All posts by carly_midgley

The passive path to zero energy

By Katrin Klingenberg

The Capaces Leadership Institute in Woodburn, Oregon—built by GreenHammer DesignBuild-Energy—earned Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS+) certification in 2016.
Images courtesy GreenHammer Design

Buildings are getting tighter from both the regulatory and consumer-demand sides. As energy codes get steeper and consumers desire more sustainable options, builders, contractors, and architects face new challenges for meeting these standards and expectations without opening the door to unintended consequences. Indeed, there have been many building failures since contractors began to place insulation inside walls in the 1930s.

The good news is a lot can be learned from those errors. Scientific research, best-practice guidelines, and certification systems can help design/construction professionals sidestep building failures while delivering high-performance buildings. When inexpensive solar panels are added to the mix, buildings that produce as much energy as they use are actually within reach.

Steps on the path to net-zero
Gone are the days of steel stud walls with batt insulation. Thicker walls are the new normal, and with them come nonstandard details for constructing buildings. The path to a zero-energy building begins with where it is located. The climate zone is the critical first step, because it defines what the project is up against.

Next, one should look to the 2015 National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB), because the construction phase is the most economical time to make a building energy efficient. For higher energy targets than the code, it is best to seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification or join Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan’s) National High-performance Building Challenge.

Thick continuous insulation (ci) keeps the air inside cool in summer and warm in winter.

The smoothest path to net zero, however, is through passive building certification, because a passive building is a complete system with quality assurance built into the system, rather than a collection of discrete programs. The most common passive building certification in North America is PHIUS+, administered by the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS), because it aligns with both NECB and International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Passive building principles
Fast-forwarding past the in-depth physics of passive building, the five building science principles of the method boil down to the following points.

Continuous insulation interrupts thermal bridges between inside and out.
By completely wrapping a building with insulation, heat can no longer sneak out through framing, which has a lower R-value than the insulation between the studs. Masonry chimneys that connect inside and out are another example of an often-overlooked thermal bridge.

Airtight construction stops heat and moisture.
While thick continuous insulation (ci) can stop a significant amount of heat loss, plugging air leaks can also slow heat flow, because air that moves through buildings usually carries a lot of heat. Further, warm air can hold more moisture than cold air, so when warm air leaks into exterior wall cavities, it dumps moisture into the wall cavity when it hits the cold wall sheathing or drywall, depending on the season.

Optimized windows let in heat when (and only when) you want them to.
Double glazing with argon gas is typical of Energy Star windows. Passive buildings usually have triple glazing. Low-emissivity (low-e) coatings applied to the surface of the glass can be fine-tuned to the desired amount of heat gain. Windows with high solar heat gain co-efficients (SHGCs) should be used on sides of the house where winter sun is wanted (generally on the east and south sides). Low-SHGC windows should be used where summer sun will do the most harm (generally west-facing windows).

Balanced ventilation ensures fresh air and controls moisture.
All the aforementioned air tightening means dirty, moist air is not leaking into the living space, so air changes must be controlled with some sort of high-tech fan. One option is an energy recovery ventilator (ERV), which pulls new air in and pushes old air out while transferring heat and moisture in the process.

Minimal mechanical is all a super-tight building needs.
As the building is super-tight, super-insulated, and has ‘super windows,’ super-sized heating and cooling systems are unnecessary. This is where the upfront investment begins to pay off. Some of the money spent on insulation and windows can be recouped with much smaller mechanical systems.

Swinging windows are tighter than traditional varieties.

When these five principles are applied to buildings, the result is predictable performance, unmatched comfort, superb indoor air quality (IAQ), and resiliency in the face of power outages due to winter storms or summer blackouts. Best of all, because passive buildings consume so little energy, zero energy is easily within reach. Just adding a small renewable energy system, such as a photovoltaic (PV) assembly, can place design/construction professionals at the end of the path to zero.

Some of the techniques discussed in this article will be explored in greater depth at the 12th annual North American Passive House Conference in Seattle, running September 27 to October 10. For more information, visit the event’s website.

Katrin Klingenberg is executive director of the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS), an organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. Klingenberg holds a degree in architecture from Ball State University, and is a registered architect in Germany. In 2015, she won the Women in Sustainability Leadership Award (WSLA). Klingenberg can be reached via e-mail at

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CSC Vancouver celebrates Canada 150 with tradeshow

Following the success of last year’s Fiesta Fest tradeshow, the Vancouver Chapter is organizing another one on November 2 to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The event is open to architects, building envelope consultants, manufacturers, specification writers, and building design professionals, and includes more than 30 exhibitors. Donald Luxton (Donald Luxton & Associates) will deliver a presentation on heritage buildings. This will be followed by a cocktail reception.

The show will be held at Moxie’s Grill & Bar in the Sandman Hotel Vancouver City Centre, from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Click here for more information on attending. E-mail to register.

CSC Vancouver Island organizing luncheon on dynamic electrochromic façades

The Vancouver Island Chapter of CSC is organizing a discussion on dynamic electrochromic (EC) façades later this month.

Led by Ed Avery (View Canada), the presentation will help participants understand the appeal of glass in architecture, current issues with the material, and the associated, limited solutions. Then the course will examine the option of dynamic glazing and its benefits, as well as review EC technology.

On completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • understand the impact of dynamic EC glazing on the design of façades;
  • evaluate the benefits of this façade solution;
  • determine when and where dynamic EC glazing makes sense; and
  • evaluate how dynamic glazing control solutions can be implemented in buildings.

This luncheon will be held on Thursday, September 21, at Fireside Grill in Victoria, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Registered members of Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) will receive one Comparative Education Service (CES) Core Learning Unit for attending the session.

For more information and to register, visit

The benefits of natural stone flooring

By Michael Salerno

Natural stone flooring offers the ability to fabricate sizing and design.
Photo courtesy Arizona Tile

Natural stone seems to be a fairly obvious option for flooring material. Ancient ruins throughout the world provide many examples of stone flooring still intact thousands of years later. However, the same rules that apply to stone cladding selection, installation, and site preparation—topics explored in Construction Canada’s September 2017 issue—also apply to flooring.

Many factors can influence stone selection. One often-overlooked consideration is the sourcing component. Can the desired stone be quarried from blocks that meet size requirements? What about thicknesses? Slate, for example, is often used for flooring, but is typically a thin stone. Do conditions such as temperature fluctuations and humidity levels support the stone’s properties?

Site preparation is critical. There can be a number of different ways to prepare a subfloor, depending on what stone is selected. Concrete and plywood are likely the two most common substrates on which natural stone is applied, but any substrate that can shrink, expand, or move in any way requires a cementitious backer unit (CBU) to provide stability and act as a moisture barrier.

Meticulous preparation of a wall’s substrate is necessary for stone cladding. Engineering will dictate anchor systems and design to ensure the stone can be affixed to last. However, one must make the same careful considerations for natural stone flooring. Preparation cannot be minimized just because gravity does not come into play. There are many examples of stone floors needing rehabilitation due to a host of issues that could have been addressed upfront through careful planning.

One of the benefits of using natural stone for flooring is the ability to fabricate sizing and design. In the case of patterns, especially within large spaces, the same stone consultant who provides guidance for sourcing and selection can usually also provide shop drawings to ensure installation accuracy and efficiency.

Natural stone is often used in office towers and hotel lobby areas due to its durability.
Photo courtesy Artistic Tile

Natural stone is likely the most long-lasting material available. For this reason, it is often used in office towers and hotel lobby areas, as frequent disruptions to repair or replace a floor in areas like these will have an adverse impact on customers. Natural stone thus offers a strong return on investment (ROI) over time, being a fairly simple product to maintain. It is generally much more resistant to scratches and staining than other materials, such as wood flooring. An annual sealing process, combined with routine sweeping and cleaning, will help ensure the flooring looks great for years.

Natural stone offers many benefits as a flooring application, such as great longevity and quantifiable ROI. An objective stone consultant will bring value to a project by ensuring proper stone selection, including sourcing, and can offer services such as creation of shop drawings.

Additionally, for those applying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) points in their projects, natural stone flooring is an excellent choice to stand upon. ANSI/NSC 373, Sustainable Production for Natural Dimension Stone, is now recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) LEED v4 building certification program, as well as the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge (LBC), version 3.1. Now, design teams have a clear path to ensure the stone they specify helps projects reach sustainability goals as outlined by LEED and LBC.

For more information on natural stone flooring, visit and

Michael Salerno is responsible for sales, marketing, and business development activities at PICCO Engineering, and is also part of their senior management team. He holds a degree from the University of Toronto, and is heavily involved in the Building Industry Land Development Association (BILD) on behalf of PICCO. Salerno can be reached at

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Building connections at Construct Canada


Design/construction professionals can attend The Buildings Show, including Construct Canada, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this fall to take in exhibits, technical sessions, and more.
Photo © BigStockPhoto

Construct Canada will return to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this year from November 29 to December 1. It will be held in conjunction with PM Expo, HomeBuilder & Renovator Expo, World of Concrete Pavilion, and IIDEXCanada as part of The Buildings Show—the continent’s largest exposition, networking, and educational event.

Attendees can sit in on various technical sessions to earn Building Owners & Managers Institute of Canada (BOMI), Building Science Specialist of Ontario (BSSO), and Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) credits. Seminars are chosen according to industry relevance, practical application, and timeliness, among other factors.

This year’s seminar program has yet to be released, but examples of last year’s sessions include Michael Doiron’s “Building Envelope Assessment: Dealing with the Cause, Not the Symptom,” Hans Schleibinger’s “Advances in Indoor Air Quality (IAQ),” and Andrew Bowerbank’s “The Carbon Impact Initiative: How Will It Affect Building Design & Construction Going Forward?”

The show also features an exhibit hall with more than 1600 exhibitors, more than 100 of whom are international. For more information on the show or to register, visit the event’s site.

Construction Canada is once again co-sponsoring the stream of building envelope technical sessions at the show. Look for more information in our November issue.

PSTC sticks with research on using tape in construction

This year, the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council (PSTC) is embarking on Phase II of a research study on pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) tape usage, in hopes of better understanding its use in the construction industry.
Photo © BigStockPhoto

The Pressure Sensitive Tape Council (PSTC) is pursuing research that will clarify the benefits of using pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) tape in the construction industry. This year, it launched Phase II of a research study that will examine the role tape can play for construction professionals.

The initial phase of the study focused on identifying tendencies in various markets’ PSA tape usage, and a November report revealed the construction industry was one with high potential for improved usage. With this in mind, Phase II will explore which applications tape can benefit, how, and what factors influence its selection, using a second survey that opened last month.

PSTC identifies Phase II’s primary objectives as:

  • prioritizing bonding needs in construction;
  • evaluating evidence of PSA tape use in construction; and
  • recognizing how it can benefit applications such as roofing, flooring, electrical, plumbing, ductwork, and paneling.

“Through further surveying architects and builders, the second part of our research is a deeper dive that will result in providing statistical information that identifies benefits, barriers, and drivers to using PSA tape,” said Michael Merkx, the organization’s president. “Our goal for embarking on Phase II will be to deliver quantitative data that will help those in the building and construction industry to fully understand what tape is capable of when used in a wide range of applications.”

Findings will be released in the fall, and PSTC also plans to present them at its booth as part of the 2018 U.S. National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) International Builders Show in January.

Practise what you preach: Incorporating acoustics in an office redesign

The main lobby of the Aercoustics office features an open café area for informal meetings, which doubles as a welcoming foyer for clients.
All photos © Shai Gil

By Steve Titus, B.A.Sc., P.Eng.

Moving offices is not enjoyable, but when a business outgrows its existing space, it has no choice but to find another option. Relocation can bring some negative reactions from employees, but finding a new place to call home does have it benefits. In the case of this author’s firm, Aercoustics Engineering, the company’s old office did not reflect its evolving state; it was a traditional space with a mix of private offices and open areas, poorly laid out and incapable of handling organic growth.

The meeting rooms were noisy because the mechanical system was not properly designed, and employees were unable to move around and collaborate with others because of a lack of connectivity. Meeting rooms were enclosed and not wired to central servers, making it difficult to simply walk in and work. This meant people were essentially tied to their desks if they needed to use their computers or telephones. Unfortunately, the old space could not accommodate how the company envisioned its space, so the team moved to a larger, more customized office to accommodate its growing team and encourage more collaboration.

As experts in noise and vibration control, the Aercoustics team has been involved in designing multiple offices. When it was time to design the company’s own new space, the goal was to take these experts’ combined experience and create a modern facility that would serve as a real-life example of how to successfully build an open office. It would act as a case study for clients to see first-hand some of the concepts discussed in design meetings, which are often difficult to grasp without a visual.

A view down the main hall of the new office, which features meeting rooms with a glass wall, smaller huddle areas, and a stylized visual screen providing acoustic and visual separation.

Addressing noise concerns in the design
The goal was to have a large, open office that included a flexible open café area, meeting rooms with one glass wall, and smaller huddle areas, as well as private rooms in which to make phone calls. Over the years, several clients had requested similar designs, but had a number of concerns about acoustic performance in this office style, including:

  • while open offices are attractive and trendy, it can be difficult to maintain privacy and productivity in an open space;
  • glass allows more visual connectivity space, but a single pane of glass does not offer adequate isolation to minimize sound transfer, introducing a fear that any solution to achieving a higher degree of privacy would be extremely cost-prohibitive; and
  • high ceilings are attractive, but often the weak link when it comes to noise—particularly if they are left open—and acoustic ceiling tiles can also be an issue without fully understanding their expectations of privacy.

This last issue was a key challenge for the team, because the goal was to design walls that were not built up to the ceiling, but still maintain adequate privacy for each room.

The team considered each concern and addressed it in the office design to demonstrate how the right design and amount of acoustic absorption can make an open office work without compromising privacy.

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Constructing a better knowledge base in Rhode Island

Registration is still open for CONSTRUCT & the CSI Annual Convention, coming to Providence’s Rhode Island Convention Center from September 13 to 15. Featuring exhibits, social events, and myriad opportunities to expand technical knowledge, the conference appeals to a wide variety of design/construction professionals—both in CSI and beyond.

The event’s educational program was determined by an Education Advisory Council comprising 12 people:

Educational opportunities are available throughout the convention center, from designated technical sessions to show floor-based seminars led by exhibitors. Attendees can visit the exhibit hall’s Learning Lounge for one-hour sessions on subjects such as paint technology, wall/roof sheathing, and wood cladding. A Learning Pavilion is also located in the hall, hosting 45-minute exhibitor sessions covering everything from security glass to thermal efficiency.

CONSTRUCT attendees can also attend a keynote with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne on September 14, and a Game Changer Session with Paul Doherty (“Specifications in the Age of Smart Cities: How Specs are Changing the World”) on September 15. See the video above for a preview of the latter session.

Seminars, technical tours, and exhibitor-led sessions are a few of the educational opportunities available at CONSTRUCT & the CSI Annual Convention this year.
Photo © BigStockPhoto

Other featured sessions include:

  • “What Is a Building Enclosure?” and “Roofing: Where the Building Touches the Sky,” presented by Joseph Lstiburek, PhD;
  • “The Complete Wall: Hands-on Demo of Detailing for a Continuous Air, Water, and Thermal Assembly,” presented by Tiffany Coppock;
  • “Let’s Fix Construction: An Interactive Luncheon,” presented by Cherise Lakeside, CSI, CDT, and Eric D. Lussier, CSI, CDT;
  • “Specifying Target Value Delivery,” presented by Beth Stroshane; and
  • “Understanding and Ending Moisture-related Flooring Problems,” presented by Peter Craig and Scott Tarr.

Other opportunities for hands-on learning include product demonstrations on the show floor and technical tours covering John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building and historical structures such as John Brown House and the Education Center of First Unitarian Church.

Nominations closing for extraordinary Ontario wood projects

There is still time to submit nominations for the Ontario WoodWorks Wood Design Awards, which close at midnight on September 15. Nominations are accepted in 10 of the competition’s 11 categories, excluding the Jury’s Choice Award, which allows jurors to recognize an outstanding project unable to win in its submission category.

Exceptional projects, groups, and individuals in Ontario’s wood industry can be nominated for a provincial Wood Design Award until September 15.
Photo © BigStockPhoto

Winners in all categories must reflect what WoodWorks terms “the special qualities of wood,” including durability, versatility, esthetics, and cost-effectiveness.

Nominations will be accepted in the following categories:

  • Ontario Wood Award, which recognizes outstanding projects prioritizing Ontario-sourced structural wood products and recognizing the link between the forestry industry and the province’s economy;
  • Environmental Wood Design Award, which honours projects reflecting wood’s ability to mitigate climate change through enhancing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, pollution, and embodied energy;
  • Interior Wood Design Award, which is open to projects making nonstructural use of wood products (e.g. as cladding, flooring, and fixtures) in nonresidential projects;
  • Residential Wood Design Award, which celebrates projects reflecting wood’s unique qualities in residential/single-family applications;
  • Midrise Wood Design Award, which awards four- to six-storey wood construction projects in this growing category, including commercial, office, and multifamily applications;
  • Institutional Wood Design Awards, which cover projects such as hospitals and schools in two subcategories based on project cost (more or less than $10 million);
  • Commercial Wood Design Award, which accepts office, warehouse, retail, and similar project submissions;
  • Northern Ontario Excellence Award, which rewards projects that represent the connection between Northern Ontario and the forestry economy by use of Ontario wood products;
  • Designer/Builder Award, which is granted to a designer, builder, or specifier in a leadership role who advocates extensively for use of wood in multiple projects; and
  • Wood Champion Award, which recognizes an individual or group conducting work supporting the future of the forest products industry.

Nominations may be made by creating an account on the awards program’s website. Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Delta Toronto Hotel on November 1.

Funding Indigenous construction careers in Alberta

Alberta’s government has announced it will add another $1.9 million of funding to support its Aboriginal Training to Employment Program (ATEP).
Photo © BigStockPhoto

The Alberta government has announced it will add another $1.9 million of funding to the Alberta Indigenous Construction Career Centres located at Edmonton’s NorQuest College and Calgary’s Bow Valley College. The centres were introduced as part of the province’s Aboriginal Training to Employment Program (ATEP) in 2015, and originally funded by a $1-million commitment.

The success the centres have met with is one of the reasons for the increase. The program provides career coaching, resumé development, safety training, and job search support to Indigenous people seeking employment in the construction industry.

“Indigenous people are hardworking, entrepreneurial, and important contributors to Alberta’s economy,” said Alberta’s Labour Minister, Christina Gray, who announced the increase last month. “As we work to make life better for everyday Albertans, this additional investment will improve access to training opportunities and help more indigenous people find good jobs in a key industry.”

The program is anticipated to help approximately 1700 people with its new funding. The two participating colleges are also optimistic.

“At NorQuest College, we believe strongly in the rights of all people to pursue meaningful and rewarding careers without barriers—careers that help individuals, families, and society as a whole,” said Jodi Abbott, NorQuest College’s CEO.

Laura Jo Gunter, CEO of Bow Valley College, cited similar benefits.

“Bow Valley College is proud to continue partnering with the Alberta Government, NorQuest College, and indigenous and industry organizations to facilitate skills and career development and support indigenous clients with attaining well-paying jobs in the construction industry,” she said. “Through the centre, we are building pathways connecting indigenous workers to construction-related careers, strengthening families and communities, and contributing to Alberta’s productivity and prosperity.”