Last night (May 9th) I attended the second installment of the Home Repair Resource Center's Practical Sustainability series – a monthly lecture series offered by the Cleveland Heights-based nonprofit that features experienced practitioners. The goal, according to Fred Cortright who is organizing the series, is to help homeowners become good thinkers about home repair decisions that will make their homes last longer, operate at a lower cost, and have a lighter impact on the world.
It's a big topic but the more I hear the more manageable this idea becomes. The series is living up to its goal of being Practical – information that will help people get something done; and Practical – delivered by people who have done something!
Your Roof- Bottom/Up/ Top/Down was delivered by Doty & Miller architect Chuck Miller, a local expert with a history going back to the 1970s of figuring out how to build houses that work in this climate and don't rob the environment. His most recent learning experience was designing the Smart Home.
As I sorted out the messages in this information-filled presentation I came to these conclusions:
There is a lot more to a good roof than stopping the leaks. Major system repairs like replacing a roof provide a great opportunity to address energy issues too.
A house is a big puzzle. Almost every system affects the other. For example, when looking at the roof, it's critical to look at insulation and ventilation, and air sealing. What's happening in the basement also matters! If you consider all of these variables with an eye on your roof – you will get it right.
The hardest lesson for me is that you need to be informed to get the most impact from any improvement project. You can't just call the roofer and expect to get a solution that will go beyond replacing the shingles (in my case it's the slate). If you want to get the biggest sustainability bang for your home improvement buck you have to be intentional; do your homework; think about how other systems might need to be altered as part of the specific improvement you are addressing; decide your goals and priorities and then develop the action plan. Once you scratch below the surface it actually makes sense and you can act!
You can't assume sustainability will be a contractor's agenda even if it is yours. Once you know what you want, you need to make sure you hire someone who knows how to achieve it.
Chuck reviewed a vast number of innovations in the construction industry in the last 15 years that make it possible to do so much more. But it takes time for these changes to trickle into the mainstream through building codes and an evolution in contractor tradition. The good news is that you can be part of pushing that change by asking for it.
So if you are at all like me and prefer to call an expert to solve your problems, you have to change. Every housing change has many options that reflect values, goals and costs. No one should make those choices but you. And it is up to you to make sure the construction crew achieves them.
With a series like Practical Sustainability, and websites like preservationnation.org and greenbuildingadvisor.org it is easy to find the options. It can be down-right liberating when you do.