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Green Building Blog

Report from the International Builders’ Show

Great educational sessions, interesting new products, free food, free beer, and lingerie-clad supermodels

Our intrepid reporter, Michael Chandler, checked out the new products on display at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas. Here Michael holds up a sample of a very tough stainless-steel security screen manufactured by Meshtec.
Image Credit: All photos by Michael Chandler except Guitar image by Ed Nikles Jr.
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Our intrepid reporter, Michael Chandler, checked out the new products on display at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas. Here Michael holds up a sample of a very tough stainless-steel security screen manufactured by Meshtec.
Image Credit: All photos by Michael Chandler except Guitar image by Ed Nikles Jr.
Sam Rashkin explains a new online resource called the Building America Solution Center. The BALA Live speed-design competition at IBS. Lingerie-clad supermodels dancing at the IBS show in Las Vegas. Sponsored by AARP! Cheap Trick's five-neck guitar.
Image Credit: Ed Nikles Jr.
A sample of vacuum insulated glass from Guardian Glass. A display of specialty metals from Masewa Metals. Fiber-cement SIPs from a Chinese manufacturer.

I recently returned from the International Builders’ Show, an annual extravaganza put on by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This year it was held in Las Vegas from from January 22 to 24, 2013.

Most of us attendees didn’t get much time to cruise the show floor, because the educational resources were so rich. NAHB improved the format by adding several different levels of course offerings. They eliminated the last half-day and selected much more carefully for just the best teachers for the premium-priced educational track.

They added on-floor education, called “IBS Live,” open to all with a budget-priced floor pass. The conference also offered a lot of focused mini-classes in the sponsor-supported “centers,” and aimed at introducing people to the Custom Builder Council, Design Council, Green Building Council, etc.

In addition, the NAHB University of Housing offered pre-show full-day classes and a full-day curriculum during the show called “Lean Construction.” The Design Center offered numerous bring-your-house-plan review sessions with top architects, and the NAHB “Builder 20 Club” peer education program had a lounge with coffee, snacks, and business coaching available.

Luminaries panel and a few classes

I participated in a “luminaries panel” at IBS Live with fellow builder and writer Matt Belcher, building science guru Gord Cook, Walter Cuculic from Solar Cities, and Architect Peter Pfeiffer. The event featured free beer for the audience as well as the speakers.

I also did a traditional class on Best Practices with Don Ferrier and Fernando Pages. And I presented at one of the Design Center lunch sessions with Ted Clifton of Zero Energy Home Plans.

The traditional class was the best received, and the free beer and cash bar at IBS Live helped bring out some great audience participation. But the free lunch brought in some folks who really weren’t interested in the class. Reports from staff did say that they heard our message that designers who don’t educate and brand themselves as green tend to get clients who aren’t interested in green. And that there are fewer of them each year as the mainstream embraces “affordable green”.

Sam Rashkin explains the Building America Solution Center

Sam Rashkin used the IBS Live stage on the show floor to spread the word about the Building America Solution Center at the U.S. Department of Energy. (Rashkin is no longer with the Energy Star Homes program at EPA.)

His talk was very energetic and compelling. It seems like an amazing resource.


The NAHB Design Committee has partnered with the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD), Operation Finally Home, and the Best in American Living Awards (BALA) on a contest called “BALA Live.” This was speed-design contest in which teams competed at IBS Live to design a home for the family of a disabled vet.

The contest allowed a single day for five teams to prepare concept drawings which were judged with input by text from the IBS crowd. The drawings were then presented to the recipient, who had been brought to Las Vegas unawares, in a surprise presentation that very evening with the builder who will be building the home for her.

The Las Vegas aesthetic

Of course we were in Las Vegas and that influenced the “aesthetic” somewhat. The Design Center hosted a disco-themed launch party for a new magazine entitled “Best in American Living” with a pair of Nicki Minaj lookalikes.

The NAHB Green Building Awards were presented in a similarly over-the-top fashion with a painfully loud “Eco-Disco party” at Paris, Las Vegas. The event featured lingerie-clad supermodel hostesses.

The closing ceremonies featured a great performance by Cheap Trick with that (now) five-neck guitar and 12-string bass (actually 10 — the two top Gs are removed.)

I didn’t visit the “New American Home,” but I heard many snarky comments about how a $4,000,000 home measuring 6,721 square feet wasn’t really representative of the new America. Many of the HERS raters in the crowd were wondering how it managed to get 0.2 ach50, LEED Platinum, and NGBS Emerald. [Editor’s note: See the comment by John Brooks posted below. One source reports that this home’s air leakage rate is 0.2 ach(nat), not 0.2 ach50. Using the old rule-of-thumb conversion ratio of 20-to-1, that would mean that the home’s air leakage rate is about 4.0 ach50.]

Vacuum insulated glass

One of the products I saw on the show floor was a display of vacuum insulated glass (VIG) from Guardian Glass. I held a piece of glass in my hand that had the same R-value as 2 inches of blue XPS styrofoam. The panes are held apart by a “frit” around the edges and tiny transparent “posts” of borosilicate glass spaced on a grid about two inches each way.

Both in the display and in my hand, I didn’t notice the glass posts until they were pointed out to me. The gap between the panes is so small that a business card wouldn’t fit between them – two Post-it notes was all that would fit, and all the room required to reach a U-0.1 (or R-10). Its center-of-glass R-value is even higher, at R-11.5.

Since the R-value is not dependent on low-e coatings, the visible transmittance and solar heat gain co-efficient can be as high as 0.70, making this type of glazing great for passive solar applications (where permitted by code).

The product is expected to be “slightly more expensive than current triple-pane options.” It should be available from Ply Gem windows in 2014.

An app called Jobbies

Everyone in my “20 Club” was buzzing about an Android / iPhone job log program from Australia called Jobbies. It was brought in by a really nice bloke from Down Under who seems to have invented an elegant little app for taking notes and improving job site communication.

The app is being distributed through iTunes as a free full-feature download with the print-to-pdf feature watermarked. The paid version undoes that critical feature.


I also discovered’s Infinicards, thanks to fellow builder Mark Huber. It’s a portfolio in your pocket, a pack of 100 or more business cards with your company info on one side and a different image from your portfolio on the other side of every single card.

He pulled fifteen cards out of his pocket and there was a different photo on the back of each one, showcasing the variety and versatility of his work! If you’re going to take the time to upload your portfolio to, you may be just a short step away from a portfolio in your pocket.

Meshtec security screen

I also saw a security screen product manufactured by a company named Meshtec. The screen is made of very hard, woven stainless-steel wire. It looked just like regular bug screen but couldn’t be cut with a knife and was rugged enough to stop kids or crooks.

It seemed likely to be resistant to damage from pets and raccoons. I can imagine using it for a porch railing or swimming pool security fence instead of tempered glass.

Chinese metals

As in years past, there was a substantial village of suppliers from China. I was drawn to Masewa Metal’s specialty metal offerings. The also had doors, panels, and industrial products.

Fiber-cement SIPs

A Chinese manufacturer was displaying samples of fiber-cement-faced SIPs with plain and fancy facings. (I never did figure out the name of the manufacturer; the salespeople didn’t seem to speak English very well.)

I imagine this is intended to be a cladding for a steel-frame structure, but I think it could have potential in earth-sheltered construction or to enclose the first floor of a raised pole home in coastal and flood-prone areas.

[Editor’s note: several U.S. manufacturers — including SIP Supply in Atlanta, Georgia and T. Clear Corporation of Hamilton, Ohio — offer SIPs faced with fiber-cement or cementitious backerboard.]

Las Vegas has cheap hotels and lots of free food

It’s great to see innovative thinking in the show planning. The IBS Live sessions drew people to the far end of the floor and added value for the vendors located nearby (including Fine Homebuilding).

Next year they will be upping the stakes by co-locating with NKBA and presenting the International Builders show along with the Kitchen and Bath show.

Many of the exhibitors were offering free floor passes. Vegas hotels are cheap, free food and drink abounds, and adding free education and exposure to the councils along with that was a home run.


  1. homedesign | | #1

    The New American Home
    Hi Michael,
    0.2 ACH-50 for the "New American Home" sounds surprisingly tight.
    I found a source that reported the house to be 0.2 "NATURAL" ACH


    Big difference between 0.2 ACH 50 and 0.2 Natural
    Thanks for clarifying. Good to be back to writing again.

  3. wolfworks | | #3

    My Experience at the IBS
    Thought I'd share this summary of my journey to the IBS

    My visit started ominously. When I arrived at the show there was a place in the parking lot outside where prefab and modular buildings (really horrid stuff masquerading as "sustainable") was on display and available to tour. But what immediately caught my eye was the bomb shelter.

    I walked over and took some pics, and as I stuck my head inside I heard the vendor talking on the phone doing what sounded like an interview. This is what he was saying:

    "It's really getting real now that Obama is in. It is not a question of if, but when!"

    A few highlights from the brochure:

    • Kids love staying in our shelters. To them it is a big playhouse so they will grow up learning survival skills.
    • The den has a mahogany electric fireplace that creates quite a comfortable living room
    • The escape tunnel is always in the master bedroom in our shelters (...if you need to secretly escape)
    • All our shelters feature space for a 46" flat screen TV and leather reclining couch
    • Having a dinner table in a shelter creates a sense of normalcy
    • This model (10'x32" Pipe Condo) makes a great weekend rental cabin or a small second home
    • All the pipe shelters feature decontamination chambers

    more at:

    where they say, "Keeping your shelter location secret is our number one concern!"

    I'm a Passive House designer and builder and what is interesting is how both PH and this bomb shelter express our fears about the future and as such embody a vision of what might be required to survive/thrive. I have had a few clients interested in PH who come from some spot on the right side of this preparedness spectrum and was always interested that they saw PH as a reassuring solution.

    I chose to go to the IBS for a couple reasons. While it is nothing short of amazing to have the access we have to people, products, and information online I felt a need to actually see stuff and talk to people. And as the BIG building industry show it can be a good place to feel the zeitgeist. I'm glad I went for both reasons.

    A few weeks back I was chatting with our excavator when he asked what everyone wants to eventually ask, "How are things going for you?" We had that conversation and began musing about where things have been and might be going and he said something that really sticks with me: "Our industry is idling."

    There are fewer vendors with smaller staffs and as little inventory as they can stock.   Each material category has seen once thriving brands go out of business or be bought. Builders, if they still have one, have shrunk their staffs and many have just called it a day or taken up work they have no heart in. Architects and designers, same deal. The internet has turned access and distribution on its head. My excavator explained that a standard part for his equipment's transmission is not stocked anywhere locally anymore. Now he orders it online from Iowa.

    What all this means is that our productive capacity, on nearly every front, has shrunken to a point where, while still there, is just keeping the doors open and the lights on. We are "idling."

    This is exactly what I saw at the IBS. The last time I was here over a decade ago the trade floor took three buildings. Though it still took me a day and a half to cover it, its down to two, with one of those about 3/4 full. In those days the Kohler exhibit was on two levels of what felt like a city block and had a waterfall and a floor show, This year it was the size of a medium sized showroom and at that, still one of the largest exhibitors. Not only that, they were about the ONLY plumbing fixture on display - no American Standard or Grohe or the dozens of others that used to be there and fill a whole section of the show. One new one that was there sells direct online. There were more companies selling generators than plumbing fixtures. Hmmm.

    That pattern was repeated across categories: Formica but no Wilsonart, Marvin but no Anderson or Pella or Weathershield. And again, those that were there had small displays. All this says a lot about where the industry and its capacity stand. At idle. The absence of exhibitors and the spare representation of their products is a national expression of the local conditions my excavator and I were musing about. The shelves are not stocked and the people who once knew what to do with what was once on them when they were full are not coming in to work. We have lost a considerable chunk of our human and manufacturing productive capacity.

    But that wasn't the whole story. At the edges of the show floor where the rates are cheaper and the booth spaces smaller were all kinds of interesting people and products. The small guys, already adept at working with what they have are managing OK. Some are even thriving doing something special really well. This is the stuff that isn't necessarily showing up in Google searches. One good idea is enough to keep them burning the midnight LED. I loved this part of the show.

    Then there was China. There were probably sixty or more exhibitors. There were blocks of them, bizarre like. If they weren't there the show would have probably fit in one exhibit hall. They manufacture products that either have no precedent in our building methods, or do but are just slightly off from how we use them. All kinds of laminates and foils. Pipes and valves and ductwork and hardware. Doors and panel systems and decorative glass. And nearly all of them existing in a kind of cultural bubble that neither of us could pop, both because of the language and how quickly we would fail to understand each other when we could communicate. A decade or so ago LED stuff started to show up at Lightfair, much of it from Asia. You knew it meant something but it was hard see how it would all become established. Where would you buy any of it and how would a technical or customer service call go? That's how this felt.

    The other thing that was just different about these Asian vendors was their directness. A conversation in which we barely communicated would conclude with, "you will buy this?" A young woman approached me in the aisle with a survey to complete about Chinese products. I declined but she persisted saying I could just check off the products that interested me without providing personal information. Then after I did that she pushed my hand to the top of the page and said, "Now just write your email address here." Our cultural expectations of each other are so different.

    In the absence of the big window brands there were a bunch of small companies with tilt-turn profiles and some consciousness of air sealing and thermal bridging. More WRB and air sealing tapes and membranes. Some renewables (mostly familiar brands in other product lines trying to diversify - think Velux). Ventilation prepped for 62.2. And some fun oddball but smart invention stuff. Not surprisingly the folks who offer products for the really high end were there with the stuff only big money can buy; like Wittus and their new line of retracting glass door woodburning fireplaces($5-6K and up).

    I'm coming home with a heightened interest in where this is all leading. If/when construction rebounds how will this weakness in capacity be manifested and what will get built as a result. 

    A week or so after my chat with the excavator I shared our conversation with our main supplier. He agreed and added, get ready for some major price increases. He's hearing this from his suppliers. And the moment a backlog begins to take shape it will be damn tempting to regain some of the ground that was sacrificed so that we could just keep the doors open. All of a sudden the pedal will be to the metal. The trouble is there may be a kid without his license at the wheel.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Response to Jamie Wolf
    Thanks for taking the time to share such a long report. Much appreciated.


    Thanks Jamie
    Really thoughtful and thought provoking perspective.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.

  6. jj1 | | #6

    Guardian Vacuum Insulated Glass
    Hi Michael: Guardian has mentioned its vacuum insulated glass product on its website for some time, very interesting to hear you actually saw the product. Assuming Guardian's historical seal quality and longevity, VIG windows could be a game changing product going forward. With a suitably insulated frame, whole window R-10+ becomes possible with low weight and reasonably sized profiles, with excellent VLT and SHGC performance. Even north facing windows with those characteristics could be net energy gainers in some heating climate applications. Hopefully over time the cost will decline as normal efficiency gains occur as production volumes increase. Adding low-e coatings could raise R value even higher and could fit applications such as west facing windows where lower SHGC is desirable. A very interesting new product, especially if costs decline over time.

  7. user-946029 | | #7

    Reply to Jamie

    I also want to thank you for taking the time to type out your observations.

    I would like to add a former exhibitor's perspective to the discussion. Many former exhibitors simply weren't seeing the ROI at the show. With rates somewhere between $35-39 s.f., it was getting hard for companies to justify the expense of booth space, structure & collateral, in addition to travel, lodging and meals. (Quick aside: Seniority, size, other expenditures, etc. factor in the final booth rate. The larger and more senior the exhibitor, the less they pay per s.f.)

    At the same time as prices were going up, attendance started dropping due to the bubble burst. So a builder might still go, but he/she wasn't bringing half the staff with him/her. For some companies, it's all about the number of leads. (Bean counters don't attend, but they sure are involved in the decisions.)

    So, instead, the bigs started dropping out of the show. They found it more productive to build their own sales centers and invite clients in. You create a captive audience and an exclusive (and calmer) setting. It's a more personalized and intimate setting, which has lead to greater success.

    Will the show ever return to what it once was in terms of size and scale? I don't know. But I do believe that given all the investment the bigs have made in permanent service centers, any renaissance will not happen overnight.

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