Prof. Joeseph Laquatra Ph.D. ’84, design and environmental analysis, works on“sustainability issues in housing,” teaching courses to homeowners and construction workers about sustainable, healthy homes. His interest began in grade school when his uncle, who owned a home construction business, taught Laquatra how to hammer nails and has continued to this day as his academic interest. After his undergraduate years in the School of Hotel Administration, during which he spent summers working for his uncle, Laquatra joined the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Laquatra describes VISTA as "the domestic equivalent to the Peace Corps." He was assigned to projects such as building a housing project for migrant farm workers in Utah and improving housing for low-income households in western New York.
From his assignment in New York, Laquatra was hired as the housing director of the agency he worked with as a VISTA volunteer. As housing director, he noticed a trend. "We were helping low income people get into homes, but they were coming back to us for help with their bills."
Laquatra's solution: design more energy efficient homes, which would lower utility bills. He focused his interests as a graduate student by studying housing policy and energy efficient housing.
As he finished his doctoral dissertation, Laquatra was hired by Cornell, putting him in a unique and self-described "interesting position" of having his current professors as his future colleagues. Laquatra stated that one of the best parts of his position is the variety of his work. "This job allows me to combine my practical housing experience with my academic interests.”
As a faculty member, Laquatra focused on energy efficiency, but then became interested in indoor air quality. The tightness of a house is a large factor in the energy efficiency of the house, but the consequences of making a house “too tight,” or without adequate ventilation, include mold and excess moisture. Also, according to Laquatra, pollutants can be 10 to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. He feels the two issues are intrinsically linked, as home energy efficiency is important, but not at the cost of indoor air quality.
On the construction side of housing, Laquatra works on developing more sustainable practices. For example, Laquatra authored a guide on sustainable waste management at construction sites, which is an area in which construction companies can gain points toward a green designation for the building they are constructing.
Although he does not teach at Cornell, Laquatra teaches at Cornell county offices across the state as part of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Just a few weeks ago, after Hurricane Lee, Laquatra was in Schoharie County answering questions from residents about how to repair water damages from the flooding.
Another one of Laquatra’s programs under the Cornell Cooperative Extension is a 4-H program called Building Energy Awareness Models (BEAM) where grade school students "put together scale models of passive solar houses." The inspiration for this project actually came from his graduate years when he built a passive solar doll house for his niece. Laquatra was impressed at how well his niece used the solar panels after telling her what solar panels were and now the hope is that building the model will enlighten grade school students about solar energy and its possible benefits.