Better Buildings: Better Business Conference Update
Just before the Energy Center of Wisconsin expanded their Better Buildings: Better Business Conference to include the state of Illinois in 2012, we spoke with John Viner of the Energy Center about the conference. His then-new position as the Interim Education Director had him less involved in conference content development, but now, as the Senior Project Manager, he’s “back enjoying more time applied to designing educational events.”
Both excited about this year’s events and the education they offer, we spoke with Viner about what attendees can expect from both the Illinois and Wisconsin conferences.
Q&A with John Viner
Home Energy: Have you seen a difference in the way attendees of the conference want to obtain information and/or in what types of educational tracks they’re interested in?
John Viner: No, it is always all over the board and I don’t think this will change. Building professionals get short clips of information online to find answers to specific questions and are attending half- or full-day classroom events for a deeper understanding of a topic. What I really look forward to is connecting people face-to-face.
My approach to the educational tracks is striking a balance. The Better Buildings: Better Business Conferences draw 500–1,000 people all with different backgrounds and levels of experience. The key regardless of the topic is keeping the speakers focused on the important things, meaning getting to the nuggets of information as soon as possible and facilitating conversation.
HE: What can Better Buildings Better: Business Conference attendees expect to see in 2013/2014 that they haven't seen in years past?
JV: Our goal is to bring more activities and learning opportunities into the expo. In Illinois we will have at least 20% of our educational programming taking place right there through for-credit demonstration sessions. A sample of what we will have is window and door installation best practices and blower door testing with multiple fans using new Wi-Fi technology.
At our Wisconsin conference, we are planning hands-on training related to a full range of exterior moisture management practices. This will be a 6-hour, hands-on course for a limited number of attendees. Two props will be set up in the expo: a four-sided house and a roof system (low to the ground). Participants will install housewraps, windows, doors, flashings, sealants, and tapes. They will be challenged with a number of roof characteristics where they will have to flash and correctly install roofing materials. When it comes to learning formats, it’s hard to beat actually practicing a technique.
HE: When we spoke with you last, you said that one of the things that makes the Illinois conference different from other event is that its host and sponsors "view it as a movement that will have a lasting impact on the residential building and remodeling industry in Illinois.” Have you seen examples of these changes in the state?
JV: I think that you will find that the state and utility energy efficiency programs are growing, which means more homes are getting treated by professional building performance consultants and contractors, which only leads to all of these positive attributes when the job is done right. The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance may be able to speak to this better than I.
Aimee Skrzekut, Director of Programs, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance: The Illinois Better Buildings: Better Business Conference provides an excellent forum for experienced whole-home professionals and people new to the industry to come and learn the latest in building science. It also offers the opportunity for contractors to provide feedback directly to utility and state residential program administrators. The extended face-to-face between contractors and programs has been very valuable in the growth of the industry in Illinois.
HE: How are the Illinois and Wisconsin conferences different?
JV: The Wisconsin conference has an 11-year history, which tends to make my job of bringing new content a little harder. Many Wisconsin conference attendees have been involved in energy efficiency programs since the 1990s and attending building performance-related educational events for a dozen years or more. One clear difference for the Wisconsin conference, as a result of this history, is creating content that helps experienced home performance consultants diversify business offerings.
The Illinois conference is exciting because there’s a lot of momentum on the ground in the state related to construction practices, codes, and energy efficient retrofits. Interest and activities related to high-performance building standards in Illinois is strong so I can easily bring in advanced concepts and standards and they are well received. A unique aspect of the Illinois conference is a greater emphasis on HVAC content and the importance of connecting the HVAC industry to high performance building professionals.
HE: What's one of your most memorable moments from a Better Buildings: Better Business Conference?
JV: I really enjoyed the first few times we started to hold demonstrations and hands-on courses. As the audience grew, the quality of information exchange also grew. It was really fascinating to observe… you could really tell people were learning.
HE: Anything else you'd like to add?
JV: The direction of the content delivered at the conferences will tend to drift a little toward improving common construction practices, with an emphasis on exterior moisture management, to help balance out all the high-performance construction practices related to increasing R-values and airtightness. In other words, I feel this will attract a more diverse audience of builders, remodelers, and HVAC contractors that may be initially hesitant to join the high performance or “green” industries.
The 2013 Illinois Better Buildings: Better Business Conference will be held December 10–11. You can learn more about it here.
The 2014 Wisconsin Better Buildings: Better Business Conference will be held March 5–7. You can learn more about it here.
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