I just read a passage in ACI‘s “Moving Homes Toward Carbon Neutrality” whitepaper that I find to be a wonderful summary of the paradigm shift the building industry needs to accomplish. In my opinion designers, contractors and homeowners alike need to consider the building as a system in order to understand how to make significant and truly valuable improvements—not just in regards to energy.

In housing we have discovered that moisture and mold problems, combustion spillage, and indoor air pollution can only be addressed by the systems approach, whereas the component by component approach of old did not work. With all of these problems, the interactions between components of the house were very important, but were not always obvious when we looked at one component or area at a time. For example, while the moisture problem may have seemed worse in the bedroom of a sick child, it often started either outside or in the basement/crawl space. Combustion spillage problems in the utility room were sometimes caused by the powerful new kitchen range hood. Changing a natural draft furnace to a high-efficiency one, without introducing controlled, low-rate ventilation, often resulted in the build-up of pollution indoors that was worse than the occasional spillage problem from that furnace. All these were system problems and they were much more easily identified when the systems approach was used.

I encourage anybody who is thinking about remodeling to look at ACI’s whitepaper and consider the opportunities it highlights. A building is like a set of dominoes: tip the first one over and a whole bunch of others will start to fall also. Each component has an impact on other components. Together, they work in concert—creating a wonderful symphony, or a ghastly amount of noise. It is therefore of utmost importance to carefully and decisively create a retrofit composition that enhances the features as well as the performance of a building, and returns the favor with a Whole that is greater than the sum of its parts (okay, I borrowed that one from the last Passive House conference).

Beauty, delight, performance, efficiency: those are some of the things that fascinate me with buildings. Hence the company slogan: beautiful, resource-efficient buildings. The systems approach is key to success on these fronts.

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