It seems to me that most trade conferences have settled into a consistent rhythm—pre-conference classes and committee meetings, a trade show that lasts several days with a show floor and short seminars that attendees move between, and one or two big speeches that resemble tent revivals. I recently attended the International Builders Show, AKA IBS (which Leah Thayer pointed out also stands for irritable bowel syndrome), in Orlando, Florida. IBS used to be enormous—you could spend days walking the show floor and not see everything. Unfortunately for NAHB—but fortunately for attendees—the housing industry downturn has led to a much smaller and more manageable show.
The good, the bad, the ugly, and a few just plain silly products
I spent a good portion of my three days in Orlando on the show floor, checking out both new and old products, and ran across a few that I think deserve mention. Just for fun, I’ll start with the silly stuff, some of which falls into the bad and ugly categories. Among the usual collection of windows, insulation, and other building products, I ran across a couple of very strange booths. My favorite goofy item was the plastic Tiki Hut structure on display. Close behind that was the booth full of enormous bronze sculptures. Other choice items were two different vinyl siding companies with “log” patterns, and plantation shutters with tiny little solar panels on each louver.
On the good side, I ran across a product from Tech-Wood—a wood-polypropylene composite, available in lap siding and railing patterns, that looks promising. I was also impressed by the dedication to healthy housing shown by Push Design, a North Carolina company that specializes in natural building materials and techniques, including hemp insulation imported from England. I liked the Huber Engineered Woods booth, full of cool demonstrations of Zip System products’ performance. Zip System is apparently very well tested, although I still have some concerns about quality control in the field, as I do with most moisture management products. Ultra-Aire exhibited a line of whole house dehumidifiers with outside air intakes and MERV 8 filters. All units are ENERGY STAR rated and look promising, particularly for high-performance homes in humid climates. Cosella-Dorken continues to expand its Delta line of moisture management products, including new weather barriers and flashing tapes.
Lightly attended seminars
I sat in on several seminars, most of which were sparsely attended. It may have been wishful thinking, but most of the sessions were held in rooms that were often more than 75% empty. Peter Pfeiffer and John Freer gave a solid talk on Effective Green Building and Design, providing both the architect’s and the contractor’s views on how to accomplish high-performance homes. Another presentation by Steve Bertasso about cost-effective green practices in affordable housing was basic, but mostly accurate. I appreciated the fact that he gave a pretty reasonable estimate of the cost of certification rather than throw out a lowball figure like many people do. Another good presentation about green scopes of work by Foster Lyons was eerily familiar to one I give about trade contractor management, but I guess great minds just think alike.
The best presentations had the fewest presenters. One of the big problems I have with most conferences is the inconsistent quality of the seminars. There is too much beginner-level information, too much repetition, and—since few speakers are paid for their time, let alone their expenses—the quality is inconsistent.
As much as NAHB doesn’t like it, I think a smaller show is a better one. The show floor, while large, was still manageable, and people who came for a day had enough time to see just about everything. I think the seminar structure needs a major reworking to include fewer concurrent sessions and eliminate duplication. I would like to see more advanced sessions, and sets of sessions that combine into specific subject tracks that build on each other to provide a solid block of information. If I was in charge (and let’s be thankful I’m not), I would have fewer live seminars, have them all streaming live on the web as well as available for later viewing, keep the show floor size down, and move it to a better city—one that doesn’t require taxis and buses to get everywhere. It’s time for trade shows to rethink their structure and look for alternative ways to deliver their message, provide benefit for attendees, and make money.