Building Science, like any other variety of science, is largely about comparing one set of performance numbers to another. We want to know how much air, how much moisture or how much heat passes through one material versus another. We like having two or more products side by side, so we can determine which one functions best under different sets of controlled conditions. We contrive all sorts of tests to gauge the strength, the efficiency, the durability, the elasticity, the whatever...
As we have suggested before, admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek sometimes, it's not necessarily rocket science - but it is real science. And it doesn't have to be a bunch of dry-as-dust number crunching. Anybody who has had the good fortune of hearing building science expert John Tooley describe the tiny unit of pressure known as a pascal can attest that, in the right kind of mind, the subject can be crafted into something riotously funny.
But we don't pursue this exercise strictly for its own sake. It is not just fun and games, nor a prescribed routine of academic gymnastics. We need to know how buildings perform, why certain things work and others work better. We need to understand the consequences of our choices, particularly in a world where we are increasingly on a collision course between the pursuit of infinite growth and the reality of finite resources. We measure these things because they matter.
Recently, in the wee hours of the night, a powerful Pacific storm front rolled in. The weatherman had it right for once. Rain and ice pellets beat a steady rhythm in the darkness while the large wind bent the trees and explored all the surfaces and seams of the house in search of entry. The roof, the siding, the big picture windows - they were all probed and poked. The moisture barriers and weather stripping were forced to step up, and because they had all been tested and retested countless times before, we were none the worse for wear in the cold morning light. We were safe and sound.
The world can be a pretty challenging place, starting with the simple, familiar elements of nature. Our task is to reduce the risk. To shelter is to protect, to safeguard, to shield, to defend - not only from imminent danger, but from future threats - whatever their source or origin.
Some might confuse building science as only being about efforts like determining R-values, comparing SEER ratings, measuring gallons per minutes, and so on, but that would be missing the larger point. What it is really about is building a safer, more secure world for ourselves and those to come.
Posted: 1/23/2013 10:09:16 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments
As we prepared our December issue, once again featuring the annual award-winning projects of our readers, I found myself contemplating the inexorable march of time and the turning of the calendar. This past year, 2012, has been a banner one for the green building and sustainable development sector - and a not-so-great year for most of the rest of the shelter industry. Some of us are not too surprised.
And now that we're medicating our collective post-election headache, we're noting that vote-seekers everywhere have a little bit of breathing room, and that even they are breaking the silence of politically imposed taboos by acknowledging concerns over things like climate change and the world's energy future. The fleeting remnants of the past calendar year, marked by tragic natural disasters, including some of historic proportions, has them looking for more responsible solutions to how we rebuild for the next inevitable collision with Mother Nature.
By contrast, it seems that many in the traditional bully pulpits of the shelter industry are trying to rally the faithful around the notion that it's time to "build our way back," Huh? Back to what? Back to risky planning, pathetic performance and minimum standards? Back to out-dated, vulnerable infrastructure? Back to neighborhoods in communities that are sitting ducks....again?
What exactly does the industry hope to accomplish by riding a herd of extinct species to the imaginary finish line of a race to the bottom that should have been called off decades ago? Progress doesn't come equipped with a reverse gear, only forward. Those heady times on the gravy train of the 90's and early 2000s only exist in the rear-view mirror, and in the fading memories of the dinosaur jockeys - not along the road ahead.
Take a real look at the projects that fill the pages of our December issue. Study the images. Listen to the descriptions and rationale behind these exceptional projects. Consider the intent and purpose behind the choices that were made. Think about what really sets them apart, and select the parts that are relevant for your projects and the success of you and your company going forward.
The coming year and decade may be the most challenging and exciting we have ever experienced. It will almost certainly be the most interesting. And there is no reason why we should not believe that we are at the dawn of new prosperity and satisfaction as builders - we just need to keep our attention trained on what's ahead of us, not what we can thankfully leave in the past.
Posted: 1/10/2013 8:09:56 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments