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Building Science

A Plethora of Building Science Conferences

Here’s my roundup of a whole bunch of the main conferences and then some

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Trade shows are one of the best things about conferences. You can check out products first hand, grill the reps on how the products work, and even pick up some free stuff.
Image Credit: Energy Vanguard
Trade shows are one of the best things about conferences. You can check out products first hand, grill the reps on how the products work, and even pick up some free stuff.
Image Credit: Energy Vanguard
Making a video with Joe Lstiburek at the BSC Experts Session.
Image Credit: Energy Vanguard

I love going to conferences. Since I changed my career in 2004, I’ve gone to building science, green building, and home performance conferences nearly every year. (I think I missed 2006, but I had a lot going on then.) Last year I went to eleven of them, but then I’m a bit unusual.

You certainly don’t have to go to that many, but if you’re a home builder, home performance contractor, or home energy pro, I do recommend going to one conference a year so you can keep up with the latest trends, talk to your peers, and maybe add some arrows to your quiver.

Since we’re at the beginning of the year, I thought I’d give you a roundup of some good conferences you might consider attending. I can’t cover everything, of course, so I’ll highlight the ones I know most about plus some that I’m going to this year for the first time. Let’s take a look.

Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA)

This is a new one for me. I’m going for the first time this year, and the conference is in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve written a fair amount about spray foam insulation here in this blog and am going to the conference to learn more about it and get the industry perspective on it. This is a specialized conference mainly for those who work with spray foam rather than a general building science conference, but spray foam has gotten to be an important part of green building and home performance.

The big thing I want to learn there is what’s going on with the California Department of Toxic Substance Control and their profile of spray foam as a toxic substance. I’ll be talking with Rick Duncan, PhD, PE, the technical director of SPFA, and others about the issue while I’m there and will write it up afterward. I’m also looking forward to finding out about SPFA’s new certifications for installers, inspectors, and SPF companies.

While I’m in New Mexico next week, I’ll also be spending some time in Santa Fe (gotta get two more days of skiing in!) and will be speaking at the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association Green Building Council lunch next Wednesday, 27 January. The topic will be whether or not photovoltatics have killed solar thermal, as Martin Holladay proclaimed in his recent blog.

Dates: January 26-29, 2015

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Conference website: SPFA Convention & Expo

Forum on Dry Climate Home Performance

This is a small, invitation-only event put on through the volunteer efforts of some of my favorite people in the industry: Mike MacFarland, Gavin Healy, Dan Perunko, Rick Chitwood, and Gary Klein. I went last year for the first time and got so much out of it that I’m returning again for a second dose. And I’m a humid climate guy!

Last year I heard and wrote about the Stockton research project, Chitwood’s idea that home builders should pay the energy bills, Mike MacFarland’s work on intelligent defrost for heat pumps, and Dr. Vi Rapp’s takedown of the worst-case depressurization test.

Great conference! Great people! Great venue! (It’s at the Tenaya Lodge on the edge of Yosemite National Park.) If you can wrangle an invitation, you won’t be sorry.

Dates: February 9-11, 2015

Location: Fish Camp, California

Conference website: Forum on Dry Climate Home Performance

RESNET

The first conference I went to when I jumped into the home energy field was this one. I took the home energy rater class in the fall of 2003 and signed up for the 2004 RESNET conference shortly afterward. It was much smaller then than it is now, but it packed a wallop. I went to talks by some of the same people who are leaders in the HERS rating field, and I heard what may have been the first public talk about the then-under-development LEED for Homes program.

I’ve been to the last six RESNET conferences, dating back to New Orleans in 2009, and it’s definitely a big one for anyone involved with HERS ratings. I won’t be there this year, but Jeffrey Sauls, who runs our QA providership, will be.

Dates: February 16-18, 2015

Location: San Diego, California

Conference website: RESNET Conference

Building Energy (NESEA)

This one’s in Boston, and in case you didn’t know, there are a lot of smart people up there. When I lived in the Philadelphia area, I heard this joke: Philly is for people who are too afraid to live in New York and not smart enough to live in Boston. After years of looking at the brochures, I finally went to the Northeast’s premier energy efficiency conference last year and was impressed.

My big takeaway from the 2014 BE conference might surprise you. I found out that New Englanders love heat pumps. Well, at least it’s true for those who use them in homes with really good building enclosures. A few of the smart people who present at this conference are Marc Rosenbaum, Andy Shapiro, Michael Blasnik, Suzanne Shelton, and Kohta Ueno. This year, the opening plenary topic is “Rethinking the Grid,” a great topic that fits right into the emphasis on net zero energy homes at this year’s conference.

Passive House is also on the schedule, as Adam Cohen and Katrin Klingenberg are doing workshops, and I’m sure PHIUS will have a booth at the trade show again. And speaking of Passive House, another interesting session will be Dr. John Straube presenting on spray foam with two anti-foam guys: Tristan Roberts and Ken Levenson.

Dates: March 3-5, 2015

Location: Boston, Mass.

Conference website: Building Energy 15

Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA)

I was there two years ago when they were in Tucson, Arizona, and this year they’re back in the same place. It’s a nice little specialty conference for those who work with SIPs. If you want to learn the latest about this building system and talk to people who work with SIPs every day, this is the conference for you.

Their 2015 schedule isn’t out yet, but based on my attendance there two years ago, I imagine they’ll again have a well-rounded slate of presentations, from case studies to marketing advice to technical sessions. If you like golf at your conferences (personally, I’d much rather have a conference preceded by two days of skiing, which is exactly what I’m doing next week at the SPFA conference), they’ve got you covered. They host a golf tournament on the first day.

Dates: March 30 – April 1, 2015

Location: Tucson, Arizona

Conference website: SIPA Conference

Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA)

I’m going to this one for the first time this year, primarily because the organization intrigues me. It’s a whole organization devoted to one very important part of the building enclosure — although I can’t see how they avoid getting involved with the other control layers, especially since air barrier materials sometimes serve as water vapor and liquid water control layers as well.

At this point, I have no idea what presentations I’ll hear or who will be speaking. As I said, I’m intrigued, but I also want to learn more about materials this year, especially liquid-applied control layers.

Dates: April 6-8, 2015

Location: Dallas, Texas

Conference website: ABAA Conference

Affordable Comfort (ACI)

The big two conferences for home energy raters and auditors are RESNET and ACI. I’ve been to both several times. I’ll be back at ACI this year — Are you kidding?! It’s in New Orleans! I wouldn’t miss that.

This one focuses more on home performance — assessing and fixing existing homes. Lots of smart folks go to this one, too: Michael Blasnik, John Proctor, Joe Lstiburek (occasionally). It’s also a good one for women in the industry because of their work to promote and help women in home performance. Linda Wigington, Tamasin Sterner, Ann Edminster, and Courtney Moriarta are great examples for women interested in becoming home energy pros.

The schedule isn’t out yet, but I hope it will include the session that Kristof Irwin and I proposed: The Fundamentals of Psychrometrics.

As if you needed another reason, this year’s conference is the weekend after Jazz Fest, and you can get the conference rate for your hotel room starting on that weekend. You might want to do that sooner rather than later, though, if you want to take advantage of that deal.

Dates: May 5-7, 2015

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Conference website: 2015 ACI Conference

Westford Symposium on Building Science

Hands down, this is my favorite conference of the year. It’s an invitation-only event, but if you can get in, you’re treated to talks by some of the smartest people in the business. This is Joe Lstiburek’s baby, and he started it in 1997 as a small event to get his employees at Building Science Corporation educated by the “old guys” who knew so much: Gus Handegord, Don Onysko, and Don Gatley, to name a few.

It’s grown a bit since the early days, when there were a couple dozen people and Joe grilled food for the attendees. Now, there are over 400 attendees, a commercial kitchen headed by Pete Consigli, and the party starts on Saturday and goes through at least Wednesday night. I’ve heard that it continues on Thursday but haven’t had the stamina to go that long.

I’ve written about it here each of the past five years, beginning with the article that got me invited, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Building Science Summer Camp! 

Dates: August 3-5, 2015

Location: Westford, Mass.

Conference website: BSC Seminars

Note: Invitation only

North American Passive House Conference

The longest-running and largest of the Passive House conferences on this side of the pond, this one is hosted by the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS, for which I serve as a member of the board of directors). I’ve been to the past three, beginning with the conference in Denver in 2012, where I learned about Passive House triple-pane windows, the debate over hygrothermal modeling, and how it’s best not to try to keep up with a certain Scotch whisky lover.

This conference has some of the best building science discussions of any that I attend. There’s a reason why Joe Lstiburek said, “Passive House is the only place where real innovation is happening.” With PHIUS now forging its own, climate-specific standard, the innovation continues. This year, the conference goes to Chicago, where PHIUS has its headquarters.

Dates: September 9-13, 2015

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Conference website: NAPHC 2015

Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA)

I’ve been to EEBA once, back in 2009 when it was in Denver. This year it’s in Denver again. It’s a nice, smaller conference, with more emphasis on green building than home performance. It is a home builders’ group, after all. I think it used to be a bigger deal back the last millennium when it and ACI were the two main conferences.

Dates: October 6-8, 2015

Location: Denver, Colorado

Conference website: EEBA Conference

Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)

ACCA has two conferences for you: their main conference, which is near Dallas, Texas this year, and the smaller, newer Building Performance Forum. I’ve been to both, and they offer different experiences. If you want to find out about the latest HVAC whiz bang trends, go to the main conference. The trade show alone may be worth the price of admission. If you’re an HVAC contractor looking to move into the building performance arena, go to the Building Performance Forum. Both are good.

Dates: March 16-18, 2015

Location: Grapevine, Texas (near Dallas)

Conference website: ACCA Building Performance Forum

Dates: TBD (usually in October)

Conference website: ACCA (Main) Conference

Building Science Corporation’s Experts’ Session

This is a smaller, winter version of Building Science Summer Camp, sort of. The first year I went (2012), Joe Lstiburek and several others covered the topic of spray foam insulation. The second day, John Straube did a solo performance on the topic of mechanical systems for low-load buildings. That was also when Joe and I made the video about his crazy invention, the Thermo Turbo Encabulator Max (photo below).

It used to be in December, but because Joe starts skiing in Colorado at the beginning of December, this one’s now moved up to November. It’s two days, and usually has two separate topics for the two days. Last year it was hygrothermal modeling and leak-testing windows.

Dates: TBD

Location: Westford, Mass.

Conference website: BSC Experts’ Session

Regional conferences

In addition to all those conferences, you’ve got a host of regional conferences to choose from. ACI puts on regional home performance conferences in several parts of the country. My friend Peter Troast of Energy Circle goes to all of them.

Last year I spoke at the Midwest Residential Energy Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, scheduled for March 9-11. (Yeah, I usually think of Kentucky as southern, too, but evidently they see themselves as part of the Midwest.) That one’s great for a couple of other reasons, too: horses and bourbon. It’s also where I got to see the solar house Richard Levine built in the ’70s.

The Energy Center of Wisconsin puts on two great conferences called Better Buildings: Better Business. They do one outside of Madison, Wisconsin (March 11-13) and another near Chicago (February 26-27). I spoke at the latter in 2013 and found it to be a great regional conference with a lot of great speakers: Peter Yost, John Straube, and Scott Pigg, to name a few.

Southface puts on the annual Greenprints conference right here in Atlanta. It’s scheduled for March 11-12 this year.

The North Carolina Building Performance Association (NCBPA), a brand new organization, held its first conference last November in Asheville. The 2015 NCBPA conference they’re having it in Wilmington on September 1-3.

On top of those, utilities sometimes have their conferences. I recently attended Georgia Power’s annual home energy rater conference. If you’re involved with a utility energy efficiency program, check to see if they have something.

A plethora of choices

Whew! That’s a lot of conferences. I’ve written quite a bit about conferences in this space before but hadn’t undertaken a somewhat comprehensive writeup until now. No, I haven’t covered them all. With the exception of the ACI regional conferences, I’ve either attended or will be attending this year each of the events above.

A few that I haven’t been to yet and don’t have plans to attend this year are the International Builders’ Show (IBS, which was this week in Las Vegas), the U.S. Green Building Council’s GreenBuild, the AHR Expo (which is next week in Chicago), and Habitat X.

I will say something about Habitat X here, though, because my friend Dale Sherman is a big fan of that one and said this to me in an e-mail: “HabitatX is where I get hear about, talk about, and dream up innovative ways to push the home performance industry in new directions. Bring your wild and creative ideas and this conference will integrate it with other wild and creative ideas and build the road map for implementation.”

ASHRAE meetings are also in the mix, and I’ve been to one of those so far. They seem to be a different animal than any of the others I mentioned above. Based on my limited experience, they seem to be a combination of academic conference and working meeting, with an emphasis on the latter. This is where a lot of ASHRAE’s standards work gets done, as each committee has several meetings over a period of days.

Let’s not forget the role building codes play in all this, too. I haven’t been to any of these yet, but my friend Mike Barcik, who is heavily involved in codes, goes regularly. The U.S. Department of Energy is hosting the National Energy Codes Conference this spring (March 23-26) in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’m sure there are others.

And then there’s another category related to building science that I haven’t explored at all yet, and that’s the indoor air quality and health-related conferences. Brent Stephens, an IAQ researcher at  recommends the Healthy Buildings Conference in Boulder, Colorado, which happens July 19-22.

What else did I miss? What’s your favorite conference and why? Which ones are you going to this year? Tell me in the comments below.

Allison Bailes of Decatur, Georgia, is a speaker, writer, energy consultant, RESNET-certified trainer, and the author of the Energy Vanguard Blog. Check out his in-depth course, Mastering Building Science at Heatspring Learning Institute, and follow him on Twitter at @EnergyVanguard.

3 Comments

  1. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    A couple of additions to your list of conferences
    Allison,
    Here are two additions to your list:

    1. Better Buildings by Design, an annual (regional) conference hosted by Efficiency Vermont. It is held in Burlington, Vermont. This year's conference is scheduled for February 4-5.

    2. Conference on Thermal Performance of the Exterior Envelopes of Whole Buildings, a conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It is held every three years in Clearwater Beach, Florida, and has the worst web site in the history of the Internet. It's a really good conference, however.

  2. Dan Kolbert | | #2

    A plug for NESEA
    I think for the non-specialist (i.e., homeowner, GC, architect), NESEA's Building Energy is a fantastic conference. I've been attending for years (full disclosure - I'm on the content committee this year, and am an enthusiastic member of NESEA, but those both post-date my attendance of conferences). It's well worth the travel.

  3. Kohta Ueno | | #3

    BSC Conference Presentations
    Thanks for the shout out, Allison! Since you're mentioning Summer Camp and BSC's Expert Sessions, we have the presentations from both posted to our website: http://www.buildingscienceconsulting.com/presentations/recent.aspx?PresentationsYear=2014

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