Member Spotlight: Mike O’Donnell
The Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) dives inside the career of Mike O’Donnell, Principal Building Systems Consultant for Steven Winter Associates, Inc. in New York, NY. In this feature interview, learn what made him become an ABAA member, what led him on his career path, and get his perspective on the future of the air barrier industry.
Michael O’Donnell is a Principal Building Systems Consultant at Steven Winter Associates, Inc., with over ten years of energy efficiency and building science experience. He provides consulting, certification support, site inspections, and performance testing for new construction multifamily projects in the New York City region. Project types include Passive House (PHI and PHIUS), ENERGY STAR Multifamily High Rise, Enterprise Green Communities, and NYC Energy Code TR8 Inspections. He currently holds the Certified Energy Manager, Certified Passive House Tradesperson, PHIUS+ Verifier, and BPI Multifamily Building Analyst certifications.
Name: Mike O’Donnell
Title: Principal Building Systems Consultant
Firm: Steven Winter Associates, Inc.
City: New York, NY
What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession as an energy consultant?
A: I became interested in sustainability during my college years and saw that buildings were a significant sector of energy use. I knew that there were ways to reduce energy usage while still maintaining the same level of comfort and functionality of buildings. My interest in efficiency and cost savings lead me to get involved with building science and basic building concepts. Over the years this has grown and expanded into my current role working at Steven Winter Associates. I currently lead the efforts for field inspections, testing, and final whole building blower door tests for our Passive House team.
Is there anything that you believe everyone in this industry should be working towards?
A: I think more and more trainings can only help the industry move towards properly installed air barrier systems as becoming the norm. While many installers in the NYC area are generally up to speed, once you go to the surrounding municipalities it still feels like the wild west with little code enforcement and lack of knowledge by installers of how to properly apply these systems.
What role have peers, mentors, or advisors played in your career?
A: There have been many individuals along the way, ranging from co-workers, manufacturer representatives, contractors, and even competitors that you can learn something from. Also, my previous and current supervisor(s) at Steven Winter Associates have been influential in helping me advance in my career.
What led you to become an ABAA member?
A: ABAA has a lot of great resources through presentations and materials published on the website regarding air barrier materials, installation, and testing. Several years ago, I took the ABAA installer course and found it to be very insightful to see hands-on how materials actually get installed the right way in a variety of field conditions.
Are you involved in any ABAA committees? Do you have any ABAA certifications?
A: I’m interested in the new ABAA Certified Air Barrier Specialist (CABS) certification that came out recently. I think as more and more people go for this, it will become a standard that is recognized and asked for to be included as a credential on project teams.
How long have you been in the industry?
A: 12 years.
What major changes have you seen?
A: When I first started working in the field in NYC, the energy code was something that seemed to be rarely enforced and more of an afterthought even though it was on the books like any other code. The local Department of Buildings then started more stringent enforcement during the plan examination phase. This was good to ensure that major energy code items were getting into the construction drawings. There is now also more field enforcement as well.
Also, the requirement for whole building blower door testing for certain buildings in NYC has been a major change as compared to previous earlier versions of the code.
What traits or skills do you think are necessary to be able to succeed in your industry?
A: Attention to detail is very important. You need to be able to read and interpret construction drawings and convey it to various parties – owner, GC, installers. Communication is also very important in that you are often trying to relay complex concepts to people that have varying degrees of technical background or ability. You need to be able to explain things in a way that non-technical people can digest and understand.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in your field?
A: I would look at some of the foundational classes and certifications offered by the Building Performance Institute (BPI). They have some good information on learning the fundamentals of building science and the ‘building as a system’ concept. The focus is typically on smaller single-family homes but I think once you get a grasp of that, the same concepts can be applied to larger and more complex building types.
What do you think the industry will look like in five or ten year’s time?
A: I think as energy codes get more and more strict, the industry will keep moving towards the requirement that all new buildings need to have a whole building blower door test. This will push installers to really understand what they are doing and to take the needed steps during installation to ensure that they are on track for the final test at the end.