Thursday, May 26, 2011

USA New Wall - Good, Better, Best

One thing I've discovered at I have studied Swedish building techniques, and eventually how to apply them here, is that there is a storm brewing in building science in the US. There are many differing opinions on what is the best approach to improving performance, and as many expert opinions as there are, there are multiples of lesser informed second hand opinions spiraling off of the expert opinions. Through all this I see nobody talking about how to bring the reluctant building industry into these higher performance practices. Nobody is considering the reality of an entrenched and mature industry, with supply lines and practical experience which will not be willingly cast aside. This is where the USA New Wall comes in.

The USA New Wall design is informed by the building practices in Sweden which are in turn a natural evolution of the building techniques widespread in the USA. By looking at the results of 30 years of building science development in Sweden we can take away some very plain lessons on how to improve our building without upsetting the apple cart that is the industry.

Nothing translates directly however and there are a couple of ground rules we must keep in mind. In Sweden they build houses well, for everybody, not just the rich people. Every house has much higher value in the walls in the form of insulation and substantial construction. The industry is not based on flipping your house for a better one every 3-5 years. Their industry also places value on this higher performance. A house that is well insulated is worth more than a crummy poorly performing house. These are differences that are deeply rooted in the US, which are currently under tremendous pressure to change. In case you have not noticed the status quo here is broken, not just conceptually, but actually broken. Few homes are being built, many repossessed houses are on the market and not selling, or selling for a fraction of their hoped value. Many more homes headed for foreclosure are in limbo because the banks don't want any more on the market. Its a train wreck. Yet navigating this mess are a select few green developers who are managing to build slowly and sell every house they build. This is clearly the new paradigm. Those crappy McMansions will eventually be sold off, likely at great loss. Green builders will experience growth and demand in the midst of this. This is where the scarcity is, this is where the growing value will reside.

So the USA New Wall is really a series of wall designs, each incrementally better performing. A Good, Better, Best paradigm which can allow a builder to slowly test the waters of better performance. Granted, your navel gazing building scientist and LEED consultant may be able to come up with a better performing wall, but I can almost guarantee it will give your status quo builder fits. This is not about the ultimate wall, its about laying a path to better performance.

Next post, we'll start with a Good wall.

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