Andrew Michler

INTERVIEW: Building Science Pioneer Dr. Joe Lstiburek on the Good, Bad and Ugly Side of Buildings

by , 07/14/14

Joe Lstiburek, Building Science, green building, Sustainable building, green building expert, green building expert, ASHRE, LEED, problems with LEED

Inhabitat: One of my favorite things you  talk about is how highrises eighty years ago were more energy efficient than just about anything built today, especially with curtain walls and glass.

Joe Lstiburek: Well, it’s real easy. It’s just glass. I mean we have glass boxes and glass and steel are inefficient. Back in the day we had glazing ratios that were 10 and 15 percent and mass walls. An R2 curtain wall can’t compare to an R8 mass wall assembly. It’s not even close.

Inhabitat: So we talk about these advanced materials, advanced glazing options we have now and, you know, they go on and on and on. They are still nothing compared to a masonry wall as far as energy efficiency?

Joe Lstiburek: They’re nothing to the old approaches, but in the last 50 years the architectural profession has managed to piss away every energy advance that the rest of us have made because of all of the glass. I mean it’s just amazing to me.

And the hypocrisy is stunning. They blame everything. We’re here to save the planet. We’re here because it’s real important for our carbon footprint. And yet they turn out one glass box after another glass box after another glass box and they’re interested in what the emission rate of the paint is, and what the embodied energy of the carpet is, and the biggest problem is their original design. That just drives me crazy. LEED is a colossal joke for that reason. They equate a bike rack with the same efficiency as the enclosure.

Inhabitat: Everybody who wants to point LEED’s weakness uses the bike rack argument.

Joe Lstiburek: Guess what? For good reason. And you know what? They’re idiots to do that and they refuse to limit glazing ratios and they don’t measure s***.

Inhabitat: And there’s no commissioning of the envelope.

Joe Lstiburek: No. It’s crazy, and you know what? We’ve been collecting the numbers and they’re pathetic. What’s great is that, okay, now they’re going to fix it, nothing like taking a really flawed and screwed up program and having to fix it.

Well, the lawsuit that Gifford started gave them a wake-up call. The fact that people are now publishing the results and they’re pretty poor has given a wake-up call. At the end of the day, LEED is going to get fixed because they have no choice. It’s just that we’ve wasted a decade.

Inhabitat: It wasn’t just that lawsuit. You really started harping on how weak the LEED energy and atmosphere credits were in 2008.

Joe Lstiburek: I couldn’t understand why a licensed engineer or a licensed architect would have an outside bunch with a checklist supplement their professional knowledge and experience. I mean how insulting is that? Because that tells me that you are so poor as a professional that you believe that the judgment of a third-party checklist is more significant than your knowledge.

And experience as an architect or engineer. Are you kidding me? I mean I would have thrown them out of my office. I would have said, “What? Get the hell out of here.”

You go and you do this checklist thing and you’re telling me that I have to superimpose this arbitrarian, capricious checklist on my skill as an architect, as an engineer. I mean that, to me, is flabbergasting.

Inhabitat: So is it the same effect of when architects gave up the idea of building science and said somebody else can worry about it. The LEED checklist gave the architects the opportunity for somebody else to worry about what green building really is?

Joe Lstiburek: The architects have caused their own problem and only the architects can solve their own problem and I have faith that the architectural profession will fix itself. Architects need to get in charge of the process again, totally in charge of the process, and for that they need the education and the experience to do that.

There should be no reason that we have all of these outside consultants that are sucking bits of the architectural key out of the process. The architects should grab that for themselves and deliver the whole building the right way, to be the boss of the job, to be the master builders again. I mean my daughter is an architect and I keep telling them, “Your generation has to fix this. You guys need to be in charge again.”

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7 Comments

  1. Kevin Phair September 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I disabled AdBlock on inhabitat.com in return for reading this. Thank you!

  2. mkeesee April 1, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    So after some reflection and thought, I\\\’m coming around to the passiv house standard, especially for larger commercial buildings — 15 kWh/sf/yr for cooling and heating and 0.6 ACH50 air tightness. The City of Brussels has jsut adopted this standard as their building code starting 2015. Elegant and simple. Figured out after sponsoring a several year award program in which real architects built real buildings to meet this standard and now they have 6 million sf of commercial space built to the standard and everyone has figured it out and there you go (I\\\’m channeling my inner Joe here). I thing this rant is important because we\\\’re spending an amazing amount of time (and money) in California tyring to incorporate net zero energy into the upcoming Title-24 buiilding energy code. Well, there it is…. or close to it. Like Joe saids, no need for software (except to figure out the initial models, like how much glass you can put on a building, orient it and shade it. Build it and measure it. end of story. The hard part will be getting designers to design.

  3. ceepo tri 50 March 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I love this guy!

  4. katylh March 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    YES- tell it like it is, Joe! (as he always does). Thank you for one of the best interviews I’ve ever read, Inhabitat.

  5. ergodesk ergodesk May 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    The way we Build is changing fast for several reasons but high on my list is Climate Change. With so many options for builders to choose from many Contractors struggle to apply these so incompatibilities and errors don’t arise.

    Shame for the regulators, who have little or no expertise in the history and future trends in building materials and systems.

  6. WynnLWhitePE May 18, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Engineering is applied science–and Joe does just that.

    Owners, builders, architects, engineers, and operators would do well to listen to Joe.

  7. IDEAbuilder May 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Great interview! And very provocative. Unfortunately I am sure most people will ignore it since the solutions Joe proposes involve work and measurable performance. It is simply so much easier -and typically profitable – to sell dubious green products and services.

    I do hope the article provokes a least some serious discussion. The building industry needs it so that we don’t continue to waste so many resources on ineffective solutions. We risk falling even further behind other countries pursuing real solutions.

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