How Assembly-Line Innovation Can Shape the Future of Sustainable Housing

When I work with insulation contractors and I ask them how often they do Grade III work (insulation installed with “substantial defects,” according to RESNET standards), they always reply ‘never.’ Whenever I am a part of or hear these conversations, my mind moves to another conversation, where someone told me that the difference between an apprentice and a master is that a master knows how to mask their mistakes. This makes me wonder, with so many masters of their respective crafts, what is being covered up?

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The Habitat X Journal is on the Street

The 2019 Habitat X Journal is now in wide distribution on This is the digital successor to the printed magazines shown in our header. The articles in this issue cover a big range of sustainable housing topics:

  • Reflections on the Habitat X Fellowship
  • New Media, Timeless Knowledge
  • How Assembly-Line Innovation Can Shape the Future of Sustainable Housing
  • Certifying Home Performance
  • The Cobbler’s Home: How the Best Builders House Their Families
  • That’s Building Performance
  • Hero or Villain? A Reckoning with R-PACE
  • Larry Zarker: Tidewater Fisherman
  • ‘Easier, Better, Simpler’: Why This Habitat X-er’s Next Ride Will Be a Tesla

Each of these articles was written by one of our Habitat X colleagues. It’s a great insight into the expertise of this brilliant group of people.

>>> Read the Journal at

Habitat Xer Bill Spohn is On the Air

Bill Spohn has been involved in the home performance industry for years now. First as an engineer and designer of tools (Bacharach, Testo), most recently as a pusher of tools (TruTech Tools), but always as a believer in the power of simple knowledge as a route to success. Bill’s a generous soul, you see, and has spent most of his life helping his friends, colleagues, and customers excel.

His most recent project takes his innate knowledge and generosity to a new level. Building HVAC Science is Bill’s new podcast, and in it he showcases the people who are making the home performance industry tick: builders, HVAC technicians, scientists, or sales people — he gives them each a stage from which to tell their heartfelt stories. It’s a good formula.

Bill hosts several Habitat Xers, too: James Childre, Larry Zarker, J West, Chris Dorsi, Steve Baden, Robin LeBaron, Susan Davison, and Bill Spohn Jr all make appearances. Each episode is a fun listen, and plenty bite-sized at 25-35 minutes each. It’s worth taking time to give a listen.

>>> check out Bill’s podcast here, or on your favorite podcast platform.

The Cobbler’s Home

For years now, many of the most connected North American housing professionals have derived inspiration and guidance from A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, the seminal handbook to community and housing design that was authored by Christopher Alexander and colleagues back in 1977.

Cobbler's Home

It’s the type of advice that ages well, but some housing practitioners have recognized that the timeless knowledge captured in this treatise could use an update. Though A Pattern Language became a bible of sorts that informed the work of many housing pros, there has never been a strong connection between the humanist principles expressed in the book and the stark practicality of the high performance housing industry.

Making that connection — assuring that high performance housing is designed and built to truly meet the needs of the people who live there — is the goal of an initiative we launched at the 2018 Habitat X Summer National Conference. We knew that people in the Habitat X network could add a lot of modern relevance to this work. We tagged the new initiative The Cobblers’ Home: How the Best House Their Families, and we shared the early results of our work with conference participants in session with Casey Murphy, Bill Spohn, and Kevin Brenner.

We’ve also published an article by the same name in the Habitat X Journal. We present there case studies from personal home construction projects undertaken by some of the most experienced home performance professionals around.

Read the article here and add your voice to the discussion.

Reflections on the Habitat X Fellowship

The Habitat X Fellowship is one of the most rewarding opportunities available to the up-and-coming generation of home performance professionals. As a former Fellow, I know this firsthand.

I had been in the weatherization and energy efficiency sector for just under a decade when I applied for the Fellowship in 2015, hopeful that I could leverage what I’d learned along the way to make a difference. To do that, I needed more than building science knowledge or a passion for sustainability. I needed a singular community, a strategic venue where accomplished, dedicated people gather and pool insights that illuminate the future of the energy transition in the built environment.

What happened next changed my career in profound, unexpected ways. As its name suggests, Habitat X is an intersection: of housing, culture, and environment, for sure, but also of ideas, both tried-and-true and pioneering. It’s where veterans pass treasured wisdom down to a new cohort of committed change-makers. It’s a chance to forge new enterprises, outlooks, and friendships. Above all, it’s where you’ll find the brilliant people at the center of the transformation toward sustainable housing.

It’s hard to top the experience of becoming a Habitat X Fellow, of course, but watching others step into that role always inspires me. Recently, I spoke with 2016 Fellows Michelle Nochisaki and Ed Matos, who I am privileged to call friends and colleagues, about their work and what Habitat X and the Fellowship means to them.

Griffin Hagle

Q: Who should apply for the 2018 Habitat X Fellowship and what should they hope to get out of it?

Someone applying for the Habitat X Fellowship should be obviously passionate about our industry, and also driven to do more—meaning to really dive deep into either whatever arena they’re currently in, or looking to maybe jump sectors a little bit—but take their passion, learn from the folks in the room and then hit the ground running. It’s a killer support system. You gain, essentially, experience and insight from the best of the best.

Q: How did the Habitat X Fellowship impact your career?

Habitat X was really the first entry point for me to having a real seat at the table—just the style of conference, the fact of being a participant and a presenter and having a voice. Instead of being one of the masses, I was now one of the industry professionals that I had always looked up to, and I think that added to my career in a lot of ways.

Q: How did you first become involved in building performance?

I graduated from business school and decided that I wanted to be a social worker. I put my resume into a temp agency and asked them to place me anywhere that was a nonprofit organization while I was researching how to take my business education and turn that into social work. They placed me at Building Performance Institute, where I spent two weeks stuffing certification envelopes around a conference room table and learning about the organization—learning about building science, home performance, the contractors that were involved, the certifications and standards behind the certifications.

“I was like, ‘Man, if people knew about this, everyone would be in.’”

It just clicked with me: the house is a system, and if we want to build homes the right way, and if we want to improve folks’ lives who live in those homes, then we need to go about this the right way. I walked into the COO’s office with my actual resume and said, “Hey, I know I’ve been here two weeks as a temp, but what position do you have for me?” and the rest is history. I was like, “Man, if people knew about this, everyone would be in.”

Q: What does the big picture for healthy homes and home performance look like to you in 2018 and beyond, and what developments excite you most?

Health and home performance have always been tied together in my world. I think we are now at the beginning stages of having data to back it up. I think that’s extremely important because, regardless of what anyone says, data is what we should really rely on and use as the backbone of how we do the work that we do.

Because we’re a low-income program, a lot of times the clients that we work with see tremendous improvements in their health due to this holistic approach when addressing all issues in their home. Working on ways to get funders and/or medical dollars to pay for the home performance work up front because of the medical-dollar savings on the back end—that, to me, is some of our most exciting work.

Q: How did the Habitat X Fellowship impact your career?

The fellowship came at a really great time for me. I was looking for new career opportunities, and I wanted to find an opportunity that could challenge me intellectually as well as motivate me, and hopefully introduce me to new opportunities. It was a great learning experience for me to be in the same room with people that have been doing this for so long at a high level. It actually led to new business for me, which was more than I could have expected.

Q: How did you first become involved in building performance?

I was 28 at the time. I still remember the exact conversation. I was coming off years of being very focused on music and in a band, and I was not taking my career too seriously. A friend of mine, Dan Kartzman, had just come back from California, and he said, “I want to start my own company out here on the East Coast making homes energy efficient and green.” I said, “That sounds really cool! Sign me up.”

“I’ve really always appreciated that I got into an industry, not just a job.”

I’ve been in the industry eight years now. I don’t think that I necessarily wanted to be in a green industry, or that I sought it out or anything like that, but I knew I wanted to do something that mattered to me, and once I got in, I was hooked. I’ve really always appreciated that I got into an industry, not just a job.

Q: You seem to approach sales as both a science and a craft. Where did you get that perspective?

One of my beliefs is that this industry has done an incredible job of creating a foundation for building science and knowledge of energy efficient construction, but not enough of a foundation for sales. I’ve been in sales a long time, and I’ve always looked at sales as a true profession as well as a craft and art form—one that takes the same amount of training as any other craft.

I was given the opportunity to write an article for Home Energy magazine [“Why Home Performance Sales Needs a Deep Retrofit,” Winter 2016] as part of my Fellowship, in which I express a lot of my views. I told myself I was going to write a book. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. (Laughs.) I do still think it’s very much needed to have more resources for sales professionals in home performance and building performance.


Editor’s note: Griffin, Michelle, and Ed have recently formed the Brighter Energy Collective to support young professionals in the home performance industry. They are the administrators of the Habitat X Fellowship.

ACEEE Releases the International Energy Efficiency Scorecard

Every other summer, the American Council for the an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) releases its International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. This year’s report is now on the street, and we think there is a lot to learn from its smart analysis and insight.ACEEE logo

For many of us, this report provides an insightful and neutral assessment of our progress over the last year. By reviewing these rankings, we can learn a lot about the broad success of each country’s attempts to build paths to a sustainable future.

How Does North America Rank?

In our analysis of the 2014 ACEEE scorecard, published here, we bemoaned the fact that the U.S. and Canada had fallen far behind most countries in the developed world when it came to progress toward sustainable energy policies (coming in scarcely ahead of Mexico, India, and South Korea). And though there are a few bright spots in this year’s reports, the news this year is still sobering.


2016 ACEEE scorecard

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The End of Malaise

The United States is on the path to becoming a clean energy superpower. So why do we still talk about energy like it’s 1979?

Last August, in an essay in Fortune, Jigar Shah and Raj Pannu laid bare the basic problem of the green energy movement: its image has never wholly recovered from its association with hippies. The piece wastes no time dissecting this folly:

“Clean, renewable, or alternative: take your pick. Clean energy in the United States has been defined by earnest environmentalists who, to their credit, embraced it wholeheartedly, but, to our collective detriment, spun an ideological, naïve story divorced from the reality of the energy economy transformation actually taking shape around us.”

It’s a jolting pronouncement. But if it hurt feelings, it also helped clean a wound that’s been festering since the seventies. Almost overnight, clean energy has become a legitimate economic engine presaging smarter, more resilient infrastructure, yet the mainstream narrative remains defined by events that predate the cell phone.

Tesla's bright future

Sam O’Hare of Aero Film tells the story of Tesla Motors and America’s brightening energy future in this dazzling CG video. Click to view.

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Is DOE’s Energy Code Deadline a Looming ‘Volkswagen Crisis’ for the Building Sector?

In 2009, desperate for economic relief, governors of all 50 U.S. states pledged to increase energy efficiency in buildings in exchange for a combined $3.1 billion in state energy program funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

While a larger share of Recovery Act funds was poured into other longstanding programs, such as weatherization, a provision of the bill, Section 410, linked state energy program funding to tougher energy codes for new construction and major renovations.

Volkswagen logo

About 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption provides heat, cooling and power to buildings. Building energy codes are widely seen as cost-effective policy tools to combat emissions, lower homeowner utility costs, and increase home comfort and value.

Section 410 required states not only to implement codes that met or exceeded the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code and the 2007 ASHRAE 90.1 standard for houses and commercial facilities, respectively, but also to develop a plan to achieve compliance “within 8 years…in at least 90 percent of new and renovated residential and commercial building space.”

Reaching that target now appears unlikely. Predictably, the strings attached to the Recovery Act funding stirred controversy among a few governors at the time — most notably Alaska’s Sarah Palin, whose veto prompted a rare threat of legislative override. All states eventually accepted the money, but now, seven years later, 16 still either lack a statewide energy code altogether or have old codes that fall short of the ARRA requirements.

Read More

The Recovery Act Is Back: Can It Deliver High Performing Homes?


In early 2009, in the wake of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the President and Congress scrambled to find ways to stabilize and to begin to grow the economy again. Out of this turmoil came the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), a bill designed to preserve and create jobs during a deep recession, and to provide investment in infrastructure, energy, and science. Among its many policy objectives, one provision of the Act committed to a dramatic reduction of energy consumption in residential buildings by 2017. Progress in advancing energy codes has been slow, but still the clock keeps ticking.

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The Compliance Project Newsletter

If you were among the nearly fifty professionals that joined us from across the country for the recent Habitat X webinar, Programs and Codes That Work, you likely confirmed your suspicions – compliance with energy codes in most jurisdictions is far, far below what it should be.

(View or download the webinar slide deck.)

(Download or print this newsletter as a 204 KB PDF file.)

Consumer Outreach

You may have also learned how The Compliance Project will help address the problem. Beginning in February, we will engage homeowners on the issue through select social media outlets. With scandals in the transportation sector in recent focus, we plan to provoke similar inquiry into how new homes often “cheat” their occupants when it comes to energy codes – and subject them to greater energy, health, and environmental costs than they bargained for. Our outreach will direct readers to resources that help them understand how code compliance fits into the purchase and maintenance of their homes.

— Chris Dorsi

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