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Building Matters

Training for the Trades, Part I

A first-hand account of Construction Instruction’s educational offerings and their value for contractors

Ci founders Justin Wilson and Gord Cooke leading the classroom portion of a two-day training

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is the first in a series about construction and building science–related education and professional training. If you have experience with and suggestions for reputable resources, let us know. We want to spread the good word.

Recently, I traveled to Denver, Colorado, for a couple days of construction-related education, specifically a two-day class on high-performance HVAC systems and indoor air quality (IAQ). The course was offered by Construction Instruction (Ci) and combined classroom and hands-on learning in their adjacent testing center.

The classroom portion covered a range of topics including building design, occupant comfort, and the installation and commissioning of HVAC systems. Temperature, humidity, and IAQ were covered in detail. In the testing center, we learned about airflow of different exhaust fans and how duct installations affect performance. We were shown several different tools that are used to commission ducted forced-air heating and cooling systems. Something that opened my eyes was a test for how different grill designs can affect airflow.

The class was attended by building and mechanical contractors from a range of climate zones, as well as representatives from a few different manufacturers, including Panasonic and Mitsubishi. This article is not so much about what I learned, but more about construction education in general and what Ci offers.

The value of continuing education

I’m a big fan of learning as much as possible about all the trades in the construction industry. In addition to my two days at Ci, over the past year, I’ve attended various online webinars; a day of learning at an in-person, state-required contractor continuing education class; and several days of trade conferences. I’ve watched innumerable hours of live how-to demonstrations at the International Builders Show and read countless articles from various trade publications.

I’ve been in the industry for more than 25 years. I was confident in my construction knowledge when I was younger but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge that I work to fill. Continuing education is key to being successful in the constantly changing construction industry. Educators like those behind Ci are invaluable, and more people need to know about them as a resource.

Justin Wilson and Gord Cook in the CI lab
Justin Wilson and Gord Cook in the CI lab. Photo by Jon Benson

The experts behind Ci

Ci was started by three well-known building experts, Justin Wilson, Mark LaLiberte, and Gord Cook, each of whom has decades of experience. (To hear from all three about Ci, check out this episode of the BS* + Beer Show.)

Founding partner Justin Wilson has extensive hands-on experience working with national and regional builders on new construction and renovations of residential and commercial building sites all over North America. Industry know-how combined with a background in mechanical engineering and physics gives him deep insight into finding efficient solutions to problems that affect energy, comfort, and durability.

Founding partner Mark LaLiberte has over 30 years’ experience in the building industry. He educates around the benefits of constructing durable, energy-efficient, and healthier homes through lectures, publications, and video series. Mark speaks nationwide to over 8000 people annually, offering consulting and training sessions for building professionals, architects, and major manufacturers. By performing on-site visits of builders’ homes, he identifies risks and opportunities for contractors from an independent perspective.

Partner Gord Cooke is an engineer with over 25 years of experience in the low- and high-rise residential building sectors. As an educator, industry consultant, and much sought-after presenter, Gord has a unique talent for taking the building science issues that he sees in the field and presenting them in an easily understood and practical, real-world manner. Gord has expertise in applied building science, energy-efficient housing initiatives, innovative HVAC systems, ventilation, and IAQ. He has developed and delivered workshops in these fields as well as sales and marketing courses for builders and real estate agents to help them best promote the features and benefits of high-performance houses.

Ci’s trainings

Ci has a range of classes. Applied Building Science and High-Performance HVAC and IAQ are two courses offered regularly. Others include two variations on the Applied Building Science class—one for cold climates and the other for hot-humid climates. There are also classes on high-performance enclosures as well as a net-zero energy design-build workshop. Next year, they will offer a new class addressing carbon in construction.

Path to Qualification
A flowchart illustrating how to achieve Ci Live’s high-performance builder designation

In addition to education and consulting services, which are designed to help builders and building-supply companies limit their risks and improve their businesses, Ci offers testing and field services. They test products and assemblies for manufacturers and builders to see real-world applications to determine potential issues and suggest improvements. They also review construction plans as well as code-compliance requirements and product evaluations. During my trip, I saw several wall assemblies in the lab that were ready to be tested to determine their performance characteristics; prototypes and production HVAC equipment were also being tested during my time there.

Ci Live app
Ci Live app interface

Ci also has an app featuring searchable videos, articles, and animations on construction industry topics. Notably, the Ci app is the No.1 construction tool app for mobile devices. It’s handy if you are on a job site and have a question on a product or assembly. You can find the app in both the Android and Apple app stores.

Employing what they preach

In their classroom, the Ci team has installed systems to ensure the best possible IAQ for students.  The fresh-air ventilation system consists of two energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) sized to provide between 4 and 6 air changes per hour based on the actual occupancy of the room. The ERVs are controlled first by an occupancy sensor that starts the system when people are detected in the room. A CO2-sensing multi-speed controller adjusts airflow based on CO2 levels. Stage 1 of the system holds the CO2 levels at 850 PPM; Stage 2 has a higher fan speed and starts when CO2 levels increase above 1000 PPM. The goal is to maintain CO2 levels less than 1000 PPM, which is considered a good level for healthy IAQ. (Maintaining lower levels of CO2 has been shown to help students perform better while learning.)

Well worth the trip

I was impressed with both the traditional classroom teachings and the time spent getting experience with tools and equipment in the testing center. Gord handled most of the classroom portion of the training, sharing his years of experience and extensive knowledge of the subject matter. Justin’s enthusiasm in the testing center was infectious and fun. I left Ci feeling the need to go home and investigate the deficiencies of my own HVAC equipment. I hope to attend another class in the future, bringing along a couple contractors in my market who I think could benefit from what Ci has to offer. In my opinion, the trip to Denver is worth the time.


Randy Williams is a builder and energy rater based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Photos courtesy of the author, except where noted.


  1. mr_reference_Hugh | | #1

    I am going to take a look at that CI app. I looked at their website. Looks like they are well organized. I would definitely attend their in person sessions if they were not a plane ride away but will keep an eye open for their next online sessions.

    1. GBA Editor
      Kiley Jacques | | #2

      Beyond e-learning opportunities, do you have recommendations/personal experience with companies or agencies offering quality education for tradespeople? I think hands-on experiential learning like what Randy described here is harder to come by.

  2. bob_swinburne | | #3

    Make sure you talk to Guy Payne at Peter Yost has put together an excellent builder training program in Vermont.

    1. GBA Editor
      Kiley Jacques | | #4

      Thanks, Bob. Will do.

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