The B&D Interview – David England Kahn, Co-founder of Ecological Insulation

Kahn shares his expertise on high performance insulation and the importance of green building techniques

 

B&D: Tell us a little bit about Ecological Insulation.

DK: Brycen Williams and I made the decision to start an insulation company in the spring of 2008. Our interest in energy efficiency and insulation specifically came from our personal experiences with air and duct sealing techniques that we learned while trying to fix comfort and efficiency issues that we had in our own homes. We were both already involved in the residential construction business, had attended NAHB Green conferences, and truly believed that the durability and efficiency achieved through high performance building techniques was the right way to do things.

We saw an opportunity where poor-quality installs were the norm, and energy efficiency was an afterthought. We took a leap of faith and insulated our first house in July of 2008. We have experienced tremendous growth since, which we believe is due to our building science knowledge (which we love to share), high quality installs, and superior customer service.

Today, Ecological Insulation has three branch offices serving Central Alabama and Western North Carolina. 

B&D: What is your involvement, and Ecological Insulation’s involvement, in High Performance Insulation Professionals?

DK: Ecological Insulation joined HPIP for several reasons. We wanted a way to differentiate our company from the competition. The certification courses offered by HPIP help train our installers on high performance air sealing and insulation techniques. The online Learning Management System manages all of our employees’ certifications, expiration date reminders, and continuing education. It is accessible online 24/7, which provides some flexibility for our employees. HPIP has made it affordable and convenient to have a universal national certification that sets our company apart from our competition.

B&D: Do you think building science is something that is often overlooked? Is that something you hope to change with your involvement with HPIP?

DK: Building Science is about designing, constructing, and operating buildings in a manner that provides durability, comfort, and efficiency. They all go hand in hand, but unfortunately one or more components often get overlooked. HPIP is training insulation installers on proper air sealing and insulation techniques, and on how insulation is part of the building as a system. These techniques are important for durability, comfort, and efficiency; however, these techniques can’t overcome faulty designs and poor execution by builders.

Architects, builders, and subcontractors must work together to continually learn new techniques to achieve high performing buildings in a cost-effective way that the end user can afford.

HPIP offers contractors universal certification that gives architects and builders confidence that their insulation contractor is properly trained and part of a solution, not creating more problems. The beauty of this certification is that it’s not specific to one product, material preference, or manufacturer; it is all about quality installation of a system that meets Grade One standards.

B&D: Do you think building science is moving towards sustainability and green building? What are your thoughts on sustainable building techniques?

DK: In my mind, Green Building has always been the “right way” to do things, not a marketing strategy or afterthought. Green building techniques and building science go hand if we want to build durable, comfortable, and efficient buildings. Durability comes from sound building envelope designs and execution by builders. Comfort and efficiency come from proper insulation, air sealing, HVAC design, and installation. In reality though, it is very difficult to achieve one without the other.

There are some great Green products available that can contribute to higher indoor air quality, reduced water and power consumption, or come from sustainable sources. But by and large, I believe more “Green” benefit is derived from durable and efficient designs, and execution of the designs by the builder, than product selection alone.

B&D: You have been the President of Ecological Insulation for over 10 years. What have been your biggest challenges during this time?

DK: Labor shortages have and continue to be our limiting factor in growth and one of our biggest challenges overall. I feel that this will continue for the foreseeable future, because of an aging workforce. We must recruit young high school and college graduates to the trades. This is an initiative that HPIP has undertaken. They offer vocational training and certification through the online learning platform, and Job Corps, and follow up by matching employers to pre-certified job seekers.

In the meantime, Ecological Insulation must continually strive to create a culture that attracts and retains talent.

B&D: Can you name a particular project you’re inspired by or where you saw insulation make a huge difference in achieving a green rating?

DK: Ecological Insulation was chosen as the insulation trade partner for a collaborative partnership between Alabama Power, The United States Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Birmingham’s Signature Homes. The project, Smart Neighborhood by Alabama Power, is a state of the art community of 62 homes featuring emerging energy efficient technologies, materials, all connected to the Southeast’s first community-scale solar microgrid.

The project, located at Signature Homes Reynolds Landing community at Ross Bridge in Hoover, AL, began construction in the fall of 2017 and was completed in summer of 2018. Ecological Insulation provided all of the insulation and air sealing. Dwight Sandlin, CEO of Signature Homes, chose a net and blown wall system with air sealing that included a gasketed drywall system. HERS ratings on the finished houses ranged from 43-46, and blower door results less than 2ach50 were achieved.

The real benefit of this project, beyond providing homes to customers that are 35% more efficient that standard homes being built in Alabama today, is that the data collected and high-performance techniques used provide a glimpse into what new residential construction will look like in the next 20 years. It’s extremely gratifying to know that we were involved with a project that may help shape the future of energy efficient/high performance building in the future.

B&D: What’s next for Ecological Insulation?

DK: That’s a tough question because nobody really knows what the future holds. I do believe that if we continue to focus on educating consumers and builders about building science, delivering high quality/high performing installs, and offering the best customer service in the industry, then growth opportunities will present themselves.

If not, then we will focus on being the best insulation contractor, providing the best high performing insulation systems and best company to work for in our region.

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