Interview with GreenPoint Rater John Eckstein

Interview with GreenPoint Rater John Eckstein

Posted on 23. Sep, 2009 by in Designing for Compliance, Interviews

A few months ago, we had the pleasure of working with a GreenPoint rater on one of our recent Title 24 consulting projects. John Eckstein is a building professional with expertise in both home energy performance, and indoor air quality, particularly mold investigation. Since GreenPoint rating is still relatively new, we asked him what is involved in working with, or becoming, a GreenPoint rater.

At what points during the project does the GreenPoint rater get involved?

The earlier the better.  By getting a GreenPoint Rater involved in the early planning stages, simple changes can be made to the design that will have a more cost-effective impact on the overall performance of the home.  Two things that come to mind in this regard are duct layouts and Title 24.

The architect should consider the duct layout for the HVAC system while designing the home. We all know that the less bends there are in a duct, the better the duct will perform. Yet I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a beautifully designed home, but because the layout of the ducts was never considered, the HVAC contractor ended up having to route the ductwork in a way that was far from optimal.

This is an easy thing to address at the design stage, but the architect and the HVAC contractor need to talk. This doesn’t happen because of the way we design buildings in the USA. There is typically no HVAC contractor on board during the early design stages. A good GreenPoint Rater can help to address this.

Also, having a good Title 24 consultant is imperative. Many architects don’t realize that there is a huge difference in quality between different T-24 consultants, so they typically go for the cheapest person they can find, and then they get “boilerplate” calculations that don’t optimize the final T-24 in terms of detailed window schedules or other construction details.

Remember – each percentage point over standard on the T-24 calculations equates to 2 points on the GreenPoint Checkist. [Ed: so for example if your home exceeds Title 24 by 15%, you would achieve 30 points on your GreenPoint score] Optimizing T-24 is a great way to get a jump start on building a quality, energy-efficient home.

[Ed: Building to the GreenPoint checklist, even if you don’t actually get the project rated or certified, will improve the efficiency of the design.]

What does it cost to get certified (for those considering adding this to their creds)?

The requirements and coursework has changed since I became certified, so I don’t know what it would cost nowadays. The best thing is to check directly with BuildItGreen.

What background and skills does someone need to be a GreenPoint Rater?

The obvious background in construction is important, but I also draw on my background as a consultant and my training in Psychology.

There is no such thing as the color “green”, there are only shades and each client will define green their own way. The GreenPoint checklist available from BuildItGreen has over 270 points available, so there is lots of flexibility to mix and match measure that meet the budget, energy efficiency, and environmental concerns of each client. A good GreenPoint Rater can help the client understand and translate their “green” priorities into the checklist.

The two faces of GreenPoint rater John Eckstein show that there is more than one way to be "green".

The two faces of GreenPoint rater John Eckstein show that there is more than one way to be "green".

My background in sales and psychology are also helpful. In my own mind, I see my role as a rater as part inspector and part home “therapist”.  Just as a psychotherapist will work with a person to bring out the best, a GreenPoint Rater will work with a team of designers, contractors, and homeowners to bring out the best in the home. Being able to work with and understand different personalities and egos, and then communicate and motivate is probably the major role of a good GreenPoint Rater.

What seem to be the hardest issues for architects to understand, from your experience as a GreenPoint Rater?

There are all kinds of architects, so I don’t have a great answer. From my experience working with residential architects, many have a blind spot in relation to ventilation design and HVAC sizing and layout.

How can architects be better prepared to work with a GreenPoint Rater?

BuildItGreen offers a terrific training program called the “Certified Green Building Professional” (CGBP) program where architects can become certified.  This is a great way to get up to speed on the “why” behind all the measures.  Also, as a rater, I  can add a point on the checklist when both the architect and the contractor are CGBP certified.

Which jurisdictions really have it together?

San Mateo County is pretty good. They are working hard to understand the program and their outreach has been excellent about educating the community and contractors about the program. I always see people from San Mateo County at the training programs.

Los Altos Hills seems to have a well-thought-out green program.  I also see many of their staff getting trained.

Palo Alto has made green a priority.  They have a dedicated green program manager in the building department.

On the other hand, there are a few jurisdictions that have made getting a GreenPoint Rating mandatory for new construction, but they have done little to educate their desk staff or inspectors about the program.  As a result, I get calls from many exasperated homeowners and contractors who have been given lots of misinformation, which gives the program a bad name.

What is your own background, and how did it lead you to become GreenPoint Rater?

My father and grandfather were in the plumbing and heating industry.  I never valued it then, but being exposed to the HVAC industry at a young age has really helped me as a GreenPoint Rater. I also ran an indoor air quality and mold testing firm for a number of years.  I investigated hundreds of homes with air quality and mold issues that were caused by errors in the way the home was designed, constructed, or operated.  It sounds strange, but I think I know more about how a home should be designed because I have seen so many that have failed.

I lived in Japan for 13 years and lived in a variety of homes that were designed for a very different climate and culture. This had a major impact on the way I view homes and in the way I work with clients. Japanese trades tend to cooperate more effectively than I see here in the USA. It is huge generalization, but in my experience there there is less “pointing fingers” and less territoriality between the trades.

There are huge opportunities to improve the quality of construction if we could get the trades to think of the “big picture”. For example, an electrician who drills a 1/2 inch hole for a 1/4 inch wire should be thinking of air infiltration and then take the time to seal around penetrations.  Some plumbers install pipes right flush with the wall or stud, so it is then impossible to wrap the pipe in insulation.  Insulation and HVAC contractors should be involved in the job early, so they can plan ahead.

Many clients (and architects as well) have the impression that implementing green features is expensive.  How much does it cost to encourage the trades to talk to each other and to think of the big picture?

I am a HERS rater and do residential energy audits using HERS testing protocols. I also have trained with the California Building Performance Contractors Association (CPBCA). The CPBCA opened my eyes to building science and to treating the home as a holistic system of integrated parts.

I have worked on about 350 GreenPoint Ratings to date. It is funny, because I only took the orignial GreenPoint training because I interested in learning more. I never intended to become a rater.  It just sort of grew.

Do you have any nifty stories or cool projects to tell us about? What’s the coolest project you’ve seen thus far?

For me, the “coolest” green homes are the ones that are thoughtfully and tastefully designed. In my opinion, many of the things that make a home truly “green” are not so sexy, nor expensive.  Some very “green”, but not so sexy measures:

  • Designing the home to consider passive cooling and heating.
  • Considering the solar orientation of the home and then designing exterior shading, overhangs, tree planting to take advantage of that orientation.
  • A well-designed, right-sized, and properly installed zoned heating system.

Do you have any pet peeves?

I really wish that the cities would take the time to really understand the program and to educate their staff and citizens before making these green programs mandatory.

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One Response to “Interview with GreenPoint Rater John Eckstein”

  1. Yugh Sarab

    12. Nov, 2009

    A great interview. Very interesting and informative. Easy to understand and comprehensive. We have been looking for a good green point rater for a while and am glad that you introduced us to John Eckstein. Thank you.

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