Building Science You Need to Understand to Build Better Homes

Mark Bernhardt, B.Sc. REA CPHC, President

With every improvement to building science practices, homes will last longer, residents are more comfortable, and communities are more resilient. To understand how to build better homes, we sat down with Mark Bernhardt, President of Bernhardt Contracting, one of the most experienced high performance building, consulting and construction companies in North America.

Mark defines ‘better homes’ as homes that are energy efficient, with good indoor air quality, built with low carbon materials and fueled by low carbon fuels. Homes that meet this standard will also by nature be more resilient in disasters and insulate owners from rising cost in times of high inflation. Sounds like a tall order, but Mark has experience building at the world’s highest standards and he helps to narrow the list down to five building science areas you should focus on to build better homes.

1. It All Starts With Design

Truthfully, it all begins with the shape of the house and this is a simple adaptation that all builders can make to achieve real results. Getting the design right from the start is paramount. Understanding the effect of home design can have on its energy efficiency and resiliency is an area of expertise that can set you apart a builder, Mark notes. Think about where the home sits on the lot, the influence of sun and shade, and how to get the best performance out of the building mechanics. “Don’t fight nature, design for nature,” he added. Putting all these items together into a home can be easy if done using integrated design processes.


2. Plan Out Window Positioning

Floor-to-ceiling windows may be flashy and trendy, but they are expensive to build and often don’t perform as well strategically-placed windows. “Do we need a curtain wall view of a back deck, or would a large landscape window with a view of the lake make more sense,” Mark muses. Windows can be an asset or the they can be a cost, and using them strategically is key to the performance of a home and its comfort.  This doesn’t mean a windowless box, far from it. Windows can be placed to capture free energy from the sun, and shading can be used so they don’t overheat the house in the summer.


3. Gain Control Through Building Envelope

If the building envelope is secure, there is more within a builder’s control. All of the building components that separate the indoors from the outdoors, including exterior walls, foundation, roof, windows and doors, can impact the performance of a home. Plus, the building envelope is impacted by sub-systems such as heating, cooling, ventilation, plumbing and electrical. In the end, the building envelope should keep out temperature extremes, moisture, dust, smoke and wind, while helping to maintain durability of the home. Like a car, these building envelope components do require regular upkeep but builders can learn how to put plans in place to ensure the skin of the building performs and lasts for decades reducing that maintenance cost to their client.


4. Quality Control

From behind the walls to the finishing touches, quality control in the placement, performance and type of building materials used can lead to a better home. Expanding your toolbox is essential to build high-performing homes. For example, when it comes to various air barriers and insulation tactics, think about installation as the last step and the first step as understanding the outcome and how to achieve it to get an energy efficient, comfortable and durable home, Mark says. Understanding the ‘why’ we are building a certain way is key and that comes with experience and a deep knowledge of building science, design and construction.


5. Materials and How You Use Them

“If we want buildings to last 100 years, the materials we use should accommodate the building’s lifespan,” Mark suggests. The building envelope – the skin of the building – and the sub-systems that make the home perform to a certain standard, need to be constructed with quality materials. Over time the building will expand and contract, and the materials need to account for that.


Your Toolkit: Building Science Courses

Every builder has a toolkit to draw from in different situations. By taking CHBA BC Continuing Professional Development Courses that focus on different areas of building science, builders can expand their knowledge, update skills and add to that toolkit.

In various cities across BC in April and May, Mark Bernhardt will be teaching Mind the Gap: Preventing Failures in HVAC and Airtightness, a one-day course that takes a deep dive into the BC Energy Step Code metrics for Part 9 buildings and how to achieve Step 3 and higher through design and building techniques to minimize extra cost. To see cities and dates, and to register, click here.

Learn with CHBA BC

Learn more about all of the courses offered now – online and in-person – including the New BC Energy Step Code Training modules by visiting: