EEBA Legends Interview: John Tooley
The 2016 EEBA Excellence in Building Conference & Expo will feature EEBA Legend Lectures with some of the leading figures in building science discussing their experience and the latest trends in green building.
The legends will speak during the lunch session on each day of the conference Sept. 27-29 in Frisco, Texas.
One of the legends scheduled to speak was John Tooley with Advanced Energy, who unfortunately had to withdraw due to a scheduling conflict.
Susan Buchan, executive director of EEBA, interviewed John Tooley, senior building consultant with Advanced Energy about his background in high performance home building and his involvement with EEBA.
For information and registration: 2016 EEBA Excellence in Building Conference & Expo
John Tooley is a national leader in building science technologies. In his 30-plus year career, he has diagnosed and repaired more than 5,000 homes. He has participated in the weatherization of more than 10,000 homes. He is recognized for his contributions to many of the largest utility and building programs in the nation. Before joining Advanced Energy in 1996, Tooley led a number of companies dedicated to preserving the state of Florida through quality building practices. These companies included Natural Florida Homes, Natural Florida Retrofit, Star Insulation, Home Energy Reviews of Orlando (HERO) and Infrared Services and Inspections.
Today, Tooley is responsible for business development with the organization’s Applied Building Science team. Regarded as a pioneer in the world of energy efficiency, Tooley trains builders and contractors throughout the United States and frequently addresses national conferences.
SB: What gets you up in the morning?
JT: That's an excellent question. The name of the building company in Florida that I have with my brother is Natural Florida Homes. Even back in 1979 we really felt like we should be building homes that preserve Florida for future generations.
I came into the building industry wanting to help keep Florida green and fresh for my grand children and my great grant children. I have 13 grandchildren and now two great children.
Part of this I'm getting done, I'm not so sure we were able to preserve Florida, but certainly I am populating the earth. That was the biggest driver to get me started.
Then in 2004 I had a heart attack, and that vision slightly changed when I was laying on the ICU table and realized that I had been doing building science training all over the nation, and had seen a lot of good changes but I kept going back to a lot of those locations, and the same things we had trained on a couple of years earlier they were still doing wrong.
So I wrapped quality management up in building science and started taking the whole route of how to get work done right and sustainably, so it's been a really good 30 plus years.
SB:How did you get your start in the home performance industry, which you've answered a little bit already.
JT: I was living in California, and my brother called me and said, 'Come to Florida, let's build houses.' I want you to understand I knew nothing, we're talking zero. I couldn't even hang a door let alone build a house. He had scored a contract with the Department of Energy, and we built two passively cooled houses in Orlando.
We designed and built both those homes right in the middle of the oil embargo and energy crisis and they wouldn't sell.
As we were trying to sell those houses, a couple asked me what's wrong with their house, because their house had a room above the garage and it was uncomfortable, and they asked me, what's wrong?
Between you and me, I didn't have clue what was wrong, but I could guess at it. It gave me the vision to start another company, so in 1982 we opened Natural Florida Retrofit, to improve home performance in existing homes. In 1985 I bought a blower door and an infrared camera the same day.
I asked my friend Neil Moyer to work with me because he was an engineer and I really needed to figure this out. So starting with new construction and we looked at existing buildings and within three years we were looking at buildings all over the United States.
By 1987, we had tested and infrared scanned about 400 houses and that's were we discovered duct leakage and pressure in buildings.
By 1988 we wrote the paper, MAD Air, Mechanical Air Distribution and Interacting relationships. I gave a talk on that at an early EEBA conference, and this year I'll be delivering a talk on MAD Air 2016.
SB: It's interesting that you'll be doing the MAD Air talk again and not much has changed really.
JT: That's because not very much has changed, maybe the duct leakage has changed but the other causes of pressure haven’t changed very much at all. It's that you can't see the air, you can't hear it and you can't feel it, so it's pretty much left unattended to.
SB: What do you think is the greatest development in home performance that you've seen during your career?
JT: This answer may be a surprise to you. It's the application of building science to production building.
In 1996, the Engineered for Life program started with Louisiana Pacific, Joe Lstiburek and myself talked on the phone and wrote the standards for that program in about 10 minutes.
It was later transferred to MASCO as the Environments for Living program. There have been more that 200,000 homes built to that standard. I also worked on a guaranteed Energy Program in Tucson in 1996 that has had 6,000-7,000 homes built under it. And we worked with Energy Star to increase their standards that have influenced Versions 2 and 3. Building science in homes is also seen in the Building America program, the DOE's Zero Energy Ready Homes program, LEED for Homes and the Passive House Movement.
For me, I never dreamed that I'd be sitting here talking to you today with that much influence over building science in the mainstream markets. That's probably the very biggest thing I've seen.
SB: If you were going to describe your ideal home what would it be like?
JT: In fact I've probably built my last house, a 1,150 square foot home in the middle of 30 heavily wooded acres in North Carolina. It's absolutely very small, that was important to me, and it was designed to be low maintenance.
Another very strong point for me is it's got to be quiet. So we air sealed and insulated the interior of the house probably better than we did the exterior. Here comes the mantra, "build it right, seal it tight," so we sealed it and ventilated and insulated it right.
It's in a co-housing community, it's a wildlife refuge so there's no clear cutting allowed, no insecticides or no herbicides. We wanted to disrupt the area as little as we possibly could.
SB: Do you see the possibly of the majority of homes built in the U.S. and in the world for that matter being able to move toward that ideal?
JT: Probably every bit of it except being small, I don't know if we'll ever reverse the trend for large houses. My brother and I built what we called a jewel box, which in Florida was a small house for a lot of retired people. It was a small house with high luxury.
I honestly do believe we're headed towards that at a rapid pace because as I mentioned the building science moving into production homes. I just see it maturing year after year. And so I'm pretty optimistic that we can see that. The only thing I feel that may not happen is a move toward small houses, I wish every day that would happen.
SB: How long have you been involved with EEBA?
JT: I have been to every EEBA conference except the first 2
This interview has been edited for length.