This post originally appeared on the Green Building Advisor website.
I recently made the 1349-mile trip from my home in Northern Minnesota to Austin, Texas. Stepping off the plane in Austin at 9:30 in the evening on November 8th, my first impression was it was hot, hot and muggy. Much different than the 35°F when I left Minnesota. I was taking my first trip to Texas to attend the Texas Building Science Symposium. A two-day event of nothing but building science education.
The Texas Building Science Symposium is an off shoot of the Midwest Building Science Symposium started by the Kansas City chapter BS and Beer group. Travis Brungardt and Joe Cook started the symposium in 2020, which I had the pleasure of attending. That first event had two speakers, Steven Baczek and Jake Bruton. In 2021, the event grew to include more speakers. This year, the symposium was held not only in Kansas City, but also in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Austin, Texas, and an upcoming event in Washington, DC.
Most of the speakers at the Austin event should all be familiar to readers of Green Building Advisor, architect Steve Baczek started the symposium off talking about the control layers. Steve’s decades of experience, which began with one of his first jobs in the construction industry working at Building Science Corporation, gives him a unique perspective in discussing building science. During his session, Steve gave several control layer examples by showing photos of past projects details to the audience, discussing the where, what and why of his decisions. Something Steve stressed was the importance of working as a team, the best chance of a successful project is when the owner, designer and builder are all on the same page. I’ve seen Steve speak more than a dozen times, I always learn something new every time I attend one of his presentations.
The second speaker was one of GBA’s contributing authors, Ben Bogie. I first met Ben in 2019 at the Fine HomeBuilding Summit in Southbridge, MA., I remember learning back then just how smart this guy is. Ben gave a talk on water management strategies including his experiences in managing the most important control layer. Ben covered how to manage water on and in buildings, but what I found most interesting in his presentation was when he discussed the details of how water reacts at the molecular level. The energy required to change phases, how water acts in vapor, liquid and solid forms, and how moisture moves through building materials. I enjoyed Ben teachings on both the science of water and the importance of water in building science.
The last speaker on the first day, and first speaker of the second day was my friend, Jake Bruton. Jake (and Steve Baczek) have been all over the place recently. Both are contributors to The Build Show Network, they record The Unbuild It Podcast (along with a guy named Peter Yost) and give many live presentations. They are also active on most of the social media platforms. Jake’s presentation was all about air sealing. Part of Jake’s discussion was how to correctly flash and install windows without nail flanges. In my market, I have yet to see a flangeless window installed on any build with the exception of commercial projects. How to install “innie” windows properly that is correctly detailed to create continuity in both the water and air control layers needs proper planning and execution, Jake shows us how this can be accomplished.
Allison Bailes was next to present. Dr. Bailes made fun of himself to start his talk, reminding us he was once one of the top 100 most influential women in America. Allison is a contributing author to the GBA website and has his own blog which can be found at the Energy Vanguard website, www.energyvanguard.com. He had a few copies of his new book, “A House Needs to Breathe…Or Does It?” available. Allison’s talk was all about indoor air quality. What I found most interesting in Dr. Bailes presentation was how HVAC design is one of the keys to good indoor air quality. His discussion on the effects of air quality on health, especially the very small particulates and how they move from our lungs and into the blood stream was both fascinating and terrifying. The discussion had me wanting to go home and change the filtration strategy of my home.
The third speaker of the second day was someone I had not previously met, and in my opinion, the most energetic speaker at the symposium, code expert Glenn Matthewson. Glen owns a building code consulting and education business called Building Code College, (found online at www.buildingcodecollege.com). He is active in code development and is passionate about getting others involved too. Glen’s presentation was about, you guessed it, codes dealing with energy and building science. Part of Glen’s presentation covered the planning of the 2024 energy code and a new labeling of the “variable” or “smart” class of vapor retarders. It appears the new description will be responsive vapor retarder or responsive vapor control layer. I am hoping to take a few of Glen’s online classes to review for this series of Training for the Trades blog posts.
Next up was Enrico Bonilauri. Enrico is an architect from Northern Italy who moved to Colorado a few years ago to provide education for the international version of passive house. The company he and partner, Mariana Pickering started is called Emu. Enrico gave us an introductory course in passive house. Part of Enrico’s presentation expanded on Jake Bruton’s discussion on “innie” windows and how the window location in the opening can affect the performance of the overall wall. His discussion was backed up with several thermal models showing heat flow through different window assemblies. I am hoping to take some training from Emu in the near future, if all works out, the training will become another part of this series.
The final speaker of the Texas Building Science Symposium was a person who was influential in my education into building science. Peter Yost has semi-retired from the building community. He still records podcasts with Jake Bruton and Steve Baczek (The Unbuild It Podcast), provides building science consulting, and gives the occasional lecture. Peter is another Building Science Corp alumni with a wide range of technical knowledge. His presentation was called Building Science Myths, Magic, and Mysteries. I’ve heard Peter discuss the importance of “managing moisture and energy with equal intensity” on several occasions, this presentation expanded on that phrase. Pete went over how to calculate the drying potential of different assemblies, how to measure moisture content in the assembly, all the while expressing the importance of understanding the characteristics of individual building materials and how these materials can change an assembly. A fascinating discussion, but then again, I’m kind of a nerd.
The symposium was held at a brewery called The Brewtorium in Austin. The cost to attend was only $100 if you registered early, or $150 for normal registration. There were right around 100 attendees. The reason the event was so inexpensive was because of the support from the vendors who were also in attendance. Huber with their Zip Systems and Advantech product lines, Dupont and their Tyvek family of products, Atlas insulation products, Sashco, Rockwool, Hikmicro, Zehnder and Innovated Structures Inc. (Tstud) were all present with samples and information. Emu and Mitsubishi also helped sponsor the event and Fine HomeBuilding (parent company of GBA) was the media sponsor.
Something included with the symposium was continuing education credits through the American Institute of Architects or AIA. Sticking around for both days provided 9.5 credits. There was a large number in attendance from the design community who I’m sure benefited from the education.
I had the opportunity to chat with a few of the attendees, some of whom were new to the building science community. One referred to the event as “drinking from a fire hose”. This was a lot of education in a short amount of time. But even for the more experienced building science nerds, there was something to be learned. There were a few people in attendance that GBA readers might know, Armando Cobo, Tim and Bryan Uhler, Eric Aune and Matt Risinger.
What I like most about events like this is the opportunity to interact with the speakers. When not providing education, each of the speakers were in the audience. Frequent breaks allowed for many questions and conversations with both other attendees, speakers and the sponsors. Unlike other educational events I’ve attended, classes are attended by all, other educational models have more than one class at a given time requiring the attendee to choose. It’s been my experience that two classes I hope to attend happen at the same time, forcing a choice. This style of in-person education is what I prefer. I don’t think you could get a better value for the quality of education than any of the Building Science Symposiums. The organizers, Travis and Joe, are hoping to move the event to a quarterly timeline and provide the education opportunity in various locations throughout the US. Keep up with future events by visiting the Kansas City BS and Beer website, www.bsandbeerkc.org.