As builders, we need to think about more than just being ‘green.’ We want to create homes with better carbon footprints that cost less to run. About 40 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions comes from buildings and the energy needed to run them. About half of that 40 percent comes from residential homes (Reference) The more builders do today to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, the better it is for the environment. Builders have an opportunity today with new technology, novel building materials, and advanced construction techniques to create a future that is more sustainable and less dependent on energy. When you look at homes specifically, approximately 40 percent of the energy used in homes is attributed to space conditioning and up to 15 percent is attributed to water heating. (Reference) If you can improve those two things, you can have a dramatic impact on CO2 emissions.
As a part of our series about “Homes of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd DiNoia.
Todd DiNoia is the VP of Research and Development (R&D) for CertainTeed, North America’s leading brand of exterior and interior building products and a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain, one of the world’s largest and oldest building products companies. With more than 20 years of experience, he oversees research and development for a wide variety of construction products and building materials at CertainTeed with a focus on sustainability and advanced material platforms. Todd has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland with a focus on polymer material science and processing, as well as a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
First, I really enjoy being part of the building industry. I grew-up in a construction company (a family general contractor business in Worcester, Massachusetts) with a passion for building. Second, I have always been intrigued by science, engineering, and research which is why I pursued an advanced degree in engineering. I was fortunate enough to find an opportunity when I graduated to practice research and development in the field of construction, applying material science and engineering to building materials. Now at CertainTeed, I’m able to oversee R&D programs across a broad segment of the industry to bring new materials and technologies into buildings that improve energy efficiency, sustainability, and occupant comfort.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I can’t point to one interesting story, but as I mentioned, my father was a general contractor and I had the opportunity to work in the family business on construction sites while growing up, which was a fun experience. Many of the materials I work with now — such as roofing and exterior siding products, insulation systems, interior ceilings, wallboards, finishing systems — are products I remember installing. Having that background gives me a unique perspective on how products install and function. Even as a building products scientist who has worked in the same area of research for 20 years, those earlier experiences still inform my work today. I’m able to do more in terms of improving building product performance, but also making products that are more sustainable and easier to install.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I was lucky to find out that I loved science and construction early and was surrounded by mentors who helped me align my interests and talents. I have been fortunate to have broad experiences, both domestically and internationally, that have challenged me to grow and learn, sometimes quickly in fast-moving environments, from many colleagues along the way. These experiences have been with strong collaborative teams that have had a clear focus to work through challenges and achieve results. The lessons one can take away from that are to trust your abilities and be willing to take risks, try new things, and work outside of your comfort zone. Opportunity doesn’t always present itself in conventional ways. It is also good to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you who can challenge you and nurture your abilities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I fully agree with this statement. I have had a number of coaches and mentors during my career and many people to thank for providing support and guidance to me over the years. I would say that is started with my father on construction sites, he taught me to have a strong work ethic and to have an accomplishment each day. I also had a great high-school teacher who encouraged me to explore my interest in science, as well as many professional mentors who gave me guidance to overcome challenges in various R&D programs. It is important to recognize that you do not know everything and if you are going to grow and learn, you need to build relationships throughout your career and surround yourself with talented people who have the same passion as you to succeed. It is through these relationships and an open mind to seek and receive feedback that you will work through challenges, make meaningful decisions, and find success.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Do not have a single favorite life lesson quote…I would say I am continuously learning and many quotes relevant over the years. One thing I have learned is that the world is not stagnant and change is constant. Therefore, I try to remain flexible, adapt, and change as situation arise throughout my life. My main life lesson advice would be to follow your passions and enjoy what you do. Keep an open mind as challenges arise but remember to live in the moment.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.
There’s quite a bit happening in the world of construction, including a big move towards sustainability. It’s much more than creating building products that are recyclable or create less pollution and waste. It’s building with materials that allow homes that use less energy. It’s thinking about different ways to light the home and making them less expensive to cool and heat. People also want sustainability because sustainability is affordable. One of the trends helping in terms of sustainability, affordability and quality is advances in prefabricated construction. In prefabricated construction, highly insulated wall systems and other important aspects of the structure can be built in a factory under controlled conditions and assembled onsite. This can accelerate the construction process from what would usually take months to weeks and reduces the amount of time crews must spend at a site. You also see improvements in efficiency and quality. There are many examples of prefabricated / offsite construction producing highly-efficient, quality homes with beautiful interiors and exteriors that you would never know were built in a factory. With recent improvements in technology, there is greater access to information that better informs building design and material choices that, when combined with advanced construction techniques, can achieve high-performance at an affordable cost. This includes information on thermal efficiency, moisture management, and factors that contribute to net zero and passive home construction.
Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?
The largest trend is toward well-insulated, air-tight homes. When done properly you can achieve little air exchange from the outside. With fewer drafts, it takes less energy to heat and cool, so it’s a lot more affordable. It’s more comfortable too. High-quality insulation and air-sealing coupled with smart moisture management provides you with the basis for a very efficient, durable, and comfortable home. We’re seeing this trend reflected in building codes throughout the country, so this kind of efficiency is becoming the standard. Higher R-value insulating system with exterior insulation boards and wall cavity insulation all contribute to this efficiency. However, the more insulation you use and the more air-tight the home is, the more you need to rely on building science. You don’t want moisture to move through a highly insulated wall because you could experience condensation in cold climates and run the risk of mold and rot. Moisture management strategies that include water resistive barriers, air barrier systems and dynamic “smart” vapor retarders protect surfaces from getting wet and allow walls to dry out under the right environmental conditions. Heat and energy recovery ventilators are also becoming more common. When you have an air-tight home, you want fresh air, but you don’t want to bring in cold air that requires more energy to heat. Technologies like these ensure that buildings can remain air-tight, but efficient.
There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?
Many people think of ‘smart homes’ as homes that integrate a lot of Wi-Fi-enabled devices to improve efficiency and convenience. To me, a smart home is also one that is optimized to make people comfortable, but able to do it with fewer resources and use less energy. A highly insulated and air-tight home, an efficient HVAC system and smart home accessories — combined they can achieve comfort and cost savings. Windows are typically where you see a lot of energy and heat loss. Improving your windows, having better insulation…you have to do some of these things to realize the full benefits of smart HVAC, programmable thermostats, and digital systems.
Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?
One technology that can be incorporated into homes is dynamic glazing. This leverages electrochromic technology to darken the glass, so essentially you have glass that will achieve greater tint based on solar load. Windows are typically difficult areas to manage heat, but dynamic glazing allows you to manage heat gain through your windows, which can lead to energy savings. Also, cool roof technology in the form of solar reflective asphalt shingles is being integrated into homes. Solar reflectivity is typically associated with white and lighter colors, but now you can achieve higher solar reflectivity from dark browns, grays, and even black asphalt shingles — the kinds you typically see on homes. There’s a whole range of solar reflective shingle colors that previously weren’t available. These cool roof shingles offer a solar reflectance greater than 20 compared to single digit values for standard asphalt shingles.
Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?
How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?
Cool roofs, as I mentioned, help minimize the urban heat island effect, which can happen in cities and urban areas We’re seeing more storms as a result of climate change, so building product manufactures have been responding with more durable roof products. One example is higher impact resistance shingles to prevent hail damage from storms. With increasing rain, we’re also seeing improvements in exterior siding products that improve drainage and drying.
For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?
Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
As the cost of energy continues to rise, the last thing anyone wants is a high energy bill. When you create a home with a better energy profile, the cost to operate that home drops dramatically. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to put high-quality insulation into homes. We need to think about the impact of long-term operational costs versus the cost to build. It’s important that builders are using the latest energy-saving techniques on the front end so that homes are less expensive to operate.
Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?
As builders, we need to think about more than just being ‘green.’ We want to create homes with better carbon footprints that cost less to run. About 40 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions comes from buildings and the energy needed to run them. About half of that 40 percent comes from residential homes (Reference) The more builders do today to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, the better it is for the environment. Builders have an opportunity today with new technology, novel building materials, and advanced construction techniques to create a future that is more sustainable and less dependent on energy. When you look at homes specifically, approximately 40 percent of the energy used in homes is attributed to space conditioning and up to 15 percent is attributed to water heating. (Reference) If you can improve those two things, you can have a dramatic impact on CO2 emissions. With today’s technology, you can build homes that are very useful, beautiful and comfortable. It’s just a matter of being proactive and putting it together using the latest technology plus good building science. That includes building more passive homes and homes that are net-zero ready. The more builders adopt these techniques, the more the building industry will move towards these standards.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There is an onus on manufacturers and builders to be educators. At CertainTeed, we offer continuing education credits and certification programs to teach people about building science and how everything comes together from design to installation. We should be encouraging everyone to leverage the latest techniques and technology. As we’re able to innovate around building materials and construction methods and apply those techniques in both traditional site-built and offsite construction, we’ll start to see a market with more sustainable and affordable homes.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/todd-dinoia-2a818811/