There is movement…

It seems there are a number of large multinationals that are pulling together for change. What fresh news!


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Chimney Prizes

First Prize for longest flue pipe goes to…

Had the luxury of checking out the Citadel in Halifax last summer and found this gem of a stove. I imagine soot driping on the scones but likely a good radiator too. I bet it was fairly smokey in there until the fire got going:

Longest horizontal chimney in the world!

Longest horizontal flue pipe [thanks DB] in the world!


First prize for 100 year old masonry shenanigans goes to:

This photo was passed to me by Don Noble and it shows proper corbelling of masonry units to get the chimney centred on the ridge of the roof, heaven forbid, not on the side.

Breaking all the rules: a 100 year old example of shenaniganry.

Breaking all the rules: just when you though stuff was well built back then, here’s a 100 year old example of shenaniganry.


First prize for genuine-faux chimney goes to…

Built in 2012, this masonry pseudo-chimney is all talk no action!

That's not a chimeny... that's a decoration. The gas vent comes out the side, the stack is pure expensive decoration.

That’s not a chimney… that’s a decoration. The gas vent comes out the side, the stack is pure expensive decoration.




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Exterior Ductwork

Running ducts outside the envelope is never a good idea, especially in cold climates like Toronto. This home had some creative duct work done to it:

Looking left of the hydro pole, you see a return trunk spanning the basement to the 3r floor. This is in Toronto.

Looking left of the hydro pole, you see a return trunk spanning the basement to the 3r floor.

The close up:


Running from the basement to the ceiling of the 3rd floor, seemed uninsulated. What were they thinking!

This job was cheap and cheerful!

Another house using a commercial roof-top unit and not only are the ducts running outside, they go into through the attic for distribution.


This roof-top furnace and AC will be taxed both summer and winter. Folks, it might be convenient but it’s not right to put the heart of a house on a roof.












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When Spray Foam Goes Off Ratio

For high quality products, the manufacturing process needs to be understood and controlled very tightly. So too with spray foam when it’s manufactured on the job site. So when you order foam for your project, the crew that shows up should be sharp, organized and be well trained. When foam is manufactured and installed by a good team, the end result should be years of durable comfort.

The ‘A’ Foam Team

The guys you want on your job site are trained in a class room setting, with lots of building science in there for good measure and have a year’s experience with a professional spray applicator as mentor. They will know:

  1. their equipment inside out, treat their gear with respect and keep a clean truck,
  2. their foam well as each brand of foam has a slightly different recipe for making good foam,
  3. to test their installed foam for adhesion and density for each barrel set (CUFCA requirements),
  4. to connect and seal insulation planes – irrespective of insulation type – together.

The letter of the Law

Here are the two standards referenced by OBC for the manufacture and installation of spray foam:

“The … product meets the following standard:

•CAN/ULC-S705.1-01(including Amendments 1 and 2), “Standard for Thermal Insulation – Spray Applied Rigid Polyurethane Foam, Medium Density – Material – Specification.”

Spray-applied rigid polyurethane foam, medium density, shall be installed by a licensed installer in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and the following standard:

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

For compliance to CAN/ULC-S705.2, users should contact the third-party organization [e.g. CUFCA] that has been identified by the foam manufacturer as the third party operating the field quality assurance program for the foam product.”


When things go off-ratio

In a nutshell, to manufacture good, durable foam, the two chemicals have to be married at the spray nozzle tip with precise temperature, flow and pressure requirements. This delicate balance just takes one spec of dust or lump of chemical to throw things off  and though it happens less frequently with good crews, it does happen to them too. The difference between good crews and irresponsible foam applicators is their response to the situation.

A good crew knows almost immediately when things are going wrong and they clean it up:

This section of 2LBS foam went off-ratio and the crew should have cleaned out and re-sprayed new foam.

This section of 2LBS foam went off-ratio and the crew should have cleaned out and re-sprayed new foam. There was uncured liquid resin at the bottom of the stud cavity and much of the foam had shrunken back.


And sometimes the the change in foam isn’t as blatantly obvious as in the case below. Allison Bailes III of Energy Vanguard has documented the same phenomenon in the USA. I met the builder who asked me i this was ‘normal’, frankly, I was stunned at what the builder discovered. There were as many as 15 examples of this puling away in the one basement. The builder found that where there were multiple studs ganged together, the two studs touching adjacent foam were mechanically pulled in towards to foam in the stud bay as in below.

No perceptible space between these studs at bottom plate.

Photo 1: No perceptible space between these studs at bottom plate.

4' from the floor, the foam had pulled the stud away from the other two studs.

Photo 2: Same studs as in Photo 1 at 4′ from the floor, the foam had pulled the stud (right) away 1/4″ from the other two studs (left).

This inside corner (below grade stud wall) at 4' height shows  full 3/4" gap foamed after the foam was applied.

This inside corner (below grade stud wall) at 4′ height shows full 3/4″ gap foamed after the foam was applied. A straight edge 2×4 on face confirmed the curvature.

Picture 054

The foam in the above photo pulled away from the studs and even 1/2″ all around. This is not the wood drying its foam not being manufactured (i.e. sprayed) to specification.

So when you find a good foam crew, stick to them!




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Roof Underlayment cum Vapour Barrier?

A disturbing trend has taken root in southern Ontario over the last dozen or so years; migration to less permeable roof underlayment.

When I redid the shingled part of my roof in 2001, I asked many veteran roofers, “Why do you use tar-paper under shingles?” and the most common answers were:

  1. “I don’t know!”
  2. “Insurance; in case it starts raining during the re-roofing, the roof is will shed water.”
  3. “It’s easier to tear the old shingles off if there’s felt paper between shingles and roof sheathing.”

Not so on the last point with today’s peel and stick. The new generation of peel and stick roofing membranes are very difficult to clean off roof decks without destroying the wood sheathing and expensive.


The truth is, for centuries humans relied on shingles made of wood or slate to shed the rain. No underlayment. No problems. As humans started jacking up the temperature in their homes, ice daming became more prevalent and as a band-aid response, industry invented the thneed for roofing: membrane underlayment.

Just say “No” to underlayment

The Energy Nerd, Martin Holladay, has a bullet list of do’s and don’ts for roof design and he feels felt paper’s enough in a well designed roof. I concur. I would go further to say:

  • many of these new membranes will prevent air movement through shingles – if a solid lumber deck.
  • should not be used to solve ice daming, don’t put a band aid on it, air seal and insulate
  • it will cost you more the next time you reshingle, as you’ll likely have to re-sheath the destroyed roof deck
  • some membranes are vapour barriers/retarders and could lead to condensation issues

On this last point, the photo below shows a roof being slowly re-shingled in Toronto (i.e. cold climate):

This membrane has been exposed for more than 30 days, covers both walls, cathedral and ventilated attics and at 0.05 Perms Grace Ice & Water Shield is considered "Impermeable".

This cold-side membrane has been exposed for significantly more than 30 days on this project, is indiscriminately covering walls, cathedral and ventilated attics alike and at 0.05 Perms, Grace Ice & Water Shield is considered “Impermeable”.



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Air Tightness Testing a LEED Gold Certified Building

A few weeks back, my awesome students at Humber College and I had the unique opportunity to air tightness test The Centre for Urban Ecology.

This LEED Gold Certified building is nestled in the Humber Arboretum, part of the Humber College campus. I had the distinct privilege of guiding the Lab component of a course called SNRG400 Residential Homes and Small Buildings this past winter. The students remind me there is hope!

Needless to say, we had a blast just getting out of the Lab. I’m pleased to announce the air tightness was better than EnergySTAR requirements for homes coming in at 1.7 ACH50.

Centre for Urban Ecology

Centre for Urban Ecology



SNRG400: The early Lab with sweat, blood and broad shoulders.

SNRG400: ‘The Early Lab’ – With sweat, blood and broad shoulders.


SNRG400: The latter Lab "If I have seen farther, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of the Early Lab."

SNRG400: ‘The latter Lab’ – “If I have seen farther, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of the Early Lab.”




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Timber Framing

BGG had the unique opportunity to check out a timber frame home being constructed by the province’s best timber framer Michael Krans of Timmerman Timberworks. The precision these carpenters exercise is incredible – they put the Inca’s to shame – as they flew in the timbers by crane, the pieces slid perfectly into place every time!

Tmmerman Tiberworks

Tmmerman Tiberworks

Timber framing is the structural equivalent of framing with 2×6, except one you cover with drywall and siding, the other you highlight. It was clear to me by the detailed joinery that Mike and his crew were true craftsmen who loved the trade.

Timmerman Detail

Timmerman Detail

Timmerman Timberworks Joinery Detail

Timmerman Timberworks Joinery Detail



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Beautiful High Performance Rammed Earth

When BGG was called in to 3rd party air tightness test a unique Rammed Earth home, we had to take our time to experience the Coinstar online beauty of this sustainably-built building.

Rammed Earth, high performance builders Sylvia Cook and Stephen Cavalier of Aerecura gave us a tour of their new home designed in conjunction with Terrell Wong of Stone’s Throw. What a treat to get a chance to test such a high performance home!


Aerecura Rammed Earth House

Aerecura Rammed Earth House


Greg taken in by the mellifluous layers of earth.

Greg taken in by the mellifluous layers of earth.



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Ed Marion’s Perpetual Energy Machine

OK, you can’t break the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, but Ed’s come pretty close to doing it!  When Ed set about inventing a better mouse trap he did a great job finding a better way to pre-heat the incoming air supplying to his ERV. There were a number of cool features in Mr. Marion’s house, but this one took the cheese… er, I mean the cake.

When BGG went to 3rd party test Passive Home builder Ed Marion‘s home, the coolest feature was his “near free energy machine”.

With a few turns of 3/4″ pex buried outside the foundation wall at footing level, he connected the loop to a in-line radiator with the incoming fresh air and filled the loop with glycol.The loop gather’s the ground’s heat and imparts it on the incoming cold air warming it significantly.

Using a wickedly efficient Grundfos circulator – drawing only 7 watts – on a -15°C he managed to get an 12°C temperature lift for the incoming air.

Ed's perpetual energy machine

Ed’s perpetual energy machine


Shervin BD Test

Shervin setting the baseline prior to the pressurisation and depresurisation tests for PH testing.


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Phase Change Energy Storage

Toronto architect Terrell Wong has been on the cutting edge of pushing the boundaries of energy efficiency for many years now.

The truth is, the path to increasing efficiency in buildings means doing things differently than we used to and Terrell’s been at the vanguard here in Ontario. While juggling family life and a vibrant architectural practice, she also played a pivotal role in getting Passive Buildings Canada going. Terrell knows that leading means being creative and investing in both new construction practices and technologies.

When BGG went to do 3rd party air tightness testing on her latest near Passive House – Deep Energy Retrofit – we found a lot of great goodies in this project, but I especially wanted to share a picture of Terrell’s most prized possession; her Latento phase change water tank:


Terrell's phase changing tank

Terrell’s phase changing tank

If you don’t have time for the video, basically, the tank is full of wax and because of “Phase change” of wax transitioning form solid to liquid, you can store more heat into the material.

This tank gets the coveted ‘Blue Angel’ stamp of approval:






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