New Instructor for SBA Program in Toronto

For the last 3 years BGG has shared its time and expertise in contributing to the success of CGBC’s SBA program. This year we’d like to congratulate Sandra Leigh Lester in taking the reigns from the engaging Jeff Ranson as we look forward to continuing our collaboration!

Starting on April 25th, 2014 Sandra Leigh Lester will be the Lead Instructor for the upcoming SBA Program which is a part-time program that is a comprehensive study of green building design. This flexible program is delivered through lectures by local experts, with hands-on exercises, field trips to local green building projects and now supported by a new online platform. What’s awesome about this program is that students from multiple disciplines work together on an integrated planning project.

If you’d like more information, please contact Crystal Finnigan toll free at 1-866-941-1184 ext 1023, or visit the SBA website.



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IPCC’s Latest

I’m always impressed how scientist get creative for expressing complex data in graphic format and here’s one that floored me:


Puneet Kollipara says, “Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century. The only year outside the 2000s that is in the top 14 is 1998, which was unusually warm because a strong El Niño occurred that year.”
Credit: The World Meteorological Organization

Press on the graph above for a link to the whole article.


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Energy Prices Going Up?

Ontario stares down a 40% increase in Natural Gas and 33% increase in electricity rates; are higher prices here to stay?

Enbridge ran out of inventory this past ‘unexpectedly cold & long winter’ and in a pinch, was forced to buy more natural gas at a significantly higher price. To make up for their profit shortfall, Enbridge will pass it along to customers with a ‘temporary’ 40% increase in gas prices. The consensus is that historic natural gas prices really couldn’t go any lower than they were over the past couple of years, so an increase could only be expected.

Historical electricity prices have generally been lower for the Ontario home owner than they have been for Americans, but those days may be numbered. For different reason, electricity prices are also going up in this province to the tune of 33%, and that’s not a good thing for long-term employment in Ontario’s manufacturing sector.

The real question is: how vulnerable are we to higher utility prices? The NEB’s crystal ball is hazy as they can’t seem to forecast much beyond a year – which isn’t much of a forecast really. Hydraulic fracturing is a very intensive process that briefly yields natural gas inexpensively, but new sources have to be taped to keep up with demand making long-term forecasts on natural gas prices difficult.

Will climate change bring about more climate ‘surprises’ as time goes on? As Ontario builds natural gas peaker plants to generate electricity, will the competition for more natural gas produce higher prices? Will a spike in natural gas magnify electricity prices?

Either way, the best way to isolate yourself from the volatility is to use as little of it as possible and we believe we can help any homeowner live comfortably with significantly less!

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How Low Can Hardcore Renos Go?


I just came back from testing a new build the Gents from Hardcore Renos are leading and it was a bittersweet experience I’ll carry with me for years. The sweetness came in the form of a really amazing test result from a couple of talented, caring blokes who are build a great house.

Manny and Anderson went into this build thinking they’d beat the performance of an ENERGYSTAR home, which sets the bar at 2.5 Air changes per hour (ACH50). Building Scientist use a number called the ACH50 to compare one home’s leakage to another. It means 50 Pascals of pressure are applied to a house using a fan and at this pressure the home’s conditioned air volume is changed over 2.5 times every hour for an ENERGY STAR home. Of course, these are exaggerated conditions, but its a test method for comparing leakage rates.

By the way, the building code doesn’t even care how leaky a new house is – there’s no testing requirement or minimum leakage threshold in the building code! Note if your house was built using a “Package”, your playing roulette on energy loss by air leakage.

Back to ENERGY STAR…2.5 ACH50 is considered “Best In Class.” In practice though, any house with a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) in stalled in it to take care of distributing new fresh air, one might as well go all the way and seal it up as air tight as you can in order to make the HRV earn its keep. So, when Manny and Anderson set out to build this house, they had the goal of 2.0ACH50 to beat ENERGY STAR by 20%.

In Europe, the German’s have set the bar for the most efficient home on the planet to have no more than 0.6ACH50 to meet certification. In order to produce a house that’s that tight requires a great deal of effort and attention to small details on behalf of the builder and today – I’m proud to say – Anderson and Manny produced a 0.75 ACH50 home. They beat their goal by over 60%!

Congrats Gents!


Manny and Anderson with all fingers intact.

My visit to the job site wasn’t all jubilation. See my number one fan had been staring down the end of his life; every test would leave him hot. Too hot. My Dad, the ever caring electrician called a few days ago to check in on him “How’s your fan? Did he burn out yet?”, we knew his days were numbered and so today, while hunting for leaks, my fan expired its last breath in the line of duty. Without saying a word – all went quiet and I knew my fan had bitten the dust.


Hot fan

My Dad checked it over but couldn’t find the source of the heat – we knew it was only a matter of time… RIP fan and thanks for the years of dedicated service and kicking the bucket AFTER the test was done.

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Double Brick Tip No. 4: Where Old Meets New

Deciding to build an addition on your new home is an exciting time and with careful planning doesn’t have to cost you more to heat the additional space if the whole house is renovated at the same time. All too often though, the original part of the home remains uninsulated and the new addition get insulated to modern standard as in below:


Exciting times for this modern addition on a century Toronto home. With clerestory windows facing south this addition will be finished with stucco, a nice touch for the neighbourhood. The 3rd floor addition’s platform is made with steel. Note the poly flap the platform rests on.


The detail where the new 3rd floor addition’s floor meets the top of the 2nd floor brick wall is a tricky one to handle from an air barrier perspective. How do you seal the new addition’s air barrier system to the vintage structure that doesn’t have an “air barrier”?



The edge detail of the floor platform shows the stamped steel filled with Roxul, the windows panned with flashing and the poly it all rests on.

Complicating matters, the 3rd floor floor cavity is bumped out beyond the main floor’s original brick walls which makes for an increasingly vulnerable joint to insulate and air seal properly. Adding insult to injury, the rim joist is made of highly conductive steel. Note the flap of poly hanging down.



A few months later the classic stucco is being applied with false brick corners. The poly looks like its wrapped up to join the tyvek air barrier. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the tyvek – with high perm rating – goes over the poly not behind and dries anything that fills what appears to be a poly trough.

With the steel joists covered the house gets finished with classic stucco corner quoins.

HP Addition

The 3rd floor addition, nearly complete shows significant heat loss at the joint between the old and the new; a typical scenario in many additions.

The infrared image shows the heat loss at the junction where old meets new. The old wall was double brick and uninsulated whereas the new addition on the 2nd floor was insulated to code. Though it’s hard to say if the thermal weakness at the joint is due to air leakage and or to thermal bridging, it’s safe to bet a little of both it taking place.

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Seminar on Deep Energy Retrofits of Vintage Homes

On Saturday April 26th, BGG – in conjunction with Green13 -  will be giving a talk on best practices for renovating vintage homes, specifically double brick homes.

If you or a friend are considering renovating an old home and want to learn more about the risks and rewards, come join us. Its free and you’ll also learn about the city of Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) to finance your project!


Retrofitting Vintage Homes_final

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The Passive House Revolution

For our 10oth blog posting, I thought we’d take it easy and watch a well produced movie for a change!

When Passive Home builder Ed Marion and I gave a talk to a packed room of architects this past winter, I asked “Who’s heard of Passive House” and much to our surprise, nearly 2/3 of the attendees put up their hands! If you don’t know what Passive House is about, you’re living in a cave.

Jim Gunshinan of Editor of Home Energy Magazine says “Watching the film made me feel good and hopeful about the work we do on behalf of people and planet.”

It’s not free, but this well produced film is chock full of details from the highest caliber practitioners on the planet! For a sneak peak click below:

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Renovating the Toronto Double Brick Tip No 3: Detailing Exposed Original Masonry

When renovating solid masonry homes, we fully realise that the two layers of structural brick have little to no resistivity to heat flow – or no R-value. Knowing this we use one of two strategies in deep energy retrofits; we wither insulate completely on the outside, or we insulated completely on the inside.

We come into issues where this solid wall either can’t be insulated for firesafety, where the wall’s brick is exposed and highlighted or where it makes an incursion into the warm space and this applies almost always to converting back porches into heated spaces or when adding an addition to the back.

We covered the fire safety issues in a previous post – Tip No. 1  and quite simply for those of you who like the exposed brick look, don’t sacrifice your comfort for aesthetics, insulate the wall and cover it with frick (Fake Brick).

The most difficult case is when the back wall remains mostly intact as in below (note the grey left half of the picture with faint red vertical lines) leaving the pourous wall to bleed heat comfort by way of thermal bridging and air leakage.

The most obvious course of action is to either simply insulate the wall on both sides and air seal it even if it feels like an “inside wall” the other is to open up the back wall and put in structural steel to hold up the brick on the 2nd story back wall. In the latter case, the steel needs to be well insulated and sealed. Either way this wall needs to be taken care of in case where high performance is desired.


The back wall (the grey left half of the picture with faint red vertical lines) will bleed comfort out by way of thermal bridging and air leakage. See infrared detail of same area below. The back porch was annexed and will now be conditioned space, see visible picture below for the other side of this picture.

Original wall incursion IR

The back wall (the purplish left half of the picture ) will bleed comfort out by way of thermal bridging and air leakage. See visible light picture above.

Original wall incursion otherside

What used to be the back wall of the house is now inside the house bleeding heat and leaking cold air into the house. See below for infrared equivalent.

Original wall incursion IR otherside

Corresponding to the visible light picture above, the back wall of the house is now inside the house bleeding heat and leaking cold air into the house at all corners.

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Renovating the Toronto Double Brick Tip No 2: Seal Wood Floor Joists

The idea with a deep energy retrofit is to renovate to such a degree where no work will be needed on the house for another 100 years or more, so when we gut old double brick homes, we often find the 2nd floor floor-joist are not as deep as the the main floor and after a 100 years of continuous service are a bit tired and sagging – its only natural.

In this particular energy retrofit, the wall studs were spaced off the double brick by about and inch (you pretty much have to space off the wall that much to account for inconsistencies in the brick) so that spray foam can form a “monolithic” coat underneath.  We use the word monolithic carefully here as the spacing needs to be at least 2″ of free space to really get the foam in there. This comes with risks of bowing out walls if not tied back to the masonry mid-span. This job was fairly good with the exception of outside corners and floor joists that penetrated the foam.

Even still our testing routinely shows weakness in Deep Energy Retrofits where spray foam is applied to the brick. The air barrier is not the foam when its sprayed between framing members. Inn this case the air barrier was the brick the foam was sprayed on.

As always, the best investment is to test the insulation and air barrier system BEFORE the drywall goes on. Once the drywall’s on, its too late to seal.


The original floor joists (dark with with lath marks) of this Toronto home’s second floor were undersized for the span and sagging by as much as 1.5″ mid-span. New, deeper joists were sistered to the original (light coloured new wood), the second floor lifted.


On the party-wall of this double brick home, the new floor joists bear in the brick and are packed with non-shrink grout. It pays to seal the party-wall not only to limit rodent passage, but to stop sound transmission and air leakage up and out the party wall.

2nd FLoor foamed joists asdf

The newly spray foamed “rim joist” area has a few significant leaks; namely the gap between the old sub-floor and the new joist’s top as seen in the detail below and between the laminated joists.

2nd FLoor foamed joists IR asdf

When depressurised, this leakage paths on this cold February day are highlighted as dark areas. The but-edge of top plates and the tops of the new joists under sub-flooring are hard to foam properly. The laminated joist (not shown) leak air between joists too.

The rim-joist is also an often overlooked area that is REALLY difficult to insulate properly. If you’re lucky the rim joist will be spaced 3″-4″ off the masonry wall and if that’s the case, clean it out and have it insulated.

DSC_0511 (2)

This nice 2nd floor cut-away (thanks Christie Pits!) shows the double brick wall cross section and the joists. The rim joist in this case was practically touching the masonry, in this case, the rim joist may have to be orphaned and insulated on the face a difficult task that’s hard to insulated and air seal really well and begs the questions, why don’t we just insulate on the outside? Note the old-style sheer wall steel brick tie to tie in the front wall to the floor joist.

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Renovating the Toronto Double Brick Tip No1: Dump the Rumford

In the late 1790′s Count Rumford was the top of his game and helped masons better understand how to make an open fireplace light more easily, produce less smoke on start-up and produce more heat. The Rumford fireplace became the State-of-the-art standard world-wide for a few centuries. Thank you for your contribution to humanity Count Rumford, but times have changed.

We’ve learned a few things since then and he’s our advice – if you’re renovating and wanting to save energy just get rid of the old masonry fireplace(s). No gas insert(s), no wood – what city dweller has time to schlep, cut, stack, store, move and move in wood- just add insulation right over top it and forget it ever existed.



The open-faced fireplace is surrounded by new 2×4 wood framed wall insulated with spray foam (BASF Wall-tite) on a double brick wall. The studs were spaced away from the masonry to allow for a continuous layer of foam. Even still, the inside corner is notoriously difficult to seal and insulate because of framing. The same applies to the rim-joists.

When dealing with wood burning appliances the old chimneys often didn’t have a liner or flue pipe and so foaming on an active masonry chimney is dangerous for ignition reasons. Secondly, as in the infrared photo below, traditionally the hearth is the warmest place in the house, but not so when this house will be complete.

As the IR image will attest, the uninsulated brick and the air leakage through this cold area will condemn the owners to wearing shawls and toques! Unless this old 1790′s piece of technology is buried in insulation or is permanently fired up, this harbinger will clasp your limbs with its cold hands and fill your heart with regret for years to come as it becomes the greatest source of discomfort in you newly renovated Edwardian home on cold windy nights…

Rumford IR png

The open-faced fireplace is surrounded by new spray foam on a double brick wall. The drop in temperature (purple) around the Rumford fireplace is caused by depressurising the house; either way the fireplace is always a source o significant air leakage especially where the round flue passes through the chimney. Note the inside corner is notoriously difficult to seal and insulate because of framing and forms a black cold slit on the right of the image and at its base is the nearly white hot HVAC supply register.




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