levelThere can be a big difference between what people claim and the actual facts about that claim. Big surprise!

That’s why we have scales. And rulers and levels. And now we are using a new set of instruments (scientists don’t call them “tools”) to measure the air tightness of buildings, to “see” heat loss with infrared cameras, to determine how much electricity every appliance and fixture is using, and to quantify the presence of harmful gases in a home. We are applying an understanding of building science to the information we accrue thru these measurements and discovering the facts. And they often tell a different story than what the people who are selling the “green” attributes of their products and services claim. This requires us to think. This requires us to ask questions. This requires us to verify.

This sounds like journalism doesn’t it? Or what journalism was.

There is a crisis taking place in the media. We are shifting from a journalism of verification to a journalism of assertion. It’s a disturbing trend. In an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, Alex Jones, author of the book “Losing the News: The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy” described it like this:

I think that what’s happening to the news is that the news of verification, as you might call it, is being supplanted by the news of assertion, in part because of the tastes of the audience, of Americans, and also in major part because of the economic conditions that have put newspapers, especially, in a position of frantically trying to find ways to survive. Part of the way they’ve done that is to cut their serious reporters, their experienced reporters, their investigative reporters, the people who do this iron core of serious news, to the bone. And I think that what’s being replaced – what is being replaced. Replacing that is something that is much cheaper because opinion costs very little.

So what does this have to do with our homes? And why does it matter?

Well here’s the good news. I think we may be headed in the opposite direction. For far too long we in the building community have been indulging assertions without verification. We liked “rules of thumb” and accepted notions like “a house has to breathe” as dogma. We also accepted the notions that some caulk and weatherstripping and replacing windows were the smartest things to do to make our homes more efficient. They’re not.

It turns out that those convenient postures don’t measure up. With our new “instruments” and understanding of building science, we know better, and we know why. There is a new discipline to practice around the diagnostic principles of “home performance” and they depend on verification. Dare we quote Reagan: “Trust but verify!”

So its my hope and my practice to make sure we measure up. Our buildings can no longer function based on prescription without diagnosis. Assertions require verification. Its our professional duty.

…and please support journalists doing the same.

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