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First Person

Extreme weather: Are our neighborhoods ready?

Preparing homes and communities for hurricanes, hot summers, and more is on the mind of Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Newton remodeling firm Byggmeister and chairman of the BuildingEnergy conference.

Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Newton remodeling firm Byggmeister.Webb Chappell/WEBB CHAPPELL 2013

I always wanted to do quality work, but basically everyone who goes into construction wants to do quality work. It took us a while to realize that quality needs to be evaluated in four dimensions — not just level, plumb, and square, but how it performs over time. Inevitably, it has to include a large MEASURE OF EFFICIENCY, reducing [a house’s] resource consumption.

A lot of the problem with the GREEN-BUILDING MOVEMENT is that nobody keeps score. I was Exhibit A for many years. I was calling myself a green builder before I was one. Now that we have some good scorekeeping mechanisms in place with regard to energy consumption, water consumption, durability, we’re just getting much better.


I got involved in advocacy when I connected in the ’80s with the NORTHEAST SUSTAINABLE ENERGY ASSOCIATION, a group of like-minded builders, architects, engineers, and policy wonks. Its annual BUILDINGENERGY CONFERENCE IS MARCH 5 TO 7 [at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center]. You can stand up in a conference and put out some stuff, but if it’s just sales puff, you’re going to get shot down really quickly. We’re a very honest group of people, amazingly open and candid about mistakes we’ve made.

One of the themes of the conference is “retrofitting for resilience.” Resilience is a topic that can bring about the “apocalyptophilia” in the best of us. But RESILIENCE ISN’T ABOUT PREPARING FOR THE APOCALYPSE. It’s about stewardship, to ensure that our buildings, our neighborhoods, our cities are prepared for what the 21st century may bring. The timing couldn’t be better. Since we developed that theme, we’ve had SOME REALLY EXTREME WEATHER in the Northeast that drives home the importance of adaptive, resilient communities.  — As told to Michael Prager

Interview has been edited and condensed.