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BGG Getting More Good Press… Again!

If it’s not BlueGreen Group gracing the pages of the Globe & Mail a few weeks ago, it’s the Toronto Sun this week! Yes, we’re playing the best man, or to put it more metro-sexually – the best supporting actress – to our business partners and it sure is nice to be appreciated… again! Check out what Manny Neves of Hardcore Renos had to say about working with us!

Hardcore Write up Sun 2015

 

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Don’t wait till 2030 to Start!

Architecture’s 2030 Challenge is industry’s voluntary response to urgently needed solutions for our changing climate. The challenge proposes new building designs be carbon neutral by 2030. That’s less than 15 years away, yet architects are still getting away with building dysfunctional expensive art and condos that are nearly 100% glazed. These buildings will saddle future generations with civic infrastructure that looks cool but performs badly and is maladapted to our changing climate. We believe in the value of civic pride and pushing design but in the end buildings need to be loved and need to be functional – both can be had with careful planning.

Friends don't let friends take art

Architect Daniel Libeskind’s evocative design was supposed to bring more visitors to the ROM, but attendance is still lower than Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The origami-like shape is not conducive to energy efficiency.

The only way Canada will achieve the 2030 Challenge goals is through better planning and physical testing. Specifically, very few buildings in Canada have their performance optimised in the planning stages using a computer energy simulation, and fewer buildings still are air tightness tested to meet a minimum air leakage standard.

ROM Upclose (Custom)

The ROM’s git shop having a bad snow day. The Crystal’s design ignores the reality of our current climate and as storms are predicted to get more intense, this design will surely mean more snow days for the ROM’s gift shop.

So, how does Canada stack up internationally? Did you know that Qatar, Latvia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic have air tightness minimums for new residential construction? Did you know that Estonia, India, Lithuania and Scotland all have air tightness minimums for new commercial construction. Canadian architects require very little in their specifications when it comes to future resiliency and meeting the 2030 challenge. Better buildings require better planning and site testing and as time marches on, its become apparent that industry won’t do it voluntarily, it might have to be dragged kicking and screaming as mandated by building codes.

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Are we Close to the Tipping Point?

200 blog posts into our 3rd year of incorporation and we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sure we’ve got bonnie Prince Charles, Pope Francis teamed-up with secularist Naomi Klein, the ‘leader of the free world’ Obama and even China pulling up its socks. Heavy-weight economists like Sir Nicholas Stern saying “The evidence on the seriousness of the risks from inaction or delayed action is now overwhelming.” We’re living in dire, yet exciting times with all the change happening.

If that’s not enough, the dashing Robert Redford’s covering our back while both Shell and BP are pushing for a carbon tax. Not to be outdone, the Dutch have successfully sued their government for greater action on Climate Change. Meanwhile Canadians keep trundling along like there’s no big hurry; a symptom of a resource rich country with nothing to lose. Enter stage left, the Saudi’s flick a switch cutting oil prices in half, and who would have predicted Alberta voting in a majority NDP government?

As I write this, California’s nearly out of water, Texas was flooded, Alaska’s burning, heat waves killed thousands in India and Pakistan, now Europe is baking in the sun. What will it take to spur action?

Before he passed away, Jim Flaherty naively admonished corporations for not re-investing profits into infrastructure, but asking industry to do more voluntarily is like pushing on a string. Industry unfortunately has to be goaded through regulation and Canada has a lot of catch up to do regarding energy conservation in the building sector. Here’s hoping we’re close to the tipping point!

 

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Honourable Mention in EcoHouse Magazine!

Riding on Solares Architecture‘s coat-tails, BlueGreen Group was mentioned in SAB Magazine’s residential off-shoot Canada EcoHouse:

 

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Solares Makes Headlines… Again!

A big congratulations to Solares Architecture for making headlines in the Globe and Mail yesterday. Once again, Solares shows that they are singularly focused on producing beautiful high performance homes and BlueGreen Group is proud to collaborate on the energy detailing for their projects.

In a day and age where art trumps functionality, it’s increasingly hard to get any press, but Solares manages it in this awkwardly titled article “Under the skin: How investing in the mechanics of the home will save money“. I say awkwardly, because, Solares tends to emphasise superb envelope detailing and de-empahsise mechanical systems. They do that knowing moving parts in mechanical systems breakdown, but a well built building envelope has few moving parts to breakdown aside from operable doors and windows. Writer John Bentley Mays might be catering to a high brow audience that he suspects craves art at the expense of functionality, sustainability and durability when he goes on to suggest “The office now needs to get busy with the art.”

We do a lot of diagnostics on building failures and I’d love to spend a day with Mays to talk about and show him how often ‘art’ fails, often dramatically, leaving really rich homeowners having to repair complex envelopes. I hope going forward he understands that complex envelopes require superb planning and detailing – which Solares excels at – and that the builder needs to be at the top of their game when assembling. It’s too bad that Mays didn’t talk to the client who commissioned the project in question or he would have quickly realised the client didn’t want art, they wanted performance.

Good work Solares!

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Thank you TSA and Daniels

BGG was invited by the Toronto Society of Architects to give two Technical Series Lectures June 9 and 16th which were held at Daniels Faculty of Architecture. We’re pleased to report that both lectures were very well received – thank you to the wonderful audience of architects who welcomed us and to TSA for inviting us!

If you missed it, both lectures were recorded and at the very least the slide deck will be made available to those attending.

The topics covered:

High Performance Building – The devil’s in the details: Brings theory and real life experience together in a visually rich presentation that comes from years of field testing buildings. Served with a side of building science, this presentation will draw attention to the building details that work and some that don’t work when it comes to high performance building assembly and design.

Building Resiliently – Adapting building design for a changing climate: The science is in and climatologist predict an increase in storm intensity, will your buildings stand the beating? This lecture will focus on how making small adjustments in the design specifications and construction processes can mean the difference between a family living in their home through a severe storm event or having to live at a shelter while parts of the home are rebuilt.

 

 

The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

TSA - Toronto Society of Architechts

 

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When Spray Foam Cracks

When spray foam is applied too thickly in one pass – or ‘lift’ in industry parlance – tension can build and things can start to smell fishy. Unlike nearly all other building materials and components that are manufactured in a controlled environment – like a highly regulated ISO9000 factory – and brought to the job site to be assembled, spray foam is not. Spray foam is manufactured in situ and for this reason that the OBC references the following standards , the first for the product itself, the second or the manufacturer & installer:

•CAN/ULC-S705.2-05, “Standard for Thermal Insulation – Spray Applied Rigid Polyurethane Foam, Medium Density – Application.”

The great irony with any standard referenced in the building code is that few contractors have them.  Standards get updated often and cost money as a consequence, very few spray foam companies have paid for the standard if they have the most recent version, even fewer spray foam installers have ever seen or read through a copy of the above standards.

I always tell people interested in having their projects insulated with spray foam “Don’t hire the company, hire the guy who pulls the trigger.” I realise, its a chicken before the egg type of question, but the person pulling the trigger doesn’t need to be a Rhodes scholar, but they need over a year of field experience and need to know as much about their trade:

    • with a firm grasp of the physics and chemistry effects of time, moisture and temperature on their chemical, the substrate and the finished product,
    • building science of how and where to apply the foam,
    • physical stamina,
    • fastidiousness in keeping clean, clear records,
    • discipline for routine daily cleaning and maintenance of the many  parts of the system,
    • a solid mechanical understanding of generators, proportions and compressors

Medium density spray foam’s chemical is exothermic as it changes from liquid to solid; it makes lots of heat as it cures. To allow the foam to cool, installers limit their ‘lift’ thickness to 2″ per pass. The heat generated is serious and can spontaneously  ignite if applied to thickly and quickly – cooling is key. However, when  the specifications call for 6″ of spray foam, 3 separate passes should be applied which could take 2-3 days of cooling depending on ambient conditions, but time is money…

In reality, the sprayer typically does two 3″ lifts perhaps all in one day, which can lead to a two serious issues; cracking and smelly finished product. As covered in CBC’s Marketplace a few years back, spray foam can smell sickening and chemically and one of the causes they suspect might be due to lifts being applied too thickly and or successive lifts being applied too quickly.

After visiting a job site recently where the builder shared his experience of hearing the loud crack the foam make when it split in the rafter cavity during spray application, I thought I should check in with a deeply talented insulation expert to get his opinion. I explained what I saw to Michael Cerqua of CallRich Eco Services, and he told me “take a core sample of the spray foam, trim the edges and measure the distance between rings. If it’s more than two inches, the lifts were applied too thickly.” The spray foam industry is very competitive and no one wants to be on a job site for any longer than needed, but Mike stresses that sometimes you just have to wait till the foam cools off – you can’t rush quality when it comes to spray foam, the consequences are too dire.

Cross Purlins (Custom)

These 2×8″ rafters were strapped with 2×4″ on the flat side and sheathed. A ventilation chute was installed and the spray foam was applied to the back of the ventilation chute just covering the face of the rafters on the warm side (see below).

The crack backstep (Custom)

Past this knee wall, an orange line (see detail below) can be seen in this 2LBS spray foam filling the rafter cavity. As the sprayer was applying the foam,”You could hear creaking as the foam pulled on the wood framing…” says the builder, “then all of a sudden, with a very loud snap, the foam in the rafter cavity opened up!”

The crack (Custom)

With the blower door running, we detected no air leaks through this 5′ long, repaired (orange can foam) 3/4″ crack in the newly applied 2 LBS spray foam.

 

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Greening Homes Wins Prestigious Canadian Green Building Award

We’re thrilled that Greening Homes recently won the prestigious Canadian Green Building Award in the residential project category for the Beechwood Project – a deep energy retrofit of a post-World War II bungalow in Toronto’s East York area.

This was a collaboration between an informed homeowner, Greening Homes, Open Architects and Sustainable Edge. BlueGreen Group took part in the early IDP process and the final 3rd party air tightness testing, but the heavy lifting was done by Greening Homes who drove the homeowners vision, making this truly amazing deep energy retrofit a reality.

Christopher Phillips and Steven Gray, Greening Homes’ respective President and Construction Manager, accepted the award at the National Conference of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

 

East York

Pre-renovation: this bungalow had big dreams for a new life. Keep your eye on the garage door…

East York half way there

Mid-renovation: The second story takes shape and the trades at Greening Homes took great pains to air-seal all details.

Beechwood2

Deep Energy Retroit Completed: With a well deserved prize in hand, Greening Homes hands over the finished home to the owners. Congrats for the transformation!

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Bauhaus Doors and Windows

The importance and symbolism of a door is inescapable; it can be open and welcoming or closed for protection and privacy. It allows easy passage from the comfort within to the vagaries of weather outside. It can be slammed in anger or opened with great hugs of welcome and hospitality. Even door thresholds hold ideological boundaries through the ages. It’s something most of us use and depend on at least twice a day and it needs to operate flawlessly when urgency calls.

Bauhaus Windows and Doors

Perhaps a bit cliche to take pictures of old doors, but until you’ve seen the massive doors at Oxford in person, some of which could be over 500 years old, it might be hard for you to appreciate their significance and beauty – forget the fact that only 18% are accepted to study on the other side!

It should be noted that I have personally weatherstripped hundreds of old Toronto doors to keep the cold and noise out, and so I’ve come to appreciate doors that look good and function well. Though I do have a mini basement wood shop, I don’t have the skills my grandfather had as a cabinet maker but do have his love of wood and how it’s used in making beautiful everyday items.

G4S

Good four sides: squared, straight and planed to perfection, these blanks of solid clear hardwoods are about to be precisely dadoed, dowled, kerfed and finished into a door.

So it was inevitable that I happened upon a very special place here in Toronto that manufactures doors, windows and custom furniture out of solid woods. When I called co-owner L. Elizabeth Wright of Bauhaus Doors to ask for specifications on their doors, our conversation eventually lead to the amazing fact that their product was made here in the city. With a showroom on Avenue Road south of Davenport, Elizabeth set me up with the other co-owner, Michael Piernitzki, for a tour of the factory just off Keele Street.

Of German stock, it was fitting that Michael named their company Bauhaus. Opening with the humble salvo “As a business we’ve made every mistake in the book…” but within minutes it was apparent those “mistakes” were not related to the doors, probably had to do with growing pains of developing a business and were well behind him. As the shop hummed with the finest European and American power tools, a handful of attentive young and old craftsmen were purposeful going about their work in what seemed like focused enjoyment.

Yes, they made beautiful windows installed in modest renovations all the way to the Fogo Island Inn , but the doors are what took me in. These weren’t just doors, they were functional furniture made of the highest grades of wood, usually quarter-sawn for maximum strength, dimensional stability and grain beauty. Michael understood the connection between beauty, functionality and maintenance – people maintain things they love. He just made sure his crews put the love in. I got the feeling the doors would become chattels and moved with the owner from house to house.

 

Doors

Functional furniture. These doors were so beautiful to look at, crisp clean edges, prefect reveals, hardware countersunk perfectly.

After listening for a half hour, it was clear Michael loved the niche Bauhaus occupied. It was clear too that he had a near fetish for door hardware as he explained his English and Italian made stainless hinges had sealed bearings! And I though I was special getting all brass hinges! He explained how over the years the Italians seemed to be overtaking the staid Germans on innovation and high quality.

Hinge detail

Move over Germany, these Italian hinges made for some smooth action on the doors.

Because of my history with weatherstripping doors, I had to check out his system. It needs to be said that the door panels are assembled with a solid core of laminated (clear, hard, quarter-sawn) wood, reinforced on four sides with an aluminum channel. The door frames, like all the wood in the door, is made of the most stable cut of wood which means the wood’s expansion with changes in humidity is minimised.

Thershold

For the untrained eye, there’s a lot going on here. A threshold has to have height to shed water and stop wind-driven rain from entering, but it can’t be too high or it catches the foot. The beefy, unobtrusive stainless threshold lip was neatly tucked behind a beautiful piece of solid, durable granite. The door had a sweep on the front (not installed in kerf yet) that kept the rain from the threshold, but the wind was really stopped at the compression strip under the door. Schlegel’s Q-LON is the industry standard and the best hands-down for draft-stopping. It’s easily replaced if the cat tears at it and in this case continuous on four sides.

In the end, it was difficult for me to square my love of a perfectly crafted door with my need for high overall R-value. It was clear to me that this door would perform better than some of the German doors I’ve tested in in situ here in Toronto (poorly adjusted stops). It’s also clear to me the frames around the doors would perform just as well as any other frame and that the glazing unit would perform to the specification in any frame. Bauhaus will have doors energy rated if requested, but if most of the door is glazed, for the small area of solid wood I’d be hard pressed to chose an ENERGY STAR rated steel door over these pieces of functional furniture. Take the tour, I’m sure you won’t be able to say no.

 

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Humber College and BlueGreen Group

The Ontario Technologist recently highlighted the fact that BlueGreen Consulting Group recently completed a research project with students of the Sustainable Energy and Building Technology program at Humber College.

Humber CEBT

We’re not sure where the image above came from, but for the record, though we love the classic magnehelic gauges, none were used for this study – only DG700′s that were recently calibrated!

The results of the study are being tabulated and written up as we speak and BGG anticipates publishing the study’s results in collaboration with Ryerson University’s Dr. Russell Richman.

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