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Green Building Curmudgeon

Dispatch from ACI

My newest favorite swag are these incredibly realistic foam CFLs.
Image Credit: Carl Seville

A convergence of weatherization and home performance professionals (aka “Roomful of Geeks”) met in Kansas City at the end of April for the annual ACI Advancing Home Comfort Conference. This event, formerly known as Affordable Comfort, brings together industry leaders and practitioners to teach, learn, and share ideas about the industry. The educational sessions I attended were generally solid, if somewhat dry and technical, but that is to be expected. I struggled to stay attentive (and occasionally awake, but I take personal responsibility for that) at some of them, but I am happy to report that I gained at least one, if not more, solid pieces of information at each presentation. Most of the presenters were very knowledgeable in their field as well as interesting speakers, but every one that I saw could benefit from training in public speaking and creating visual presentations. My most common complaint is a lack of flow.

Death by Powerpoint

Presentations should be like term papers: State your hypothesis, then prove it, succinctly, in the allotted time. The Powerpoint presentations were challenging to read and understand. How about larger type, fewer words, and crisp charts and photos, folks? Oh, and let’s try darker backgrounds to reduce eyestrain. If you can’t read it easily from 20 feet away, it isn’t effective. Nobody I saw was terrible, but there is a lot of room for improvement, just as there is at any conference.

My favorite bad presentation of all time was by some poor guy at Greenbuild several years ago who was apparently thrown in at the last minute to take over someone else’s slot—each of his slides was packed with words written in 8-point type and completely illegible charts, which he proceeded to read in heavily accented English. I didn’t last long.

I do a lot of speaking and training, and while I acknowledge that my style is not to everyone’s (or anyone’s?) liking, I always do my best to keep it interesting, make the story flow, and finish on time.

Hot under the collar about cold climate bias

My primary complaint is that most of the conference focused on cold climates. While this is understandable, considering that its roots lie in the northern states, sometimes it seems like hot and humid climates don’t even exist. I understand that people are comfortable teaching what they know, and the majority of the presenters come from cold climates. It is time, however, for ACI to pay more attention to the South. A common thread running through several sessions went something like, “Well, you would do it differently in a hot and humid climate, but…” and then the talk went back to heating degree days, extra wall insulation, and thermal breaks.

Trade show goodies

The swag (Stuff We All Get) wasn’t bad; in fact there were two different sizes of foam CFLs available for me to take home and add to my collection. Not a single thumb-drive give away to be found, unlike Greenbuild, where they were a dime a dozen, but no good foam toys in sight. Thermal imaging, or infrared cameras were the belle of the ball, with about a half dozen vendors hawking theirs as the best on the market. I expect that lots of people in the industry, including me, will be purchasing one of these soon. Not only are they a useful tool, but man, are they way cool!

I’m off to the AIA Convention in San Francisco, likely to be about as different from ACI as a conference can be. Probably lots of Corbu glasses and bow ties. I’m also hoping for some good swag.


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