Reflections on Quality Building From a SHP Instructor

November 08, 2021, by Joshua Salinger


Thank you for reaching out and more so for all of your efforts and enthusiasm surrounding the SHP course.  I think more than any direct question I wanted to reach out and get your advice concerning my job with
XXXXXX and how I can play a role in implementing a lot of the great ideas learned in this course.  XXXXXX  is a small residential building company of several project managers, one accountant and one director of construction.  In recent years their business has expanded into Hood River where I reside and work as one of the project managers.  All the actual building is done by a team of subcontractors that, for the most part, XXXXXX  has been working with for years.  That being said it's not always the same crew on each job as our subs often run several crews (framers being a prime example).  Basically in a nutshell when I start a new job, all our projects are custom home builds primarily for higher end clients, I am handed a set of prints and a budget that contains many of the specifics and off I go to coordinate with everyone and get the house built.  By the time I get these plans a lot of time has already been spent by the clients, our director of construction, architects, engineers, designers, etc. to hash out all the details of the house design and all interior features.  With that understanding of my role as a project manager I can't help but feel a little helpless in implementing many of the great design ideas you specifically pitched regarding the building envelope.  The inevitable restrictive triangle of Scope, Cost, & TIme!  A change in one will affect one of the other points of the triangle.  I felt like all the other folks in the webinar had meaningful input because they all were working in the design and early phases of project planning.   

I am hyper enthusiastic and passionate about improving building efficiency but working with a predefined budget and design often leaves me feeling like I don't have the ability to make any meaningful changes to improve the building envelope's overall efficiency...until I attended the live webinar last Friday.  When you really highlighted the 4 goals of an assembly and in their respective order I started to think a lot about the air barrier.  I feel this is a place I can make the most impact without the large budget impact (currently our homes use the drywall with sill seal approach as the primary air barrier). So here are a couple questions for you in an effort for me to be able to effectively utilize the great information I got from the class:

- How did you go about teaching a well seasoned "traditional" framing crew the importance of doing a detailed job on the house wrap.  Do you focus on the lead carpenter or business owner to relay the importance of this step?  In our case the framing company owner has several crews that he just manages, he isn't on site very much at all.  Is it best to do a mini training session with them on how to install the self adhering membrane properly?

You talked in the videos about how it took your crew a little bit of time to adapt to some of the better building techniques but now it's just building to them.  How does one promote this with a framing crew that is on your job for say 3-5 weeks and then moves onto another project with a project manager who doesn't give a crap about building efficiency?  



Man, I can sympathize. I get similar feedback every so often from people in your position that work for a GC. In fact, our company started out as a GC and we worked with 3rd party architects for years. I kept banging my head against the wall with the plans that would land fully flushed out on our desk with no thought whatsoever to the things that actually matter in a quality building, and these were some of the best architects in Portland! Even when we were brought in early in the process with a client and an architect we would still end up with plans that didn't take these most basic concepts seriously. I finally realized that the only way to make this happen was to bring the architecture in house, so we changed our delivery method to a design-build company. This was a big change to our small firm and it was a bumpy ride as we made the transition, but in the end it has paid dividends many times over. Not just in higher quality buildings, but with our staff's quality of life, connection to our clients, excitement for what they are doing and the bottom line of the company. Similar to how a building is better not just from an energy efficiency perspective when done with these basic concepts, but is also healthier, quieter, more comfortable, lasts longer, etc., our company not only started creating actual high quality buildings, but our team got more excited about it, more involved, more creative and our company is stronger for it and we consistently get clients asking for this type of building as a matter of course. 
The source of your frustration is a systemic problem. I will attempt to give you some good advice, but unless the core problem is dealt with I can only help you dance around the edges. As you astutely mentioned, a lot of folks in the SHP class are able to implement these concepts because they are involved early on in the design process. When we deliver buildings with the design-bid-build method folks like yourself (who clearly want to make an impact) are simply not in the conversation. These 4 core concepts of bulk water, air barrier, vapor and thermal need to be centered in the design process-- just like the work of the structural engineer is. One wouldn't design a home without an eye towards the structure, but our industry doesn't put these basic concepts on the same footing as structure, which is odd considering that they have effects that often are just as bad or worse than structural failure (mold, rot, decay, poor IAQ, need for repairs, costly energy bills, uncomfortableness, etc.). Unfortunately, the general public doesn't know this and doesn't demand it, and therefore there is no incentive for architects and builders to address this. The general public understands the need for structural engineering, just think of how many times a realtor says 'good bones' to get a sense of this. We are starting to see the public ask for healthier buildings with the wildfires and COVID, and starting to see more demand for energy efficiency with climate change in the news, but this still isn't enough pressure to get our industry focused on the things that actually matter. 
The way we have delivered buildings for the past 60 years or so leads to a race to the bottom and a hyper focus on the bottom line. I am not advocating for everyone spending more money on building, but rather viewing it through a different lens to address this problem. One can deliver these core concepts in one's work cost effectively if one incorporates them early into one's work and changes one's approach to building--hence my comment of 'After one gets used to these different techniques, it just becomes 'building''.  This won't necessarily net any cost premiums. Of course, if one is going for PH certification this will be more expensive (at first cost), but I am advocating for a net zero level building. The transition to this can be costly and this can keep business owners from wanting to change the ways 'they have always done things'. 
OK... Now that I have put those thoughts on paper (as much therapeutic for me as anything), let me pivot to your questions below in Hot Pink


« Article Listings