Events and conferences

Australia must catch up, say buildings physics experts

Australia is lagging behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to sealing, thermal performance and control of moisture in our buildings. That was the consensus at AIRAH’s Building Physics Virtual Forum, held on September 17. But the event also highlighted the opportunity to improve by using our local expertise and learning from other countries’ experiences.

More than 130 people from around Australia and the world connected at the virtual event, to watch presentations from 11 speakers, participate in Q&A sessions, and network.

“The Building Physics Forum brings together professionals from diverse parts of the construction process who share a common passion for improving our buildings,” says AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH.

“They may be engineers, builders, researchers or architects, but at this event they unite t form one eclectic and energetic community. This group is fascinated with why things happen and how to make them better, all while having a little fun.”

This year’s keynote speaker was world-renowned indoor air quality (IAQ) expert Max Sherman, a retired Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and leader of the residential team of ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force.

In his presentation he shared experiences from the US of lifting building standards for air tightness and ventilation. He was blunt about the work that lies ahead for Australia, but also optimistic.

“Getting from low-performing homes to high-performing homes is a process,” says Sherman. “The Europeans have been ahead of the US in many ways, and the US may be ahead of Australia in many ways. There are plenty of pitfalls on the path, but Australia can benefit from the mistakes others have made. And in the end it’ll be OK.”

Sean Maxwell, AM.AIRAH, hosted the event and sat on the technical organising committee. He says Sherman pinpointed where we are – and where we need to get to.

“It took building physics, codes and policies, and boiled them down to basic steps that our industries can take to get on the road from ‘good’ to ‘better’ healthy and efficient buildings.”

During the day, other experts focused on specific building physics challenges and solutions. This included thermal breaks, negative pressure in buildings, above sheathing ventilation and condensation risks in flame zone roofs.

Ania Hampton, M.AIRAH, who presented at the Forum, says that some of the practical solutions have proven useful to her already. And she agreed that the event provided a clear view of the road ahead.

“The construction industry has a lot of catching up to do,” says Hampton. “We are only just starting to listen to the experts and accept condensation and thermal breaks as real-world issues that need to be dealt with. We’ve become rather complacent, thinking we’ve been designing thermally efficient and healthy buildings, but we have a way to go. The devil is in the detail.”

More than 130 people attended the forum – the largest attendance since the event began in 2017. Gleeson says that the move to virtual events this year has improved accessibility and increased the reach of this and other AIRAH conferences.

“People have the freedom to attend from anywhere in Australia, or even the world,” he says, “We are finding that our members and the wider HVAC&R industry are embracing this new way of sharing knowledge and networking. And they have the added benefit of being able to watch the presentations again later online, at their convenience.”

Videos from the Building Physics Virtual Conference will be available through the event website.

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