The following piece was written by HeatSpring Instructor Ann V. Edminster, M.Arch., LEED AP. Ann will be teaching HeatSpring’s Sustainable Building Advisor (SBA) course in October. 


  • While working on zero energy homes, a highly efficient, airtight building enclosure is a must and moisture management is absolutely critical.
  • The value of integrated design and delivery, and the art of intensive collaboration cannot be oversold throughout any project.
  • SBA students learn fundamentals of building science, integrated design and delivery, and other key areas of knowledge within the sustainable building realm.


thumb_Ann_Edminster_2In my professional life, I’m a bit schizophrenic. I’m a generalist – I’ve consulted on a crazy variety of projects over the course of 20+ years in green building. No, wait, I’m a specialist – I’ve spent most of the past six years focused on zero energy homes.

I sometimes envy colleagues (perhaps you?) who more readily identify with a specific group or with an occupation that has a one- or two-word descriptor: architect, solar installer, general contractor, interior designer, plumber, urban planner. And yet I recognize that having a strong foundation of knowledge across myriad aspects of sustainable building has contributed tremendously to my effectiveness as a specialist.

I’ll give an example. Early in my green building career, I was fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time with the brilliant principals of Building Science Corporation: Joe Lstiburek and Betsy Pettit. I learned a lot about building science; not enough to call myself a building scientist, but enough to be a huge benefit to me as a generalist.

One of the key lessons from that phase of my education is that no matter what, moisture will get inside buildings, whether through leaks or from cooking, showers, respiration, etc. When many of us started our careers, we didn’t have the slightest inkling about many aspects of building science, and designed and built a lot of buildings with only the most rudimentary attention to moisture control. Particularly here in California, this caused relatively few problems because our building enclosures were pretty air-permeable back then, and we have a 6-month dry season, so moisture was ‘easy come, easy go.’

But now, working on zero energy homes, a highly efficient, airtight building enclosure is a must and moisture management is absolutely critical. I’m not the enclosure specialist, but I know enough to spot an issue and call in the experts when their input is needed. Having this foundation of knowledge gives me a lot more confidence in guiding my clients – and I think that knowing I will direct them to specialists when appropriate also gives my clients more confidence in me.

There are numerous other situations where having a broad base of green building knowledge has enabled me to identify when a design or construction issue will benefit from input across disciplines, and those situations always result in better outcomes as a result of collaboration. In fact, the critical role of interdisciplinary collaboration is at the crux of why I feel so strongly about the benefits of a general foundation of sustainable building knowledge – it’s all about meeting ambitious performance goals for our buildings. And with scientists telling us that the polar ice caps may be melting ten times faster than they previously thought and we may have only 20 years to drawn down the carbon in the atmosphere, we need everyone working in the field of sustainable building to be as ambitious and effective as possible!

Perhaps the most profound lesson in my varied career has been about the value of integrated design and delivery – the art of intensive collaboration. This entails early and frequent consultation among all key members of a project team: owner, architect, builder, consultants, and major trades. Through several experiences with this integrated approach, I’ve learned that clever human minds working in concert are vastly more effective at meeting high performance goals than clever minds working in sequential hand-off mode, like a bucket brigade (our default approach to creating buildings).

Scott Shell, a principal at EHDD Architects in San Francisco, gives a great illustration of this: “Integrated design can reduce construction cost while providing significant sustainable design benefits. On the CSU [California State University] Monterey Bay Library, by comparing a number of integrated structural, mechanical, and architectural schemes, we found that tradeoffs from one discipline more than offset added costs in another, while achieving energy savings of almost 40 percent.”

Many leaders in the sustainable building community concur on this issue – our best building projects are always driven by integrated, highly collaborative, approaches to design and construction. What this means is clear: all of us who share the desire to navigate to a sustainable future must act in concert. We need enough breadth in our understanding of sustainable building to make connections across disciplines, to work effectively as part of a team, to develop extraordinary projects.

I acquired my broad foundation of sustainable building knowledge via a long and winding path. The Sustainable Building Advisor program is a more efficient way to get there. SBA students learn fundamentals of building science, integrated design and delivery, and other key areas of knowledge within the sustainable building realm, readying graduates to maximize their own contributions and those of their colleagues to the development of extraordinary sustainable building initiatives.

I hope you’ll consider joining our Fall 2015 cohort for an exciting and enriching educational experience!

~ Ann V. Edminster, M.Arch., LEED AP

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