Archive for the ‘Insulation’ category

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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Sheep’s Wool Insulation in Batts and Loose Fill

March 14th, 2013

One of the products I’ve been keeping my eye on is an insulation that is made from wool remnants from sheep sheering. I’d first seen it on Building Green where Alex Wilson has written about it, but because I couldn’t find anyone who sold it in Ontario or Quebec I hadn’t mentioned it. But lo and behold, when I was in Kingston at Living Rooms, John Sinclair told me they were now supplying not just one brand of wool insulation, but two! Sheep’s wool insulation fits in with my waste theme this year. It’s a product made from material that is otherwise considered to be waste — remnants that aren’t high enough quality for use in sweaters, carpets or blankets. It is renewable, recyclable, durable and biodegradable. Some of the advantages of wool insulation are:

  • It is a hygroscopic, or water loving, material. The insulation can absorb up to 40% its weight in water and still not feel wet to the touch and eliminating condensation in interior spaces filled with the insulation. This action in turn, prevents mould growth and/or rot.
  • Wool is an excellent acoustic insulation.
  • Memory. Wool maintains its shape and therefore its R value over time.  Because of the natural kink in the fibre, when fibres are side by side tiny air pockets are created which prevent heat from travelling across the insulation.
  • Flame resistant.
  • Treated with borate, it is also pest resistant.

The two brands that Living Rooms carries are:

1. Oregon Shepherd Natural Wool Insulation:This product is excellent for attics and underfloor insulation, wherever loose fill insulation is required. It has an R value of around 3.6/inch. Installation: Although it can be installed by hand, using a blower will allow for maximum effectiveness of the insulation, particularly since it arrives tightly packed in plastic bags. John mentioned that they prefer the FibreForce blower by Intec for the best application.

Oregon Shepherd Sheep’s Wool Insulation, loose fill


Oregon Shepherd Loose Fill Insulation, Wall Cavity Installation (netting applied across studs)

Cost: $4.45/lb, although discount pricing may be available for volume orders. It’s best to call to confirm prices. (Prices are at time of writing, March, 2013.)

Certifications: The loose-fill insulation has the following certifications:

ASTM C 518 for R-value
ASTM E 84-09 (also covers UL 723, UBC 8-1, and NFPA 255), giving it a Class A Fire Rating
These are all American ratings. This material does not have Canadian standards testing ratings. As such, it is not recognized by the Canadian Building Code, despite the fact that the testing is conducted by the same labs as in the USA. In order to get around this, the material must be officially approved by either an architect or an engineer.
(Above photos courtesy of Oregon Shepherd.)
Black Mountain Natural Insulation: Wool batts are available in two thicknesses: 3.5 inches and 5.5 inches widths made for 2×4 and 2×6 construction. R-value – 3.5-4/inch.
Black Mountain Sheeps Wool Insulation

Black Mountain Sheep’s Wool Insulation, available in batts

Contents: 92% sheep’s wool + 4% polyester binder made from recycled polyester (for maintaining shape — polyester made from recycled material) + 4% borax salt. Can be recycled, incinerated for additional energy, or composted to biodegrade.

Cost: $1.88/sqft for the 3.5″ thick batts and $2.55/sqft for the 5.25″ thick batts. Again, best to call for a quote. (Note: current pricing as of March, 2013.)

Certifications: ASTM E-84 + UL 723 (Class A Fire Rating), ASTM C1388 (Fungi Resistance), ASTM C518 (R-Value). All these ratings are American. Coming from the UK, these batts also have the appropriate EU standards testing ratings. These batts do not have Canadian standards testing ratings. As such, they are not recognized by the Canadian Building Code, despite the fact that the testing is conducted by the same labs as in the USA, and the EU standards are actually higher than the Canadian. In order to get around this, the material must be officially approved by either an architect or an engineer.
Methane Production: Both companies indicate that it takes about one tenth the energy to process their insulation than it does to produce a petroleum-based insulation. I was wondering if that amount took into account the methane produced during the growth phase of the wool or during the lifespan of the sheep. Methane, although less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2, is a more potent greenhouse gas. In addition to produced from decomposing food and organic waste, it is also produced by animals, cows and sheep in particular. I contacted Margaret Magruder from Oregon Shepherd  and Andrew Ryan from Black Mountain to ask them about methane production.
Margaret wrote to me that the energy production figure (1/10) refers strictly to the amount of energy used in production of the insulation in the factory versus petroleum-based insulations.
Andrew had a more detailed answer regarding the energy calculation, which I’ve posted below. It’s important to note that when it comes to calculating energy balances and carbon footprints, European countries are leaps and bounds ahead of most North American companies. Consumers are also more vastly aware of the consequences of their buying decisions, so they ask these types of questions regularly. Basically, what all this means is that my question about methane production has already been asked many times to the Black Mountain Insulation staff. Here is Andrew’s answer:

We are often asked about the methane from sheep, the answer lies in why sheep are farmed?  They are farmed for the livestock industry and not the wool, the economies of wool don’t even cover the cost of shearing the sheep.  Hence in an LCA [lifecycle analysis] the economic allocation is such that wool is a by production not THE product.

We have worked with a number of persons on LCAs which are not published publically at this point in time, however the foot print for wool is very low indeed. The shipping carbon cost to Canada or the USA is also low since the road miles from us to the docks are low and the carbon foot print of a container ship is also low. Sheep wool in fact locks up carbon dioxide in the growth phase and hence starts carbon negative, which compared to the man made alternatives is a distinct advantage.


Semi Rigid Cork Insulation

January 23rd, 2013

I have decided that this year’s theme for building materials will be waste. Specifically, I will feature products made from waste material, products that produce little waste during manufacture, products that include recycled material and products that can be recycled at end of life. Of course, it goes without saying that first and foremost it has to be a functional and useful product.

In that vein, one product from Alex Wilson’s top ten list of green building products, 2013 is semi rigid cork insulation produced by Amorim, a Portuguese company. Amorim also happens to be a partner of Jelinek Cork, a Canadian company who distributes this product in Canada. I’ve written about Jelinek Cork before and many of the products they produce.

Cork is a fantastic building material. Not only is it a rapidly renewable material (the cork trees’ bark can be harvested every 9 years), it is highly resilient, a great sound dampener, a natural flame retarder and has a multitude of uses from floors to fabric to insulation.

Semi-Rigid Cork Insulation also meets all the criteria I described in my waste theme this year. This semi-rigid insulation is made from cork granules that are a by-product, or waste product, from the process of wine bottle cork making. The granules are treated with steam which expands the cork. The steam also activates the cork’s natural binder, suberin, which binds the expanded granules together. No other binder, glue or adhesive is necessary. At end of life, these cork boards are biodegradable, meaning zero waste to landfill.

Semi rigid cork insulation has an R value of 3.6/inch. There is a variety of uses for this cork, although it was developed primarily as an insulation material. It can also be used as a bulletin board to cover an entire wall, or for recording studios and other areas where dampening sound is important. It comes in packages of 1’x3′ sheets in thicknesses ranging from 0.5″ – 4″.

You can visit Jelinek’s website to find out more about Amorim semi rigid expanded cork board, as well as to buy it.


Farewell Toronto, Bonjour Montreal!

July 28th, 2011

Just a quick heads up here. I haven’t been producing many articles this summer and that’s because I’ve been busy packing. We’re going on an adventure — moving to Montreal!

I love Montreal and I’m familiar with the city as my husband and I both went to university there. However, I have to admit that I’m looking forward to living there without studying for mid-terms or exams, and when I have enough money so that I can buy good wine instead of the infamous Cuvee des Patriots, available in a local depanneur (corner store) for $2.85 — back in the ’80s, I’m sure it’s creeping up on $5 a bottle now. Even we, young, poor students recognized that it was better used as a salad dressing than poured into a wine glass!

So what does this mean for the blog? Yes, I will still continue to write it, and I will still feature some Toronto businesses — but by necessity, the blog’s scope will expand to Montreal and Toronto, with maybe some Ottawa thrown in for good measure. The point of what I write about is to help you find green building materials, in addition to demystifying green building itself.

Montreal has a very vibrant green building sector as well as many companies that produce products for the market, a few I’ve already written about such as Montauk, PolarFoam/Heatlok (Demilec) and Adbond. I’m looking forward to exploring the green companies in and around the city, writing about them and their efforts to lighten their environmental load.

In the meantime I have some great Toronto articles coming on Transition Towns, Permaculture, green walks, paint and more, so stay tuned!

Oh, and if you have any suggestions about interesting Montreal-based companies I should get to know, leave a message in the comments section or contact me at cathy “at”

Durisol — Insulated Concrete Forms made from Recycled Material

May 12th, 2011

Durisol Building blocks

A few weeks ago I sat down with the new owners of EcoInhabit, a wonderful green building business located in Meaford, ON. Tim and Jan Singbeil are passionate about green building and even more than just building energy efficient homes, they are passionate about building healthy, low energy-consuming homes.

At the core of a healthy home is the use of construction materials that are durable, mould and pest resistant and help with the overall air quality. In this case, the preferred building product for Jan and Tim is Durisol blocks. I was really curious about Durisol and I’d wanted to write about it for a few years, but my biggest hesitation was the fact that Durisol, like any insulated concrete form, depends on concrete for its full benefit, and concrete isn’t exactly the green builder’s best friend with all that energy intensiveness built right in. So I looked at Tim and said, “Convince me that Durisol blocks are a green building material.”

Our conversation lasted for over two fascinating hours, and by the time I left, not only was I a believer in Durisol, I was a believer in “healthy buildings” — which is about so much more than constructing energy efficient buildings — it’s about constructing buildings that take some of the toxic burden off our already too chemically-laden bodies.

If you’re not familiar with Durisol Blocks, they are in the family of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), however, ironically, ICF manufacturers don’t consider them a direct competitor — and truth be told, they’re not, because they do so much more than provide a sturdy, well-insulated building. An ICF built foundation has many advantages over a simple poured concrete or block concrete foundation. An ICF consists of a “brick”, like a concrete block, typically made out of styrofoam, and filled with concrete. The advantage of this building system is that it’s easy to assemble, it’s extremely sturdy, it uses less concrete than a traditional foundation, and includes insulation so no additional insulation is necessary. It’s also mould and pest resistant.

Durisol up close.

Durisol blocks, however, go beyond ICFs. They are completely petroleum free being made from 80% recycled soft wood waste that would otherwise end up in landfill and 20% concrete. They kind of look like a concrete brick, only the holes are filled with concrete, once the forms are set in place. Imagine putting a house together like constructing with Lego blocks, and are intended to be for contractors and DIYers alike. Tim told me that learning to build with Durisol can be a bit tricky in the beginning, but that once you get the hang of fitting the blocks together, the process is pretty straightforward.*

Construction: similar to lego blocks, it means that there is no thermal bridging — heat can’t escape through the wood studs which happens in a traditional stick-built home. Buildings are solid and durable. Unlike polystyrene ICFs, which are insulated on the interior and exterior of the concrete, Durisol blocks are insulated with recycled mineral wool on the external side of the block only, allowing the other benefits of Durisol to work.


Thermal mass: because insulation is on the exterior side of the building block, the concrete within the block is able to act as a significant thermal mass which means it can regulate heating, cooling and relative humidity within a building.

In order to perform the way they were intended, Durisol works best without a vapor barrier between the finished walls and the blocks, which means that a breathable finishing coating such as American Clay or limestone are excellent complementary materials to use. There have been studies done showing the benefits of Durisol, but adding a vapor barrier prevents the walls from doing their job. The concrete won’t be able to act as a thermal mass the way it’s intended, and relative humidity won’t be regulated.

Healthy air: Durisol blocks are made with benign materials so there is no off-gassing of any harmful toxins. Further, when built with a breathable wall finish, the structure acts as an extensive relative humidity regulator because of its hygroscopic qualities. For further information on the benefits of breathing walls, Durisol has developed this comprehensive report.

Mould, pest and vermin resistance. Because these blocks are made with 20% cement, they are mould, pest and vermin resistant. Home air stays healthy. Termites aren’t an issue. Neither are hurricanes for that matter. These blocks are so sturdy when filled with concrete, they are “severe weather” proof.

R-value. Durisol makes several different blocks, narrower ones with no insulation that are good for interior walls, and thicker ones with insulation for exterior walls. The smallest block with no insulation has an R-value of 8. The thermal blocks, that is, those containing recycled mineral wool insulation, range in R value between 14 and 28. Unlike a traditional stick-built home, there is no thermal bridging in Durisol homes. For more detailed information on the block’s thermal performance, read here.

What about the concrete issue? So yes, concrete is used in the building of a Durisol-built home. However, because of the other positive properties of Durisol-built homes, and that the concrete industry is constantly working on lowering its carbon footprint, it can be considered a cost of building for the time-being. Whether or not building with concrete is sustainable, well, that’s a whole different question. The sustainability of a building method implies that it can be repeated infinitely without decreasing or degrading future populations’ needs.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if this is some new-fangled green building material, the answer is no. Durisol has been around since 1953, so its buildings have a proven track-record.

Tim and Jan have convinced me of Durisol’s “green” properties, provided the blocks are used they way they are meant, and not just for energy efficiency, but in the construction of a healthy home. Thanks so much for speaking with me Tim and Jan!

For more information on Durisol, visit the website.

For more information on Tim and Jan Singbeil’s company, visit EcoInhabit’s website.

*In an earlier version of this article I explained that Durisol was not a DIY product and that specialists were needed to build properly with it. However, Tim emailed me to let me know that, in fact, Durisol is made for home installment and only on occasion is his building team called in to help with construction involving Durisol.

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