‘Back to the Basics’ of Affordable Housing with Les Bluestone

In a city as crowded and expensive as New York City, there is a growing need for access to safe and affordable housing. With this demand comes great innovation, as well as roadblocks and challenges between construction, financing, and policy.

In this month’s Buildings + Beyond episode, Robb sits down with Les Bluestone, co-founder of Blue Sea Development. Les has been leading the way in affordable, green building in New York City since the 80’s. He gives us a brief history lesson on affordable housing in NYC, and provides us with his outlook of what development and construction will look like in 5 years and beyond.

Episode Guest: Les Bluestone, Co-Founder, Blue Sea Development

Image of Les Bluestone


Les Bluestone has been developing, building, and managing affordable housing for 40 years.  His firm, Blue Sea Development, developed and built NYC’s first affordable Energy Star certified home, it’s first three affordable LEED Platinum multifamily buildings, and the country’s first building certified under the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Active Design Verified program. As former Board Chair of Habitat for Humanity NYC, Les was appointed to and presently serves on the NYC Workforce Development Board, is a founding board member of the Center for Active Design, and a member of NYSERDA’s Green Jobs/Green NY Advisory Board.  His passion and focus is on improving people’s lives through housing and on making sustainable, healthy lives possible for people who need it most, but can afford it least.



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Buildings and Beyond is a production of Steven Winter Associates. We provide energy, green building, and accessibility consulting services to improve the built environment. For more information, visit


Robb Aldrich | Kelly Westby

Production Team

Heather Breslin | Alex Mirabile | Dylan Martello | Jayd Alvarez

Episode Transcript

Kelly (00:05):

Welcome to buildings and beyond.

Robb (00:08):

The podcast that explores how we can create a more sustainable built environment.

Kelly (00:12):

By focusing on efficiency, accessibility, and health.

Robb (00:17):

I’m Robb Aldrich.

Kelly (00:18):

And I’m Kelly Westby.

Robb (00:22):

In this episode, I spoke with Les Bluestone with Blue Sea Development. Les has been a developer in and around New York city for about 40 years focused on housing and really mostly affordable housing. I’ve worked with Les on a few projects going back like 20 years. But before this interview, I hadn’t talked with him much about the history of affordable housing going way back, his history and really how affordable housing has changed over the decades. It really was quite interesting. A lot has changed in the past 40 years, as you might imagine – much for the better, but not everything according to Les, which we’ll get into. So we talk a little bit about the history of affordable housing. Also challenges unique to affordable housing as compared to market rate construction and where he thinks we should be headed in the future. Here’s my conversation with Les Bluestone.

Les (01:26):

When I started out in this business, I was in a family business and we were doing market rate and then in the early eighties, things were slowing down or looked like things were going to slow down. And the city was just forming this entity called the New York city housing partnership. And they were trying to find market rate developers to do affordable housing. The theory being is that the city had just come out of its near bankruptcy state in the late mid seventies. So the city had this huge quantity of in REM properties that they had taken back during that period. And so they had all the land, the developers had all the know-how and someone, Kathy Wilde, was the woman who started the housing partnership, had the idea that, you know, if you could partner the city and private developers together that you would get production, like hadn’t been before. Up until that point, you know, anything that was developed as affordable housing for the most part was done by the federal government.

Robb (02:41):

Ah, okay. Interesting. And was New York kind of a leader in that regard or were other, were other places doing it?

Les (02:47):

No. New York was definitely the leader. Yeah. we gave lots of tours and lots of seminars to people from all over the country that you came to to what it was all about and how it worked. So, yeah, it was, it was a, it was a great program. It really was a huge success success. And it got modified over time, you know, it became so successful that the city decided that that it shouldn’t be run by a not-for-profit, it should be run by them and they kind of took over the program. The concept.

Robb (03:27):

So I guess then, or now what are the big differences between market rate and affordable development?

Les (03:36):

Well, back then the differences were pretty huge. As I said, most all affordable housing or anything that was subsidized was built by the federal government and in New York city, you can, you can spot those buildings a mile away. They were all built during this more or less the same period. And you know, eight by eight brick was a common material that they use. They had a formula about the mechanicals and they had a formula about the exterior and the windows. And so when you walk into these buildings, they look very similar, even though they may have been, you know, designed by different architects, they had they had specs that they had to go by. Whereas the market rate, it was pretty much whatever was going on at the time for better or for worse. You know, when, when there was a, a lot of competition the bar got raised and, and, and in terms of the quality of the units you know, amenities and finishes, that sort of thing that really kind of went up and down with the market.

Robb (04:50):

Okay. And now, have you shifted really pretty exclusively to affordable now? Or you still do a mix?

Les (05:01):

No, we haven’t done anything conventional in many, many years. Everything for decades we’ve done is affordable.

Robb (05:13):

Okay. Yeah. So I mean that this program in the right around 1980, I guess, was the start and never looked back?

Les (05:23):

No, I do look back, you know, government can be kind of a bear to deal with at times. And, you know, the thought of buying a piece of land building, what you want to build, how you want to build it without having everybody in the world, you know, involved in it is kind of a nice thought, you know, a little public housing Kalanick, so to speak. So it would be, it would be nice to get back to that, I think in time to time. But, I have to say that, you know, nothing special, but I do see the need for people to have their first homes and to have safe homes and affordable homes. So that’s kind of, that’s kind of in my fabric.

Robb (06:13):

Gotcha. Did you do a mix of ownership and rental?

Les (06:17):

Yeah. We do both.

Robb (06:19):

Okay. Cool. And I mean, obviously, you know, codes and standards have evolved for conventional buildings a lot, but what are the extra hoops you need to jump through when you’re doing affordable? Or I guess it depends where the funding’s coming from.

Les (06:37):

Right, exactly. Yeah. Well, I have to say though, the housing partnership, when it initially started, it was really just about getting the units out there. As many units as we could, because there were such a crisis. There still is, but there was back then too, and not a whole lot of attention was paid to mechanical systems in energy efficiency. But those were the eighties that was not really high on everyone’s radar, but, back then the, the, the world was a very different place. There was a huge boom going on in real estate where everybody with a shovel was a developer. And so the quality was all over the place. There were lots of people that got into it that shouldn’t have gotten into it for lots of reasons. And there were people that were in it that are still in it now and doing the right thing. But the city the city’s involvement and by virtue of the fact that the projects were city owned land, they came with city or, and, or state subsidy. So they had the money and they were issued by RFP. So, so for a developer to, to get the project, you know, we had to put together something that was gonna, you know, make our project look better than maybe the 10 or 20 other projects that were submitted for that particular site. So there were lots of ways to do it but what it created was a competition amongst the developers and, and it ended up raising the bar slowly. It raised it on market forces. And then after a while the city started putting in its own requirements into, into the RFP. So they raised the bar, you know statutorily.

Robb (08:41):

Okay. and that’s still the case?

Les (08:45):

Yeah. Yeah. That’s that’s still the case very much the case. In fact, maybe a little too much the case now. You know, building housing is, you know, it’s, it’s a process, it’s basically a math equation. It’s a math problem. Here’s your land cost, here are your construction costs here are your operational costs, and you have to put all those numbers together and come out to a place where it works. When those numbers start to get skewed, either by market forces, you know, such shortages of material or huge increases or lack of labor, you know, then what happens is in order to build that same unit, that city has to come up with more money, or you have to reduce the costs some other way. So you’re constantly moving these equations. But, there’s been a big push now to sustainability and energy efficiency in the eyes of the city. And rightly so. However, you know, the rub is that, is it better to have a hundred units at the absolute premium standard in efficiency and sustainability, or to have 200 units that’s maybe at, you know, 60 or 70 or 80% of that gold standard.

Robb (10:16):

So I’ve heard that before, like, you know, do we need to build affordable housing? Does it need to be the best? Does it need to be passive house? Does it need to be LEED platinum? The margins I have heard, like are more in the 5% range. Like, do we need, do we need to spend 5% more to make super premium quality affordable housing? Or we can, we make 5% more housing units that is really good affordable housing? But I mean, do you have a sense?

Les (10:49):

the 5% is a moving number. 5% in good times, you know, when all of a sudden there are tariffs on everything that comes into this country and labor is not available, and you’re dealing with COVID that 5% is not 5% anymore. It’s now 10% or 15% or 20%. You know, there was a period, you know, I can remember it when all of the plywood that was being met, this is going back some decades, but, but I can remember that all the plywood that was being manufactured in the United States was going to China because China was in such a growth spurt, and they had so much demand that the manufacturers could get, you know, so much more money for it in China than the U S that it was almost impossible to get a piece of plywood and the prices were absolutely crazy. So those things still happen. Those kinds of commodity, you know, right now we huge lumber tariffs, the the government just imposed aluminum tariffs on Canada as well coming from Canada. So, you know, that number, the 5% is constantly moving. But the, the requirements of, you know, the people that are running these housing programs, don’t always account for that. And, you know, we want what we want and we want it now. And, you know, don’t really always understand, you know, the effects,

Robb (12:27):

But, but is that a new issue or it may be exaggerated now?

Les (12:36):

well, I think their appetite is increased. I think you know, the government always had, you know, it’s requirements, they’re putting in the land, they’re putting in the money and rightfully, you know, they should get what they want out of it. But I think with the dawning or the wakening of people’s sustainability consciousness, the government has like jumped on that bandwagon and is now kind of gone over the top in some ways, at some points in time. And this changes by the way, from administration to administration, you know, the other thing to throw into that mix is that every four to eight years, you know, you take the deck of cards and you throw it up in the air and start all over again, because there’s a new set of elected officials. each with a different agenda and each with different priorities. So there’s not as much flexibility in my mind in government to account for what’s going on in the world. It’s we want what we want. And and sometimes they can get it because they can find the financing, the subsidies, but I mean, like I said, you know, we have to guarantee rents If we’re renting an apartment, we can’t raise it a penny to account for any increasing costs, regardless of what they are. So if the costs go up from, you know, over a period of time, then the government has to usually make up the difference because there’s no simple other way to do it.

Robb (14:28):

Interesting. Okay. So I think a lot of the regulators, a lot of the agencies, a lot of the funding organizations are starting to Institute some programmatic requirements. And, and you’ve done a lot. I think it was just about 20 years ago. It was just about 20 years ago. And I started working for Steven winter associates. One of the first projects I worked on was one of yours, one of the Melrose projects in the Bronx. And I think it was one of the first energy star affordable projects in the state?

Les (15:06):

It was the first in the state.

Robb (15:09):

Okay. Yeah. And, and you’ve done many more since. You’ve done certainly LEED buildings and enterprise green communities, passive house? I think you said you were working on PH?

Les (15:24):

We’re working on a Passive house building now. Yes.

Robb (15:25):

Okay. So you’re not a stranger to many of these programs. What are a couple of the real innovations program-wise that resulted in better buildings? And then also what are the couple big stumbling blocks or, or annoyances that are just really hard to meet or require a lot of money or require a lot of effort or coordination?

Les (15:52):

I think getting back to basics is probably been in my mind the best way, you know, to, to improve the quality and improve the efficiency. The technology, as with all technology is, you know, gets issued and gets put out there, you know, maybe 10 years before we really understand how to use it. Or we understand what its good points and bad points are. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve used new products that are, you know, everybody said we’re the best and this and that. And so much better than that. And so many less problems. And` then five years later, Oh, well yeah, those systems are all, we don’t use that anymore because it had all these problems. And so there we are with, you know, buildings that were built that way. So, so that, I mean, but that, you know, that kind of progression is not uncommon, but, but it was happening and it still is happening so fast and furious that no one’s really, you know, there’s no time to think or to get real track records. Everyone just throws these concepts and products to market and expects everyone to adopt them. And and the government buys into a lot of, you know, hook, line and sinker without really, you know, getting, getting tested and proven, not a lot of data sometimes.

Robb (17:17):

Is there an example that you can cite without the besmirching, some samples?

Les (17:23):

I mean roofing systems, boiler controls, I mean, you name it. so I’ll give you one basic thing, we used to use regularly for all of our rental buildings that were hydroponically heated, we used to use these big cast, iron sectional boilers. And then somebody said, you know, that’s really old, you know, you should really be going with modular boilers. Right. So we went and everybody shifted over to modular boilers. The thinking was that, you know, they were smaller boilers and use you link them up in series. And so they would come on one after the other, as demand required. So except 10 years later it was found out that in fact, you’re running all those water through the modular boilers and it’s acting as a huge heat sink and sending all the heat up the modular chimneys. And it really, wasn’t such a good idea after all, but there are thousands and thousands of buildings that use that system. And we certainly did too. That’s one example.

Robb (18:41):

Cool. So, so on the back to basics example you know, I remember ventilation being mandated as part of energy star 15 or 20 years ago. Yeah. And I, I remember certainly in your buildings and many other buildings, energy star required us to actually test how much air was coming through ventilation systems. Right. Which was a novelty. I don’t want to speak for you, but a lot of the builders, a lot of developers, you know, we’d, we’d put our flow hood up to a register and we’d say, Hey, you’re supposed to be getting 60 CFM. You’re getting 12. And that was one of the kind of examples of programmatic that I felt was, was pretty effective. I mean, do you, other things like that that’s kind of changed your standard practice?

Les (19:38):

Oh yeah. Yeah. The ventilation certainly was and is an eye-opener. So, so before the ventilation was totally unregulated, so to speak, it was, you know, it was designed for, by engineers depending on how it got installed, depending on how good the design was. It either worked or it didn’t work, usually didn’t work. And you know, so now, now we test it. Now it’s required to go through, you know, much more rigorous design. And then now we bump against the code, because the energy efficiency standards all say it should be this. And the code says it should be that. And so this is a problem that we’re now running against, but as far as, you know, other things that we that have changed the way we do business or the way we build I have to say, there’s a saying, and I say this to people, you know, when people say, well, you know, they don’t build them like they used to. And my retort is always, it’s a good thing that they don’t. But, so take energy star. In fact, it was on on that same project that you started on where energy star started requiring combustion gas testing. In fact, they did not start, this is a great story, which I’m sure you’ll remember. You know, it was not a requirement when we signed and got certified signed on and got certified for that development for energy star. And then all of a sudden after the project was complete, we heard that NYSERDA, who had been administering energy star in New York state, was going back to the houses on unbeknownst to us and contacting the owners directly. This was an ownership project and going and testing all the gas appliances in the house, the water heater, the boiler, the stove. And you know, we got very upset because this was not part of our agreement to go and do this. And, and they were coming back with results that were scaring some of the homeowners. They were saying that their carbon monoxide levels were much higher than should have been allowed. Now, you know, we’re buying boilers and appliances from national manufacturers. We’re not, you know, we’re not building them in our backyard. So we kind of just assume that these national manufacturers are doing the right thing. Well, so we call in fact in that particular job, I think it was GE was the ranges that were that we used, and we called GE and told them what had happened. And they sent a technician down and they went through every single house and adjusted every single burner and every single oven to get them to conform to the, the carbon monoxide levels that were required. And we said, well, God, okay. Then we’re glad we got through that. And now they’re safe. And we’re never going to do that again. We’re never going to use GE gas appliances again. And then we went to another job and we went, I think it was Whirlpool. And and this time we knew about the requirement. So we had them tested and the levels were off the charts.

Robb (23:06):

And we’re talking about ovens, right?

Les (23:09):

The, the ranges in the ovens. Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah. And all the boilers and hot water heaters were pretty good. There was really no issues with those. It was really just the kitchen, the cooking appliances. So when we got through Whirlpool, they, they to send someone down, they fixed everything. And we said, look, you know, we got them fixed this one time. What what’s going to happen with these things in five years from now when we’re not around and no one’s monitoring them. And my partner And I just to each other, let’s stop this. And, and we shifted over at that point to electric, electric ovens and electric stoves. Just this way, we would not have to worry. It’s not as energy efficient as the gas or cost-effective, I guess. And some of the cooks, you know, were not too thrilled that they didn’t have gas in their homes as opposed to electric, but at the end of the day, we didn’t have to worry. And, you know, we were making our homes tighter and tighter as a part of this requiremen,t as a part of the, all the requirements from the different programs and different certifications. So, you know, this, let us sleep at night and knowing that at least we weren’t contributing to, you know, the air indoor air quality issues.

Robb (24:31):

You’re ahead of the curve on that, in that regard, because electrification is all the rage. A lot of programs are actively discouraging fossil fuels of any kind in homes.

Les (24:43):

Yeah. And it, and it actually is much more expensive, not much more, but it is more expensive to do. First of all, electric appliances cost more than gas appliances do. There’s just more stuff in them, I guess. And` to increase the electric service and run the cables to carry the loads for these appliances you know, is a big increase, whereas with gas, it was not. So there’s a case in point also where every, you know, now we’re all going to electrification, which is great. It costs more, you know, something’s got to give, no matter what it is, but is something’s got to give.

Robb (25:33):

Yeah. And, and on the electrification front, if you go all the way and you don’t have any fossil fuels on site, now, you’re now you’re saving money. And I’ve heard a lot of developers who get it, get it, you know, as the loads get smaller and smaller, yes an electric system like a heat pump or something might cost a little bit more to operate, but if the loads are low to begin with, and you don’t have that infrastructure cost, you don’t have the, you know, the health and safety concerns of combustion. It can, it can make a lot of sense.

Les (26:05):

I mean, look, you, the amount of heat that’s put off by the refrigerator and your, your big screen TV and your computer monitors, and even your laptops, that little fan blowing out of the side. Right. You know, you could probably heat an apartment or a house, with those things.

Robb (26:23):

Yeah. Yeah. And on the ranges, I, I’ve heard, you mentioned which we chatted a little bit about induction. I mean, that’s kind of the high end electric range, thats a challenge?

Les (26:32):

Yeah. It’s a challenge for the population that we serve. You know, our homes are going to low and moderate income families, and one is, you know, the education piece is getting people to understand that they have to use cookware out of certain materials and they can’t use other types of cookware, you know, causing them to have to maybe go out and buy a new set of pots and pans and utensils. And that’s, that’s problematic. In fact, you know, so here’s a technology that really did work. And that really helped us. One of the requirements very early on was programmable thermostats back in the day. Right. We used to have, you know, just a basic thermostat and now everybody had to have a program, digital, programmable thermostats. Well, I would say for the first 10 years, maybe 15 years that we were using them, probably the biggest heating complaints that we had were people who were trying to program their thermostats and couldn’t do it right. And it was just screwing up everything, the heat would go on, it would come off. It would be the wrong temperature. They couldn’t figure it out. So we would program the thermostats for people as best we could. But then we ended up shifting over to nest thermostats and the callbacks just disappeared overnight. Just absolutely disappeared. They were very simple to use. because of the self programming feature, the algorithms, no one had to set any buttons or times or dates. They could just set the thermostat the way that they like to use it on and off. And then the thermostat would remember it, combined with its occupancy sensor built in, would set the thermostat, set the temperatures to the right temperatures for them at the times that they needed it. And it was really a great thing. We’ll never go back to conventional thermostat. That’s for sure.

Robb (28:50):

That’s interesting. I can sympathize. I mean, when I was out in the field doing lots of ratings doing testing, I often would have to sit and figure out how to set the thermostat. It took 10 or 15 minutes to puzzle through the press this and that. So on the sustainability side, on the energy efficiency side, I’m suspecting that the homeowners or the tenants probably don’t care that much about the labels about certifications. Is, is that accurate?

Les (29:27):

You know, that’s it’s a mix. There are some people that come at it and they’re really excited about it. some are very knowledgeable, which is kind of encouraging. Some are not knowledgeable, but they’ve heard about it. And, and the fact that their home is something that’s beneficial to the environment is, you know, makes them, makes them happy. So, and then there’s a group of people that really could care less.

Robb (29:57):

Okay. Okay. But it sounds like a lot of the program work or a lot of the certifications come from agencies that are providing funding, is that fair?

Les (30:12):

Yeah. One, one thing that we do now to help you know, encourage or to educate as well, first of all, we, we produce a manual for each tenant or each homeowner that talks about the whole building talks about how it was bill talks about the features that make it maybe different than other buildings. And talk about sustainability, indoor air quality, you know, green living, as they say, and teach them a little bit as much as we can. And then we w we walked through the apartment with, and the building with them pointing out the features. We found in the past that when we gave people information that it usually got filed and no one ever opened it up until we said, did you open it up when they call about some issue. So when we found that, when we take people through and show them show them an aerator show that, you know, take the aerator off, show them the flow without the restrictive aerators, show it to them with it and explain why that’s an important thing. It imprints on their, their minds. And, and they have that image so that when it comes up later on, they, you know, they understand it and they said, Oh yeah, he told us about that. And it also gets people interested a little more in, in, you know, just about general environmental issues.

Robb (31:58):

Do you do that with, with tenants as well as homeowners?

Les (32:01):

Yeah. every tenant.

Robb (32:05):

Is there with the COVID situation, are you seeing a heightened interest in indoor air quality, health and safety?

Les (32:14):

Yeah, in fact, I was on two webinars yesterday. One about designing buildings for seniors with COVID in mind. And then another one about a standard called Fitwell about a a viral component to their certification. But so, so there is definitely, you know, people are looking at it and, and getting back to your original point. One of the first, the first pieces of the puzzle is about ventilation.

Robb (32:53):

Oh, okay. Yeah. Hmm. So in the city, most of the projects, if not all that I’ve worked on with, you have been in New York city.

Les (33:07):

Some in Westchester, some in long Island.

Robb (33:09):

I was always impressed. You know, I’m be driving to the Bronx with my car full of blower, doors and stuff. I mean, you run a pretty tight ship and a lot’s got to go right. what are the big challenges, doing major construction in the city? or maybe you don’t have much compared to, but if you compare it to Westchester or compare it to long Island, I mean, what are the extra logistics? What are the extra hoops you have to jump through to do work in the city?

Les (33:40):

If you’re talking about the same affordable housing government sponsored type construction in terms of regulatory, well that the state has its set of requirements. Or the towns have their set of requirements that you have to meet. And they tend to be a little more navigable than, than the city’s requirements, I would say. Or you can approach them with some of these issues that I’ve just mentioned, you know, conflicts and things that need to be resolved. The city is, is much, much, much, much more difficult to get through to someone who can make the decision about is this yes or no, but, but that, but that being said, I have to say, in all fairness to the city, it depends on who the people are more so than even the administration. You know, who’s sitting there behind the desk, in the building department or the department of environmental protection or whoever, whoever it is that you, you get lucky enough to get, can make all the difference in the world. We, we did a building in the Bronx called Arbor House where, where we have a a hydroponic farm on the roof of the building. It’s a residential building. And there were all sorts of reasons by code that way that cant happen. Some is about zoning, some had to do with fire regress. But we wanted to do it. It’s something that we had wanted you to do for awhile. So we went to city planning, we prepared all our answers to the questions, which we knew that they would bring up. And we had, you know, sheaves of material and waiting for them to ask the questions or to say it was, you know, you can’t do this. And when we got there at planning, the, the people were so cooperative and loved the idea and was so helpful that we told them what we were concerned about. And they said, no, that’s not really an issue. You can do that. And here’s how you do that. And, and then, so we got through the planning thing and we were like, we were dumbfounded. And then we went to the building department and we got a deputy commissioner to meet with us. And we talked, you know, we had this rooftop farm, and, and one of the things is you have to provide egress in a multi-family building to the roof for fire and access for the firemen to come in from the top. And you know, again, we were concerned about how would they treat this situation? And it was exact same situation. We lucked out again. And the commissioner who we met with, you know, she said, no, if you do this, this, and this, you’ll be fine. And, you know, that doesn’t happen very often. But more to the point is, is just about, regardless of whether it’s the city or, or outside the city, it’s really about, who’s sitting behind the desk that you speak with.

Robb (36:45):

Interesting. Interesting. Was that the building where you, where you tried to do the CSA, that kind of fell flat?

Les (36:53):

Yeah. well, it’s still going actually, it’s been revived. But, but yes. Yeah. The CSA fell flat. We, you know, to provide, we try to provide fresh produce to the, the, the low-income families that were in the building. And and we spent a lot of time and effort to get them to accept the government food stamp programs, the EBT program so that they could use that source of funding that they got some of them to buy it. Well, it turns out that most of the people had not really grown up with fresh produce, you know, they, in that particular community. So they really hadn’t developed a taste for it, or didn’t know what to do with it. And then the other group, you know, maybe were working two, three jobs to just try and make ends meet, and they were, you know, looking for something just so that they could throw in the microwave and, you know, heat up between the times that they worked and the times they were home. Yeah, boy. Yeah. It was, it was, that was a real eye opener for us, for me personally. Anyway.

Robb (38:06):

So looking ahead, if we talk again in five years, what do you think we’ll be talking about? What do you think the big changes will be, or 10 years?

Les (38:18):

First of all the envelope of the building, I mean, that really should be, that should really be what really focusing on, if I had to say where the money should be going, it should be going to the envelope, always. you know, you know, the systems come and go like the boilers I mentioned, and then everything else, you know, the appliances you can swap out. And the controls, the same thing, you can take out one set of controls and put a new set. But the, the building shell is forever. So let’s spend that money on something that’s passive, you know, that you don’t have to really do anything to it, and try and build something that’s as durable as possible. So that the maintenance is, you know, diminimous. And and then whatever technologies come along, they come along and if we want to adopt them, we adopt them. If we don’t, we don’t, but the building at least has that going for it is that the loads are reduced and the comfort is increased because of the building shell.

Robb (39:33):

Yeah. Back to basics. That’s one of the first things you said.

Les (39:37):

Yeah. And one of the things that I think that I, I also see is modular. I still see a lot of potential for modular building. And you know, there’s a lot, there are a lot of stumbling blocks. There’s a lot of acceptance that still needs to happen on behalf of the financing community even the city sometimes. But you know, building, something in a controlled environment is just so far superior to building something out in the field. I mean, I grew up I started working in construction and I was a laborer. And then I was a construction superintendent. And I can remember, I mean, too many months and years of standing there freezing my butt off my fingers, you know, numb, you know, teeth chattering and, and watching, you know, you know, all the trades doing their job in the same state as I was, you know, and when you’re trying to keep yourself warm or, or the, or the con the converse is, you know, it’s a hundred degrees out, you’re sweltering, you’re trying to keep yourself cool. And you’re moving at half speed. You know, stuff happens, you know, the quality just has to be affected by that, you know? And also not to mention the weather, right. You know, you know, we, we build these buildings, they’re wide open, you’re getting rained, snowed, poured upon. And then you close them up and you have rain and snow still in your building while you’re building it, you know, it’s not a good situation.

Robb (41:28):

Yeah. We’ve worked on a lot of modular projects and I agree there’s huge potential there. It’s has its own set of challenges, but there’s really, yeah, there really is big potential.

Les (41:40):

We haven’t, we we’ve been doing panelized buildings. So most for the last 15, 20 years actually. And we liked that system a lot because getting back to the cold, I don’t have to worry about a Mason, you know, freezing his fingers off while he’s trying to set a full cross joint brick that I have to then worry about, you know, is it going to leak? Is it not going to leak? So we like that. We also have been using modular bathrooms. And the quality of that bathroom was so much better than what we could ever build in the field. I mean, aside from the finishes one of the things that concerned us was the air testing, because we have to do the air infiltration tests for the, for each unit we’re for the building, you know, a sampling of the units. And in many apartments we have bathrooms that are back to back. And so that bathroom is our only barrier to, you know, a tight apartment. And so we made the manufacturer do blower door tests of the bathroom in the factory, and then have them certified by an outside agency. And the last job we did, the guy could not even get a reading on his blower door tests. So, you know, now I could never build that in the field ever.

Robb (43:11):

Right, right. Yeah. So that was a great thing. Excellent. thanks Les. Any last thoughts?

Les (43:21):

I mean, you could, you could get me going pretty easily, you know, which buttons to push if you want, you know, there’s no, there’s no genius to what we do. It’s just about people wanting to do the right thing and, and people letting people do the right thing encouraging them to do the right thing. I’m more of a fan of a carrot than a stick. I think a lot of the requirements and code issues that are now being discussed, you know, can be kind of draconian. And I don’t think, again, people are really thinking about the, the effects of them. Housing is a crisis situation and when you make things really difficult and you make things impossible to meet the need, then what happens is people take shortcuts. People will scrimp someplace else to meet, be able to do that. Or they’ll go someplace else and build where easier. And meanwhile, the housing doesn’t get built and the people still are in need. Julia child said it best, you know about moderation, including the case of moderation, So there are times when you, you really want to go full out, but, but I think basic from my mind is getting people into decent affordable housing that you know, is not doing harm or is doing maybe less harm than the housing that was built last week is always a good thing. And getting more people into that housing cause the demand and need is so high that, you know, some of the choices that have to be made on, I’m willing to make in that favor.

Robb (45:13):

Great. Makes sense. We’ll see. In five years, we’ll see.

Les (45:19):

Check back with me when I’m retired. I hope.

Robb (45:23):

Awesome. Thanks very much. My pleasure. Thank you for listening. And thanks again, to last more, some more info about what we talked about is on our show notes page is That’s buildings and beyond is produced by Steven winter associates. We are focused on making buildings better in many ways in more ways, actually as time goes on, check us, check out our careers page. If you are interested, we have positions and maybe all of our offices, DC, New York city, Connecticut, and Boston. And thanks to the podcast team here. Heather Breslin, Jayd Alvarez, Kelly Westby, Dylan Martello, Alex Mirabile and I’m Robb Aldrich. Thanks for listening.

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