In March of 2019, at the Johnson County, Kansas seminar for Continuing Education for Licensed Contractors, I met a guy selling something. That guy was Joe Nickels and what he was selling was high-performance building products like Alpen Windows and Zehnder HRVs and ERVs. He had a booth, as many do at these functions, and I asked him for his thoughts on Aerobarrier. My business partner Joe Cook and I started discussing air sealing with Nickels and a number of building science related topics which led to me lamenting the great and inconvenient distance between Kansas City and Portland, Maine where the first BS* + Beer discussion groups were happening. Joe (Nickels), Joe (Cook) and I agreed that we would probably never get to make one of those meetings so Nickels suggested we start our own group, locally. We held our first meeting in April of 2019 and have been enjoying monthly presentations and discussions ever since.
We were uncertain of the level of enthusiasm for, and depth of understanding of building science here, so we deviated from the format Mike Maines and Dan Kolbert had been using by opening our meetings with a presentation by an expert followed by a substantive discussion with all in attendance having at least a baseline understanding of the topic. This educational element has been tremendously popular and I think we’ve all learned a lot from these presentations and even more from each other.
As Joe, Joe, and I began to invest in planning these events and organizing presenters we found that there was a tremendous enthusiasm not just for the learning and discussion, but for the fellowship and social aspect of gathering with our peers. The fun of talking through projects and problem solving with crowd-sourced knowledge led us to seek ways to stay connected between meetings. We were already offering some opportunities for this through our Instagram page and I thought it would be fun to get something going on social media that could engage the other BS* + Beer groups as well as any other building science enthusiast, so we hatched the #WallAssemblySweet16 competition.
The plan for the competition was simple: anyone who posted a hand-drawn sketch, CAD drawing, Sketchup model, mock-up, or real build photo of their wall assembly to their Instagram page with the hashtag #WallAssemblySweet16 and @bs_and_beer_kc tagged would be entered. The first 16 walls submitted would be included in the competition, which would allows us to have a tournament-style voting process.
Since the typical comparisons of performance, durability, cost analysis, and ease-of-construction vary from market to market, climate zone to climate zone, and crew to crew, there was no way to select a real best wall assembly. Instead, this is intended to be a vehicle for education and discussion with a strong possibility of spirited debate. The winner will be established by tabulating votes cast via Instagram leading up to our April 28th meeting. The real fun of this isn’t the trash talk from one entry to the next (I see you Bazcek, Bruton, and Bogie), the voting, or even awarding the prize (pictured above). For us, it’s going to be discussing the merits and drawbacks of all the assemblies.
With that, I reached out to GBA to see if we could share the assemblies that have been entered here, another place where great building science conversations are happening. You can place your votes in the comments below and we’ll see if they align with our winner, which I will circle back and announce at the end of the month. So, here are 16 wall assemblies for your consideration.
The first submission came from Ben Bogie, the lead carpenter for Kolbert Building in Portland, Maine which shares many of the details from Dan’s recent GBA article.
The next submission came from Randy Williams who provided photos and information about his concrete-less slab-on-grade house featured here at GBA, and also in his presentation at our February meeting.
At his point things started to get a little heated when Steve Baczek got in the mix. He’s as sharp as they come and enjoys getting the competition riled up so his submission came with a little trash talk to accompany the description.
With some heavy hitters of building science already in the mix I was worried that our local members (namely myself) might be too bashful to put their ideas out there, but the messages rolling in showed no evidence of intimidation—just enthusiasm. Similarly fearless were Matt Blomquist, Dan Edelman, and Jake Bruton who got right after it with their assemblies.
Matt came in with a solid answer to Steve’s submission citing his real-world construction of this assembly, built by his Taylorville High School students. It actually looks great on his Instagram post as it’s a whole Sketchup video walk through of the details.
Dan Edelman also had a nice set of details as well as a thorough, but concise explanation of the methodology behind his submission.
Jake Bruton joined the melee with a Sketchup submission and description focused on air sealing details and advanced framing while trying to exclude specialty products that wouldn’t be readily available in many markets. This prompted Steve Baczek to issue “Fourteenth Runner Up” trophies to Jake and Ben as a means of continued pot stirring, which is precisely the type of fun we intended when we conceived of this contest.
One of the things that has been most enjoyable about the BS* + Beer community on Instagram has been the continued growth of Mike Maines (and really Steve and Dan’s) concept to include a nationwide network of these groups and our subsequent connections with those organizers. When we first got started, I reached out to Mike to seek permission to use the name “BS* + Beer.” Not only did he agree to that, he also shared a number of resources including Dan’s 2012 article in JLC about founding the group, a document laying out the basic operation, structure, and informal rules, as well as a list of every topic they’ve ever discussed. As a result of that gesture, and the general altruism of the building science community at large, I have been led to share any resources, logos, and experiences (occasionally even advice) to the now twelve (or more) other groups.
We have enjoyed the benefits of these connections equally if not more so with our recent invite to The BS* + Beer show discussions hosted by Mike and Emily Mottram and sponsored by GBA, but before that the generosity of Jake Bruton and Randy Williams to make the trip to KC and present and discuss topics with our members. Since we have been enjoying these and other connections it was no surprise to hear from Lucas Johnson who organized the SW BS* + Beer discussion group. Lucas submitted details from the Smart Wall (from 475 High Performance Building Supply) as well as a number of photos of the construction details in use on real job sites as “inspiration.”
After the post from Lucas things went quiet for a couple weeks until we got something from one of our local members. A Passive House certified builder and past presenter at our group, David Schleicher of Prairie Design Build is one of those guys who walks the walk. A “true believer” as I call it, David is so fully committed to the idea of improving the world one-build-at-a-time through efficient, sustainable, durable design and execution, I was thrilled that he was willing to share his ideas once again. After David’s conversion to Passive House, he rebuilt his personal home based on the ideals he had embraced. The wall section detail he posted is a photo of the sketch his wife had framed for him as a gift and that hangs on the wall in the home it inspired.
As with many things during these unusual times, the momentum of the competition dissipated and the submissions promised fell victim to the re-prioritization of essential activity. In advance of preparing this article I reached out to several of those who had tipped their hand and showed me the details they planned to submit previously. One of my favorite designers since I first became aware of him and his work on FHB’s ProHome in 2016 is Michael Maines, and he was kind enough to finalize his submission for the competition.
We got our next submission from Steven Delgado who is another of our local members. It was great to see that he embraced the spirit of the competition—seeking to learn and share ideas through discussing solutions. His Sketchup detail shows the proposed retrofit to his existing home and he invites the help of the building science community to improve it. He may not get the championship belt, but crowd sourcing solutions for his own home from the some of the best and brightest will likely yield him a more valuable win.
The next day we got a pair of submissions from Kameron Klimes who, in addition to being a local member of the our group, also happens to be my lumber salesman. This detail is important to remember when you see his first submission which has 16 inch LVLs on 12 inch centers with diagonal skip sheathing labelled “Lumber Salesman Wall.” The Efficient wall submission he sent with it was pretty well thought out and still included a premium lumber product: the T- Stud!
While I appreciate Kameron saying he’s been learning a lot from me, I think he’s more accurately referring to the presentations we host at the BS* + Beer discussion groups here in the Kansas City area. We begin our events with a presentation on a topic from someone with expertise so that we can then discuss with a common baseline understanding. I like to say “you don’t know what you don’t know, y’know?” and these opening presentations are meant to address that.
That impending deadline must have lit a fire because the next few days saw multiple submissions, including three variations on a theme from structural engineer Trevor Acorn who is a regular at KC BS* and Beer. As excited as I was about the T-Stud sighting in Kam’s submission, I was elated to see a CLT component here from Trevor.
After no small amount of pressure applied to a good friend I had met at the FHB Summit last year, Nathan Shirai of @insulation unlimited came through with a group effort from his BS + Beer group in Chattanooga, TN.
At this point, I was worried that I was going to have to change the name of the competition since we had yet to assemble 16 submissions and the deadline was fast approaching.
I had been talking through the details with my partner at Catalyst Construction, Joe Cook, and we agreed that we wanted to submit an assembly we could actually convince a local architect to specify and a client to pay for. Our focus was to limit complexity, keep labor in check, and borrow excessively from our betters. As a result, we submitted the “Catalyst Wall” in mock up form.
I’m not quick to learn software and I rapidly forget the things I do learn, so Sketchup and CAD are not my strength. Mock walls are also handy for expressing to clients exactly what will get built in the field, so we put this together fully expecting to haul it around to client meetings.
You would think I’d be done now, with 16 entries rounding out the field. But wait, there’s more!
In trying to rally the building science community to enter the competition and get us to 16 submissions so we could have a fun discussion and enjoy the sweet sixteen bracket madness, I created a bit of a late surge and we got two more entries at the deadline. The first came from Emily Mottram who is an architect in Maine, host of the E3 podcast (Energy and Efficiency with Emily) and a huge part of BS* + Beer, Maine.
The last submission to arrive came from Jason Bekebrede who runs Monticello Custom Homes in Springfield, Missouri and is also the organizer of BS* + Beer Springfield. I had been encouraging Jason to submit something and with Emily’s submission and now Jason’s we had arrived at a new problem. With twenty submissions (eighteen if you count only the Efficient Wall from Kameron and only one CLT wall from Trevor) I had an embarrassment of riches to resolve.
I ended up calling Kameron to ask if he would mind excluding his submission from the competition, and we pulled the “Catalyst Wall” in the interest of keeping the simplicity of the sweet sixteen bracket works intact. Kameron generously agreed, and we reduced Trevor to just one wall, so that Jason could round out the field of our now numerically accurate “Sweet Sixteen Wall Assemblies.”
Jason posted his wall section with the details spelled out on the drawing rather than in the text.
With the field finally set, the deadline behind us, and the fun really about to start, I leaned heavily on Joe Cook and Joe Nickels to get the brackets into shape. Modeling our “selection Sunday” after the NCAA basketball tournament meant we had almost no hope of avoiding someone feeling unfairly “seeded,” so we just steeled ourselves for the criticism, swallowed hard and shared this:
Much to my surprise, there were no cries foul or general malaise to defuse. We were off to the races and on to the task of once again making the rules very clear. This is not a competition comparing real world performance, cost, durability, or constructibility. It is impossible to get people with different cost data from dissimilar markets and widely varying climates to agree on one scientifically superior and somehow still affordable assembly. Instead this competition must be decided by perhaps the least reliable resource, the vote of the people.
On the morning of Monday, April 6th voting began, along with excellent discussion as well as some really fun trash talk. Tonight we’ll finalize the second round of the tournament and tomorrow we’ll announce the final four. You can check out the competition on Instagram if you’d like. If you don’t use social media, I’ll be back to update this post with the winner in a couple of weeks.
Points of interest in that assembly-