Q&A with Francis (JR) Babineau
Francis (JR) Babineau, PE is a building scientist and solar technology leader for Johns Manville. Although he’s been working with Johns Manville for more than 15 years, he’s just recently become a member of the Home Energy Board of Directors.
To welcome JR to the team, we spent a little more time getting to know him.
Home Energy: What have been your most significant projects or takeaways from your career so far at Johns Manville?
JR: The most significant to me were our internal building science course and roof-integrated photovoltaics (PV). Developing our building science course with John Straube was a fantastic experience and it really opened my eyes to the issues facing the building industry and how a piecemeal approach to improving building performance can often create more problems. I continue to regularly use and teach building science concepts internally and to our customers and it has been fantastic to meet so many people in the building science community.
In 2009, I was involved in a project to develop a roof-integrated PV business. Low-slope commercial roofs can be an excellent platform for PV systems, but what is often forgotten is that the number one job of the roof is to keep out the rain. A huge amount of R&D and engineering goes into the design of commercial roof systems. We were able to find solutions that allowed PV to be installed on roofs without any penetrations and without adding large amounts of weight (ballast), which can also cause problems. I was able to use my physics education to learn about PV systems and technology, and I still manage our technology roadmap for this business so we can take advantage of new solar technologies as they are developed.
HE: We are currently working on the annual training issue of Home Energy—what advice do you have for newcomers to the home performance industry? Or advice for the people that will be training them?
JR: I think training is critical at all levels of the industry. The installer needs to have some understanding of how the caulk or insulation he is installing will impact the performance of the house, so that he can appreciate the importance of good quality work and realize that he is really the one adding all the value to the job. The best product in the world is worthless without good installation. Auditors, raters, and inspectors obviously need training to understand the full impact of what design or retrofit changes actually mean.
To the trainer, I would stress that training needs to be a combination of practical hands-on work and theory. This is especially true for auditors or raters conducting tests and using software. Tools and instruments and computers are dumb. They will almost always give you a number. It takes some knowledge of theory to be able to understand if the number is reasonable and if not, if the problem is with the tool, or the test, or the building. From my years running testing laboratories, I have learned many times that a misinterpreted measurement can be worse than none at all.
HE: What is the role of training like at JM?
JR: Training at JM takes on many forms. Several years ago, we worked with John Straube to develop an Intro to Building Science course to train our sales and marketing groups about how buildings and building enclosures are supposed to work and how they can fail. We have also developed many live and online training programs for contractors. As a product manufacturer, training is used to help make sure our sales group and our customers know how to properly use our products and, more importantly, when a certain product is not the right choice.
HE: How did you get into the home performance industry?
JR: I did not take the “normal” route in that I was not a builder and my focus did not start with energy efficiency. The first several years of my career were actually focused on acoustics and noise control, in the JM Acoustics Laboratory and developing products and solutions for customers. From there, I became involved with other aspects of indoor environmental quality (IEQ), like thermal comfort and indoor air quality.
Even now, I would have to say that although energy efficiency is important, I am more focused on moisture control, durability, and making sure buildings are actually usable and comfortable for the occupants. It makes me a little bit crazy to read about some new office building that is very energy efficient, but is essentially a hollow concrete box (or glass cube) that no one can stand to work in. If we can say that IEQ is a sub-set of building science, then yes, it was always a passion for me. That passion has just grown over the years to include many more elements.
HE: What interests do you have outside of the office?
JR: I enjoy riding my mountain bike and actually keep it at work so I can ride the great trails near the Johns Manville Technical Center. Also, my wife and I and our two teenagers are all SCUBA divers. At least once a year, we like to vacation somewhere where we can enjoy the underwater world.
HE: Anything else you'd like to add?
JR: In addition to home performance, I have been involved in several projects with healthcare facilities. The passion and commitment of the folks on the design teams and working in the hospitals really inspired me to want to always do more and to make sure they and their patients were in the most comfortable, effective, healing environments possible. This was some of the most personally fulfilling work I have ever done.
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