Build Back Better

because we have to

An open letter by Mark Attard from the fire ravaged communities in Colorado.

Editor’s Note:  The author Mark Attard is the Operations Manager at Hammerwell, and an active member of PHN and our chapter Passive House Rocky Mountains. PHN is working with the Colorado Green Building Guild (CGBG) and other stakeholders to support the recovery of these devastated communities.

To My Industry Colleagues,

There are certain times within the life of a community when events are so large that they impact everyone. December 30th 2021 was one of those days when events would conspire to decimate two suburban communities in Colorado.   Extremely high winds combined with a brush fire swept through the towns of Superior and Louisville, destroying hundreds of homes and leaving people homeless and beleaguered. Those fortunate enough to have kept their homes did not necessarily escape the impacts of the wildfire. Instead, they came home to houses full of soot, ash, toxic air, and months of remediation.

The psychological impact of these fires is palpable. Just talking to strangers on the street you can feel the sense of loss and confusion in their words. And for those who are fortunate to have a home, the cleanup is overwhelming and difficult to navigate. When we experience cataclysmic events, the tendance is to immediately assign blame to a single source. The fact is, there is no one area or issue we can focus on in this case. For a variety of reasons these communities find themselves dealing with loss and heartbreak over events they had no control of.

As an individual who was in the middle of the chaos, I feel fortunate to still have my home. But I’m upset that my community has been so devastated. I want to wrap a big comforter around everyone and tell them that it’s going to be okay. Of course, it just not that simple, and all I can do is to be there for them.

As a builder I have many mixed emotions. I am compelled to help those trying to move back into their homes by arming them with my years of building knowledge and providing them with resources. I am frustrated and upset that their houses let them down. That they weren’t built in such a way where smoke and toxic air couldn’t permeate throughout. That they couldn’t immediately return to their homes and be comforted by familiar surroundings and gather with their families to process through the trauma.

When in these times of distress, for those of us lucky enough to be able to help and reflect, how do we make the most of this opportunity?  How do we leverage our knowledge and skills to provide support in the now and rebuild for the betterment of our friends and family and community? As architects, designers, engineers, and builders we have an obligation to reach outside of our own comfort to provide the very best for those that we serve. We all know that a house is more than a design and some wood, steel, and brick. It is a place to gather, it is a place where we can go to feel our feelings and be surrounded by the ones that we love. It is a special place.

So let’s take the time to consider the comfort of our clients by specifying and implementing robust thermal performance strategies. Let’s no longer settle on minimum air sealing and moisture management practices. Let’s push ourselves and our clients for a greater understanding of indoor air quality needs and address them thoughtfully.

We are the professionals. We have a knowledge base that the public does not. Our clients rely on us to impart our knowledge to them so that they can make informed decisions not only about the look and feel or their homes, but for the long-term health of their occupancy and their home’s durability.

For those of us in the industry, building houses isn’t just a job, it is a passion, it is a calling, and we have a responsibility to further that calling for the benefit of those we serve.

Mark Attard

Operations Manager

Hammerwell, Inc.