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Closing Loopholes for The Next OBC Iteration

Ontario is making headway in building efficiency with changes to the Ontario Building Code’s (OBC) Supplementary Bulletin 12 (SB-12). As of January, an increase of 15 percent efficiency was mandated for all low-rise residential buildings. This is a good start, but….
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) can legislate all the increases it wants, but unless we close the loopholes, they won’t reach their energy reduction targets with the existing system. The chief obstacle to greater energy performance of Part 9 buildings lies with enforcement at the municipal level.
Projected vs Actual Energy Savings

Planning for the next building code iteration starts by identifying loopholes in the existing system that lead to compliance deficiencies, and closing them to align projected and actual energy savings. The process needs to be fixed so that more efficient, comfortable and durable buildings get built. Here’s our list of demands for municipalities and the MMAH for the next OBC iteration:

Plans Examiners:

  • Enforce the window-to-wall ratio: Policing the window-to-wall ratio that’s stated on the Energy Efficiency Design Summary (EEDS) is a must because some designers tend to round down – significantly. We suggest a policy of calculating 10 percent of all submissions randomly and enforcing the two thresholds of 17 percent and 22 percent window-to-wall ratio. This is a tedious calculation if done manually, but the better way would be to have designers include the AutoCAD .DWG file as part of their submittals. That way plans examiners can quickly and easily receive the building statistics.
  • 3rd party field test required? Does the design take advantage of promised energy efficiency gains due to low building air leakage rates? Both the EEDS (misplaced only under SB-12 Performance, see below) and the mechanical design for the home (see example below) allows the designer to take advantage of high quality, more air tight enclosures and the lowest threshold of either has to be forwarded to the building inspector. Air leakage rates used to be defaulted at 4.5ACH50, but as of 2015, CAN-CSA F280 allows mechanical designers to “right size” mechanical equipment by specifying the buildings projected air leakage rate. Few are aware of this allowance buried in the mechancial design.
  • Flag rooms with accelerated heat loss: Develop a rule of thumb that insists if one room has more than three exposed surface areas and/or has over 30 percent window-to-wall ratio, the room needs to be thermostatically controlled and zoned with the central heating system or at the very least supplemented with a separate electric resistance heater. We receive too many calls from home owners complaining about discomfort in glass rooms that run off a centrally controlled Ground Source Heat Pump that can’t keep up with demand.
  • Edit your EEDS forms: A maximum allowable air leakage rate is stipulated under the “SB-12 Performance” heading, but it needs to be added under the “Building Specifications” heading because of credits afforded in Tables 3.1.1.4 (see below). Further, this has to be cross checked with the Mechanical Design mentioned above. Whichever air leakage rate is specified, the lowest one gets input under the heading.

Building Inspectors:

  • Need the EEDS for windows!: Just because the EEDS mandates a maximum U-Factor of 1.6 for windows doesn’t mean the installed product meets it. We need factory labelling for each window and inspectors have to demand it. Either the EEDS document is onsite with the Project Manager’s permit set drawings, or the sheet is on file so the inspector can compare required specifications to the actual installed products that include windows, furnaces, HRVs, hot water heaters and envelope insulation levels throughout. Check, check, check! This is especially crucial for window performance. Too many unrated windows are being installed right now in Ontario. The factory applied energy rating stickers must stay on the windows until the occupancy permit is issued. Forget cleaning them off for the Pre-delivery Inspection (PDI)!
  • Where’s the air leakage test?: With your newly edited EEDS, check to see if an air leakage test is required. If the builder doesn’t have a lot of experience on detailing air barriers or if the house is geometrically complex; test early and test often if an air leakage rate below 2.5ACH50 is required. We highly recommend that a pre-drywall air leakage test be done, otherwise the house will be finished and may not meet the design criteria. This is a liability to be avoided by municipalities. So check for to see if envelope substitutions were permitted using Table 3.1.1.4.B and or C (see SB-12 excerpt below), which requires the building be 3rd party tested to meet 2.5 ACH50 or 3.0 ACH50. Ask for the air leakage report before signing off on occupancy permit.
  • Get trained on HRVs and ERVs to avoid these mistakes, which happen in the City of Toronto. With homes getting more air tight, and the investment in balanced ventilation systems, there’s a prescient need for more attention to how ERVs and HRVs are installed.
  • Give the spray foamer some room!: Flex your muscle and insist that bulkheads, stair case risers and ductwork on exterior walls go on AFTER the spray foam and insulation’s been installed especially is the prayed foam is part of the Air Barrier System.

MMAH:

  • Hardwired ventilation: I’m not sure where the practice of using an extension cord to plug in a vitally important ventilation machine began, but it has to stop. Too often, HRVs get unplugged because of noise, misunderstanding (i.e. thinking open windows provide adequate ventilation), and lack of maintenance or lack of good controls. I’d highly recommend that these ventilation units be hardwired to a hall light so that they can’t be turned off without complicit knowledge of shutting it down. This has two ramifications for the builder: select a quiet ventilation machine with good controls and educate the home owner on the unit’s importance.

Builders:

  • Love your stickers: Keep the energy performance stickers on everything, including the windows, furnace, hot water heater, HRV and skylights. Wash around the sticker for now if you need to clean, but don’t take them off until occupancy.
  • PDT not PDI: forget Pre-delivery Inspection; think Pre-Drywall Test! You can improve the comfort and durability of the home by testing the air barrier system before the drywall is applied. If the test doesn’t turn out well, you are in a position to fix the air barrier system and your client will be happier for it in the long run.
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The yellow highlighted area shows how the updated CAN/CSA F280 takes advantage of more precise building air leakage rates for sizing equipement more accurately. In the example above, the mechancial designer assumed the building would leak no more than 1.5ACH50, which is a wild assumption for a new building if it’s not being tested. If the builder’s never had anything tested before, assume it won’t make the cut.

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The OBC’s SB-12 allows the builder some efficiency tradeoffs with the above Table 3.1.1.4 which necessitates a 3rd party air leakage test to confirm that the air leakage rate isn’t greater than one of either 2.5ACH50 or 1.26cm2/m2 or 0.93L/s/m2 for a detached home.

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Give Spray Foam a Fighting Chance: Top 10 for Good Foam

Bulk two component spray foam is applied to almost every new home or renovation in southern Ontario. It is a widely used product that has a high R-value density and is often expected to do double duty as an air barrier system. It’s the “go to” product to cleanup or hide the most complex areas that batt insulation and poly can do, but often not with grace. Now that some foam products have a low Global Warming Potential (GWP of 1), why do builders make it difficult for the installer to apply it beautifully?

Set up the Foamer for Success 

Too often we see builders setting-up the foamer for failure. Somehow, many builders expect foamers to spray in tight spaces, behind ducts and around wood framing details that are clearly impossible to spray through.

When spray foam is applied properly, it forms a nice, fairly uniform smooth, tough crust. It looks air tight. The conditions for spraying include above freezing weather and a dry, clean substrate. So if that salamander heater is creating condensation on the substrate, it might be a good idea to talk to your foamer and use a heat source that doesn’t create humidity indoors at least for the duration of the spraying.

Humans not Robots 

While robots are now spraying large open areas, such as commercial roof decks, humans continue to spray homes. We must therefore allow for the human factor. To optimize the human foamer, s/he needs to have at least three feet of clearance between the substrate and the spray gun; that means adding two feet for the human behind the gun for ergonomics and to ensure that foam is applied nearly perpendicular to the surface. The foamer must wear a full-face mask, especially if fresh air is not pumped into the area.

To set yourself up for success, think like the foamer. Substrate that can be seen and touched has the best chance of getting nice even foam. Note that adding furring on the inside that’s perpendicular will slow the sprayer down as they typically like to make long even passes of spray. 

To be successful when spraying the sheathing from the inside of the building:

  1. Delay the ducts: There should be no ductwork along exterior walls. Having clear access to the substrate means the sprayer can install the foam more uniformly with fewer blisters and bald spots.
  2. Delay the soffits: bulkheads along exterior walls or ceilings need to be constructed after the foam is sprayed.
  3. Pushed wires back: all wiring should be pushed to the back or touching the sheathing. This will ensure the foam has fewer voids created by wires. Also, if you have to scarf excess foam, knowing the wires are all on the cold side of the foam should give you a degree of confidence.
  4. Pull plumbing in: Keep the water supply lines well on the warm side of the foam.
  5. Can’t avoid attic ductwork? Prior to installing the drywall, invite a third party inspector to test the sprayed product for completeness (air seal) and thickness. Mastic the joints in the attic before you spray.
  6. Rim joist areas: Floor joist that run parallel to the wall can make for awkward spraying. It gets worse in the basement when the below grade wall thickness pinches off the view. When assembling your floor cavity, consider lining the outside edges with board foam that can be sealed in place or using an insulated rim board.
  7. Hot Roofs: All sistered rafters or laminated trusses that form girts should have exterior edges sealed together with acoustical sealant prior to installation. Ideally, cross purlins are installed between the roof sheathing and rafters so that a full, monolithic coat of spray foam is applied directly to the underside of the roof deck.
  8. Clean Me: Spray foam can’t form an air seal against a dirty substrate. Besides, debris makes for bumpy foam that is more likely to have defects in it.
  9. Wood Moves: Have your foamer lap the foam’s edge up the wood for a solid bond with the wood that will allow for some movement.
  10. Won’t Stick: Foam can’t be applied to 6 mil polyethylene, and many other shiny substrates. Note too that some sheet metal has a thin film of oil on it. Spray foam may not stick well to ductwork either.
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From Second-hand tobacco smoke to bedbugs: take control!

You can’t control who moves in next door and for some, even the faint whiff of tobacco smoke wafting through a bedroom window is too much. Imagine smelling your neighbour’s cooking odours or cigarette smoke daily and it coming through the wall. This scenario plays out all over the city with frustrated residents and new mothers in particular.

We conduct countless building investigations involving smell contaminants migrating through shared floors and walls. Patterns have emerged from our findings. Namely, in colder months, holes or penetrations through shared assemblies allow air to carry the offending odour from the source to the target. The solution is usually the same; seal it up, test the seal and if tight close it up. The irony; it would be so easy and affordable to seal those penetrations during the construction phase. It begs the question; why isn’t air tightness testing in multiunit residential mandatory?

For low rise residential houses, the trick is to assemble party walls as air tight as possible. Yet, there’s nothing in the Ontario Building Code that requires a continuous air barrier system for Part 9 buildings on shared partition walls (the focus is on controlling fire spread). For semi-detached homes, most of the troubles occur in floor cavity areas; but, in stacked town homes, the complexity grows as staircases and walls penetrate the separation between the units making remediation more invasive and expensive.

For high rises, we’ve had instances of contamination coming through the gap between the slab and the curtain wall and even from the pressurised hall; however, most of the contamination connections identified in our investigative work involves missed or failed fire seals through sleeves in the floor slabs.

Again, all of these contamination issues between units could be significantly curtailed by simple compartmentalisation testing of separate units with independant heat recovery ventilation for each unit. One example of this kind of testing is LEED’s Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) testing where 10 percent of completed units are randomly tested and within the maximum allowable air leakage threshold. This is one simple way to test the integrity of the apartment unit or “compartment” for higher resistance to fire, smoke and other smelly contaminants. In some cases, a visual inspection of the penetrations catches the problem, but only a stress test like a blower door test, which quantifies the air leakage rate in the unit, while using visible tracer smoke positively identifies a breach or potential source of contaminant.

It’s not just unwelcome odours. We had a case where a client had bedbugs crawling through his 100-year-old semi’s party wall ravaging the family’s five-year-old daughter. Though the client had paid to  fumigate and treat their neighbour’s home twice, the rental next door to a large family living in squalid conditions couldn’t kick the pests even with repeated treatments. In the end the masonry wall had to be stripped back and a liquid-applied air barrier was painstakingly applied to the assembly. The good news, this retrofit resulted in a quieter house and one free of the neighbour’s other habits: strong cooking and second hand tobacco odours.

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Performance Branding is Coming

My father was an electrician and whenever we’d take a drive through town, he’d often point out the homes or buildings he’d wired. Though you couldn’t see his handiwork directly, there was pride in his voice. So too with building energy efficiency.

You can’t see what building scientists obsess about, but like my father, I take pride in pointing out to my kids the homes I’ve had the privilege to work on. It got me wondering, what about the homes just built to the letter of the law?

Starting in 2017 there are only six “Prescriptive Packages”, down from the dirty dozen offered from 2012 to 2016 in Ontario Building Code’s SB-12 . These DIY packages gave spec builders a pass on testing the energy performance of each proposed house. This no fuss idea operated on magic realism: if you followed one of the packages, you’d magically get an energy performance score equal to 80 on the EnerGuide scale using Natural Resource Canada’s HOT2000 software. Package J as it turns out was simply the least expensive for builders to build because it had the least wall insulation; nothing screamed “bottom of the barrel” like a Package J house.

The equivalent of serving canned luncheon loaf at a wine and cheese party, the Package J house gasped and wheezed as it struggled past the occupancy permit finish line. The sad truth is that an estimated 60 percent of homes built from 2012 to 2016 were basic Package J homes; especially the homes of the affluent. Oh the rich irony of a high-performance European car in the driveway of a bottom of the barrel performing home!

Though we’re rid of Pacakage J, like a boomerang it will come back to haunt builders and home sellers as homes get performance rated under Ontario’s Home Energy Rating and Disclosure program. As homes get physically tested and inspected for insulation levels, it will be interesting to see how far from 80 these homes are.

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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:

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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