Archive for the ‘Energy Efficiency’ category

Tips for an Energy efficient warm winter

November 24th, 2014

 

Tips for an Energy efficient warm winter2
Summer is gone but with temperatures remaining high enough it may be difficult to think about heating and energy efficiency. You definitely should, however, consider that winter will be here soon and with its snow and cold weather. What you do now can have huge impact on your electricity bill and how well your home will be overall prepared to face the season challenges. The more you do about energy efficiency, the better.

 

Here are some general tips on how to make your home energy efficient for the cold months to come. Think about what your home can use and go for it. Carefully consider what you can do to change how much you spend on heating and how to make your home more efficient.

» Read more: Tips for an Energy efficient warm winter

Baseboard radiators that look like baseboards

June 9th, 2014
The baseboard is a radiator!

The baseboard is a radiator!

 

I was contacted by Christine from BaseboardRads.com about their product which is a baseboard radiator.

You can create extra space in your home by converting old, iron radiators into these compact baseboard rads. They work with hydronic heating systems and come ready to install with connectors already in place. No welding or cutting is necessary.

Dimensions: They are 7 1/8″ high, 1 1/16″ thick and are available in various lengths. An eight foot baseboard rad will heat an average-sized room.

They are paintable, and you can find matching MDF baseboards anywhere baseboards are sold.

The rads are safer than electric baseboard heaters because there are no exposed elements. They are also more energy efficient.

Cost is $32/foot plus the cost of installation. Christine noted that they should be installed by a certified HVAC technician or plumber because they are part of a hydronic heating system.

The rads are manufactured in Pickering, Ontario.

For more information, visit their website: http://www.baseboardrads.com

 

Skylights’ Function in The Active House

March 12th, 2014
Velux skylight operable with blinds

Velux skylight with blinds and operable glazing

Some green builders and energy auditors would argue that skylights have no place in a “green” home. After all, skylights puncture the building envelope allowing heat to escape in the winter and enter in the summer. Improper installation of skylights can add problems such as condensation build-up inside and ice damming outside.

However, in a house built to Active House standards, energy is an incorporated into the design but is not the driving component.  An Active House balances energy efficiency and human comfort by allowing natural daylight, fresh air and summer cross breezes into a building, while excluding excessive heat, cold, and glare from direct sunlight. This goal naturally means the home will have an abundance of windows and skylights — a direct contradiction of building philosophies such as Passive House which requires extremely tight building envelopes.

There have been many studies done on the positive effects of natural daylight on people’s health, and for those of us who live in northern climates and have suffered, even a little, from seasonal affective disorder, they will recognize the value of natural light, especially in the winter months. So while building envelopes are compromised with the addition of skylights, other green building goals are more than satisfied.

VELUX, a company established in Europe over 70 years ago, is well-known for its high-quality skylights. It has been involved with the Active House philosophy since its inception. I spoke with Nels Moxness and Russell Ibbotson of VELUX about the roles of skylights and their pros and cons in any building.

There are four major issues/concerns people have with skylights: air tightness, insulation value, solar heat gain and glare.

Air tightness: It’s no secret that many people who have lived in a house with skylights have experienced leaking at some point. While it can be due to faulty installation, often it is because the original skylights were installed using tar as the sealer around the flashing. Nels told me that after a few years of exposure to weather elements such as heat, cold, sunlight, water, snow, etc., the tar shrinks and cracks allowing water to infiltrate and find its way into the house. VELUX has always used a an engineered flashing which does not require sealants to maintain water tightness.  Their current product has the addition of  a rubber based membrane, which provides a shield from ice and water that often outlasts the roof’s shingles and prevents leaking. Further, to ensure proper installation of its skylights, VELUX certified installers  are required to attend a comprehensive installation training as well as have a job site inspected upon completion.

Insulation: With respect to insulation values, VELUX skylights are double-paned, flat glass, LoE³  that are filled with argon gas. This provides for a better insulation value than uninsulated skylights. The U-value for the installed skylights in the Active House in Thorold, Ontario is rated at 0.4 in Energy Star zones A, B and C (most of Canada’s population lives within these climate zones, Zone D, the coldest, covers the Arctic).  Note that there are 14 skylights in the Thorold house and the house achieved 1.6 air changes per hour. To give you an idea of how that compares to building code, the upgraded Ontario Building Code, 2012, and the newest Novoclimat (Quebec) building code require a minimum of 2.5 air changes per hour for a detached home.

Solar Heat Gain and Glare: Often, even in winter, if the sun is beating down on a house, without the protection trees or other buildings, the area under the skylight within the house will become so hot or bright that you avoid it completely. This effect is particularly brutal in the summer and will have the added consequence of forcing your air conditioner to work overtime. In fact, solar heat gain and direct glare from poorly placed skylights can negate any natural daylight advantage there is to installing them in the first place. Nels mentioned that with respect to solar heat gain, in the latest VELUX skylights, there is three times less solar heat gain than there was even ten years ago.  Further, VELUX is developing an exterior awning system to prevent solar heat gain and help block glare even more. As it is, you can add an interior blind system, operated by remote control, this is particularly relevant in a bedroom if you don’t like waking up with the summer sun (in Montreal in June, dawn starts around 4:30am and sunrise is at 5am). In fact the addition of a light-blocking blind to a skylight can increase energy performance by as much as 45%.

As the technology of skylights continuously improves, skylights’ importance  in a home’s design and functioning becomes increasingly valuable and homes built to Active House standards take full advantage of the newest skylights’ multi-functional qualities.

The multi-functional skylight:  The Thorold house is designed with 14 skylights which are used to bring daylight into areas that might not receive it otherwise such as bathrooms and stairwells. With increased daylight, demand for electric lighting is significantly decreased versus a standard house.

The ability of VELUX skylights to open to let in fresh air and let interior hot air escape allows architects who promote natural over mechanical ventilation to make use of stairwells as heat stacks.  When the cooler night air advances, ground floor windows can be opened along with skylights. As the hot air escapes through the skylights, the cooler night air gets sucked into the house to replace it. Cooling down a house is much more rapid, easing pressure on air conditioning and the electrical load.  Further, VELUX has just incorporated a solar panel into its skylight to operate it, so there is no need to add to the electrical load.

Rain Sensor: Because the skylights are operable, they include a rain sensor so if you aren’t home and it rains, they will close automatically.

Effectively placed and properly installed skylights can be a positive addition to any building, providing natural daylight in hard to reach spaces, lowering electrical lighting loads and improving occupants’ overall well being.

To find a Velux dealer near you visit the Velux website.

 

The Importance of an Energy Audit, Using Infrared Imaging

January 30th, 2014
Thermal energy loss

Thermal energy loss

An energy audit could be the only thing between you, a safe home, and a full wallet.

Canadian buildings, according to the Canada Green Building Council, consume up to 38 per cent of all secondary energy use, which is energy obtained from primary energy sources. Residing in your home, you consume energy in many ways: cooking dinner on the stovetop; running water for your bath; refrigerating your leftovers; and, of course, heating your home.

You might turn the lights out before bed and take care not to waste water. Though this effort certainly helps conserve energy, consider the possibility of problems in your home that are nearly impossible to detect yourself; difficult to control; and ones that are ultimately preventing you from achieving an energy-efficient home.

Finding out if your home is energy-efficient

Consuming energy is inevitable and, in fact, necessary. However, we can be smarter about the ways in which we do so and we can make our homes more energy-efficient, which in turn will ensure they are safe and sound, warm and dry, and even help patch up that hole in your wallet.

First, you need to find out how your home is using energy. Taking a look around on the inside or outside of your property, you might spot the source of a leak or draft. In many cases though, the issue is more subtle and out of sight. The only completely reliable way to find out how your home is using (or losing) energy is by having a certified and experienced inspector visit and carry out a thorough energy audit.

Infrared imaging for your energy audit

An energy audit using infrared imaging is both an accurate and completely safe way to detect whereabouts you’re losing energy. However, an infrared inspection can be complex and is most reliable when a thermal imaging expert conducts the energy audit—surveying your home’s whole envelope and indoor environment—and properly interprets the results. This way, you’ll save time and, ultimately, money.

Carrying out an energy audit via infrared imaging allows the inspector to detect several major problems, including the following:

–          All moisture buildup

–          Leaking or burst pipes

–          All areas of water intrusion from outdoors in

–          All areas where there is indoor air escaping your home

How an infrared inspector detects your home’s energy conservation

A certified infrared inspector, using a high-resolution infrared camera, is able to detect any problem that may be preventing your home from maximising energy. The camera picks up the energy flow inside the house, reading where and how it’s being used. The inspector weighs the energy input against the output and is then able to tell the energy conservation of the home.

Depending on his or her results, the inspector will inform you of the ways you can improve energy efficiency, through repairs, renovations, upgrades or other lifestyle modifications. A sustainable energy environment, or green building, can be achieved, regardless of whether you’re in the building process or you’ve been living in your home for decades.

Choosing an energy-efficient home

An energy audit may not be in your budget. However, if your home has heat escaping or isn’t making the most of its energy, you should begin to assess the pros and cons at hand. A situation like this is not only costly itself, but it can be dangerous.

Often, the problems detected during the inspection are ones that must be fixed immediately. For instance, moisture buildup jeopardizes the structural integrity of your home and can lead to black mold growth within 24 to 48 hours.

When you own a home, you’ve committed yourself—your time, money and attention—to maintaining it. Be certain its energy consumption is neither costing you a fortune nor risking your comfort and safety.

 

Article written by Ivan Ward, Inspector at  Mold Busters– Infrared  inspection services from Ottawa.

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The Active House Philosophy – A New Building Standard From Europe

January 23rd, 2014

You may already be familiar with the Passive House movement. Homes built to that standard are entirely concerned with energy consumption from heating, cooling and plug load. The standard requires that homes be so well insulated that there is no need for a conventional furnace, but rather a pellet stove, baseboard heating or a heat pump will do. Because the standard focuses entirely on heating, builders attempting passive house certification will also sometimes combine it with other environmental certifications, such as LEED, which is concerned with overall building and occupant health. Now, however, there is a new building philosophy called Active House that was developed by several representatives, among others, those from Denmark and Holland. It has three main tenets: Occupants’ indoor comfort be maximized, Energy Consumption minimized and Environmental Conservation be considered at each building phase from design through use through end-of-life.

Active House Web of Categories

Instead of evaluating homes on a “points” basis the way LEED does, Active Houses are evaluated in a web on a scale from 1 to 4. “1” being the best and “4” the lowest. The idea is to achieve as many of the specific category demands as possible to create a broad web – 1s and 2s, the outer rings of the web, being preferable to 3s and 4s, the inner rings.

Comfort: The first category considered is indoor comfort. This is a broad and somewhat open-ended term and covers daylight, indoor temperature and indoor air quality.

  • Thermal Environment: One occupant might be more interested in keeping a room warmer or cooler than another and that’s exactly what the creators of the Active House had in mind — individual desires of the occupants. To achieve this and to conserve energy, zoned heating and cooling are used for different floors and rooms. Further, through the use of low to no energy features including orientation of the building, heat stack design, operable windows and the maximizing cross breezes, the use of natural ventilation is optimized and mechanical ventilation (and therefore electricity consumption) is limited. Building envelopes are well-insulated, so the addition of a Heat Recovery Ventilator is usually necessary to allow fresh air to enter and moist, stale air to leave the building even on excessively cold or hot days when windows aren’t opened. HRVs also improve energy efficiency as they transfer the heat from the stale air leaving to the fresh air entering.
  • Daylight: Of critical importance to a person’s mental and physical well-being is the amount and quality of daylight a building is designed to receive. With the fairly recent discovery of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), most of us living in the Northern Hemisphere don’t receive enough natural daylight during the winter months, one of the consequences for some people being depression. Architects working to Active House philosophy are required to design homes with high quality daylight reaching as many lived-in rooms as possible (storage and utility rooms aren’t counted). The recommended daylight factor is 2% or higher, while the lowest score of evaluated rooms must be greater than 1% on average.
  • Indoor Air Quality: The Active House standard requires a constant supply of fresh air into the building, whether through operable windows or an HRV or a combination of the two. The HRV also can be used to control indoor humidity levels ensuring a dry environment to prevent mould growth.

Energy: Since the operation of buildings worldwide consumes about 40% of all fossil fuels, an Active House aims to be light on the use of carbon-based fuels and nuclear energy. For example, a house that uses 100% renewable energy scores a “1”, while a house using 25% or more renewable energy would score a “4”.

  • Energy Demand:  This is the amount of energy required by the house, including space heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, ventilation, technical installations, plug load and appliances.  In the design phase, architects will focus on designing a house that maximizes energy conservation and efficiency by taking advantage of passive solar gains for both lighting and heat, as well as designing tight building envelopes. Other features include the addition of renewable energy systems and demand-control ventilation, which also contribute to the energy savings. Use of dynamic building envelope with solar shadings and natural ventilations reduces the need for
    mechanical cooling and air conditioning during summer period. Finally, the type of construction is very important to successful implementation of this phase.
  • Energy Supply: The type and quality of energy supplied to the house is another important facet of the Active House philosophy. Homes that use 100% renewable energy produced on site or nearby receive a “1”. Homes that use 25% or more renewable energy receive a “4”. Note that not using any renewable energy isn’t even an option, regardless of how efficient you are.
  • Primary Energy Performance: This value is the calculation of (total energy consumption – renewable energy supply) x national primary energy factors. What they are looking for here,, in principle, is your CO2 output based on the national, or in our case, provincial, energy production mix. If your home uses 100% renewable energy, either from the grid or produced all on-site your score would be “1”.

Environment: This is the area that focuses on building materials, waste and life cycle. The Active House is concerned not only with the functioning of the building, but how it got there and what will happen to it when its useful life is over.

  • Environmental Load: Building a house is a disruptive process to the global environment. The Active House takes into account how damaging construction can be by considering a house’s  Global Warming Potential, Primary Energy consumption, ozone depletion, smog potential, water acidification potential and eutrophication of the soil. The environmental load is all encompassing, and considers the whole Life Cycle, including the production and transportation of the materials used to build the house, the maintenance and operation of the house, and disposal of the house at end of life.
  • Fresh water consumption: Minimizing consumption of freshwater by occupants’ also plays an important role in the Active House. A “1” is achieved by reducing water consumption by 50% versus the national average, while a “4” is graded for a house that conserves 10% or more. Devices and techniques used can be items such as a cistern to catch rain water or a gray water system, which captures used water from baths and showers and recirculates it to toilets. Low-flow fixtures can also be installed.
  • Sustainable Construction: As many renewable and recycled/recyclable products are used in the construction of the house as possible. A house containing a minimum of 5% recyclable content will receive a “4” while a house that uses over 50% recycled content receives a 1. Regarding wood, the standard is more demanding. At least 50% of all wood used in construction of the house must be certified either by PEFC or FSC. 25-80% of new material needs to be EMS certified. If you’re not familiar with this requirement, EMS stands for Environmental Management System, usually referring to ISO 14001 standard which is a voluntary guideline outlining the criteria a company would have to go through to get ISO 14001 certification. A company with an EMS in place tends to have a greater responsibility with how its products are made, including taking steps towards responsible sourcing and improving its overall energy and water efficiency.

Qualitative parameters:  In addition to the evaluative web used to rate an Active House, there is a long list of other considerations that are used to make this house a lower impact, thoughtfully designed house, which architects, designers and other building professionals can use as a guide. Other issues such as noise and acoustics, accessibility, visual transmittance and glare management among the factors considered.

The philosophy behind the design process is thorough, thoughtful and addresses gaps in the Passive House built house and even the LEED for Homes designation. It does not go as far as Living Building Challenge, which requires that most, if not all energy and water used by the house be produced or captured by the house. Perhaps though, it is a more realistic approach for urban dwellers. The developers of the Active House philosophy consider it a work in progress, not dissimilar to LEED. They evaluate houses already built to the standard to see how it can be improved. Homes are evaluated before and during occupancy and compared so that professionals involved in Active House design-build can learn from the results.

Active House Principle The first Canadian built Active House has just been completed in Thorold, Ontario by Great Gulf Homes. It provides an excellent example of the philosophy being put into practice. Stay tuned as I will discuss the features of that house in the next post.

For more information on the Active House philosophy, visit the website: http://www.activehouse.info/

The Active House Alliance is now in process of developing concept guidelines and classification for Active House projects, with an expected launch by the end of the year.

For two Active homes already built, see the following articles:

First Active House Nears Completion in the US

 

La Maison Aire et Lumiere (in French)

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