through understanding and awareness.

EV: What do we need to do in order to shift public perception regarding the notion that greener buildings are too expensive to make business sense?
DW: I think it starts with demystifying “green” construction. By focusing on high-performance homes and waste reduction, we can show folks that the cost of ownership (purchase price + ongoing costs) is actually the same or less than a “standard” home—plus the home does everything it should!

EV: What is the role of contractors, builders and vendors in helping sustainable best building practices, techniques and products go further into the mainstream?
DW: The folks that actually make the homes we live in play a vital role. By taking a chance on a new product in a demo house or signing up for a third-party verification program, contractors can be a primary driver. More than that, the people working on homes every day can help to inform the science geeks about what is and is not doable for a reasonable price. I think there is sometimes a disconnect between what is best practice and what is feasible at most homeowner price points.

EV: What will you be focusing on in your talk at EcoVative?
DW: My colleague and I will be discussing what is unique about high-performance homes and how they can be marketed for builder or contractors advantage.

EV: If you could get one point across to EcoVative attendees, what would you hammer home?
DW: Let’s work together to show everyone that good building techniques and high-performance buildings make sense and should be in higher demand!

EV: Why are educational opportunities like EcoVative important for the industry? What benefit do they bring?
DW: I think opportunities like EcoVative bring a unique variety of people together and provide excellent avenues for the sharing of information about integrating building science into practice.

Dan Wildenhaus is Technical Manager at Fluid Market Strategies. He will be presenting at the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland’s 2011 EcoVative Conference and Expo May 10, 2011 at the Holiday Inn Portland South in Wilsonville. EcoVative is a one-day conference for home builders and contractors to unite education and practice. Featuring lectures and training sessions with regional experts, EcoVative provides opportunities for Oregon CCB Continuing Education credits. For more information or to register, please visit: http://ecovativeconference.com.

For the latest on green building and EcoVative, follow the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland on Twitter, EcoVative on Facebook, or join the EcoVative LinkedIn Group!

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