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Wow! BOG VII was HUGE!

The 7th High Performance Design Meets Boots on the Ground event was a huge success! More than 85 people attended to network and learn from four talented presenters. Thank you to everyone who came out to make it a memorable event!

For many professionals in the high performance building sector, we often have to trudge south of the border for training at conferences. Going there is expensive and disruptive and last Tuesday’s groundswell of support suggests that we don’t have to go far afield to learn from the best.

On a side note, the same goes for magazine and web content; it’s time for a little CanCon (a.k.a. Canadian content)! Technical content on American websites like Green Building Advisor and printed publications like Fine Home Building (FHB) and Journal of Light Construction (JLC) could use a little Cold and Humid Climate input from you. There’s no reason that Ontario design and assembly systems and processes can’t rival the content coming out of Vermont, Main and New Hampshire.

With all this in mind, expect the following for the Fall edition of High Performance Design Meets Boots on the Ground:

  • Upping our Game: with a venue change in the fall, we want to attract some new innovative Canadian suppliers by providing them with a proper place to show case their goods while we count on the attendants to continue sharing their insights on a wide variety of topics.
  • A picture’s worth a thousand words. Like Manny at Hardcore Renos said in his presentation, plan out your marketing. Please start taking good quality pictures of your assembly process so that you have a story to tell, made easier with clear pictures.
  • With the pictures you take, you too can present at the next BOG and you too can submit something to the editors of the above magazines! We can help you!

 

All future presentations will be vetted by Solares Architecture which has offered to help improve the presentations’ flow and sharpen the scope and message to move us to the networking part more quickly.

And a BIG Thank You to our Spring 2017 BOG event sponsors!

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In case you missed it, we were SNAPD on Facebook:

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BGG Making Media Waves

I was interviewed by Metroland Media’s Justin Skinner for the Beach Mirror on why and how “Consumers need to make lifestyle changes to save on bills.” I tried to stay focused on what was positive and doable for many in Toronto who moslty heat with abundant, cheap Natural Gas.

Amazingly, AM640 picked up the Metroland story in a follow up live interview with Tasha Kheiriddin, one of Canada’s best-known writers and broadcasters who sounds like she’s suffering from cognitive dissonance on the looming issue of Climate Change.

My heart breaks for rural Ontarians who might be underemployed, have a higher delivery rate and who unwittingly bought homes that were built in an area of promised cheap nuclear energy. For dozen years, Ontario Hydro was pushing moderately more efficient homes be built using electricity as a heating source.

Seduced by the nuclear promise of guaranteed low prices, my father, an electrician who wired many homes in the Windsor area had some terse words to say about those large promises made. The electrically heated home I grew up in was eventually convereted to natural gas 30 years later but the big difference between my family homestead and many ontarians is, he has money saved, doesn’t have as high a delivery charge and he has quick easy access to cheap natural gas.

Now with a 25% cut for poor and rich alike, the province of Ontario is kicking the can down the road. A sad legacy to saddle the next generation with.

 

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Making the Air Tightness Goals

Dean Butterwick of Butterwick Building Company Ltd and D’Arcy Dunal, Architect, teamed up recently to build a beautiful home just outside of Bala, Ontario.

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Using a double wall and the zip sheathing system, the lads a Butterwick were able to get to 1.00ACH50 and the windows wern’t even in yet. It’s rare that pre-drywall air tightness tests go so well and finally, after a year of hauling a bag full of lays, I had the chance to celebrate with the crew in producing a great result! Congrats to Project Manager Ian for paying very close attention to details, there weere alot of them in this build.

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Starting Summer 2018: Energy Reporting and Benchmarking for Large Buildings

Buildings in Ontario including office buildings, condominiums and retail stores made up 19 per cent of Ontario’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2013. The Energy and Water Reporting and Benchmarking (EWRB) initiative was introduced to help building owners improve their building’s energy and water efficiency.

Building owners are required to report their data to the Ministry of Energy by July 1 of every year. The reporting requirement will be phased in over three years, beginning July 1, 2018, with buildings that are greater than or equal to 250,000 square ft. The reporting window will open in early 2018.

Reporting your data

What is Energy and Water Reporting and Benchmarking?

EWRB is the review of a building’s energy and water performance to determine how it is changing over time in comparison to other similar buildings.

Large Building Energy and Water Reporting will help building owners

  • Better manage energy and water use and costs
  • Identify best practices and energy and water-saving opportunities
  • Set and achieve measurable goals
  • Evaluate results by comparing to similar facilities across the province
  • Measure improvement over time
  • Value energy efficient and water efficient buildings

Building types that must report

The following types of privately owned buildings that are 50,000 square feet and larger are required to report:

  • Commercial
  • Multi-unit residential with more than 10 residential units
  • Some industrial buildings/properties

To find out if your building is required to report, review Ontario’s Large Building Energy and Water reporting and Benchmarking Requirement: Building Types for the full list of building types that are required to report.

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Getting Strain Relief: TEC Fan Speed Control Wires Relax!

I finally souped up my TEC Fan speed control. If you compare the two images below, you’ll notice in the top photo the wires coming in and out of the fan speed control are “gland” type wire strain reliefs.  They work, but they have the tendency to focus all the bending stress at one point on the wire which eventually causes the stranded wires to break.

The old way:

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The fan speed control you buy today from Minneapolis has improved over the years internally, but still the same crappy wire strain relief bushings. If you have guys who abuse the wires, typically, the stranded wire eventually breaks inside the sheathing and eventually, the control needs re-wiring. It could be different.

There’s a better way.

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I bought a pair of wire strain reliefs for $5 at our local electronic supply store (A-1 Electronics) and installed them. I had to open up the holes with a step drill bit to move them apart yet closer to the centre line of the side panel so the nuts wouldn’t affect the ground wire and wouldn’t touch the box. I also had to drill out the new strain relief to take out 1mm of plastic in the throat to allow the old wire to be slid through.

With the new strain reliefs, I should be able to get a longer service life out of the speed control. To the good folks at TEC, these longer flexible wire strain reliefs won’t add much cost to your production; please consider it!

 

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Diagnostic: “I’ve got water coming through my ceiling!”

We get called by building owners to help figure out the source of damaging water leaks that appear on ceilings or walls. When dealing with dripping water leaks the first step in triage is to ask if it happens after a rain or if it happens only when it’s below freezing. The second question is typically how long it has been happening for, if there any renovations in the area and how long the client has been experiencing the issue. Turns out this leak was a bit different and completely unexpected.

I was at the house in the summer time and the client talked about water coming through the ceiling drywall under this plumbing stack:

I suggested to the client that he have a roofer check for step flashing along the wall and that perhaps there was water getting around the cap through shingles.

Given I was there for an energy audit and there was no water coming through the ceiling at the time, I chalked it up to a flashing issues because the client couldn’t say definitively that is was a winter only issue; they felt the leak was taking place year round. I asked them to take notes on when the leak happened more intensely.

Nine months later, and the client had the roof replaced yet the leak was still happening this January, so I went over to investigate. It was above zero and raining last week, but on inspection day it was -11C and very cold. The client said the leak was dripping under both conditions. I checked on the work outside:

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New roof, still no sign of step flashing. See below for closeups.

Uphill from the leak was the natural gas furnace and hot water heater and there was plenty of condensation happening. Was this my water source? It couldn’t be discounted.

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The furnace and hot water heater were co-vented through this chimney and a good amount of condensation and ice buildup was taking place here. Was this the source of my water leak?

 

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I’ve never seen a rain cap on a plumbing stack, but that was the roofer’s idea. Again, like the chimney up-hill, a lot of condensation happening and dripping to the roof deck around the base forming ice. Was this the source of my water leak?

 

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I’m not sure why there’s clear silicone, but I think the roofer had been warned about the problem and was taking no chances. The ice on the shingles was from the condensation taking place under the rain cap on the plumbing stack above.

Inside, the offending area finally had the drywall cut out to see what was going on. The back of the drywall had a two areas of distinct water marks showing there was more than one leak but both were under the plumbing stack:

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With the ceiling drywall cut out to expose the floor joist cavity, we could see the 3″ black ABS pipe that goes form the wall cavity below on a 45 up and through the plywood sub-floor of the knee-wall above. In the bottom lower right hand corner, you can see a well worn hole through the drywall where years of constant dripping etched a hole through the drywall.

For the denouement, check out the video below!

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Passive House Builder Videos

These are amazing videos showing details of Passive Houses in the USA. Good for showing the thought processes that go into planning a high performance house. Nice to see the architect on the job site!

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

Video 5

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Still in the Dark about Ontario’s Home Energy Rating and Disclosure plan

As 2016 comes to a close, we still have few details about the proposed Home Energy Rating and Disclosure (HERD) program. The program aims to incentivise energy upgrades in homes by finally enacting mandatory labeling of houses at point of sale, which has languished on the books since Dalton McGuinty’s time in office with the Green Energy Act.

Ministry of Energy spokes person Aslan Hart says “The evaluation of a home’s energy performance is useful information for both sellers and buyers to identify and compare the energy efficiency of properties and encourage energy efficiency improvements prior to sale.” And the Ontario Home Builders Association agrees! The potential for revenue generation is huge for the province in terms of spin-off from the renovation sector.

“When Ontario’s cap-and-trade program starts up [in 2017], it will bring in about $2 billion annually. Millions of dollars will flow toward retrofit programs, and the province will likely cover the cost of the [Home Energy] audits themselves (about $300 each).” says TVO’s Brian Platt.

On a delivery note, the province may need as many as 1900 new energy auditors which is a huge jump from the handful of energy auditors left from the last program… Stay tuned!

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Just Say No to [Swiss] Cheesey Attic Floors!

As the biting cold of winter hits us, many building owners this week will start to see signs of moisture damage on parts of their walls or ceilings. As we keep temperatures in our homes consistent, the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures (the ole’ Delta T as they call it) becomes greater, and this difference drives air up and out through holes in our ceiling (see Photo 1 below) and into the cold attic space. We call it the ole’ Stack Effect – just slightly less powerful than the force Darth Vader used, but equally as nefarious.

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Photo 1: Does your attic floor look like this? Then don’t design it like this otherwise you have lots of holes, gaps and cracks to air seal. Remember, air seal first, then insulate!

ice-dam

A particularly good example of an ice dam on an roof’s eve. The cause is typically 80% air leakage and 20% conduction (lack of insulation).

The summer’s high humidity kept stored in our buildings stays high until the cold winter drives it out. Usually by late January there’s not a lot of humidity stored in the house because the stack effect drove it all out. But in early winter, humidity levels indoors are rich and so it’s common at the first bite of winter to see signs of attic condensation… indoors. The combination is destructive if not remediated promptly.

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This is your sheathing…on moisture… in winter. The cold night sky absorbs heat off roofs and any moisture in the attic usually condenses on the back side as in this newly sheathed attic.

Below are examples of stack effect and careless workmanship.

 

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The nails are made of metal which is very conductive. The cold night sky, or brisk winter winds keeps these nails colder than the wood sheathing and they are the canary in the coal mine for attic moisture.

 

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You wouldn’t fill your car’s gas tank by aiming the nozzle 3″ from the hole, so why do it with your bath fan in the attic? The bath exhaust fan pipe aimed at the hole in the roof sheathing had equally disastrous consequences. The above plywood sheathing was merely 3 years old.

Because we do lots of discomfort, mould and condensation diagnostics on existing buildings, we tend to see the worst of building envelope design. Though it is possible to design really funky Passive Houses like Libskind’s signature pre-fab Villa, the sad truth is that the run of the mill builder isn’t there yet. Not even the plumbers can get it right 100% of the time:

The plumbing vent likely contributed lots of moisture to this icy attic sheathing.

The unglued joint in the plumbing vent likely contributed lots of moisture to this icy attic sheathing.

The interface between the living space and the attic needs to be simple for high performance buildings. If you really need ornamentation then build a high flat ceiling that’s air tight and drywall, then just build soffits under it; at least then you’ll have a continuous attic floor. It takes a special builder to detail complexity successfully, so if you’re not ready to hire the best of the best builder, don’t design ceilings like this:

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A Surprising Ally in the Fight Against Climate Change (and Building Science)

In its 2013 Operational Energy Annual Report, the US Department of Defense, along with each of its member military branches, reported on strategies to reduce operational energy use. Jon Powers, an Iraq Veteran, sees Climate Change as the “Mother of All Risks” to U.S. National Security.

It should come as no surprise then that the US military is helping to advance building science by developing a standard test method for large building air leakage testing in all its buildings. Known as  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Air Leakage Test Protocol for Building Envelopes, the test is being widely recognised as a robust method for testing larger buildings.

It was with great relief when – in early December 2016 – the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demonstrated environmental leadership again by denying the permit to build a pipeline under the Missouri River. As scientists, we have to stand together, much like these First Nations people and even Saudi artists:

 

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