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Building Science

Steve’s Garage

Join — or start — a building science discussion group to learn and share green building ideas

Once a month in Portland, Maine, a group of builders, carpenters, architects, engineers, energy auditors, insulation contractors, and other fans of building science get together for, to quote the invitation, “an informal discussion for building professionals to ask, learn, debate, knock around, support, agonize over, ridicule, flog and answer the challenges and concepts of the best building practices.”

Steven Konstantino, owner of Maine Green Building Supply, hosts the bring-your-own-beverage-and-a-chair event in the warehouse space attached to the storefront where he sells everything from denim insulation to solar panel control systems. Dan Kolbert, a builder (and author) specializing in green homes, moderates the get-togethers, which often feature a topic pulled from a blog or Q+A.

Once everyone has had a chance to meet or catch up with each other while snacking on a hot dog or pretzels, Dan gets things rolling with a brief overview of the discussion topic—and then things generally erupt into a cacophony of opinions and ideas, and someone charging up to the chalkboard to illustrate his thoughts (no PowerPoint presentations allowed). In recent months we have discussed the whys and hows of insulating foundations, learned about ground source heat pumps, and participated in the ever-popular hot roof vs. cold roof debate. For the record, hot roofs won.

It’s interesting how just getting together with fellow building nerds—I mean, professionals—can lead to better, greener homes. Insulation contractors passionate about their craft provide just the right advice for an unusual project. An energy-efficiency expert suggests which model of bathroom fan to use, and which timer is the best. One of the area’s leading green architects mentions the podcast he hosts with a partner in another award-winning local firm. In the laid-back atmosphere, ideas are exchanged, friendships and business relationships are created, and despite the fact that many of us are competing for the same clients, it becomes clear that we’re all really working toward the same goal: better, greener homes.


  1. homedesign | | #1

    Death Star Study Group
    Hey Michael,
    Great concept....
    We have started a virtual study group over at JLC
    We are brainstorming on the most appropriate color for the Death Star
    The current consensus is dark gray
    The local study groups are a great idea too

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Obscure reference?
    Death Star color? Is this a reference to a book, movie, or TV show that I missed?

  3. homedesign | | #3

    Star Wars
    A movie popular in the 70's

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    And did the Star Wars characters study building science?
    Did vapor diffusion figure in the Star Wars story?

  5. homedesign | | #5

    It's a funny cartoon....about study groups
    look at the cartoon on the first post at JLC

  6. homedesign | | #6

    Viewing attachments at JLC
    I have noticed that you must be logged in at the JLC forum in order to see the attachments.
    All building proffesionals are welcome to join and log in.

    I have found the JLC Building Science Forum to be very educational.
    A good chance to bounce ideas off others.
    Hearing peers describe something in a different way helps me to visualize "obscure" concepts.

    GBA has superior blogs .. JLC is a better place for discussions.

    The ability to post attachments is very useful for disscusions also.
    I think there is room for GBA and JLC

  7. dankolbert | | #7

    We have consistently had a great time at these events - I think we've met 7-8 times so far. As Mike notes, there's something great (and reassuring) about being in a room with people with similar goals and interests.

    I spend far too much time at JLC and have learned a tremendous amount form the smart and generous contractors there, but the discussion group has been a great forum for very local issues - we're all building in the same climate, frequently we've worked together and can discuss specific projects from different viewpoints, or at least have visited each others' sites.

    I really can't recommend starting a group locally strongly enough. Even if only a handful of people show up the first time, you'll be turning them away once word gets out. It's a great chance to meet like-minded pros you never knew were out there. I've found at least 2 new subcontractors myself.

  8. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #8

    Vapor Diffusion Death Ray
    John, I saw that thread at JLC. The discussion group that Dan and Steve started is a lot like that, AND there's beer.

  9. Chris Briley | | #9

    Thanks Mike
    It's great to log into one of my favorite websites and see an article about our discussion groups! Thanks Mike! I agree with Dan, it's a great way to galvanize a green community. (or I should say, building science community). Also thanks for the mention of and link to the Podcast! You can also find it on Itunes (the Itunes store). It's called the Green Architect's Lounge. (He says, shamelessly promoting himself). But seriously, beer, brautworst, and an informal sciencey chatt about building? What a good time! I look forward to it each month.

  10. dankolbert | | #10

    Importance of Beer
    Yes, Michael, thanks for underlining the importance of proper lubrication when discussing building science in a group setting. It's that attention to the appropriate safety details that sets the pros apart.

  11. Robert Swinburne | | #11

    makes me wish I had gone back
    makes me wish I had gone back to Portland after architecture school instead of fleeing Maine for Vermont

  12. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #12

    Thanks for the comments guys.
    Robert, Portland isn't that far away, come to the next meeting! The topic was just announced:

    "Selecting Sustainable Materials--"How" do you make comparisons between different products or
    materials? Which criteria should be included in the decision?"

    Should be a good time. Thanks again to Dan, Chris, and everyone else who makes it happen.

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