Q&A with Theresa Gilbride: A Scientist That Sees a Thriving Future
Theresa Gilbride is a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory where she works on projects in support of DOE’s Building America program. She’s also a member of the Home Energy editorial board—and we’re willing to be that’s not all you don’t know about her.
Home Energy recently had a chance to sit down with this knowledgeable home performance diva to talk about her industry experience as well as some of her proudest career moments so far. Here’s what she had to say.
Home Energy: What have you learned during your experience on the Home Energy Editorial Board?
Theresa Gilbride: I have been on the board since June of 2010 and I think Home Energy, through the magazine and the website, does an excellent job of helping to inform builders about some of the real building science issues that are confronting those in the industry every day.
I have enjoyed working with the other board members in the opportunities we’ve had to meet at national conferences. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to review articles and provide input to the magazine’s editorial calendar. We are being challenged to cut energy use in every area of our lives and businesses. Residential energy use is a big chunk of the energy-use pie and the importance of reducing energy use in the residential sector will only increase in the future.
HE: There is a lot of talk about what will happen when the ARRA funds run out at the end of this month. Do you have any predictions or thoughts about the future without that funding?
TG: I think there is reason to believe that many of the home performance companies that have started will continue to thrive despite the dwindling of ARRA funds. We just did a study of home performance contractors for DOE’s Building America. All of the firms we looked at showed remarkable growth; most started or moved into home performance contracting recently (within the last five years).
The firms we surveyed grew from an average of 3 employees per company in 2009 to 15 employees in 2011, with revenues increasing from an average of $366,000 in 2009 to an average of $1,221,000 in 2011 and number of jobs increasing from an average of 41 per company in 2009 to 170 per company in 2011. While all of the firms we interviewed participated in public or utility incentive programs, on average only 25% of their job leads came from program participation. Their own marketing efforts and word of mouth accounted for 38% and another 37% of leads came from existing customers (most of these firms were spinoffs of existing HVAC or remodeling companies).
We looked at DOE’s DSIRE Database (www.dsireusa.org, it’s a very handy website listing all the federal, state, local and utility tax incentives, rebates, grants, and loan programs for energy-efficiency measures by state). In summarizing the DSIRE listing of federal, state, local, and utility programs we found there are currently 1,429 incentive programs available across the U.S. for home energy efficiency improvements.
Of those, 1,182 are utility-sponsored, not federal or state sponsored. So even as federal dollars go away, I think in many parts of the country, utility-sponsored programs will still be available to encourage homeowners to improve their energy efficiency. And other market forces will also encourage this trend. Recent studies by NAHB and Harvard show homeowners who can’t buy a new home are remodeling their existing homes and energy-efficiency improvements are among the most popular upgrades. That glut of foreclosed homes on the market represents a lot of deferred maintenance. As those homes get purchased, the new buyers will have to make improvements, some of them in line with new state energy codes that require energy efficiency improvements.
I think the codes themselves will be motivators. Long term, as the housing market improves and new homes built to the newer codes become available, homeowners who want to sell existing homes will have to think energy improvements along with cosmetic upgrades if they want to compete. And of course, energy prices have steadily increased over the past two decades, with slight increases for electricity and gas and dramatic increases for heating oil; those increases are also motivating homeowners.
HE: What are some highlights of your career so far?
TG: I’m very proud of my work with DOE’s Building America and Builders Challenge. Working on the program has put me in touch with some of the brightest building science minds in our industry; we are incredibly fortunate to have many of these folks as members of Building America’s research teams.
I’ve also gotten to talk with builders all over the country who have really caught the vision, who have gone far above and beyond the industry standard to test and implement new technologies and techniques that have become part of the best practices guides and case studies we’ve put together. As codes get tougher, these builders are really leading the way, and proving that high-performance construction can be done in cost-effective ways that make money for the builder and even for the homeowner.
HE: What's the most exciting part of your job?
TG: I love the fact that we are seeing real change in the building industry, for the better. Building codes, the IECC 2009 and 2012, are a step change increase in energy efficiency that will have real impact across the country in the years ahead. To meet these codes, builders will have to be smarter about how they build. It won’t be the “same-old, same-old.” It can’t be if they want to meet these new requirements. Our Building America teams have worked with some fantastic builders who are eager to learn and embracing these changes.
HE: What do you do personally in regards to maintaining an energy efficient home or lifestyle?
TG: There are the simple things; CFLs, of course. And we’ve done some recent remodeling and appliance replacement projects that have allowed me to get to some not-always-accessible places with the caulk gun and a can of spray foam.
I’ve had some opportunities to put building durability techniques into practice too. We started pulling up carpet and found wet subfloor in front of a sliding door. Further investigation revealed water leakage around two windows and the slider, thanks to a faulty siding job years before I bought the house—good fiber cement siding over old, bad siding with really bad water management details around the windows and door. So we had to cut away siding and install new flashing (there was none), a new sill plate under the door, new trim, caulking under the flashing and trim, caulking new sheathing to the sill plate, more house wrap, etc. The house has pretty good insulation considering it was built in 1993 but I’d still love to pull off all the siding, especially on the very exposed south wall, and replace the bad layer with a layer of rigid foam, then re-install the good siding.
I’m also investigating ductless heat pumps. They are ideal for zoning and there are some rooms we just don’t use much; also our moderate Northwest climate is a great fit for heat pumps.
When Theresa isn’t working on Building America and house projects, she can often be found cross-country skiing, sailing, or doing taekwondo with her kids. Despite the black belt, she jokes that she still prefers power saws to karate chops for cutting lumber.
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