Each day, SWA employees collaborate to create more sustainable, efficient, healthy, and accessible buildings. This holistic approach to the built environment necessitates talented teams with a wide range of specializations. (Want to join us? Check out the open positions on our Careers page!)
In this staff profile, we’re catching up with Michael Schmidt, a Building Systems Consultant on our Passive House team in New York City. Michael started his career as an intern with SWA, and upon graduation, joined the team where he has now worked for almost two years.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
I’m up for a challenge!
What made you want to pursue a career in improving the built environment?
My journey in sustainable construction began in the early days of my collegiate career. I decided that I wanted a position that allowed me to get outside—the thought of a desk job did not match my passion for the outdoors. I knew I wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology and use my analytical and problem-solving skills in combination with my hands-on abilities. I did some research and found tremendous growth potential in the green building industry. I attended Rockland Community College, where I gained an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Green Buildings Maintenance and Management. Here, I learned building science principles and Passive House building practices.
Now you’re on SWA’s Passive House team, but how did you get your first hands-on experience with the Passive House building practices?
Through a former professor, I landed my first job conducting energy performance testing, including blower door and duct leakage tests. While working in this position, I was able to get my feet wet in the building side of high-performance residential houses, constructing a home built to the Passive House standard using insulated concrete forms.
You started at SWA as an intern. How did you land the internship?
After receiving my AAS degree, I transferred to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), studying construction management. SUNY ESF had the sustainability focus I was looking for and had coursework topics in mass timber construction, composite materials, and sustainable building systems. SUNY ESF hosts the annual New York State Green Building Conference. Several SWA staff members were speakers at the event. I admired the openness as they shared detailed information about projects they were working on and the solutions they developed. I connected with Maureen Mahle at this event and interviewed for an internship shortly after. I landed my first summer internship working with the New Construction teams in the NYC office.
What was your internship like?
I worked with the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, the ENERGY STAR program, and associated New York State incentive programs. I really enjoyed the balance of office and fieldwork in this role and gained experience in the NYC construction environment. I pursued this internship again the following summer and worked on some of the same projects.
How did you advance to a full-time role at SWA as a Building Systems Consultant?
I met Mike O’Donnell, Principal Building Systems Consultant, through my internship. He began inviting me to join some large-scale whole building blower door tests on Passive House projects in the tri-state area. Between internships, I led an extracurricular team in The Solar Decathlon 2019 Design Challenge and won the first-place prize in the multifamily design division against 19 other schools. I grew an appreciation for the challenge Passive House projects present and knew that this was the direction I should pursue. Once I graduated, I began a full-time position on the Passive House services team as a field verifier.
What makes you excited to do your job every day?
I really enjoy getting on-site and seeing the latest and greatest in construction technology implemented on some of the largest scale high-performance buildings in the world! I also really enjoy planning and executing the whole building blower door test on large building envelopes. Each building is unique, and it often takes some creative problem-solving to generate solutions to issues that often have never been faced before.
What keeps you inspired to solve these big challenges?
I’m inspired by the role high-performance buildings play in providing high-quality, healthy, affordable homes to underserved communities. I’m also inspired by the climate change initiatives set by many states to push our building stock towards net-zero energy.
Enough about work. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
Outside of work, I am an outdoorsman and enjoy all sorts of activities such as camping, hiking, fly fishing, canoeing, and often a combination of all these! I spent my summer weekends paddling the rivers and hiking to fishing spots in the Catskill Mountains. I grew my appreciation for the natural world from a very young age and try to enjoy it as much as I can to this day.
I also am an avid DIYer, working on all sorts of projects around the house, often bringing work home to improve my house’s indoor air quality, insulation, and durability.