On September 6, 2023

Vermont needs more construction workers


By Guy Payne

Editor’s note: Guy Payne is the executive director of SEON – Sustainable Energy Outreach Network.

In Vermont’s rugged terrain, a novel career path is emerging, blending craftsmanship with sustainability. The state’s housing demand and industry’s need for skilled hands are fueling the call for carpenters. But beyond carpentry, lies a more enriching journey: the realm of high-performance building. In an era of ecological mindfulness and architectural innovation, Vermont’s construction sector is evolving, offering a gateway to a career rich in legacy.

At Vermont’s construction core is the enduring craft of carpentry. The allure of shaping structures from scratch, transforming raw materials into functional homes, has lured many. Carpentry is the bedrock of any construction, translating blueprints into tangible forms, molding the essence that turns a structure into a home. From initial framing to the final touches, carpenters shape both comfort and functionality.

Entering carpentry is as simple as stepping forward. Vermont’s career centers provide the knowledge and hands-on learning of fundamental carpentry skills, with completion making one eligible for employment.  Yet carpentry isn’t just a skill set; it’s a pathway into an industry with multiple avenues to contribute to the greater good. With a median wage exceeding Vermont’s average, it promises financial stability from the outset. Predictions by the McClure Foundation and the Vermont Department of Labor point to a remarkable 4,460 carpenter job openings by 2030, where minimum wage is $23,000 to $47,715 a year. This is an opportunity to bridge the state’s housing gap, propelled by the surging demand in the housing sector. HELM Construction Solutions, SEON (Sustainable Energy Outreach Network), ResourceVT, Yestermorrow and other Vermont Career Centers are great places to start and enhance carpentry training.

While carpentry is valuable, an upward trajectory beckons—one of employment fused with legacy and impact. Welcome to high-performance building—a carpentry evolution transcending norms, merging construction with ecological consciousness. It is the recognition that a house is not just of aesthetic value, but a performance system in which all components are interrelated for the effective functioning of the whole — siting and landscaping, the envelope, insulation, air sealing, mechanical systems, and other renewable energy systems function as one whole high-performance house/structure.

High-performance homes are designed, constructed, and operated to minimize resource usage. They prioritize occupant well-being through efficient insulation, air sealing, bulk and water vapor management, and sustainable materials. These structures improve indoor air quality, durability, cut operating costs, and elevate comfort. With up to 50% less energy and water management, they lower environmental impact and enhance property value.

High-performance homes embody sustainability’s ethos, pioneering architectural innovation. They exemplify energy efficiency, water mindfulness, and environmental awareness. For those moving from carpentry basics to high-performance building, it’s a chance to shape construction’s destiny and protect the planet. It’s not just about erecting structures; it’s sculpting a sustainable legacy spanning generations.

This appeal extends beyond financial gains; it’s about embedding legacy in every joint that assists other building systems. Crafting energy-efficient, eco-conscious structures isn’t just a job; it’s a calling—a way to leave an enduring mark by reducing emissions, conserving resources, and prioritizing occupants’ well-being.

These are more than mere buildings; they’re symbols of a future harmonizing life quality and environmental stewardship. High-performance carpenters pioneer a new narrative for the industry and the world.
High-performance building is a faction of building science—the study of the physical principles governing building design, construction, operation, and maintenance. It encompasses diverse topics such as heat transfer, moisture control, air flow, acoustics, and lighting. High-performance thinking, application, and commitment to the implementation of Vermont’s Energy Code must be the standard for all building projects. They’re designed to be more energy-efficient, comfortable, and healthy than what customers have known in the past. They achieve this by incorporating features such as:

Tight construction minimizes air leaks

High-quality insulation for  year-round temperature control and moisture management

Energy-efficient windows and doors

Ventilation systems for moisture control and air quality

Landscaping, building systems and flashing for bulk water management

Sustainable materials with low environmental impact

High-performance buildings might cost more initially but will yield long-term energy savings, comfort, health, and reduced greenhouse gases.

The U.S. government aims for all new buildings to be net-zero energy by 2030—generating as much energy as they consume. High-performance builds play a crucial role in achieving this goal. This imperative underlines why jobs are in high demand now and in the future.

A builder with a high-performance ethic will always be mindful of their customer’s budget. They should reassure the customer that the decisions they and their carpenters make will always align with building science principles, quality, and Vermont’s Energy Code while maintaining budgetary constraints. One could say they’ll strive for a Pretty Good House.

Additionally, the building science community is vibrant and expanding, composed of professionals passionate about designing and building high-performance structures. They’re perpetual learners and innovators, constantly seeking ways to elevate building performance. Events like the national BS&Beer (an offshoot of SEON’s Building Guild) discussions exemplify their enthusiasm and creativity, where builders worldwide gather to discuss building science while enjoying camaraderie. Talk to these experts and you’ll learn about heat transfer through building materials, building aerodynamics, what wing nuts want to know, window weeps, to spray foam or not to spray foam, and more – all with great knowledge and humor. 

In high-performance building, carpentry surpasses conventional and past boundaries. The legacy one crafts extends beyond structures—it’s etched into our sustainable future.

Beyond basics, pursue specialized training and certification in high-performance building, equipping carpenters to navigate sustainable construction complexities. SEON instructors like Jim Bradley and Chris West (both in the news recently about the hazards of spray foam insulation), and Peter Yost (who is the builder’s builder of Vermont) make SEON a repository of knowledge and experience. 

Vermont stands at the forefront of a construction renaissance driven by its sustainability commitment, catalyzing demand for high-performance buildings where carpenters play a pivotal role. These structures, emphasizing resource efficiency, occupant well-being, and environmental impact reduction through insulation, water management, and sustainable materials, yield improved indoor air quality, cost savings, and elevated comfort with up to 50% lower energy and water consumption, simultaneously amplifying property value. 

This shift presents carpenters with a transformative career avenue, enabling them to shape construction’s trajectory and safeguard the planet. Rapidly escalating demand for high-performance carpenters corresponds with the US government’s 2030 vision of net-zero energy new buildings, aligning with Vermont’s strides in this direction, thereby creating a significant need for skilled carpenters. Moreover, the nationwide surge in high-performance building interest further widens carpenters’ prospects for job mobility. Ultimately, carpenters and high-performance builders contributing to sustainable, energy-efficient dwellings derive the satisfaction of leaving a lasting positive impact on future generations.

SEON is now offering open enrollment for high-performance building classes.

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