17 Reasons I Love Working with Buildings

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Yesterday I had lunch with Robert Bean and Eric Griffin at the ASHRAE conference here in Atlanta. As we talked about how we got into the field of building science, I began thinking of the reasons I love doing what I do. My background is physics, and I really enjoyed teaching it when I was in academia, but I didn't really fit in there. When I discovered building science (and later blogging), I finally found my niche. Here's why:

  1. I can help people be more comfortable, have better indoor air quality, save money, and save energy. The opportunities for improvement in buildings are enormous.
  2. I still get to do a lot of teaching.
  3. There's no lack of variety in my work: Learning, verifying, writing, testing, teaching, designing, consulting, speaking, solving, sleuthing...
  4. Suprises! The photo above was one. It's the hole to vent the refrigerator to the attic. (You have one, right? Well, I hope not.) The creative ways that contractors can screw up houses always keeps things interesting. The ice chest integrated into the duct sytem was another one.
  5. I can help steer people away from scams and ripoffs, from do-it-yourself photovoltaics to ventilation systems that promise more than they can deliver to "smart vents" that can ice up your air conditioner. Look for another one this week on the Mistbox.
  6. I get to play with lots of fun tools, like blower doors, manometers, flow hoods, infrared cameras, and data loggers.
  7. And speaking of data loggers, they help me do things like experiment on my family. That's a reference to something I did with our air conditioner thermostat last summer.
  8. Of course, those physics degrees I spent 11 years getting are still useful. Building science — and all science, for that matter — is based on the laws of physics.
  9. I get to dive into the deep end and learn subjects like psychrometrics. Don Gatley recently told me I'm getting close to qualifying for the Psychrometric Fools Society.
  10. My colleagues at Energy Vanguard, Jeffrey Sauls and Andy Bell, are two of the best people in the world to work with.
  11. The world of building science is small enough that you get access to the folks with the big names in the industry. Go to a conference and you just might find yourself at dinner or having drinks with them.
  12. I haven't found any group of people more fun than the building science/home performance crowd. (Jugglers are up there, too, of course.)
  13. Building science people are passionate. Why do you think there's such a thing as Building Science Fight Club?
  14. In addition to the scams and ripoffs, there are a lot of really interesting products and ideas: Mini-split heat pumps, mushroom insulation, foam with graphite, net zero energy buildings, and much more.
  15. I love seeing things done right. It doesn't happen often enough, but when it does, it's a wonderful feeling.
  16. Once you learn building science, you can never look at buildings the same way again. And you also can't not look. When I walk into a restaurant or a store or someone's home, I look at the ducts and the windows and the mechanical systems. I see the water damage and the mold and the gas oven operating without the range hood on. A couple of years ago, I visited a friend in North Carolina and she said she was nervous and wondered if she should run out and buy some caulk to make the house better before I arrived. I told her not to worry. I like to look and maybe give advice, but I try not to be critical.
  17. I get to feel like I'm making a difference. Building science matters!

What are your reasons?


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Mike MacFarland

You had me at data loggers :-)

Cameron Taylor

Seldom a dull day in HVAC as well as building science work! I also love finding the overlooked details and correcting them if I can. Last week where I work we had an athletic locker room with a DOAS HVAC where the room temperature set point was being satisfied by the system but the indoor humidity was way too high. This system was designed to bring in and exhaust 100% outdoor air, and dehumidify it during high outdoor dew point weather.

Being this system was new I went onto the roof with my trusty Fieldpiece dual probe in-duct psychrometer in hand and familiarized myself with the DOAS, which has a desiccant wheel to treat both incoming and exhaust air (performed by the same unit). Turned out the system was removing humidity like crazy, and delivering supply air to the locker room at a < 55°F dew point. So why was the locker room still so humid? I found a face/bypass damper set incorrectly, resulting in the locker room going negative to outdoors. The supply air fan was sucking on the building envelope to get enough air across the cooling coil, meaning humidity was mixing with supply air post-delivery. The damper actuator had been set incorrectly. Once that was corrected everything fell in line and life's been good since.

As for the condensing unit mister device you're about to write on, a thought occurred to me as I washed out my own home's condenser coils this past weekend. Often the argument is made by the mister fanboy crowd that if the water is filtered then it should not result in scaled up condenser coil fins. I then realized there's no way this can account for entrainment of dust and dirt into the mist as air is drawn into the condenser coils. After all, this is how condenser coils become dirty in the first place! So, it leads me to think that you could spray reverse osmosis treated water onto those coils, and they will still scale up over time as dirt and dust particulates are left behind on the fins as the water evaporates from the fins.

Mike Cerqua

In a world where everyone "thinks" they know best, I love how so little is known about home performance and building envelope that every homeowner you meet is another opportunity to enlighten and open their eyes to the ugly side to the most beautiful homes. More expensive the home the more "deficiencies you find! Unless that home was built with performance testing...(which in Ontario canada is probably only 1/10000 homes!)


Why I love building science:
It is the right thing to do. Instead of dumping $trillions into controlling energy supply, destroying our atmosphere and making a lot of noise in the process, we could simply embrace conservation in buildings. In 1980, when I got into this, I thought it was a no brainer. Of course I naively said, conservation will rule but 35 years later we are only microscopically closer to marginally good buildings to say nothing of net zero or net Plus buildings. I hope we don't go extinct before we catch on that using oil/gas is our salvation.

A quiet unpolluted city with electric vehicles and buildings that supply all our energy needs is easier than getting to the moon but so far we keep hitting the fence. Yet, I cannot stop being committed to building science as a way of getting to a place we'd all prefer over what we have.

Kasra Kamooneh

Thank you Colin for the perspective and everyone's enthusiasm
for better buildings.


should have read:
"I hope we don't go extinct before we catch on that using oil/gas is NOT our salvation."

Cameron Taylor

Got carried away with my first reply a little: that's just one example why I love the HVAC and building science intersection. The overall draw/love is discovering how buildings actually function in real time under varied conditions, and how that can be changed with better approaches based on experience and research.

The HVAC/building enclosure intersection is concurrent to the above for me.

Last but not least, since delving deeper into this realm, I've met and continue to meet really great people whose passion for building science is captivating as well as motivational. Long live the building science community, and I also share a dream of renewable energy powered dwellings and buildings, reached by transportation fueled by renewables. Would be quite content with a net zero house and a BEV in my carport. Far more desirable than a McMansion and a V8 SUV.


Allison, I always enjoy your thought provoking topics, and your unique insight of the world we live in.

William Nickerson

The thing about Building Science is that "its alive !!'
Its ever changing things that long needed correcting.It involves making things better. It involves politics, Psychology, physics and creative ways of saying "don't throw that trash on the ground" Playing with fancy tools to show invisible losses and watch the lights go on with people much more intelligent than I