Legends of Home Performance Video Series Released This Spring

September 05, 2017
Fall 2017
A version of this article appears in the Fall 2017 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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This industry undoubtedly has some legends. You may know their names, you’re likely familiar with their work, and even more likely to have benefited from their contributions to the home performance world. You may also have heard them speak, worked on projects with them, or even enjoyed a meal together.

But what about their personal stories? What is the root of their passion? How did these legends of home performance come to follow their path? What motivates them today? These are some of the questions we posed in our Legends of Home Performance video series, which we started releasing via YouTube this spring. The responses were both illuminating and inspiring.

As I’ve attended events over the past year, we’ve scheduled the video interviews whenever we could meet up with our experts. Events included the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance Excellence In Building conference, Sean Armstrong’s Zero Carbon Redwood Retreat, the national conference of the Home Performance Coalition, Joe Lstiburek’s Westford Symposium, and field sites like Henry Gifford’s rooftop boiler room.

Debra Little
Debra Little is the CEO of AjO and the owner of Debra Little Sustainable Design.

Discoveries and Challenges

We’ve heard about impressive innovations, such as the six-layered windows that Marc Rosenbaum built in the ’70s; Nehemiah Stone’s development of the National Fenestration Rating Council’s window rating standard and the California Utility Allowance Calculator for affordable housing; Gord Cooke’s Construction Instruction app; Katrin Klingenberg’s advancement of Passive House building in the United States; and Chris Benedict’s proof that new PH multifamily buildings can be built for less than the cost of code-built housing—and be stunningly beautiful, too.

We know Gary Klein likes to cajole us to get into hot water with him, but in his preheat days he discovered the persuasive power of the what’s in it for them technique when selling solar to village folks in Lesotho, South Africa. “How many minutes of light do you want at night?” he would ask.

Nehemiah Stone, President of Stone Energy Associates is one of the featured Legends of Home Performance.

Gary Nelson tells us about his lightbulb moment when he tried out the first Duct Blaster prototype and realized that ducts in our homes were much leakier than people imagined. Kevin Kennedy, who has helped lead the integration of healthy-home-focused work with home performance, says, “we were looking at homes through a narrow lens.” Henry Gifford tells us how, instead of staring at the boiler, he should have been outside, looking up at how many windows were open in New York City apartment buildings. “It’s about not overheating,” he explains. And there’s his not-to-miss master’s tip, “Read the secret documents!” Martin Holladay shares some history about our earliest pathfinders, along with a final note: “Once you realize the basics, it’s exciting, simple, but not intuitive. Airtightness, superinsulation . . . simple principles that change the way we look at buildings. It’s fun.”

Rick Chitwood sums up the bigger challenge. “It’s no longer a technical problem,” he says. “It’s a people problem and their resistance to change. It’s time to just do it.” And Robert Bean offers the brilliant, yet commonsense reminder that we should “design for humans and good buildings will follow.”

Common Ground

Most of these experts started in the trades, and their field experience both informed and motivated them to develop mastery and better solutions. Many were further fueled by personal convictions, like Gary Nelson’s concerns about smog, global warming, and the potential for war as a consequence of energy scarcity; and Linda Wigington’s dedication to “challenge the distorted myth that humans must be infinitely expanding consumers of the earth.” Because, Linda says, we need to recognize “that we have choices, alternatives like energy efficiency, that we can take positive actions of living in harmony with the earth.”

learn more

You can find the full set of videos via AjOhp.org, on AjO’s YouTube channel.

All of these experts emphasized the critical importance of measuring their results and tracking their data to learn why and how their strategies worked. Each acknowledged the value of collaboration and of relationships with his or her own mentors. Each affirmed that working in home performance can be extraordinarily fulfilling. The future, John Straub tells us, will bring a huge amount of meaningful work in upgrading existing homes. “The majority of our existing buildings, by far, don’t have any approach to energy efficiency, durability or safety.” And he closes with “You can feel pretty good about [this work] . . . everyone you meet lives in a home. They recognize that improving homes is a worthwhile endeavor.”

Debra Little is the CEO of AjO and the owner of Debra Little Sustainable Design.

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