Reflecting on Design & Construction Week

After three decades of attending the building industry’s annual show, I noticed that some things remain the same.


It wasn’t our first rodeo, far from it. Our Editor-in-Chief, Matt Power, and I were trying to recall how many we had each attended when I reminded him that our first face-to-face meeting came in the Houston Astrodome when the show was held there in 1995. Not sure if either of us had been to any earlier.

What’s perhaps most striking about the most recent experience, this time in Las Vegas and now referred to as Design & Construction Week, is that with all the advances that have been made in building science, products, performance, and design, the mindset of the industry is right where it was thirty years ago, but I’ll get to that. 

As I started seeing email invitations arrive in early February from various PR and marketing agencies representing companies in the residential building sector who wanted those of us in the media to visit their exhibits in the vast convention center halls, I decided to have some fun and see just how sincere all the messaging was.  It seemed that almost everyone was starting to mention sustainability claims in their pitches.

Each time I would get a new invite I would respond that while interested in seeing new products and hearing about new services for the building community, I really wanted to know about their sustainability commitments as well as their ESG initiatives.  I identified it as my “Bustin’ Greenwash Tour.”

Not surprisingly, I did not hear anything more from many of them. I had to chuckle when one particular representative, who had pitched me to come by and see a new plumbing part that is made from recycled plastic bottles, reported that their client would pass on that opportunity but still hoped I would stop in to see their widget.

But several others embraced the chance to shine the light on their sustainability programs and achievements, and a couple even offered to share ESG reports that are already in place or under development.  I’ll be following up with those company reps in the coming weeks, and I’m eager to learn about those organizations who are leading these kinds of efforts.

But not all the activities were happening in the show booths.  Each and every day before, during, and after the actual three days of the event, my inbox was flooded with blogs and announcements from NAHB that promoted not only everything imaginable that was connected to Design & Construction Week but also their ongoing advocacy campaigns happening across the country.

One such statement that caught my eye was a typical association propaganda piece that contained a list of the features home buyers want in new homes. Prominent on the list was energy efficiency.  On the same day, I received it I was contacted by energy-efficiency proponents back in Colorado who were asking me if I could testify against a bill in the state senate that called for rollbacks in residential energy requirements for new homes. 

Fortunately, despite the best efforts of homebuilder association lobbyists, the bill, which had NAHB fingerprints all over it, never made it out of committee. Sadly, similar rollback initiatives have been making their way into the legislative agendas in several other states as well.

Never accused of smart timing, the association also released a statement that reflected the shrinking square footage of typical new homes in America, currently at about 2,400 and expected to fall to 2,000 in the near future. Ironically, they were also endlessly promoting their annual behemoth showhome, a shameful hoax they have dubbed The New American Home, which officially opened for the show weighing in at over 7,700 square feet, or three to four times what an actual new home measures in America.

At the end of the day, that program is a juicy cash cow that the association uses to lure companies in the building products sector into the inner circle and then milk them for major bucks. One would think that those successful manufacturers would be too savvy to be suckered into the game, but once they’re on the inside they fear losing their place to one of their competitors, and they’re stuck.

Widgets may come and go, but it seems that hypocrites and bullies are forever.