This is the transcript from EntreArchitect Podcast Episode 223, Building Science, Climate Change and The Pretty Good House.
Mark R. LePage: 00:00
Do you know how to calculate the exact amount you need to charge your clients in order to earn 20 percent profit on that project? It’s simple to do. If you know how. Learn how by downloading our free course profit for small firm architects today at EntreArchitect.com/freecourse. Hello, my name is Mark R. LePage and you are listening to EntreArchitect podcast where I speak with inspiring, passionate people who share their knowledge and expertise all to help you build a better busines as a small firm entrepreneur architect. This is episode 223 and this week I’m speaking with Mike Maines about Building Science, Climate Change and the Pretty Good House.
Mark R. LePage: 00:52
This episode of EntreArchitect podcast is supported by our platform sponsors. ARCAT, the online resource delivering quality building material information, CAD details, BIM specifications and much more at ARCAT.com. Freshbooks, the cloud based accounting software that makes running your small firm easy, fast and secure. Spend less time on accounting and more time doing the work that you love. Gusto is making payroll benefits and HR easy for small businesses. Modern technology does the heavy lifting, so it’s easy to get things right.
Mark R. LePage: 00:52
Mike Maines welcome to EntreArchitect podcast.
Mike Maines: 01:37
Thanks Mark. It’s good to be here. It’s great to have you here. Let me introduce you to our listeners. A former carpenter and furniture maker with a degree in engineering, Mike mains worked his way up to Director of Design and Business Development at a high end design build firm. He gave that up to pursue his vision of creating energy efficient healthy homes, first as operations manager at a high performance panelized building manufacturer, then as a residential designer and passive house consultant. Now, as co owner of a design build construction company, Maines Brothers Incorporated, based near Portland, Maine. Mike is also a contributing editor to Fine Homebuilding magazine, one of my favorite magazines, where he writes about building science and design topics. He’s also a member of the EntreArchitect Facebook group, the EntreArchitect community, which is where we connected, and he shares his knowledge in that group all the time. If anybody wants to join it’s EntreArchitect.com/group. We’ll get you there. They have to be an architect to join. It’s a private group, closed group, so just request membership in and you can get in. That’s where I met Mike. Mike, it’s good to have you here. Thanks for coming.
Mike Maines: 02:51
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me. Mark. I do have to start off by saying that some have a face made for radio, you might’ve heard that phrase. I like to say I have a voice made for print. I’m a lifelong stutterer. So if I freeze up here, hang with me and I’ll get back on a roll. I think we all have our things and things we deal with in that happens to be mine.
Mark R. LePage: 03:21
All right. Well I appreciate you because you have a vast amount of knowledge and I appreciate you coming and sharing some of that knowledge here at the podcast. I shared a little bit about your background. What I’d love to do is dive into your origin story, talk about where you discovered your passion and your purpose, and give us that journey to where you find yourself today.
Mike Maines: 03:41
Okay. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, so I, I have a degree in engineering with a minor in art history. Actually I had this same, same advisor as a recent guest of yours Winn Whitman, we both went to Tufts University. After graduation, most of my classmates went on to Grad School for architecture or engineering. I wasn’t really ready for that, so I decided I was going to make a custom furniture. So I did that for awhile and after looking back at my profit and loss, realized I’d made $2 an hour. So it was a good way to start and a cut cutting dovetails and mortises by hand, it was a rewarding in its own way. It wasn’t going to pay back my student loans. I was living in Cambridge, Mass at the time, so I went to work as a carpentry contractor.
Mike Maines: 04:34
I’m in Cambridge and then later on Nantucket, Massachusetts, so I did that for several years. Um, eventually my wife and I moved to Portland, Maine and I got a job as a drafter at a small residential design build company. Ended up working there for over 10 years in pretty much every capacity, but mainly as a designer and as a project manager, for the last several years there I managed the design department. I’m overseeing several architects and drafters and also managed business development and marketing. Along with my colleague running the construction side of the business, we were basically being groomed to take over the company. We ended up growing it to about six or seven times the size it was when we started. It was pretty a pretty large company for southern Maine by southern Maine standards. That would have been a great gig.
Mike Maines: 05:33
I was living in Portland, which is a cool city and I had a great job. Just one problem, along the way I had become more aware of climate change and the way construction contributes to climate change. At the same time, my wife and I had fallen into the slow food movement, which I know another recent guest of yours talked about, sort of organic food and know where your food comes from and the health and the environmental aspects. I think that has a lot of parallels to the type of design I do now. Basically the result was that my values were increasingly at odds with those of my coworkers and our clientele, and I just was not able to get them to see things my way. At the same time, a friend had been building passive houses, essentially super energy efficient buildings. He was starting a new company to manufacture those in a factory setting, really the first of its kind in North America based on European production techniques. He needed help. So I signed on as operations manager, my wife and I sold our house in Portland and moved to the country to an old farm, and we got that business up and running. I learned a ton. It was great that they literally build the best houses in the world. No houses are any more energy efficient or air tight, just it’s a great system. The problem there was, I was basically supposed to run the factory and I realized that really was not what I wanted to do with my life. So, I went out on my own doing our residential design, along with passive house consulting and some are just more general building science consulting, uh, doing energy modeling and materials consulting and things like that.
Mike Maines: 07:27
That’s what I’ve been doing for a little over three years now. My most important project to date was Fine Homebuilding magazine’s first ever demonstration house, which they called the pro home. It’s not like the show homes you might see in other publications that are all about glitz and glamour, this was really meant to showcase efficient, affordable design and good building science principles and the goal of our project and, I believe other subsequent projects, was always a goal of net zero energy ready. Which means that the house, can produce as much energy as it uses over the course of a year if you average everything out. It’s tied to the energy grid. It’s not an off grid a house, but it basically is its own power plant and covers its own energy needs.
Mike Maines: 08:29
It was quite challenging. It was mostly successful. I think we all learned a lot on it and they’re now doing their third version. I was the lead designer energy modeler. There was an interior designer and we ended up getting a structural engineer involved. It was basically my design along with the free freelance designer. He helped me on it, but it was basically my design, the goal was to make it a look like a modern farmhouse that was specific for a very challenging site, but that would also fit in and can be built anywhere and serve anybody from a young couple to empty nesters with every feature imaginable and four bedrooms, two and a half baths, in 1800 square feet. So it was a challenge, but we did it.
Mark R. LePage: 09:26
Yeah. Yeah. And we’ll have a link to that. We’ll go find that and we’ll have a link on the show notes for that. So if anybody wants to go check it out and learn more about the pro home, we’ll have that on the show notes. You just go to the show notes for this episode. So that’s where you are today. That’s basically where you’re doing consulting now.
Mike Maines: 09:45
Well, that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s been been moderately successful, but I’ve kind of hit a plateau. Because I still live in the country and I’m committed to being here, I have limitations on growth and I want to be able to do more work. I want to be able to generate more profit. I want to be able to influence more people to design and build better houses. So to that end, my brother and I have teamed up to do design build construction, so we started our first project this week and another one starts next week and a big renovation will start in June. So we’re already up and running there while I’m sort of wrapping up my independent projects.
Mike Maines: 10:37
It’s actually North Yarmouth, we’ll work within about an hour of Portland, which is a booming, great little city. It’s a really good time to start a business there because there’s plenty of work to go around. And because I lived there for 12 years, I’m still well connected. My brother is a carpenter, cabinet maker, so he brings that those sort of hands on skills and, and then we eventually want to get into development as well, developing maybe multifamilies if we can get into that world. But first things first we need to generate some money and we know how to build houses and design houses. So that’s what we’ll be doing starting off.
Mark R. LePage: 11:13
Yeah. And so this gives you a platform to finally do what you’re passionate about. You’ve been working through the industry in building science and energy efficient homes, but never sort of under your own platform where you have the control over what you want to do and where you want to go.
Mike Maines: 11:33
That’s exactly right, Mark. I’ve always had a hand in a part of the project and I think every project is always a team effort. So I don’t want to pretend I can do everything by myself, but I am a bit of a control freak and want to have more control. Just when you’re a designer or architect and you’re handed a project off to a builder, you don’t always have full control over what happens if you’re a builder, you have very little control over what happens or someone would say you have more control because you’re ultimately dealing with the client and not the architect in most cases. So, because I’ve worked a lot in design build, I’ve really seen it. It has its downsides, but to me the efficiency and of the integrated process outweighs any negatives.
Mark R. LePage: 12:19
So let’s talk about that a little bit before we dive into the, into the other things that we’re talking about. I just want to talk a little bit more about the company and how you’re structuring it. How big a design build is a is a very big topic that we talk about a lot at EntreArchitect and I’m curious on how you’ve structured that design build company. Can you dive into that a little bit?
Mike Maines: 12:37
Yeah. I’m probably not as structured as it should be. That’s exactly why I asked. Both my brother and I, we grew up as very independent types in the Maine woods essentially. So, both of our approach is basically have a general idea of what we want to do, dive in, figure it out as we go, but because I have done it for 10 years, I have a pretty solid handle on contracts and a strong network of builders and architects I already work with. So basically the goal will be, at the moment the only two employees are my brother and me, we have sub contracted carpenters we’re working with right now, but we’re starting to interview for carpentry employees. The goal is to build up a strong solid company of employees and take care of the employees, make sure they have work.
Mike Maines: 13:36
I’m just really, really focused on having a very, very sort of, almost like a family type business environment. I mean, because it is his family at the top, because we’ll have probably more capacity ultimately to build than vented design. I’m also maintaining my relationships with a lot of architect friends who do similar work to me as me. So we hope to get some work from them. I know that’s always a challenge. It’s only certain architects who are willing to give work to a design build firm, but there’s at least a few who I know will trust me to not take over their design, just support their design. And in fact two of our potential projects this year are for architects, for their own new custom high performance homes.
Mark R. LePage: 14:25
So as you proceed with that company and you start building a relationship with architects, you’ll be able to prove to other architects that you are a collaborative company that can collaborate with architects and build their projects.
Mike Maines: 14:39
Yes. Yeah, exactly. I know it won’t be right for every architect and that’s okay. I think we’ll have a niche of highly crafted, highly efficient, low carbon footprint homes is the goal.
Mark R. LePage: 14:58
You have a very clear target market. You’re not just a design build company, you have a very clear message and, and a agenda that you want to express with this company.
Mike Maines: 15:06
Correct. I mean, that’s my target. But you know, the term green green building is a sort of out of favor at the moment, but the most important part of green building is the green money part. So if somebody wants to pay us for our high level of craft and are less interested in the energy, this is basically my whole approach, I push people and try to help them, guide them to be, to go as energy efficient as they’re comfortable with and for those lower carbon footprint is as they can. But I’m not saying I will only do this. It’s basically I guide them to go as far as they’re willing to go and I’m pretty flexible at many different levels of performance and construction system and all that.
Mark R. LePage: 15:56
Let’s take a quick break to say thank you to our platform sponsors here at EntreArchitect. We could not do this without them. So thank you, ARCAT and Freshbooks. Are you ready for a summer trip to New York city? Well, our ARCAT is headed to New York to the Big Apple for the AIA Conference on Architecture this June, just a few weeks away. If you’re headed there, if you’re going to the conference on architecture, come visit the Big Red A at booth 707. Tell them that you are an EntreArchitect listener and that you wanted to say hello booth 707 on June 21st and June 22nd at the Javits Center at the AIA Conference in Architecture. They will be there every morning serving coffee. I am, they’re there. They’re serving coffee every morning, so where else would you want to go? Just go to ARCAT and throughout the day they will be having their been expert robert wagan explaining their new Revit plugin. Robert’s going to be there explaining all about it, so check them out, stop by booth 707 anytime throughout the conference to learn how ARCAT.com could save you time and money finding all the product information for your projects and yes, it’s all completely free. Remember, just look for the Big Red A. Look across the expo floor and you will see it. Trust me, you won’t miss it. Check out the Big Red A and to learn more about ARCAT and how they can help you be more effective, more efficient as a small firm architect, visit them right now EntreArchitect.com/ARCAT.
Freshbooks makes it simple to send invoices, post your expenses automatically, track your time for your whole team by project and get organized with reports. Communication and notifications and getting started with Freshbooks is ridiculously easy. Most people send their first invoice seconds after starting their free trial. I did exactly that. The same goes for tracking time, managing expenses, collaborating with contractors and viewing financial reports. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s a life changing, and if you need help at any time, they’re free. Award winning customer service is just a phone call or an email away, and if you ever have second thought, don’t worry: on top of your free trial for EntreArchitect listeners, you get a free 30 day money back guarantee so you don’t ever have to worry about choosing Freshbooks. You can give it a try for 30 days. Just visit EntreArchitect.com/Freshbooks and then let them know that we sent you by sharing EntreArchitect in the “how did you hear about us” section? That’s EntreArchitect.com/Freshbooks. Check them out to access your free unlimited 30 day trial, ARCAT and Freshbooks. Please visit our platform sponsors today and thank them for supporting you, the EntreArchitect community.
Payroll and benefits: that makes my spine tingle. Payroll and benefits are hard, especially when you’re a small business like us. You don’t have time to be an expert and things like taxes and regulations and the old school payroll providers, they just don’t get it. They aren’t built for the way that we work today. Gusto is making payroll benefits and hr easy for small businesses. Modern technology does the heavy lifting, so it’s easy for you to get it right. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits and great service for your team and to help support the EntreArchitect podcast. Gusto is offering our listeners an exclusive limited time deal. Listen up, sign up today and you’ll get three months free once you run your first payroll. Just go to EntreArchitect.com/Gusto. Go check them out EntreArchitect.com/Gusto and claim your free three months of payroll processing. ARCAT, Freshbooks, and Gusto. Please visit our platform sponsors today and thank them for supporting you, the EntreArchitect community.
Mark R. LePage: 15:56
You and I connected on the EntreArchitect Facebook group, the EntreArchitect community, and the reason we connected is that every week I ask a question to sort of get the conversation going, although recently I have had to do that less because the community has gained such a capacity and it’s such an interactive group that people post questions constantly all throughout the day and there’s tremendous engagement in that group. We get 50 to 100 comments on every comment that anybody posts in there, but I posted about probably about a month ago, maybe a little more than a month ago: “what is your BHAG, your big hairy audacious goal?” I shared some of my goals were and I invited everybody in the group. It’s a very intimate group, although it’s 2,600 members now, but it’s a closed group.
Mark R. LePage: 21:11
So there’s a lot of trust built in that group and so people are very transparent and open about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. I invited people to sort of put their biggest goals out into the group and have other people comment on what they want to achieve and a lot of people posted these big, big goals of what they want to achieve in life. I shared mine and you shared yours and you and I had had a conversation through the group and which led to this podcast. And I wanted to invite you here to have a conversation about your goal. Do you want to talk about your goal first and then we can have a conversation about how you’re going to get there?
Mike Maines: 21:57
My goal is to significant significantly improve the quality of residential construction in the United States, at least, maybe beyond, primarily to prepare for and reduce the severity of climate change. Essentially improve construction enough to address climate change.
Mark R. LePage: 22:14
You want to change across the board because in order for us to affect climate change, which we can get into about what that means. This is a big goal because it’s not just you at Maines Brothers building sustainable buildings. This is about changing the world and the way they build.
Mike Maines: 22:36
It’s a big, big goal and I have no illusions that we’ll be able to do it on our own, but by any means. I feel a deep responsibility to push my sphere of influence in a direction, that’s in a positive direction. I’ve done enough designing and building of houses that contributed heavily to climate change. I want to do houses that reverse it.
Mark R. LePage: 23:10
Could be a BHAG – big hairy audacious goal – is that big goal that possibly may not be achievable, but it’s something that you’re so passionate about that you’re going after it. And if you get there, then that’s great. And if not, you’re going to do a lot of good along the way. Now, and of course, the term BHAG came from Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great”. One of my favorites. I’ve read it many times. It’s a big goal and I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. It’s been at least 10 years now that I’ve been trying to figure out what mine is and once I identified it, really, everything else sort of came into focus of this is what I have to do. I’m still figuring out the bits and pieces to get there, but I have a clear direction on what I has triggered this goal. Why are you so passionate about this?
Mike Maines: 23:58
It’s really just as I learned more about climate change and realize just how heavily construction influences it. In climate change or global warming there are political contexts and not everybody believes in it. I can talk a little bit about climate change if you don’t mind going to get into a political conversation about it. I’d like to get into the idea of what it is and how it comes about and what we can do to change it.
Mike Maines: 24:37
Basically, for me, it really started when I was a freshman in college in 1992 and I I took geology 101 just as an elective. My professor happened to be a glacial researcher that, what was his phd project, and he would continue to advise students on a glacial researching. He physically drilled deep cores going down hundreds of feet into old, old, old ice packs. He looked at the carbon dioxide levels going back hundreds, literally hundreds of thousands of years compared those to known surface temperatures based on radioactive carbon dating. He saw the almost perfect correlation and I mean, this is basically what Al Gore talked about, but this was waybefore Al Gore his movie.
Mike Maines: 25:45
My other note was was I used to work with a carpenter who is friends with a guy who actually invented the Internet. So just, that’s an aside, basically my professor showed us how CO2 levels were perfectly tracking temperatures and that the CO2 levels since the industrial revolution started were far above any in recorded history and no sign of slowing down. So basically the short version is we’re in trouble. Nobody knows exactly what will happen or when it will happen. They can’t even predict the weather for tomorrow, but the science is clear that there’s big changes are coming, big changes are already happening, it may already be too late to really reverse the problem, but we still have a chance to slow it down.
Mike Maines: 26:38
So we really have to halt the greenhouse gas production in the next two to three decades, or the climate will will very likely spiral out of control over some period of time. It’s one of the things that kind of works against the sort of climate change education movement is the data is really hard to pin down. It’s a very complicated topic, but the estimates for the contribution of the construction or the built environment are anywhere from 20 to 50 percent, most of them on the higher end. So as much as 50 percent of global warming agents are related to construction, either the manufacturer transportation, construction or operating emissions. There are other factors beyond our control, but as architects and designers, we really have a unique role and responsibility that we may not be the ultimate decision makers.
Mike Maines: 27:38
That’s usually the person with the money makes the decision in the end. But as the guide through the process, we can influence what gets built and how it gets into global warming agents, which is what’s causing the climate change. There are various compounds that when they’re released, they go up into the atmosphere and they stay there. They essentially allow solar energy to come in and reach the earth and warm things up, which is good. We want that. But that energy is supposed to also be reflected and leave the atmosphere to keep things in balance. And these agents basically block the energy from leaving. Again, there’s a whole host of compounds that are involved, but we sort of use carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent as a baseline.
Mike Maines: 28:47
That’s the common unit we use is what’s the carbon dioxide equivalent. Methane or chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants, our automobile exhausts, pretty much anything you burn to heat your house or to create energy, coal, you know, all these things have had particular compounds that go up into the atmosphere and stay there. And a lot of them don’t break down like one, like one that I bring up a lot is the blowing agents in the most common foam installation, which is, good old styrofoam XPS, extruded polystyrene. The blowing agents in an American made XPS basically off gas go up into the atmosphere and they stay there for at least a thousand years that we know of. If you wrap a house with XPS foam, the dimensions are roughly comparable to driving an average car for two years.
Mike Maines: 29:57
So on one hand it’s only two years, but on the other hand, you don’t have to have any of that. So the material of choices you make really, really affect things there. They’re all big, there’s no one thing we can do. It’s basically a million small things we can do to try to try to help where we can. So just the choice of insulation, that choice of foam. So there are different types of foam. Knowing which type of foam foams are better or worse, helps knowing how to design without foam is even better than you can actually build using materials that are carbon sinks. So you’re actually reversing the carbon dioxide problem encapsulating it in the building manager, factoring of the materials that we’re using that we’re specifying. So it’s everything. It’s a mix of embodied energy, which is everything that goes into the building up until the day it starts operating. And then there’s the emissions that occur once the building starts being used. So, by designing net zero energy buildings, we’re addressing the carbon footprint once the building is in operation, but there’s still a lot of variables on the construction end of what materials do we use, where do they come from, how long do they last? I love concrete. I love working with concrete. It’s plastic. You can do anything with it. It’s incredibly strong in compression. It’s got a lot of things going for it. Unfortunately to make concrete you have to burn rock until it turns into dust. It’s a very, very, very energy intensive material. So I try to minimize my use of concrete. I use concrete because there are some things that it can do that other things just cannot do, but I try not to build like whole ICF homes because there are many other good ways to build a house that don’t include running concrete right up to the roof line.
Mark R. LePage: 32:15
You said up to 50 percent of the of the agents are coming from the building environment. That’s an estimate. How much of that is coming from residential and how much of that is coming from commercial?
Mike Maines: 32:35
I should know that. But I don’t know the proportion, my world has always been residential. So I’m pretty narrowly focused there. I know I read what it is, I don’t have more data. There are so many more homes. I would have to think so, I mean even within the residential world, we do know in the passive house world, the kind of houses I design, you know, small efficient homes are actually really hard to make meet passive house requirements which are the global low energy building standard, but it’s relatively easy with a multifamily. It’s actually relatively easy with a big single family home which is backwards, so basically the bigger the building, the easier just to make it energy efficient than smaller.
Mike Maines: 33:31
Basically it’s volume to surface area ratio that the most efficient shape is a cube. And as you spread that out, you get more surface area. You get more volume compared to the surface area. The energy loss is through the walls and roof and floor. If you can get more floor area, more living area within just a slightly bigger enclosure, then you have a great efficiency if one wall of your house butts up against the wall. If somebody else’s cells, there’s really no energy loss between those two walls. If there’s somebody above you and below you, then you have almost no energy loss through your unit. So you can cut emissions from, from your unit by, you know, maybe 80 percent.
Mark R. LePage: 34:26
And that’s why I asked whether it’s residential or commercial. Most of our community, the EntreArchitect community who listens to this podcast, most of us are dealing in residential construction. Not all of us, but most of us are, and there are hundreds of thousands of us not necessarily listening here, but there are hundreds of thousands of small firm architects around the world who are, who have the control over how these buildings are being built. Most residential construction is being built by developers, so developers have their own responsibilities, but we have a huge responsibility and a huge amount of control over what gets built and what doesn’t get built. And so that’s why I wanted to bring that up, that we actually as a community, our community can make a difference. When I talk about if you build a better business, you can be a better architect, but you actually impact the profession when you do that because if we’re all doing that and we all build better businesses, the profession gains strength and we then have more control over what gets built and and what happens throughout the world.
Mark R. LePage: 35:34
And so we literally have the power to change the world. What Mike’s talking about here is the same idea, we have the power to make these changes, all we have to do is change the way we do what we do. Mike, what are some of the things that we can do? I know that there’s passive house and there’s net zero energy and there’s a new thing that you talked about to me offline that I’d love to talk about: the Pretty Good House. Talk about some of those different methods and what some of us can do because we’re not all focused and many of our clients don’t even want to spend the money to build some of the houses that could be as energy efficient as a passive house. What are some of these different approaches and then, what’s the most realistic approach to talking to our clients when we’re presenting these ideas?
Mike Maines: 36:38
There are lots of tools in the toolbox and I agree that if every architect was able to improve what they’re doing by 10 percent, it would have a huge, huge, huge impact. So it’s not that we all have to start building passive houses. Passive House of course is the global building energy standard that I’m on, essentially specifies a very low use of energy per square foot per person, plus some other metrics, but I’ve found that it’s in general something that people invest in who want to do it for environmental reasons or to be leaders. It’s the economic argument based on US systems of buying and financing homes. It’s a hard sell. It’s a little easier in Europe where they finance things differently basically.
Mike Maines: 37:33
Basically in Europe the mortgage goes with the house, not with the person. So it’s easier to finance these things a little bit longer. I’m focusing more on multifamily is one approach. I mean, the American dream is not to live in a multifamily, but it makes a big difference on energy use. I’m net zero energy, zero net energy, however you want to say it as a good goal, especially if it goes along with materials that have a low carbon footprint. With the way solar energy for photovoltaic energy has come down, it can actually be a reasonably good investment if you crunched the numbers, you can get upwards of 10 to 15 percent return on investment if you can afford the upfront cost of the panels. There are a bunch of other high performance programs that are all good.
Mike Maines: 38:30
My personal favorite is a Pretty Good House. It started at a building science discussion group we’ve had in Portland, Maine almost 10 years ago. Basically a bunch of building nerds, as my wife calls us, get get together at the local group, Green Building Advisor, and have a beer and talk about things like ventilating roofs and insulating foundations. It’s been a really great way to share information and build networks and make friends and find employees and things like that. It’s been a great group and one day, the moderator for the group, came in, he had just finished building a passive house and he just thought the 14 inches of foam under the foundation and this and that, it’s too much, it’s not an easy sell, but the only other metric at the time was code minimum and none of us want to just do code minimum.
Mike Maines: 39:27
So he said what would just a pretty darn good house look like? And so that, that became The Pretty Good House movement. I blog occasionally at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, which really should be called building science advisor. That website is a great resource. I published a couple of blogs there about what goes into a Pretty Good House. Essentially, it’s basically the standard that’s not a standard because there are no requirements, it’s just talks about being thoughtful about all the aspects that go into a building from the design and maintenance and durability and health and energy use. In Maine, we came up with some prescriptive codes based on Building Science Corp data.
Mike Maines: 40:24
So that’s kind of our general standard baseline. So it’s just a little bit above, above 20 / 15 IECC recommendations, but it’s a lot better than most people are doing and it really makes sense. My version of that is to do energy modeling for every bigger project. I use the PHPP, which is the Passive House Energy Modeling Program, but it’s extremely accurate. It’s also extremely intense and doesn’t make sense on a lot of jobs. Very quick and easy is to use, BEOPT, it’s a free download from the Department of Energy. They make it fairly easy to plug in different options. You can start with a base, with a code minimum baseline and then see what the basically see how much money or energy you would save if you make different adjustments.
Mike Maines: 41:16
So you might start with R 20 walls and see what would it look like if you wrapped the building with two inches of polyester foam and you can see what the result of that is. By using that system, what I do for most clients is I show maybe 20 or 30 options and show what the return on investment is for each of these upgrades, especially financially. People respond to return on investment. It’s a lot better to talk about return on investment than payback when it comes to energy and things. People want to talk about how many years until I pay that back. But that’s really not the best way to think about it. Basically you’re saying if you have a few extra dollars, you could put it in the stock market and maybe make 10 percent, if you’re lucky, probably more like eight percent or, or less on average if you, if you put that money into upgrading your house and you’re going to stay on your house a while and you can pretty much guarantee a 10 percent return on investment or a 15 percent return on investment.
Mike Maines: 42:17
It’s kind of hard to argue against, even as low as a five percent return on investment, knowing that there are also environmental benefits and it’s virtually guaranteed. That can be a good sell. Once you get down into sort of the one to three percent return on investment range, things may still be good for the planet or you may want to do them for health or other reasons, but I have a hard time recommending them knowing that the people could donate the money elsewhere invested. I am working on our website for the Pretty Good House.
Mike Maines: 43:07
It’ll be called the PrettyGoodHouse.com. It’s been an idea for years. I’m going to try to get it up live, but it’s not live right now, but eventually that’s the kind of thing that will have on that website is here’s how you calculate our return on investment you can use. I tend to use just simple returns without calculating compounded interest and all that. But you can do a net present value analysis, which is a little more accurate if you want to guess at what inflation rates will be. Other than that, I don’t know a specific place to get that information unless you go through passive loss training. BEOPT is free from the Department of Energy, just I think it’s doe.gov, and there’s a pretty good support forum there. We also talk about BEOPT regularly on Green Building Advisor, and it also has a feature, I don’t use them a little too independent, but they do have cost data built into BEOPT, sort of net national averages for a lot of different materials and products so you can use an automated function of theirs which is to let the program tell you what the most efficient path would be. I basically like to do it long hand for the extra control.
Mike Maines: 44:41
The best place probably to learn more about the Pretty Good House is just to go to greenbuildingadvisor.com and just put a Pretty Good House in the search bar. Two articles I wrote should pop right up, sort of where the introductory posts. A lot of it is discussed pretty regularly there. If you just Googled Pretty Good House. The green building world mostly knows about it. A lot of people hate it for the name. I’m not crazy about the name myself. It’s sort of an in joke. I think the joke turns a lot of people off. It is not the best brand. My contribution or my suggestion was Wicked Good House, that was determined to be a little to New England focused. We talked about Geally Good House is a good way to say it. It’s the concept that’s important and not the name, so just look beyond the name. The concept is to balance expenditures and gains in a way that makes sense, but results in better buildings. If you feel like you’ve met the requirements, you can buy yourself a plaque I think.
Mark R. LePage: 45:55
When you’re talking about passive house or a zero net energy houses, those are really specific and it takes a lot of a convincing clients to move in those directions. An idea, like Pretty Good House where you just do this and you do this and you do this and you just tweak these few materials or you specify this type of system instead of this system, the numbers work out and maybe even in your favor, but it’s easy. You can just apply it to the way you do architecture and it’s not necessarily having to sell your client on doing houses differently. We can just design them differently. And this gives us a way to say, okay, this is where I need to tweak it and this is where I need to focus in order to get my designs to the next level and just contribute to helping the situation a little bit more. I love that idea and I’m looking forward to your website because I think that’ll be a tremendous resource at a PrettyGoodHouse.com eventually. I think that’s something that we’re looking for. That’s, the kind of thing that many of us residential architects would love to have to be able to say, okay, let’s take these standards and put them into our systems and into the way we design architecture because it’s not going to increase the cost that much and it’s going to have a great impact.
Mike Maines: 47:31
It’s not unlike LEAD was a good idea, is a good idea, but it’s a little bit too much of checking the boxes and arbitrary, you know, you get points for importing bamboo flooring, but not for locally produced whatever, you know, it’s sort of just thinking critically about every step of the way.
Mark R. LePage: 47:53
If we want to really have an impact and help you achieve your BHAG, that’s the kind of thing that’s going to do that. That’s the kind of thing that will influence every architect designing homes or doing residential alterations because it’ll be easy to apply to what we’re doing. We won’t have to put a lot of brain power into figuring out how to do what we do a little bit better I think. I think that type of thing will have more impact than a program like passive house. And I’m not against passive house. I just don’t think there’s as many architects who can go there as something that’s a little bit less stringent, but have more architects of applying those values and those standards to the work that they’re doing that could add up to a lot more than these other programs.
Mike Maines: 48:40
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, I think we need both. We need leaders on the bleeding edge, pushing the bar ahead. So like for those folks passive house is already too easy now. Not they’re onto to the living building challenge and a net positive projects. But for the vast majority of people who are basically stuck with code minimum as maybe too hard to get to, it sort of gives them a bar that’s sort of in the middle there.
Mark R. LePage: 49:15
We always need leaders at the cutting edge. We always need them pushing the limits to the best we can because then that trickles down to things like the Pretty Good House. We can learn from what they’re doing and say, okay, we can’t do that, but what they’ve taught us, we can apply it to the things that we’re doing and do it on every project we do and have a really big impact on our footprint of the number of residential architects that we have. If we’re all tweaking our projects just a little bit, it’s going to have a massive impact. Well, I love it. I’m looking forward to, to the website. Until then you can go to Mike’s site. It’s MichaelMaines.com. You can also check out, he has a Facebook group for that discussion group that he talked about before.
Mark R. LePage: 50:09
If you go to “bsandbeer”, so bs as in building science, the word and, and beer, like the drink be s and a beer. That’s the Facebook group. You can go request membership over there and have it be part of the discussion on building science everyday over there. So that’s a new group. That’s something that Mike put Together. You could also find Mike on Instagram @MichaelMaines and you can, if you have questions or you want to, a continuous discussion with Mike directly, his email is Michael@MichaelMaines.com. Before we wrap up here, Mike, I want to ask you our one final question that we ask everybody. What is one thing that a small firm architect can do today to build a better business for tomorrow?
Mike Maines: 50:57
I’d say learn about embodied energy and energy modeling. Don’t be afraid of the technical side of the business. Learn about it, embrace it. It may generate profits right away and it will absolutely generate more work for you.
Mark R. LePage: 51:11
Everything we talked about today on the show notes. So go find the show notes for this episode. Mike, thank you very much for joining us here today and for sharing your knowledge at EntreArchitect podcast.
Mike Maines: 51:25
Thank you, Mark. It was great to be here.
Mark R. LePage: 51:31
So there you go. This has been a topic that people have been asking for for a long time. Building science, climate change. These are usually topics that people have a lot of concern about. They want to do the right thing, so go check out a Michael Maines and some of the resources. Go to EntreArchitect.com/episode223 to get the show notes and the links to everything that Mike share today. EntreArchitect.com/episode223. You can go there, get everything you need and that’s the link to share. Share it with a friend. Hey, I have some big news for you. Big News, our friend Alex Gore over at Inside the Firm podcast, he just launched a new course called Revit Rocketship. I love that name. Revit Rocketship. If you are a Revit beginner, Revit Rocketship will teach you everything you need to know to get up and running fast, and if you’re a more experienced Revit user, it’s good for you too. It will help you become more efficient. You’ll learn everything you need to know how to, to do what you do on Revit better, get your work done better, faster. Got It. So a Revit Rocketship. Um, and this is, this is the news right here, not only as it launched, Alex has given me three free enrollment coupons, three of them, but I’m keeping one for myself because it’s been way too long. It’s time for me to also learn Revit. So I’m going through this course myself. I’m going to use one of these freebies for myself, but I’m going to give away the other two. I’m going to give away the other two to one of you. So here’s how you’re going to get it. I only have two and you’ve got thousands of people listening here. So I’m going to give away these two.
Mark R. LePage: 53:21
This is how we’re going to do it. I want you to go check out a EntreArchitect on Instagram. This is what you gotta do. Listen up. On Instagram, post an image of you in your workspace, then in the text, posts why you should receive the free enrollment to Revit Rocketship. Then tag me at @EntreArchitect tag Al at @InsidetheFirm and include #RevitRocketship. On Friday, June 15th, I’m going to pick the two submissions that I liked best and send you the free enrollment. So get creative. I’m going to pick my favorites. There’s five steps to win. 1. Post an image of you and your workspace. 2. Share why you should receive the free enrollment. 3. Tag Me at EntreArchitect 4. Tag Al at Inside the Firm and 5. Include the Hashtag Revit Rocketship and I will pick to send you a free enrollment.
Mark R. LePage: 54:29
And this is a serious course. You’re going to want this free enrollment if you want to enroll today. If you don’t want to wait until the 15th, if you want to enroll today or if you just want to learn more, go to RevitRocketship.teachable.com. That’s where you can go and enroll, and as a member of the EntreArchitect community, you can use a discount code 25percent-off and you will get 25 percent off if you enroll before Friday, June 15, 2018. Get your 25 percent off today and while you’re at it, go over to the Facebook group, EntreArchitect community on Facebook, EntreArchitect.com/group. It is the most interactive, most supportive, most encouraging and most positive place on the Internet. For small firms, it’s the place to be. Go check it out. EntreArchitect.com/group. My name is Mark R. LePage and I’m an entrepreneur architect and I encourage you to go build a better business so you can be a better architect. Love, learn, share what you know. Go get those free enrollments at Revit Rocketship right now. Instagram, do it. Love, learn, share what you know. Thanks for listening. Have a great week.
***End of Transcript***