Thinking Big at Building Energy, Our Go-to Conference

Thinking Big at Building Energy, Our Go-to Conference

  • downed tree takes out power line in Newton, MA during Superstorm Sandy
By Rachel White

For three days every March several of us take off our tool belts, shut down our spreadsheets and head to the annual Building Energy Conference (BE). We love seeing the latest and greatest energy saving gadgets, hearing from foremost building science experts, and soaking up practical knowledge.

But BE also is a chance for us to think big: to learn about emerging trends and to confront pressing challenges. This year's conference was no exception. Here are two ways that BE13 challenged us to think big.

Standing Up to Extreme Weather (And Surviving the Aftermath)
The effects of climate change are upon us in the form of punishing droughts, crippling storms, devastating floods, as well as consequent disruptions in critical services. Several sessions at BE13 focused on resilience, or the capacity of a building to withstand and bounce back from extreme weather events and service disruptions.

The good news is that many resilient building strategies are already mainstays of Byggmeister's practice. For example, we know how to air seal and insulate buildings really well, which not only enhances efficiency but also allows a building to remain at livable temperatures during extended wintertime power outages.

The bad news is that we can't rely solely on established practices to address the risks associated with extreme weather. Higher winds and heavier snowfalls may require us to rethink structural design, for example. And while we don't yet know how to do all the things that resilience requires, we are committed to learning. Because it's not a question of if another superstorm or extended power outage will occur. It's a question of when.

H2OUSE: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Home Water Use
The Building Energy conference has long focused on energy (no surprise there, given the name), but a handful of sessions at BE13 addressed water conservation, attesting to growing recognition of this issue's significance. As our region and nation have faced myriad water crises from drought to infrastructure failures, the high performance building community has begun to take notice.

One piece of good news from BE13 is that the overall trend line for indoor residential water use is headed in the right direction. We are using less water in our homes as the market for efficient fixtures and appliances has come into its own. The bad news is that outdoor residential water consumption is increasing, driven largely by newer homes with ample lawns and irrigation systems.

Even though Byggmeister doesn't build new homes or contract landscaping work, outdoor water use is now on our radar screen. We're tracking water use at several homes, and as we add more homes to our tracking program, we'll be on the lookout for seasonal spikes in water use. We'll also steer clients towards landscape and irrigation professionals who can help them minimize reliance on potable water for irrigation.

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Of course BE13 was also chock full of technical information such as methods for building superinsulated wall assemblies without foam; configuration and installation of condensing boilers to maximize efficiency; and moisture management. But what makes Building Energy a great conference and an extraordinary learning experience is that it doesn't shy away from the broader challenges that provide the context for our work. BE13 asked us to think big, and in true Byggmeister fashion, we seized the opportunity.