We’re celebrating five years of Sustainable Building Week and to help mark the occasion we’re launching Five Things: a series of interviews that connects our five years to you, Portland’s sustainability community. In the coming weeks, follow along as we share answers to five questions we’re posing to some of the biggest movers and shakers in our city, who are working to keep Portland green.
Describe your involvement with Sustainable Building Week and what your day job is.
Along with Birdsmouth Design-Build being a sponsor of SBW, our team is taking part in a number of events. First, our Zero Energy Retrofits manager, Ryan Shanahan, is opening up his house for Solar Oregon’s tour on October 8th. The next day, we have a Passive House build that will be on the same tour. On Monday, October 10, I will be co-hosting a Passive House 101 presentation as part of Passive House Northwest. And, on Friday, October 14 Birdsmouth will be hosting a Zero Energy Retrofits presentation at Steeple Jack Brewing. Lastly, we will be doing a tour of one of our homes under construction as part of the Homes of Tomorrow, Today tour. Whew!
My day job is founder and principal of Birdsmouth Design-Build. Birdsmouth is a residential Design-Build firm focused on addressing climate change through the built environment through zero energy new homes and deep energy retrofits. I’m also an instructor for Earth Advantage’s Sustainable Homes Professional program and Phius’ Certified Passive House Builder training program. I also sit on the board of Passive House Northwest and on the technical committee of the ZERO Coalition. Additionally, I am an EEBA Zero Energy Home Professional, an ‘Expert Member’ on Green Building Advisor and I contribute content to Fine Homebuilding Magazine. It’s a rare day where I find myself with nothing to do!
What do you hope attendees will get out of your (numerous!) events at SBW?
It would be my hope that attendees would be able to see how they can make a large impact in the fight against climate change by decarbonizing their own homes, whether they are considering building new or retrofitting their existing homes. For professionals, I hope that we can illustrate cost-effective and practical ways to design and construct buildings that not only use little to no energy, but also last longer while being resilient in the face of adverse weather events, healthy for the occupants, and gloriously comfortable.
What does “sustainable” mean to you?
I like to think of sustainability as a practice. Just like a yoga practice or a medical practice, one never stops learning and one always must continue to be active in the conversation. Whether it is how one can personally make a difference in one’s daily life, how one’s professional endeavors can be made more sustainable or how one can help society meet its sustainability goals. It is a consideration of energy usage, carbon impacts, what type of transportation to use, what one eats to how one recycles or buys groceries — among many others. There are good days and bad. Sometimes one despairs and sometimes there is hope. I try to place myself in the latter camp. I have two kids and I know they will be dealing with the effects of climate change both directly and indirectly in their lives. It is a large reason why I center sustainability in my profession. Sustainability to me means to be cognizant of one’s impacts and to always endeavor to leave things better than how you found them.
What inroads has Portland made and what still needs to be done to “keep Portland green?”
I really appreciate the urban growth boundary and how it allows for nature and farmland to be so accessible from the city and protects the Willamette Valley from runaway sprawl. I feel like Portland and Oregon were early leaders in the high-performance and Passive House building movements, but some of that has felt like it has slipped away in the past few years. Cities such as New York, Boston, Denver, Seattle, and Vancouver BC, along with states such as Massachusetts, are setting great examples about how to create a sustainable built environment through smart and progressive policies and incentives. I am encouraged by some of the recent new buildings such as the PAE building and some of the great work that a lot of the firms participating in Sustainable Building Week are doing. I hope that Portland can keep up some of this recent momentum and craft equitable and carbon-free buildings for the benefit of everyone.
What’s a Portland (or Oregon) project or collaboration that has inspired you?
I visited Rob Hawthorne’s TrekHaus in 2012, which was the first certified Passive House in Portland. It is a two-unit townhouse project and was featured on the City of Portland’s Green Homes tour back when the city did such a thing. I had never heard of Passive House before, nor had I seen triple-pane windows, a Zehnder HRV, continuous insulation, or air-tight construction. It was based on building science and best practices and was third-party performance tested. Having a science-based brain, a degree in ecological conservation, and a love of building, this trifecta blew my brain open when I got to tour it. Everything just made sense. I have never looked back after seeing that building. That’s when I really began to focus my career path on building science and creating zero-energy buildings.
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