Six Things I’ll Do When I’m King

How would I change the exam? I’m glad you asked. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask.

These feature-requests are offered in my role as architecture professor and lover of the built environment, and not in my role as test prep provider.

  1. Less plumbing and electricity content and more HVAC content: air-conditioning equipment is big, as are ducts. . . really architectural in scale; pipes and wires are small and can go just about anywhere (except for wastewater pipes, which are big and should still be on the test). 
  2. Fewer test items on sustainable materials and more on low-energy building: operations are 90%+ of the environmental footprint of a building and construction is less than 10%.
  3. More content on the building and less on the practice: NCARB, in response to a survey of professionals, shifted heavily in the direction of accounting and law, because respondents told them they spend a lot of their time on accounting and law. This is like a pilot complaining about spending too much training time on take-off and landing because he spends most of his time in-flight. We needn’t necessarily test on the stuff we do the most; we should instead test on the stuff that is most important to do right.
  4. More thermal performance questions on large buildings and fewer thermal performance questions on small buildings: Most buildings architects design large buildings, and an even larger majority of the square footage and billable hours are devoted to large, internal-load-dominated buildings that almost never need to gather heat from the sun, even in the winter. 
  5. Update the “where to put the vapor barrier” questions: This is by far the most common question I get from practitioners looking to get better at their craft. Vapor drive is an important and very complicated (and crazy-interesting) topic now that we’ve sealed up our buildings so well and air condition them so heavily. The “stop the vapor drive on the warm side of the insulation” strategy is based on 50-year-old research that was not-very-good even then, limited to very warm or very cold climates, and is now outdated because of our tight buildings of today. Air tightness and using vapor drive to dry out the cavity are more important. Plus, asking test takers where the vapor barrier should go in Miami or Fairbanks has always been a bit disingenuous because most of us live in places with warm summers AND cold winters. So knowing the answer in the extremes because that’s the easy question to ask is not doing the profession any favors. For more, read the book, High Performance Building Enclosures.
  6. Remind folks of the average time per question when they have for each division as part of the test-booting-up process; remind them that the case studies are searchable, and that they can right-click to rotate in the drag-and-drop questions.
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