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Designers, planners to tackle building health, efficiency

Courtesy photo
Ted Reiff, founder of the nonprofit ReUse People of America, is one of the keynote speakers at The Building Conference in Morgantown later this month. His group has pioneered an approach for "deconstructing" old buildings.
Courtesy photo Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and author of the book "Design Like You Give a Damn," is among the speakers at The Building Conference.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Building Conference is a simply named yet broadly targeted event coming to Morgantown. It will speak to anyone who works or lives in, designs or redesigns, or fixes or owns buildings that are old, new or yet to be built in West Virginia.

In short, just about everybody who has a stake in the quality of the places where we spend so much time, says Sarah Halstead of the nonprofit group WV GreenWorks, one of the sponsors of the Jan. 31-Feb. 2 event at the Waterfront Place Hotel.

After all, the state's "built environment," as she sums it up, is shorthand for the homes, buildings, offices and spaces where people live, work and spend most of their daily existence.

"It's our big chance to really accelerate the general public's understanding of energy efficiency and healthy building concepts. And it's certainly a chance for all the players in the state to get on the same page so we can work better together for better results," she said.

WV GreenWorks brought together West Virginia University, West Virginia State University and the state chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council to advance the cause of what she calls "sustainable building."

The conference (more details and online registration at thebuildingconference.com) has attracted a mix of heavy hitters. These include both international design and housing figures, policy-makers and people working across the state on affordable housing, downtown revival and healthier, more efficient buildings.

One keynote speaker is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cameron_Sinclair/" target="_blank">Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and author of the book "Design Like You Give a Damn," who emphasizes the significance of neighborhood and community in design decisions.

Another speaker, Scott Horst, is a senior vice president of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program, an influential and ever-evolving voluntary green and sustainable building standard.

"LEED, version 4, is his baby," Halstead noted.

The conference's four concurrent tracks -- Residential Performance, Commercial Innovation, Education and Facilities and Sustainable Communities -- illustrate that no building or community structure really falls outside the event's scope, Halstead said.

"A concentration on fixing what we've got is a serious theme in this conference," she said. "A lot of time people will ask contractors: 'What can I do with this building?' The contractor will often say 'you can't do much with these old buildings, they weren't built to be energy efficient.' That's not always true."

If a building can't be retrofitted to healthier, more sustainable standards, it can be responsibly 'deconstructed', recycling valuable materials, dumping less waste into landfills and offering owners tax write-offs.

WV GreenWorks has partnered with the national nonprofit group ReUse People of America, whose founder, Ted Reiff, is another keynote speaker. His group has pioneered an approach for deconstructing old buildings, work they showcased a couple years ago with a Putnam County building.

"We've talked for about a year about how to help all these communities that have dilapidated buildings," Halstead said. "What's the business model for helping these people out? There's never a budget; property values are driven down. Think about a model at this conference that will work for everyone all over West Virginia."

A sampling of conference topics (see sidebar at end) also reveals how some topics specifically address building owners, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) workers, the building supply industry and anyone involved in retrofitting or building healthier, more contemporary structures.

Or, for that matter, teachers and others looking ahead to West Virginia's future, said Halstead. "We'd love to get teachers and HVAC people -- they've got special love at this conference."

Appalachian Power, another event sponsor, is offering 10 scholarships to building industry workers to cover conference registration, available to general contractors and HVAC and insulation pros.

In line with this hands-on approach, WV GreenWorks, partnering with Think Green Midwest and Advanced Energy's Quality-Assured Professional for HVAC program, offers a Jan. 30 pre-conference training to certify more HVAC contractors to assist with the latest Energy Star V3 qualification for single and multi-family homes.

Such certification is a practical consideration in West Virginia, since Habitat for Humanity and affordable housing folks who handle federal funds require HVAC professionals with this certification.

And an Energy Star-certified home will hold appeal to anyone wary of rising utility costs, Halstead said.

"Everybody thinks of the Energy Star logo on an appliance. You know there's some kind of energy efficiency standard it has passed. It's the same for a house. An Energy Star home is pretty much certified to save between 15 and 30 percent ... on utilities."

There are also DIY (do it yourself) Genius Sessions, featuring people who've built modern, yet low-cost or no-cost energy efficient, off-the-grid homes, said Halstead.

"They're coming out to tell how they've done it. You're going to get the most honest scoop about straw bale, geo-thermal, solar, wind. These are people who have been there and done that."

Halstead acknowledges the conference has taken on a lot. But that's because the places where people live and work are essential to productivity, happiness and the overall health and attractiveness of a community.

"It looks like we're covering so much. That's because everything is connected. It's time that we looked holistically at how our environment performs and how we are interacting with our environment.

She acknowledges that some in the building trades "do not want to be associated with talking about green standards.

"But the health, comfort and productivity of your occupant is of primary importance. I would not like to find out they've lowered the bill using materials that off-gas and made my work force sick.

"We think this is an unprecedented time to move past the rhetoric, past all the kind of talk that keeps people from coming together. We think this conference offers a chance for real, civil dialogue."

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.

***

Here's a sampling of some sessions pulled from the schedule of The Building Conference, set for Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at The Waterfront Hotel in Morgantown. The conference is $199 for general registration, $99 for AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteers. For details, visit http://www.thebuildingconference.com:

"Home Performance & Certification: What, How, Why, How Much?"; "Retrofitting Historic Buildings"; "How to Tame Your Energy Hog"; "What Master Builders Know"; "A Million Pennies Saved is $10,000 Earned"; "Eco Schools: Growing a Green Generation By Design"; "Sustainable from the Inside Out, Top to Bottom"; "Innovative Ideas for Our Aging Infrastructure"

 


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