Several weeks ago my old friend Marc Rosenbaum arrived on Martha’s Vineyard. He often arrives on Martha’s Vineyard. For 20 years this distinguished, nationally recognized building performance engineer has been arriving here to consult with us – to help us make better buildings. For 30 years he has been responsible for some of the most advanced buildings in New England.
When he arrived here last Tuesday, it was different than most times. First of all, his partner Jill DeLaHunt was with him. Second, her dog Leela was with him. Third – they had a big U-Haul truck with them, and inside were most of their belongings (including their nine bicycles, but not including the bicycle he built in 1974 as his senior thesis in engineering at MIT. At the time, it was the world’s lightest bicycle, at 12 pounds – today, it hangs in the MIT museum).
Finally, it was different because it has now been more than three weeks and he hasn’t left yet! That’s because, for better or worse, Marc and Jill have moved here, and Marc is joining forces with SMCo, and will be running our Energy Services department (as well as continuing, part-time, through South Mountain to satisfy the needs of his clients throughout New England). We are thrilled to be able to add his expertise and wealth of experience to our own, and to offer his services to island (and off-island) residents, businesses, and towns. He and Jill are also neighbors; they live four houses down from us here at Island Cohousing.
This is an important development for our company. It expands what we able to do in the realm of energy and building performance and it sharpens and refines our abilities. Not only does Marc bring an incisive mind and a tremendous range of knowledge and experience, but he also brings a fierce sense of purpose, an intensely focused moral compass, a profound dedication to professionalism, and a remarkable spirit of deep inquiry.
Marc enhances our connections to the world of building science, which is changing at breakneck speed. We are rapidly learning much that we never knew before. Recently Alex Wilson of Environmental Building News (quite simply THE most thorough and impeccable source of information for the green building industry) reported that a Canadian researcher discovered that the blowing agents used to make a familiar insulation product (extruded polystyrene [XPS], which people in the building industry know as the blue rigid board Styrofoam, made by Dow Chemical, and the pink rigid board Foamular, made by Owens Corning) gradually seeps from the board over its lifetime and is a powerful contributor to global warming. Depending on thickness used and climate zone, insulating with these materials might take 40+ years of energy savings to “payback” the global warming potential. Our zero energy homes, therefore (if they use these common materials) may, in fact, use no energy, but they may at the same time have a large carbon footprint!
That’s big news; it’s hardly what we’re after.
New information like this is coming all the time. But there is also a ton of green building mis-information floating around out there. Often, the nuances and subtleties and variables make it impossible to know what’s right and what’s not, what will work long term and what won’t, what makes the most sense, what might cause problems, what needs monitoring over time, what requires experimentation.
When we get reliable new information we must change our practices. Marc helps us figure out what’s what because he keeps up with new developments, because he understands the engineering and the science, because he knows who and what are reliable sources of information, and because he knows who to talk to when he doesn’t know (and, just as important, he KNOWS when he doesn’t know – – and, of course, sometimes NOBODY knows).
Marc is constantly examining our practices. He’s an insurance policy against big mistakes. He’s a creative force in pursuit of better buildings. He’s also a superb educator, and has been responsible for explaining complex building performance information (and making it understandable without dumbing it down) to thousands of New England building professionals, helping them to improve their practices.
But he’s a stickler, too. He’s fussy. He doesn’t let anything go and he makes damn sure we get away with nothing. That’s good for us, good for our clients, good for our community.
But it’s not easy.
He’s not easy.
His arrival is the culmination of a year of planning. It’s very exciting. But it’s one of those things – sometimes you get what you wish for.
For better or worse.