Lucas Hamilton of CertainTeed: “Smart glazing is slowly moving from commercial spaces into residences”

Smart glazing is slowly moving from commercial spaces into residences. We all know windows are the elephant in the phone booth. We humans want to be outside and so to be inside we need windows. But windows are horrible in energy performance, thermal comfort, glare, air-leakage, maintenance, and durability. Smart glazing and electrochromic glazing in […]

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Smart glazing is slowly moving from commercial spaces into residences. We all know windows are the elephant in the phone booth. We humans want to be outside and so to be inside we need windows. But windows are horrible in energy performance, thermal comfort, glare, air-leakage, maintenance, and durability. Smart glazing and electrochromic glazing in particular is a game changer. We can have more windows and still be energy efficient and durable.

As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucas Hamilton.

Lucas is a Physicist w/ 30 years of experience in construction and construction materials manufacturing. His expertise includes forensic building envelope diagnostics and testing as well as the development of non-intrusive construction analysis equipment and techniques. Lucas is a practitioner of a variety of building performance simulation software and has spent the past 15 years working with builders and design professionals to achieve more sustainable, durable, and higher performing buildings.

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?

I graduated college with a degree in Physics. My path went from nuclear power / plant construction to R&D in sealants / water proofing / coatings, polyurethanes, and silicones to building enclosure diagnostics and forensics to providing building science services for CertainTeed and Saint-Gobain.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once had the opportunity to visit a location in Texas where the world’s nuclear missiles are brought to be dismantled and stored. It’s amazing to stand and realize that below your feet lies so much wasted effort and resources both in the past and going forward. What could have been done instead we’ll never know.

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?

When I realized everyone in the room was waiting for me to translate or explain, I began to become differentiated from the crowd.

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?

Early in my career I worked for a business owner who thought that I had a rare ability to communicate with all types of people in the construction process, from the architect through to the builder and tradesman. Since I had already gotten a pretty good base in the science, next he felt I needed to learn the sales and logistics end of the process- how stuff gets onto the job site. So he moved me out of a technical role made me responsible for sales of construction products in a handful of Midwestern states. Later on he admitted to me that he knew I’d move on as soon as I felt I understood that part of the business and he wouldn’t be able to keep me because he wouldn’t be able to teach me the last thing I needed- to learn how to build. And he was right because from there I did move into the building enclosure consulting world in order to learn from some of our countries leading experts.

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?

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller. I was fortunate to be around some pretty cool Hippies when I was a kid and they ran with this book when they read it. A lot of the wisdom within is still true today. If the Earth were a spaceship that had to go from here to forever without being able to stop to get rid of its waste or resupply as needed, would you behave the way you are behaving? A provocative question for 1969 that more than 50 years later people are still afraid to ask themselves.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Start from where you are. Start with what you have. See how much good you can do.” I don’t know who said it but I have found it to be true in most aspects of life. Don’t wait for things to change in order for you to make change. When you are working for what is good, people and circumstances will rally to join in support.

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.

Offsite construction of components and assemblies has to be leading the way. The improvements in quality, decreases in waste, and better utilization of manpower are compelling from every angle. Now, added to building code and consumer demand, manufacturing technique changes will put another influence on home design. There is a reason 4’x8’ was a standard dimension for so much of what we did before. That’s about how big an object a man can pick up to carry by himself. What if a man doesn’t have to carry it? Now all your dimensions can change. Here’s another emerging change: right now we’re driving for demountable materials for sustainability’s sake. What if in making our interiors demountable we wind up getting rid of much of the field finishing we are presently doing? Everything comes pre-finished with concealed fasteners. Guess who just turned over a house a few weeks earlier. That’ll get the attention of a few folks who count the money.

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?

Work is being done on several different fronts. For all building materials we’re trying to reduce the embodied carbon. That’s just one aspect of sustainability but something everyone seems focused on so I mention it. For water efficiency they are doing great work with regard to appliance efficiencies but I think we need to work on our behaviors. You still see people watering their landscaping and you imagine these same people wash their dishes in the sink convinced they are off-setting the sprinkler outside. They should get rid of the fescue and use their dishwasher. This is where I think we have the lowest hanging fruit right now- our behaviors.

For energy efficiency, the builders have done a great job adjusting their building envelopes to meet the codes demands for passive efficiency. They also learned a lot about getting rid of duct inefficiencies or ducts altogether. The same can be said for hot water lines. When we look closely at how we are spending energy in the home, we have gotten very good at providing comfort for much less energy than we used to need. The savings have unfortunately been offset by how many more things we the inhabitants plug in and how many things we use today that never turn off. Much of our electronic world only goes into sleep mode because we are in too much of a hurry to wait for it to warm up. It’s stuff like that we have to pay more attention to. We can’t forsake the future for the sake of our convenience.

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?

For me, a Smart Home is one that learns from the decisions or behaviors of the inhabitants. That learning is ideally applied to improve performance or reduce the demand for resources and not just for the sake of inhabitant convenience.

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

Smart glazing is slowly moving from commercial spaces into residences. We all know windows are the elephant in the phone booth. We humans want to be outside and so to be inside we need windows. But windows are horrible in energy performance, thermal comfort, glare, air-leakage, maintenance, and durability. Smart glazing and electrochromic glazing in particular is a game changer. We can have more windows and still be energy efficient and durable.

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?

Improving the surface burning and ignition characteristics of our exterior materials has been a major push for over a decade. We should continue to see improvements in this regard. With regard to floods and hurricanes, I guess you’ve noticed how the “Thousand Year Storm” tends to hit Texas every year? Well, things like gutter and downspout sizing and rainwater management requirements are based on historical weather data that is no longer accurate. The fact is, the weather has changed and we need to re-size what we are doing to accommodate more water in less time than ever before. You can oversize your gutters and downspouts now and you can make the return legs on your chimney flashing 6” rather than 3” whenever you want. You don’t need to wait for the plumbing code to change because it looks like the climate is changing faster.

For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?

I think topically it revolves around a simple fact: we are from outside and we would rather be outside. The piles of research in biophilia confirm it. Here’s another simple fact that can inform a lot of your real estate decisions: it’s easier to give people access to nature than it is to recreate it.

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?

Clearly there is a whole spectrum of people who are considered homeless. While there is a small subgroup that chooses such an existence, it would be an offense to rest to suggest it is by choice.

I fear a large percentage of the population that is experiencing homelessness is also battling with mental health issues. If you are older such as myself, you may remember the “State Hospitals” which used to be the safety net for many of these souls and their families. With the big institutions gone and people now in smaller group or single family homes. There they do not appear on the whole to be getting the medical care and counseling they need and as a result wind up on the streets with almost no care at all. When the recession began in the middle of the past decade and pressure on “the system” increased, so did the rate of “breakage” and more and more people drifted onto the streets.

We hear so often about how individuals do not want to go into a shelter for a variety of reasons but so frequently one reason mentioned is safety. I know Los Angeles has had some great success getting folks into smaller individual housing units that are built within larger existing structures. While they are really Spartan in what they offer, the thing these micro apartments do provide, which residents say makes the difference, is safety and privacy.

Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?

Get involved in a program near you and bring your time, treasure, and talent. We all know what time is but treasure is in the eye of the beholder. In this case it maybe scraps or unused materials from your projects. Treasure might be your tools and your equipment which you can use for this cause on weekends or vacation days (what a great thing to do when you can’t leave the state!). You know what your talent is. You’re a builder- you are a master at scheduling, purchasing, and putting things together.

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. 🙂

I would teach the world to be considerate and courteous once more (if it ever was). Be stingy with things that cost you a lot (like hate and anger) and generous with things that cost you little (like consideration and courtesy).

How can our readers follow you online?

Through the CertainTeed blog and webinar series as well as in a variety of trade publications throughout the year.

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