Do energy efficient building practices result in better feedback loops and better workmanship?

My wife and I have been lucky to have three kids that (so far) haven’t ever played with fire, or knives, or consumed dangerous cleaning supplies, or anything like that. It didn’t take burning down the house, stitches, or stomach pumping to teach each of them the danger inherent with certain things—a quick touch to a hot oven provides instantaneous feedback.

This is the primary concept of the feedback loop, explained by Wired Magazine:

A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage.

Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in which it was captured but in a context that makes it emotionally resonant. This is the relevance stage.

But even compelling information is useless if we don’t know what to make of it, so we need a third stage: consequence. The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead.

And finally, the fourth stage: action. There must be a clear moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act. Then that action is measured, and the feedback loop can run once more, every action stimulating new behaviors that inch us closer to our goals.

When the feedback loop is not instantaneous, learning takes longer. In fact, if the feedback loop is long enough, learning may never take place. Alison Bailes writes at Green Building Advisor:

An architect, home builder, or remodeler can provide a beautiful house to their client, yet it can still be full of problems: air leakage, atmospheric combustion, the dreaded ductopus… And they get away with it because often the hurt doesn’t happen till years, even a decade, later.

Dr. Lstiburek says the gap between doing those stupid things and the hurt they cause is now narrowing. The reason: energy efficiency. As we make homes more and more efficient, the home has less tolerance for the stupid things. And we are making homes more efficient, largely because of the strengthening and adoption of energy codes.

Source: Green Building Advisor

I appreciate Dr. Lstiburek’s optimism, but my professional experience demonstrates a slightly different reality:

  • Workmanship is not covered under most Commercial General Liability policies, nor are defects without resultant damage
  • Because defects without damage aren’t covered, there is no funding source to investigate defects, unless the property owner has the means and desire to do so
  • The actual workers responsible for workmanship issues are likely to never even know that problems occurred

Do energy efficient practices reduce the tolerance for error? Yes. Does that mean that as an industry we are accelerating the feedback loop? Yes. Is the industry “feeling the hurt” that Dr. Lstiburek describes? No, at least not in a truly meaningful and impactful way, that is reflected among the tradesmen at the front lines.

Regardless, Dr. Lstiburek and I will each continue to fight the good fight to improve quality in the built environment.


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Image courtesy Wikipedia

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