Building Science is not really science

Building Science is not really science; it is more of a concept. While the concepts were developed by scientists the system itself is not really hard science. The concepts are generally employed by building analysts and construction professionals. While I consider myself a student of building science I do not consider myself a building scientist. I am simply a tradesman with special training. While some in the field might have different opinions about their role in this industry I am comfortable with my statement above.


Building science is easy and yet complex to explain, most of the concepts are simple scientific principles. We take the basic principle such as the laws of thermal dynamic and apply them and how they work within a building. We can easily determine that heat moves from hot to cold and that we want a barrier between our home and the outside. Not exactly hard to conclude.


Where we differentiate ourselves is through testing. We figure out through our blower door test how much is leaking and attempt discover where. As we seal the home we continue to test. We use our training and experience to try to determine if these changes will effect others systems within the house.


You will often here that we look at the house a system. We want this system working for you and not against you. How is the stack effect complicating the efficiency of your air conditioner? Why the house is going into negative pressure when the heater is turned on? Why does your bath fan not work? How can we get these systems working in concert, to provide safety, comfort and energy efficiency?


While some really smart people figured these concepts out. They tinkered, they theorized, they failed and they succeeded. They used this data and shared it and came up with a process to convey this complex information and boil it down into a simple system that could be taught.


I am one those that has studied these principles and has been taught the system. You never look at the house in the same way after this training.

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Comment by Bob Sullivan on November 8, 2012 at 1:51pm

Could not agree more. We owe much to those who pioneered the concept. Unfortunately, the term Bulding Science is sometimes abused by hucksters who are in it only for the $$$. Programs like EarthCraft Homes etc. represent waves of the future.

Comment by Tom Conlon on November 8, 2012 at 11:17am

Good post Glen, and extra points for the provocative title!

Of course there are plenty of actual scientists busily researching how best to optimize building (including home) performance.(You make this clear in your follow-up.)

However, you're right, most of us don't have the luxury of doing much (if any) true science, we just try to keep up with the energy geeks and apply their science in the real world.

I agree, the "building scientist" moniker has been oversold, but consumers are used to marketing hype from contractors and already factor this in, so it probably doesn't do any harm.

Comment by Glen Gallo on November 8, 2012 at 8:08am

I want to thank everyone for their comments and reading.

Ken, I will not argue that there is a discipline called Building Science. My introduction as any good introduction is meant to capture and intrigue. While I would never argue that Dr. Ian Walker is not a Building Scientist, I would also never argue that I am a Building Scientist.

I think you miss my point.So if Dr. Walker were to test my home I would consider that Building Science. He would be collecting data for to confirm or deny a hypothesis and publish those findings in a paper for the scientific community to review and dispute with the findings and or add to it if they are so inclined.

That is science

I take a class to which the findings of Dr Walker are explained and how to implement them in the field. I walk into the same house test and report to the customer. I am not a scientist I am a practicing technician. 

I have much respect for the field of Scientist's whom research this and the technicians (whom I am among) who employ the techniques  I will sometimes chime in or produce a blog or state an opinion that some will like and others will not. 

This idea came to me years ago when I attended a class taught by John Tooley at the RESNET Conference. It was one of the best training sessions I have ever attended. For three days I was intrigued I was challenged and I learned much during that session and have taken forward many ideas from that class as well as a number of others.

When I finished I took a test and was granted the eloquent titled certification Master of Building Science. While I agree I left that class knowing more than when I walked in I hardly think of myself with that lofty title. I further surmised that a one or two week training session form HERS or BPI does not make one a Building Scientist

I tried to convey that in my blog if I missed the mark I am sorry. If you disagree I think we can agree to disagree. 

Comment by Jon Haehnel on November 8, 2012 at 7:08am

Glen and Tom are right.  To imply that because we have some training and/or experience under our belts and because we test we know exactly what to do in every building it naive.  I always cringe at the common marketing message that goes like this, " We will make your home safe, comfortable, and energy efficient with our services." Really?  In 2 or 3 hours on site you can fully comprehend all that is going on with my safety and comfort issues? You can completely solve the problem of high relative humidity in my house and the identify all the potential ramifications of tightening my home? Really?  True,  building science and testing will gives me guidance on what to look for and what to avoid but it is rare that I feel like I've got the whole house figured out and I am typically there 6-7 hours.  

I personally favor a shift in how we audit homes to something longer term so we get multiple interactions with the home and not just a one time shot to understand it.  Until recently I could not think of an economic model  that would make such a thing possible but I see potential in working with fuel providers.  Unfortunately this is a but too forward thinking for many, both auditors and fuel providers.  I'll keep plugging away.  

www.energyoptionsexplained.com

 

Comment by ken Neuhauser on November 8, 2012 at 7:06am

Appreciate the thoughts, Glen.  But I think you need to be careful about the terminology.  Building science is science.  It's the application of building science that tends to be less scientific.  The discipline of building science is absolutely based upon real science and real physical principles.  Our understanding of the science behind building performance is imperfect.  Therefore, the application of building science requires not just an understanding of the science but, also, judgement.  Judgement is not scientific, but there can be no question that judgement is improved by a scientific approach - i.e. attain an understanding of the scientific principles, developing experiments/hypotheses, and then testing these in the real world.  The application of building science, then, becomes more of a science as we get better at it. 

That said, I do not think one has to be thoroughly schooled in building science principals to be a good home performance professional.   But the scientific endeavor of developing ideas and hypotheses, testing these, and learning from observation is essential.

Comment by MD on November 2, 2012 at 11:46am

Glen, I appreciated your insights. 

Energy Auditor HQ.

Comment by Tom DelConte on October 31, 2012 at 5:16am

Agreed. It's impossible to understand a home system without a bachelors in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and mechanical engineering. Probably environmental science, too! Have a great week, Glen. Thanks for waking us up to this gray area.

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