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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:

Image result for the energy conservatory speed control

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!

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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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Updating Market Perceptions of Building Air Tightness and Ventilation

As Canada’s most populous province, Ontario will increase the energy performance level of homes by 15% starting in 2017. The new changes are legislated in the province’s updated building code document known as SB-12. The two biggest changes are complimentary; all new homes require heat recovery on ventilation systems and there are incentives for making buildings more air tight as verified by air leakage testing.

Gone are the days of a principal exhaust-only bath fan as a means for ventilating a house. As of 2017 either a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) or Enthalpic/Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) are mandatory. Amen! But are home owner’s ready? What about builders, trades and municipal building inspectors?

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Kiss the Principal Exhaust fan good-bye! This electrical switch on the main floor would control a “principal [bath] exhaust” fan on the second floor. Most home owners didn’t have the luxury of a labeled switch (as above “FAN SWICH”) and lived blissfully unaware of what the switch was for.

Most homeowners don’t know much about their ventilation systems much less how to operate and maintain them. Adding insult to injury, HRVs are poorly understood by building official and builders alike. We commission ventilation systems in custom homes and with surprising regularity what we’re finding in the field is disturbing. If it’s not the homeowner turning the system off due to excessive noise, it’s trades people botching the installation and the municipal inspectors failing to catch installation errors. The industry is poised for a collision due in large part by lack of education.

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Yes you can still use and install bath exhaust fans, but 2017 will see a whole lot less of these, especially in high performance homes where fully-ducted systems continually exhaust powder rooms, bath and laundry rooms replacing the exhaust fan.

Is Your Tight Home a Cesspool of Mould, Mildew and Rot?

The 1980s launch of Canada’s avant-garde R2000 program for high performance homes never took off. Though tens of thousands of R2000 homes were built, wide-scale adoption never took hold largely due to resistance from the home builders association in the early days.

The standard called for air tight homes with heat recovery ventilators not to mention limited carpeting for better indoor air quality. Some 30 years on, there’s a lot of conjecture about these high performance houses and why they weren’t more popular; and the most damaging, ironic allegation is that they had bad indoor air quality.

Even celebrity renovators like Mike Holms, is on record in Canada’s national newspaper spewing hyperbole like “I remember stories of test homes built so tight, the windows would break if someone slammed the front door. The windows were tiny, and you could literally suffocate in the houses if there was no heat exchanger.” This last sentence shows a persistent conflation of windows and ventilation and this notion needs to be dispelled; windows are for connection to the outside world, day light and fire egress, not for reliable ventilation of conditioned living space. Keeping in mind that all these homes had HRVs in them, Holmes egregiously adds “What they didn’t realize then was that tight houses were also prone to rot. If homes don’t let in some air, they also don’t let moisture out, and that moisture gets inside the walls and eats away at the structure. Your nice, tight home becomes a cesspool of mould, mildew and rot. Houses have to breathe.” I’m sure Homes would take back many of the above statements, but the stigma persists for air tight houses. It doesn’t take much for home owners to get the jitters and it would only take a few ignorant people to suffer health related illness because they unplugged their mechanical ventilation system or because it was improperly installed.

Homes Need to Dry, Not Breath

Homes need greater energy efficiency and the lowest hanging fruit in terms of savings is air tightness. We’re also adding more envelope insulation and the high R-value assemblies mean that if conditioned indoor air sneaks through cracks in the envelope, the moisture the air carries will condense inside the colder assembly. So it’s crucial that high R-value assemblies are more air tight for the sake of durability.

Prior to this code change, mechanical ventilation systems in Ontario largely consisted of crude and wasteful exhaust only ventilation systems. These bath exhaust fans would grind away in the background forcing air out of the house, typically through one large principal bath exhaust fan which would pull fresh air indiscriminately through building envelope leaks. But as we add heat recovery to mechanical ventilation systems, the energy of the exhaust air will be retained in the living space.

 Pulling the Plug on Loud

In my years of energy auditing, there’s a direct relationship between noise and machine use. The more noise a machine makes, the less likely occupants are to use said machine, even if their health depends on it. In the last year alone, I visited 2 homes where the HRV was unplugged by the home owner because it made too much noise or caused a draft they “didn’t like”. Loud kitchen exhaust ranges over gas stoves in homes tend not to be used and ditto loud bath fans; even if the mould on the wet window frames is screaming for fresh air.

The irony is that homes are getting more quiet indoors as they become more air tight and better insulated. These significantly quieter new homes tend to make small noises from mechanical equipment sound louder. As a designer, if you’re thinking of builder-grade HRVs be forewarned; the system may be get unplugged and the home owner will suffer if its noisy.

In a 3 month span, I found two homes in the municipality of Toronto, each less than 1km from the Humber River, that had disastrously installed HRVs (See photos below). Both systems were permitted by the municipality and it’s reasonable to infer that both systems were inspected and given the green light by the municipality. For the record, it’s not just domestic HRVs, even the expensive European systems are subject to botched installations (see photos below).

 Conclusion

The province would be wise to push ventilation system literacy onto homeowners so they don’t accidentally pollute the air they breathe. Further, the province would be wise to train building inspectors, designers and HVAC technicians on what to look for in a properly installed HRV. A bit of training on why it’s preferable to have low sone ratings on ventilation equipment and why fully ducted systems are preferable to “Simplified Installation” would be helpful.

As for the mechanical designer of the home or the mechanical system, you’ll be mandated to have heat recovery so make the house air tight to ensure the HRV earns its keep. You can size a smaller heating plant using actual air leakge rates in CAN/CSA-F280. Further, consider having these “lungs of the house” commissioned not only to catch issues in this budding industry but also tune the systems so that each room gets the designed quantity of fresh air that the occupants deserve.

 

 West of the Humber

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Composite image of the wall where penetrations from left to right are: white DHW exhaust, black sump drain pipe, white furnace exhaust, white furnace intake, brown HRV Intake, white DHW intake, brown kitchen exhaust, brown HRV exhaust, brown clothes dryer, grey gas meter and hose bib. A good distance from pollutants is minimum 6′ and the HRV intake is sucking in dangerous polluted air.

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Indoors, the HRV has issues of its own; no condensate drain connection!

Note that the intake and exhaust pipes should be as short as possible; most HRVs don’t provide enough static pressure to overcome long distances so we try to make the pipe connections to the outside as short, direct and large diameter as possible to encourage maximum air flow. Note also that the fresh air intake duct needs to be completely insulated, but it doesn’t hurt to insulate both pipes if the system doesn’t run continuously. All transverse and longitudinal seams should be air sealed before you insulate the pipe. Typically, the diameters of pipe are 6″-8″ and the lengths of pipe are no more than 12′ if using a smooth walled pipe. If using corrugated or flex duct which adds twice the air flow resistance, the total installed length should be halved. Here’s a perfect example of what to avoid where the intake is about 40′ in measured length and the exhaust is about 60′. The effective length are effectively 55′ and 80′ respectively, forget the fact that the diameter is reduced to 4″ :

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Both fresh air intake and exhaust pipe come off the HRV with about 16′ of insulated flexduct then transition to uninsulated smooth-walled metal pipe.

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The bare metal pipes continue and the fresh air intake (top right) transitions to a smaller diameter pipe as it turns into the floor joist cavity. The exhaust pipe (top left along I beam) is also reduced to 4″ as it turns into the floor cavity.

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From the reducer (centre metal 4″ duct), the fresh air intake travels the exterior wall with the final 5 feet of pipe that’s insulated.

East of the Humber

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BEFORE: Granted, this combined HRV and forced air unit isn’t common, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that only one (un-insulated) pipe going to to the HRV is wrong.

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AFTER: Now we have two pipes with a bit of insulation on them; lower – stale air exhaust, upper – fresh air intake.

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BEFORE: Of the 6 possible circular and two backwall knockouts, only one (blue), is connected as exhaust – but where does it get it’s air from given that neither of the two back knockouts are open either. It’s a dead end.

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AFTER: Now each quadrant has a knockout open for circulation! Of the 6 possible circular knockouts, now two are open (blue). As in previous picture, one’s connected as exhaust the other an intake. The left quadrants are now open at the top (circular, black) and bottom back wall polygon hole.

 

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Pinwheel Building Supply’s Hans-Jörn Eich commissioning a ventilation system. Believe it or not, this new construction project had a bag of insulation stuffed into the intake to prevent the birds from getting in. It happens! Hans had to pop the cover and pull out the offending bag to re-establish air flow.

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North American trades people don’t understand this plastic duct-work and so what if a $15 plug isn’t installed on the manifold right? It’ll be covered with drywall and who will ever know?

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Like the $25,000 bolt on a rocket, this $15 plug installed and $250 of labour to re/re drywall hole in ceiling.

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This is new to North Americans and like the missing plug above, we had to cut through the ceiling to see what was going on. Behind the red taped duct, you can just make out a completely disconnected HRV exhaust pipe. On this project, the installer just didn’t support his long duct runs and expected the silicone caulking to hold the pipe up.

 

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NEW in 2017!! The two black flex ducts pipes are connected adjacent to one another on the return plenum of this furnace. Intended as a simplified connection, the sad truth is this system won’t produce much fresh air and is a waste of energy as the air will likely short cycle.

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A Personal Appeal from Homeowners to Homeowners

Passive House goes Personal is a first person account of what it means to owners and occupants of Passive Houses. Check out the quick video below:

 

 

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BGG at IIDEX on SB-12

Our SB-12 talk at the IIDEX this week was a smashing success based on the number of attendees who came out to hear our message. About 70 professionals came to hear our take on the 2017 SB-12 that was released this past summer.

Thank you all who come out to be with us and thank you IIDEX.

 

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Greg extolling the virtues of The Blower Door as a diagnostic tool at IIDEX November 30th, 2016. Thank you all who came out to listen and for the record, we get paid nothing of the entry fee, we do it for love!

 

 

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