Josh Howell on Approaching Building as an Expedition

An outdoorsman and an environmentalist, Josh Howell spent years hiking and writing around South America, including a stint as a river guide and guidebook author in Chile. Now the owner of JD Howell and Company, a residential building company that specializes in energy efficiency, Howell has transferred his passion for adventure into building energy-efficient homes on the midcoast. Howell tells MH+D Inside Out about sustainable building and explains why every project is a journey.

Q. What are the most important principles of efficient building?

A. I follow the Passive House approach when I can, which maximizes gains and minimizes losses though continuous super insulation, an airtight envelope, high performance windows, managed solar gain, and balanced mechanical ventilation

Q. You’ve worked on a lot of island projects. What interests you about those?

A. My interests outside of work are wilderness activities like backpacking and skiing, and building on a remote island can feel like going on an expedition.

Q. What’s an example of that?

A. For one project, the owner had bought this piece of land on an island in the 1970s, and he finally decided to build on it. By then, he had very little idea where it was. We had to go out to there with the map and GPS coordinates and figure out where it was. We made a date to go out to the island, and it turned out that the day we planned to go out had the worst weather. We crossed on a ferry in seas that had ten-foot waves, and then we had this total epic journey out on the property in the pouring rain. We located the land, thinking it’s now or never. I set up a tent, and the architect was in there with the laptop and calling out numbers, and we’re pulling tapes from the edge of the rocky shore. It was wild.

Q. How does working on a home compare to an expedition?

A. For better or worse, the team is going to be in this together for six months or whatever it is. We’re going to get to know each other very well, and we need to hold it together. We’re committed to working together and learning about each other and coming out the other side so that everyone in the end is happy.