Edie Dillman (pictured) is CEO and a co-founder of B. Public Prefab in Santa Fe, New Mexico – a woman-owned public benefit company specializing in prefab for high performance building. She’ll be presenting at the upcoming Passive House Canada Prefab Symposium
Positive Disruptor: Edie Dillman, B.Public Prefab
What was your path to Passive House, and to founding B.Public Prefab?
I was working with a non-profit organization that was leading the charge on skills-based economy, education-to-workforce, and positive disruption at the same time that my business partner was developing a panelized standard thermal envelope to achieve Passive House. And I realized, instead of building aps and web portals, I could be helping to build homes. We can make green jobs, train people, and get things built. That was the immediate light bulb.
We incorporated B.Public Prefab in 2019, and launched products and services formally in January 2020, right before the global pandemic.
In some ways it was horribly painful, and we’ve lost so much. But the awareness that was brought by COVID around how we live and the health of our buildings has helped raise awareness. It’s also allowed us to work remotely from Santa Fe with partners across the U.S. and Canada. Our success and our reach would be very different than had we not launched right at this moment.
Currently we’re serving a few communities that have been devastated by wildfires. That was not a part of our business plan. We didn’t sit down and say, ‘Oh, here here’s a market for us: People rebuilding from devastation.’ We’ve been really fortunate to be able to help people who are thinking about building from a different perspective. We did not know that folks who had lost everything would be looking for the best possible rebuild.
We didn’t sit down and say, ‘Oh, here here’s a market for us: People rebuilding from devastation.’
Is the focus on prefab the reason BPublic is successful with that demographic?
Certainly, people who are rebuilding are on a ticking clock of insurance money to get back onto their property. I think speed is important. But the opportunity to achieve a Passive home, whether those people are going to certify or they’re going for incentive dollars, is a value to any home builder.
I think the prefab helps in terms of clarity of scope for builders who have not done Passive House before. Our system was designed for B2B, to share with, onboard, and educate architects, designers, builders on how to specify a standard kit of parts to achieve a high performance thermal structural envelope.
For the homeowners, it’s not just low energy or passive house, it is the embodied carbon and the materials they’re going to live with. A lot of those clients are doing their research on how they’re going to rebuild, and they think about materials differently. They’re trying to get away from petroleum products. The fact that we’re doing dense pack cellulose as opposed to foam is a big decider for these clients.
I don’t know the psychology around it, but I’ve had conversations with some of those clients and, you know, when you have watched everything you own burn, you do think about it differently. I do think there’s a connection to the carbon emissions that’s different than for most of us.
Between the growing awareness of the climate crisis and the pandemic, are clients generally becoming more educated and aware of embodied and operational carbon?
It’s a relief and a joy to share with people that there are things they can do to be more comfortable, to feel safe, secure and protected in their homes.
When we talk to developers, they’re really excited about the speed and the risk reduction in doing offsite. They’re not necessarily thinking about what these green benefits mean to the bottom line or to their project, other than speed and carrying costs. It’s exciting to tell developers, if you move in this direction, here’s what the benefits will be. It really is a revolutionary way thinking if you haven’t thought this way.
What is the chatter in the U.S. about the new Climate Bill?
The Bill is extraordinarily positive, but people are trying to figure out what it means. We simply don’t have the workforce to implement what this Bill is allowing us to move towards, so there’s a big lift about that skills gap. And there’s a lot in the Bill around renewables, as well as retrofitting and weatherization to improve housing stock. There’s not a whole lot of clarity on new construction, so conversations are focusing around the dollars and programs for those working on [energy] ‘conservation first’ strategies.
Is the U.S. coming into their own in terms of high performance buildings?
I see incredible movement in the U.S. It’s not everywhere, but there is certainly momentum in pockets. It’s exciting to see that policy is mandating building better, and that there are communities putting into place benchmarks and pathways to get to net zero. What’s exciting is they’re reaching out and looking for partners to get them there.
It is helpful that Canada is our northern neighbor and has really tackled this movement. The step code is something everyone looks to, and B.C. has communicated a path so well that I think we have a good example to follow.
And I think disruption from these climate weather events are bringing an awareness that’s hard to ignore, and if you’re leadership of a state or a municipality, you have the obligation to plan for and protect your residents.
It’s exciting to see that policy is mandating building better, and that there are communities putting into place benchmarks and pathways to get to net zero.
In your opinion, what are the largest challenges in the Passive House prefab market?
I think the biggest issue is attracting great talent. A lot of people in the prefab industry are computer driven, while we’re very human focused, while we are really interested in attracting human talent. Whether they’re running those computers or designing on computers or building by hand, I still feel like we need to attract the next generation of people for building.
What has been your favorite Passive House project so far?
I live in – and raise my family in – the first Passive House certified by PHI in the Southwest. We’ve got the plaque out front. It was built in 2010, and it is among in the first 20 in the U.S., so an oldie, but a goodie. My business partner and husband is the Passive House expert, and he was in the first cohort training in the U.S. He totally geeked out and has never gone back.
I think a Passive House is extraordinarily visceral. People won’t get it until they experience it. I also think of my firsthand experience: We overbuilt this. Our heating system is ridiculously oversized, because trusting the science is hard. It was also a site build, not prefab. So, if I believe so strongly in living this way and benefiting from a very comfortable home – and a minimal energy bill – I want to rapidly share this with the world. It should not just be me – it should be every new construction project that has the opportunity for this performance.
Tell me about what people can expect from your upcoming Prefab Symposium discussion, “The Necessary Evolution – How Three Companies are Instigating Change” (Edie Dillman, B.Public Prefab; Ilka Cassidy, Holzraum System; Beth Campbell, Unity Homes)
Each of our companies address integrated project teams differently, all implementing high performance or Passive House, all working to put offsite into everything we do. B.Public provides a pathway. Our approach is to collaborate with teams around us. We’re a wraparound service, depending on what the project needs requires and the goals of the client.
IIka’s company (Holzraum System) has a very technological solution for the integration of those teams. For Beth at Unity Homes, it’s totally different, because it’s all in-house. They have their own design and engineering and they’re doing their own manufacturing. That’s what we’re talking about: It’s not just high performance. It’s not just offsite. It’s integrated collaborative teams to have more successful projects.