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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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Will 2017 Repeat the Failed Launch of Amazing R2000 Program?

The launch of the R2000 program in the 1980s landed on its face because of issues related to humidity and air quality but it didn’t have to be that way. With the Ontario Building Code poised to make Heat Recovery mandatory in ventilation systems, will Ontario unwittingly get a black eye for doing the right thing?

With CO2 levels rising both in the house and in the atmosphere, the province of Ontario has finally taken small steps to implement higher building energy efficiency for 2017 in the Ontario Building Code. As part of those requirements in SB-12, the province is mandating special ventilation equipment be installed in each new house that will, for the first time, make heat recovery part of the ventilation system. Prior to this, ventilation systems largely consisted of crude and wasteful exhaust only ventilation systems that would grind away in the background forcing air out of the house, typically through one large principal bath exhaust fan, and pulling fresh air indiscriminately in through building envelope leaks.

Like it or not, houses are getting more air tight and that’s a good thing for energy efficiency and comfort, especially if you have a fully ducted Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) and the home owner appreciates why its important. Unfortunately, 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.

 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. 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 and a tighter grip on humidity control.

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 cheaping-out on the ventilation system be forewarned; the system may be get unplugged and the home owner will suffer.

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.

 Conclusion

The province would be wise to push ventilation system literacy onto homeowners so they don’t poison the air they breath and technical training at the very least for building inspectors as well as designers and HVAC technicians. A bit of training on why its preferable to have low sone ratings on ventilation equipment and fully ducted systems might help too.

As for the designer of the home or the mechanical system, you’ll be mandated to have heat recovery so make the house tight to ensure the HRV earns its keep. 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!

 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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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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BGG SNAPD in Bloorwest!

A big thank you to the tireless volunteers at Green13 and Pam Mountain of the Annette Street Public Library! As part of the Our Fragile Planet series of events – and with TD Bank’s generous support – we gave a talk about home energy efficiency to home owners in the Bloor West area on US election night.

Greg was caught in fragrante delicto by our local Bloorwest SNAPD:

 

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Though it looks as if Mr Labbé is crushing heads, he’s actually showing the attentive audience how slim The Donald’s odds are of winning. Boy was he wrong; not the first time either. Just ask him about his Y2K prediction on oil and natural gas prices.

Thank you to all who came out making the evening an enjoyable success!

 

 

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Streetsville Public Library Gets Air Tightness Tested

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Everyone’s doing it! Get tested for air leakage and do a thermal scan while you’re at it!

Early this past Monday morning we had the chance, in 42 km/hr gusts of wind, to test the Streetsville Public Library for air leakage. As part of a deep energy retrofit study where accurate air leakage results were needed for bench-marking purposes, the City of Mississauga have BlueGreen Consulting Group come out to test a library in the heart of Streetsville.

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Thank You BOG Participants!

Last month, we hosted our 6th High Performance Design Meets Boots on the Ground event and again, it was well received by architects and builders. Passive Buildings Canada webcasted the three speakers. If you missed it, the presentations will be posted on PBC’s website.

The first two speakers were builders and Certified Passive House Designers who gave a first person account of their near Passive Houses. Builder, Ed Marion gave a comprehensive breakdown of his Oakville home’s annual energy cost. He went so far as to compare two different potable water heating systems: conventional electric tank vs. an air source heat pump water tank. Hot on Ed’s heels was Graham Fisher who presented the foundation details of his Creemore home; he shared simple solutions for easy detailing. Both homes are testament to the fact that you can heat and cool a house in Ontario with air source heat pumps and back-up electricity.

Shervin Akahvi closed the talks with WUFI Passive, a new generations of energy simulation software that includes high resolutions and data packed features that predict and help avoid dead air spots in the house. WUFI Passive also predicts surface temperatures of interior surfaces to improve the thermal comfort of the occupants. The level of detail is impressive! For example, for those who crave more humidity in winter time for healthier skin or to safeguard wood stringed instruments, WUFI Passive can help them avoid condensation. This feature-rich software will be an invaluable tool for compliance with the upcoming SB-12 in 2017!

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Our panelist of builders and architects Terrell Wong, Steven Dennison, moderator Daniel Hall, Christopher Phillips and Christine Lolley.

The evening ended with a new and popular feature! A panel discussion of two architects (Terrell Wong with Christine Lolley) and two builders (Christopher Phillips and Steve Dennison), led by architect and former framer Daniel Hall dug into the age-old question (and barrier) of costs associated with creating a high performance home. The quote of the night went to Terrell who said that the difference between good building design and green building is nothing. We would add that there’s no difference in materials – just the effort and quantity!

And a BIG Thank You to our fall 2016 event sponsors!

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The unsung hero of the evening; Terrell Wong for webcasting it live to the PBC members. Thank you all!

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USACE Test on the OAA Head Office

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On Thursday, November 10, BlueGreen Group tested the Ontario Architect’s Association (OAA) head office, located in North Toronto for the National Research Council. Architects and other professionals were invited to join us at 6:30 p.m. to witness firsthand the air tightness testing of this large modern building. Though there were delays in setting up testing apparatus and conditions, we got through the testing regimen despite the gusty 25km/h winds that made for challenging infra red thermography and stable baselines.

Thank you to those dedicated professionals who stayed to see live blower door data being streamed – it was up there with the Blue Jays winning the second World Series!
As changes to the National Building Code in 2020 are being considered, now is a good time to get acquainted with Building Envelope Commissioning methods which are often required for institutional buildings or in cases where the owner occupies the building and requires better quality assemblies. In these cases, building scientist and engineers will physically test the building shell or its components for air leakage or water penetration. These tests result in ensuring higher quality, better durability and guaranteed energy performance.

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The live broadcast of TECLOG 3 data to a rapt audience of architects made for some gripping entertainment… once it got started!

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Ontario launches its Home Energy Retrofits Program

Just in time for Halloween, the province of Ontario launches its Home Energy Retrofits Program. With a provincial budget large enough to reward 37,000 homes with measured efficiency increases, the new money will be available from the Cap and Trade program that starts in 2017. The news release reads:

“Today, Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement at the home of a family who has received rebates for energy audits and retrofits for their home in 2016. Homeowners taking part in the programs will be eligible to receive rebates — typically in the range of $500 to $2,000 — toward the cost of energy audits and renovations such as new, energy-efficient furnaces, windows and insulation.

“The retrofits will help homeowners save on their energy bills year after year. Home renovations to increase energy efficiency have been shown to save natural gas consumers $1.50 to $4 for every dollar invested. The programs are available through Union Gas Limited and Enbridge Gas Distribution.

“Helping homeowners cut their energy costs by making their homes more energy efficient is part of Ontario’s plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.”

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High Performance Design meets Boots on the Ground

Mark your Calendars for October 18th, 2016 for our next

Our 6th, by invitation only, BOG session will be held at a new location, details to follow! This fall, we’re adding a twist, along with three  focused-but-short technical presentations on high performance building topics we’re going to try something new. Carpenter and Architect Daniel Hall will moderate an expert panel who will attempt to answer “How much more should it cost to build a green renovation?” Our four panelist will be architects Terrell Wong with Christine Lolley and sustainable builders Christopher Phillips and Steve Dennison who will share their insights on the value of sustainable building.

Our exciting line-up of speakers this fall are:

  • Certified Passive House Consultant Graham Fisher will give a talk on his recently completed near-Passive House located in lovely Creemore Ontario. This un-encumbered, fresh looking high performance build has some assembly details that offer builders insights in how to simplify high performance envelope assemblies.
  • CPHC and builder Ed Marion will share 3 years of energy consumption data for his carbon-free heated home in Oakville Ontario. Learn how little energy a well-designed and constructed house needs to stay superlatively comfortable.
  • BlueGreen Group was instrumental in getting both Passive House energy modeling software into the newly revised SB-12. Shervin Akhavi, will introduce WUFI Passive – a 2nd generation energy simulation tool – that will arm the designer with detailed data on drying potential (hygrothermal modeling), comfort analysis (mapping indoor cold spots) and energy savings. A truly revolutionary  tool for designers to optimise building design.

And a BIG Thank You to our fall 2016 event sponsors!

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Hear and see what professionals in the GTA are saying about this event:

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