Member Spotlight: Mike Poirier
The Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) dives inside the career of Mike Poirier, Vice-President for QED Lab in Troutdale, OR. In this feature interview, learn what made him become an ABAA member, what led him on his career path, and get his perspective on the future of the air barrier industry.
Mike has over 15 years of building science consulting and testing aptitude with an emphasis on exterior waterproofing and weather resistance. He is one of few in the Pacific Northwest with a level III certification for air barrier testing of whole buildings for air leakage. With over 10,000 window tests under his belt, and over 15 million square feet of air barrier tested, there’s no doubt about Mike’s expertise. As consulting department manager for two Pacific NW architectural firms, he is also the author of several consulting and testing articles and standards, some of which were published into industry magazines. Mike’s experience also includes specification, waterproofing and air barrier detail drawings, and technical report writing.
Name: Mike Poirier
Firm: QED Lab
City: Troutdale, OR
What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession with a manufacturer?
A: Since I was about 7 or 8 years old, I always knew I wanted to be involved in the construction industry. Learning came easy with a hands-on approach and I’ve always had a knack for the science side of things. I attended college to become an architect and partway through, I realized other related opportunities, such as consulting and testing that peaked my interest more than design work. Having my father and grandfather spending their entire careers in manufacturing of spacecraft, a large majority of their work was testing the things they built. I guess you can say testing has been in my blood since the beginning.
Is there anything that you believe everyone in this industry should be working towards?
A: Constant improvement should always be the goal. There are so many tools to aid the construction industry to constantly strive for being better. A well-performing air barrier system accomplishes so many things for a better industry including indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and in some cases, stringent code requirements to name a few.
Construction materials have made vast improvements in recent years, especially in the building enclosure world. Performance of these products and systems can be designed incredibly well, but design is only as good as performance. This is why I feel testing is a critical part of design and installed systems. Plans and details are obviously critical for the success of any building, but the systems also need to perform, and this is proven through testing.
What role have peers, mentors, or advisors played in your career?
A: I used to have this client named Martin Houston who was a quality control manager for a prominent general contractor in Portland, Oregon. Before that we worked together at a local architectural firm, so we go way back — about 16 years. This guy is an architect with a serious interest in building science. He has spent years as a professor for the building science program at the University of Oregon and is very well respected in the Pacific Northwest.
Martin had such a heavy interest in testing and quality buildings from the day I met him, and it takes a very special person to have that interest. He says he’s “a recovering architect,” which makes me smile because I was on that path myself. I consider him my mentor because he spans the gap between contractor and architect. And lets face it, there’s quite a gap there so often.
About a year ago, Martin joined our team at QED and our sister company for enclosure consulting: Qualified Enclosure Consultants (QEC). It’s pretty incredible for us to go from peers, to client/mentor, to business partner.
What led you to become an ABAA member?
A: In January 2012, the state of Washington passed a new code requirement for testing whole buildings for air leakage (ASTM E779). QED had an established reputation in the Pacific Northwest as a trustworthy enclosure testing company with our lab certification testing, field window testing, etc. It was a natural step for us to set ourselves up for the next big thing… whole building air leakage testing. Part of that process was to join an organization like ABAA for resources, articles, education, and to be listed as a testing company online.
Are you involved in any ABAA committees? Do you have any ABAA certifications?
A: I am not currently on any committees, but I’ve been in discussion with some peers about a potential ABAA chapter specific for the Pacific Northwest. This involvement and region-specific committee is right up my alley and I’m excited to be involved. Also, I plan on taking the CABS exam once the new program is introduced in early 2021. The designation will help boost my experience and credentials as a professional in the testing world.
How long have you been in the industry?
A: Sixteen years. I started in this industry with a position at a couple of architectural and consulting firms in 2004 where I was in the field observing capitol needs for existing buildings, including technical report writing, detail design, etc. for those projects. In 2012, I purchased QED with my partner, Charlie Klingner, and we’ve built quite the testing company ever since. I was a rather young business owner at age 29, but with my partner, my mentors, and my supportive wife, I’ve been fortunate to succeed in this niche industry and create a company with the reputation and client base that makes us proud. QED is coming up on our 9 year anniversary in March 2021.
What major changes have you seen?
A: Air tightness in building has changed dramatically since my direct involvement in 2012. We used to see clients not even knowing what a whole building test was, using tar paper everywhere, failing their tests, needing design advice, and everything associated with the relatively new requirements. Now we have those same clients having competitions with their superintendents on who can build the tighter building. What a change in performance and attitude over the years.
Also, code changes are noticeable. In addition to the required energy code testing, the threshold for allowable air leakage has been constantly shrinking. Some jurisdictions in Washington state are down to 0.22 CFM/SF. That’s nearly half of the starting point of 0.40 CFM/SF when the requirement was first introduced.
With all these really good changes happening everywhere, there is still room for some improvement. Testing standards leave issues open to interpretations, codes are enforced differently depending on the jurisdictions, and testing requirements seem to be universally applied to all building types. Clearly a high-rise tower and a drive-up coffee stand are going to be dramatically different buildings and a one-size-fits-all criteria is not always a reasonable approach.
What traits or skills do you think are necessary to be able to succeed in your industry?
A: In a word, comprehension. Design, consulting, and testing can’t possibly succeed without a thorough comprehension of building science and an understanding of how products become systems, and how systems become a whole building enclosure. Education is a large part of this, and experience is another. I hear from my peers quite regularly that building science and testing isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. There needs to be an interest and a passion or you’ll never succeed. That holds true to all of my daily tasks. There are no shortcuts in the building enclosure industry. Why? Because my test will expose them. Having performed testing of over 22 million square feet of buildings, you have a tendency to see a variety of conditions, details, products and techniques. For instances like this, experience is more useful than education.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in your field?
A: Find a mentor. There’s not an abundance of education for testing, so experience and certifications are paramount in our industry. You get the experience and qualify for certifications when you work under a mentor. There are few companies that do what we do. Sure there are some competitors, but I’ve learned to be friendly with the competition. Sometimes your competitor is your next partner or client. Plus, it’s always fun to talk science with your peers at conferences!
How much demand do you think there is for people in your profession?
A: It’s economy-driven. When the economy is thriving, the construction industry is doing well and testing is directly affected. With testing specifically, the demand for a like-minded person is difficult to find, and therefore the demand is moderate to high. It’s not necessarily an industry where a PHD is necessary, but the comprehension and passion needs to be ample.
What do you think the industry will look like in five or ten year’s time?
A: With the huge demand of green building, reduced carbon foot prints, and an ever-popular desire for energy efficiency, product development and testing will always be growing. I see within a decade having most states requiring a whole building air leakage test in their energy code with the most extreme weather states leading the movement. This will drive air barrier product sales upward to meet the code requirements; and as a result, better and better products will be designed and manufactured in a very competitive market.
My hope for the testing part of this equation is a stringent requirement to qualify the testing agency and technician. I’ve seen too many occasions where an inferior testing company can’t meet a code requirement, doesn’t have the right equipment, charges the building owner way too much, and still can’t produce an accurate test. A lot of this comes down to an under-qualified technician. Code-required testing should also qualify the agency performing the test.