News Brief

Builder's Guide: Cold Climates

by Joe Lstiburek, P.E.; published by Building Science Corporation, 70 Main Street, Westford, MA 01886; 508/589-5100, 508/589-5103 (fax); with the Energy Efficient Building Association and Shelter Source. 1997, spiral-bound, 270 pages, $40 + $3 S&H.

Joe Lstiburek (pronounced

stee-bu-rek) has achieved an amazing feat with this book. He has successfully translated his dynamic, inspiring, and often controversial presentation style onto the printed page. Long on the forefront of new trends in building science, Lstiburek was a pioneer in advocating the airtight drywall approach as an alternative to polyethylene sheets. He has been a persistent thorn in the side of the manufacturers of exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS), explaining in great detail (and in court) why they inevitably fail in wet climates. He engineered an alternative building code now on the books in Lake County, Illinois (see


Vol. 5, No. 2), and he has successfully convinced some of the largest homebuilders to try out new ways of improving performance and durability (EBN

Vol. 5, No. 6).

This well-illustrated

Builder’s Guide goes through a house in the order of construction, explaining what each component must do, and why it often fails. It then lays out a series of specific solutions aimed at preventing these failures. A series of Appendices (also well illustrated) explain the science behind Lstiburek’s solutions in greater detail. Appendix I, for example, outlines different approaches to designing building envelopes, based on the amount of rainfall. Appendices II and III explain the inner workings of air barriers and vapor diffusion retarders. This book won’t teach you how to build a house—it picks up where conventional home-building texts leave off—but it will tell you how you can make it all work.

In his wall details, Lstiburek strongly recommends rigid foam insulation on the exterior as a means of preventing the temperature in the wall cavities from dropping below the point where condensation can occur. He argues that the energy savings and durability gains of this approach outweigh any environmental concerns with the manufacture and use of these materials. Having decided that foam works best, Lstiburek doesn’t offer any alternative approaches to energy-efficient wall systems.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Lstiburek presentation, while wishing he would slow down a bit so you could catch the details, you can now go through it at your own pace. If you’re not sure whether you can tolerate his forceful style, get on the Internet and read his list of “Ten Dumb Things to Do in the South” before buying this book. Many will disagree with some of the specific construction details and opinions in this book, but nowhere else will you find so many building-performance problems clearly explained and so many solutions presented. The basic principles apply equally well to warm and mixed climates, though the solutions might vary. No one who builds houses should be without this book.

Published May 1, 1997

(1997, May 1). Builder's Guide: Cold Climates. Retrieved from

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