Nick Falkoff believes that climate activists can come in many forms. As the general manager of Auburndale Builders, he’s helping construct a path forward for tradespeople to learn the skills they’ll need to build the homes of tomorrow.
Most people don’t realize the role that construction plays in climate change. But by some estimates, buildings account for 40 percent of all energy related carbon emissions globally, when factoring in the carbon released in the creation of buildings and the lighting, heating, and cooling of them once they’re completed. That’s why Falkoff is among the region’s leaders in pushing for high performance techniques in homebuilding, and why he’s creating educational opportunities for people to learn how construct buildings in ways that are better for the planet.
“The construction industry is one of the most energy intensive industries in the world, and we generate huge amounts of waste, and so the more I understand about the industry the more it makes me aware of all the actions we’re taking,” Falkoff said. “It’s a balancing act of trying to figure out how to balance making a living and providing good work for people, but also trying to limit that damage.”
He was fortunate when a client seeking a state-of-the-art home helped pay for his training in passive house construction, which involves installing significantly more insulation to walls and buildings, high performance windows and doors, high efficiency all-electric mechanical systems, and creating an airtight envelope and a balanced ventilation system to bring in filtered fresh air to buildings. But after learning the tricks of the trade, he wanted to extend that education to others. Now he’s created a course for local tradespeople to learn how to learn passive house techniques. People in construction learn by doing, he reasoned, let’s give them a chance to see it firsthand.
This fall, he opened up the company’s barn in Newton to construction workers that want to learn these new skills, offering a training course over several weeks in passive house construction. The course is designed in a way “that’s accessible and interactive and tactile,” he said. “That’s the way carpenters already know how to do their work.”
The ultimate goal, he says, is to make high-efficiency construction more available and affordable, and for that there needs to be far more people able to do the work. “To bring down overall cost we need more people in the trades,” he said. “Right now it’s very small niche of people who know how to do high-performance and it’s limiting access.”
And he’s trying to educate homeowners about steps they can take to limit their impact. “People have this idea, because of what they see in magazines, that they’re these super modern structures, but really any house can be a high-performance house, or any house can be a passive house.”
Falkoff says he’s inspired by a fear that we’re failing to recognize how our collective building binge is destroying the environment. He’s hoping the next generation of climate activists could be construction workers.
“It’s planting that seed that your job can have a climate impact,” he said. “Construction wasn’t seen as climate activism. If you can view getting into construction and learning this stuff is helping to contribute to making it less damaging, it might motivate people.”
Janelle Nanos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.