Archive for the ‘Green Building Techniques’ category

How Integrated Project Delivery reduces costs, waste and time for construction jobs

November 8th, 2016
The Mosaic Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Net Zero building

The Mosaic Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Net Zero building , (via Flickr


At the Green Building Festival, Jen Hancock gave a presentation on how her company, Chandos, delivered a net zero building commercial project to the client, four months early, under budget. To deliver a building under budget is rarely heard of, but throw in net zero while delivering a completed project four months early, and now you’re into territory that is pretty much uncharted in the construction industry. I contacted Jen after the presentation because I wanted to find out more about how they accomplished this feat. Chandos isn’t like other construction companies and this is immediately evident when you see that Jen’s title is the Director of Innovative Construction. How many firms have that title on their roster?

I asked her if she’d been busy presenting this project to other conferences and she said, “I’ve been really busy presenting this concept — the way we built the Mosaic Centre has overshadowed, to some degree, the fact that it’s a net-zero building.” It should be noted that Chandos and The Mosaic Centre are located in Edmonton, AB, where temperatures can dip into the -30Cs in the winter months, so building a net-zero building is a huge accomplishment. In fact, it is the most northern commercial net-zero building in North America. » Read more: How Integrated Project Delivery reduces costs, waste and time for construction jobs

Endeavour Centre’s workshop schedule for 2016

January 27th, 2016

In the wake of record-breaking warming temperatures, you might be wondering what you can do to lighten your carbon footprint. Besides curbing your air travel and becoming a vegetarian, you can looking at tightening your residence’s building envelope, or renovating using more benign materials. The Endeavour Centre in Peterborough, ON, hosts a bunch of different kinds of green building workshops, and the first one on designing your sustainable home will be held in Toronto on February 6-7th.  The schedule for all of their courses is below, but visit the Endeavour Centre’s website for more information.

» Read more: Endeavour Centre’s workshop schedule for 2016

The pros and cons of rain screens

July 21st, 2015

I haven’t spent any time writing about rain screens — a building technique that has tended to be associated with wetter climates. The point of rain screens is to let the water that gets behind the facade drain out so that the building stays dry. As our buildings are designed to be tighter and tighter, any penetration can lead to water getting into a wall assembly but having nowhere to get out causing all kinds of havoc from wood rot to mould build-up. Eventually, these two things can lead to structural failure and health issues for building occupants.

I contacted Dave Petersen from Outside In Design Build to discuss rain screens, a technique for constructing a wall assembly that has gained traction over the years due to its ability to keep water away from infiltrating walls. According to Dave, it is a requirement of most local building codes. While it is used on the (usually) rainy West Coast (note they’ve instituted drought restrictions in Vancouver),  it is also a good method for building here in the east, even in colder climates, and, in fact, many cladding materials require its use with their products.

How it works (from correspondence with Dave Petersen):

The rain screen assembly allows for water getting past the outer (face) barrier to weep down and outward (gravity assisted and pressure equalized) once the wind abates through a series of engineered flashings and weep-assemblies. These often include bug screens, through wall flashings in metal and ice and water shield materials. The key with this system is to allow for pressure equalization behind the face materials which will allow the water to drain away instead of continuing its way through the wall assembly. Most wall systems (brick and stone veneer, siding, EIFS*, cement board, etc.) are designed to work as part of a rain screen wall system – there are few barrier walls left, other than precast concrete panels, which have a rain screen caulking system that helps drain these assemblies. Hot/dry climates can even benefit from a rain screen cladding as it may act as a radiant barrier and slows heat transfer through the façade into the building.


face sealed EIFS

Traditional Face-sealed facades (Diagram from:


Rain screen assemblies

Rain screen assembly (Diagram from:


The pros and cons of rain screens are listed below (again, thanks to Dave Petersen).


  • Enhanced water management in all climate zones (USA and Canada)
  • Improved material durability
  • Better IEQ
  • Effective at blocking radiant heat gains


  • Possibly higher costs
  • More detailing at the site level
  • May be prone to detailing errors that limit its effectiveness (mortar dams, etc)

The cons can be minimized by using an integrated system approach and most cladding products are readily detailed for these types of walls. Education of trades and proper site management will minimize most of the other issues.

(*EIFS – “Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems”).

For a detailed explanation of how rain screens work to keep water from infiltrating building envelopes, visit Building Science Corporation‘s thorough explanation of how they work:

and this one:

Thanks again to Dave Petersen for his time and knowledge on rain screens!

Visit: Outside In Design Build for more information on sustainable building.




How can your community and environment benefit from your living walls?

May 27th, 2015

Largest Vertical Garden in North America (3933553768)

By daveynin from United States (Largest Vertical Garden in North America) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  As a precious architectural approach that supports sustainable design, living walls and rooftop gardens are not just excellent choice for green house arrangement, but a great ecological contribution and energy efficient venture. Consisted of lush vegetation layer grown on the top of the building, green roofs are perfect natural insulator. Their depth, dimensions and type can vary from subtle green surfaces to impressive roof garden spaces. Vertically planted greenery on inside or outside walls is another popular green architectural solution, equally used on public buildings, huge constructions and private homes. Installation of living walls and green roofs in houses abound with benefits for house owners and entire surrounding:

Environmental impact of green walls and roof gardens

While installing outside green facade brings improved house aesthetics and pleasant wall landscaping, its affection on wider environment is not just positive, but extremely valuable. Apart from creating precious onsite cooling, vegetative wall and roof, the green designs contribute to the production and spreading of cool air throughout entire urban area, preventing extreme heat waves. Thick exterior wall greenery and roof gardens, thanks to the photosynthesis process, release tremendous amounts of oxygen while at the same time absorb harmful air components, enriching the environment with continuous sources of fresh air. Living walls as well as green roofs stand out as extraordinary heat insulation, meaning that its implementation reduces energy utilization and polluting outlets. Green roofs are particularly beneficial for the minimization of stormwater runoff, rainwater purification and lowering the pressure on drainage systems. In addition, these benefits help save the environment from water waste and improves overall water quality. Lush roof vegetation is secure shelter for dozens of insects and birds, whose existence is particularly jeopardized in urban parts, so there is a huge positive influence on biodiversity preservation.

Community benefits

20080708 Chicago City Hall Green Roof edit 2

By 20080708_Chicago_City_Hall_Green_Roof.JPG: TonyTheTiger derivative work: — raeky (talk | edits) (20080708_Chicago_City_Hall_Green_Roof.JPG) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Houses covered with living walls and green roofs stand out for its distinguished attractiveness which refreshes not only backyard area, but the appearance of entire neighbourhood and community. Apart from impressive outside scenery, both green walls and massive rooftop gardens are excellent noise neutralisers, what contributes to common public comfort and serenity. Walls carrying the most stable green wall system can serve as powerful stopper of squall and rain drifts, diminishing an opportunity of great blizzard hits. Outside house vegetation empowers local fauna and creates natural balance within urban regions, saves local natural sources, but also protects community from floods and downsizes the quantity of sewage water. In the end, green walls and roofs improve local air quality and better the public health.

The advantages for home owners

636 S. Burnside, Los Angeles

By Downtowngal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Private houses covered with vegetative walls and roofs are provided with excellent thermo and cooling insulation what results in less energy spent for heating and air-conditioning, so home-owners are achieving minimization of their household expenses. While outside green walls offer perfect backyard cooling and oxygen supply, house owners also decide for improving indoor air with wall greenery. Both green walls and rooftop gardens provide households with noise and construction protection, but also with possibility of creating stormwater based irrigation systems. That reduces overall water consumption, saves resources and minimizes the amount of utility costs. Although green roofs are pretty simple to install, it’s recommendable to always work with a licensed roofing contractor to make sure your roof can withstand the added weight of a green roof since they are much heavier when wet than asphalt shingles. Above all mentioned benefits, vegetative walls and roofs improve overall life quality and provide incomparably healthier living environment.



Green Building Illustrated: Book Review

September 24th, 2014
Green Building Illustrated

Green Building Illustrated

Francis Ching is a well-known author and illustrator of books on design and construction, perhaps within the building sector his most well-known book is Building Construction Illustrated. Collaborating with Ian Shapiro on this latest book, the pair have developed a good introduction to green building for those just becoming familiar with the field, but it also serves as a good reference guide to green building for those of us with more experience.

“What is green building?”

The point of the question is to highlight the reality that it is really an evolving definition. Some buildings built to a high standard, have, upon evaluation, turned out to be less green than their standard counterparts because they use more energy than the comparative standard, whereas some net-zero or close to net zero buildings aren’t classified as green because the owner has decided not to go through the hoops necessary to become classified.

Further,  the authors address why building greener buildings is important, referring to climate change effects as well as resource depletion. They also delve into the different green classification systems that are available.What I like about this book is that after reading it you gain a basic understanding of all the elements involved in building a better, more resilient, lower impact building.

Hosting a Design Charette

Shapiro and Ching emphasize that with the development, design and construction of any building, there are thousands of decisions that are made. One decision affects another, so it means that there are trade-offs for every decision. Getting the design done right at the beginning can save time and money down the road and one of the best ways to do that is to have a design charette. A charette is like a round table discussion where every involved party can have a say in how the design will affect their portion of the building from plumbing, electrical, HVAC concerns, material selection, and occupant use post construction. Ideally charettes include the architect, general contractor, sub-trades, building owner and manager, in other words, all stakeholders.

The book is clearly illustrated and dedicates a good section to design and design issues. Getting the design right is one of the best ways to have the most significant impact on constructing a lower impact building. Again the book is thought-provoking: the authors ask “green buildings are lower impact than what?” In fact Shapiro gently takes LEED to task because the system fails to give points for designing a building that has a smaller surface area (therefore less exposure to the elements), than its standard counterpart. In other words, no points are given for designing a more efficiently shaped building than might otherwise be built. The authors explain the differences between the different green building rating systems out there, including LEED, Passivhaus, Living Building Challenge, and Green Globes.

Another perspective of the book is that it teaches readers to design buildings from the outside in, in layers. So, it looks at landscaping, site and orientation and how those factors affect the design of the building. Further, Shapiro and Ching highlight with detailed drawings, the importance of surface area on the energy efficiency of a building. In general terms, the smaller the surface area, the greater the energy efficiency of the building.

It takes only one brief glance at the chapter on windows to confirm that all those glass condos going up all over Toronto and Montreal are  an energy efficiency nightmare. Windows, in addition to having terrible insulation values, also pose potential leak problems between their frames and the building. If not sealed properly there is an extra source of potential drafts and water infiltration.

The chapter on building materials emphasizes the need to consider local, recycled and other materials with a low embodied energy. There is a handy table that shows the different embodied energy of different types of wall constructions.

One of the best features of this book is that it is an all in one reference guide for looking at how to build better buildings from design through to commissioning (evaluating a building’s systems to make sure they are all functioning properly). Once read cover to cover, it can be used as a reference guide to greener building and the different factors that need to be taken into account. While the book does not delve deep into any one area, it does provide a readable and approachable overview that’s easily understood by laypersons as well as professionals familiarizing themselves with green building practices. If I have one complaint, it is that for old people like myself, the spidery, handwritten style font is difficult to read.

Green Building Illustrated is available through John Wiley and Sons, or Amazon.

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