I Confess the Need for Building Standards and Worker Training

I was discussing an upcoming article with my colleagues at Home Energy magazine about the Standard Work Specifications (SWS) being developed by DOE for single home, multifamily, and manufactured housing retrofits, and it brought to mind an experience I had as teenager, the need for confession, and the importance of standards.

Here is my confession:

When I was in high school I worked after school and summers doing building maintenance at a local elementary school. (Brag warning—“Cleanest school in the county,” said the health inspector.) One summer, a buddy of mine got us a part time gig working on Saturdays for a homebuilder.

One Saturday we installed a French drain for the builder; I didn’t even know they were called that at the time. We dug a trench along the side of the foundation, dropped in some gravel, put a length of plastic pipe on top, and argued about whether the holes in the pipe should be facing up or down. I don’t remember installing any kind of a filter around the pipe, or if we put more gravel on the pipe or just filled the trench with dirt. Were the drains built to carry water away from the foundation? I hope so.

Forgive me, families who have lived in that house; all quality homebuilders; the U.S. Department of Energy; the home performance community; and the planet. For I have sinned. I participated, unknowingly, in a building practice that didn’t help a house one bit, and may have hurt it. I should have known better, even as a teenager. I wonder if the people who bought and lived in the house experienced flooding, a moldy basement, and rotting building materials. My only consolation is that it is just one house. But still.

My buddies and I could have used a lot of training and at least a Standard Work Specification on installing a French drain.

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