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Introducing our new partner: Green Home Institute January 23 2015, 0 Comments

Our news of the week: we've partnered with GreenHome Institute (GHI) out of Grand Rapids, MI, to offer Building Science Basics to more folks in the industry. Through GHI, Building Science Basics is eligible for more continuing education credits:

10 CE hours for AIA-HSW
10 CE hours for USGBC
4.5 CEUs for BPI

GHI (formerly known as Alliance for Environmental Sustainability) is led by Brett Little, who was recognized in 2014 by Home Energy Magazine as one of the 'Top 30 under 30' to watch in the industry. GHI offers a training program that results in the GreenHome Associate designation. Once you have your GreenHome Associate designation under your belt, you become a GreenHome Professional by completing a certified green project. GHI also has a certification program for green, energy efficient remodeling projects called GreenStar Homes (more on that in a different article).

There are three components to the GreenHome Associate training, all online:

Building Science Basics (that's us!)

  • House as a System
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Ventilation and Combustion Spillage
  • Air Sealing Fundamentals (bonus module!)

Green Building: Principles and Practices in Residential Construction (online reading)

  • Outdoor Living Spaces
  • Landscaping
  • Interior Finishes.
  • HVAC
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Renewable Energy
Webinar Series
  • GreenHome Certification & Labels 101
  • The Most Accessible Home in Country – An Overview
  • Journey to LEED Platinum and Almost Passive House
  • America’s Oldest Net Zero Home Remodel – How did they do it?
  • Natural Building in Cold & Wet Climates
Here at BHE, we're thrilled to be part of the kind of training program that GHI offers. It meets our goal of being part of the bigger push to help builders, renovators and contractors update and improve their knowledge and understanding of how they can make better homes for people.

The Path to Net Zero/Zero Net Energy (Ready) January 19 2015, 0 Comments

Here's a presentation based on our work with Natural Resources Canada on The Path to Net Zero Energy housing. The study challenge was to look at incremental reductions in energy use and flag where the envelope improvements ended and the mechanical system design started. There was a lot of number crunching. A lot. (EnerGuide Ratings are like HERS ratings, but are based on a 0-100 scale for energy use, with a NZE house being 100 or more).

Slide #5 is the key: looking at the end use patterns and changing the proportions means that as the space heating load goes down, the water heating load drives more mechanical system choices.

Four case studies are included.


Question: How to stop pressure-driven water leakage at windows January 19 2015, 0 Comments

This happens in specific conditions, on specific faces of houses in Nova Scotia: wind storms carrying a whole lot of rain come ripping of the North Atlantic and drive rain horizontally. And only when the wind is out of a certain quadrant does the window leak. The pressure on the inside face of the windward side is beyond the tested/rated capacity of the window. Any offers of good solutions?

Reblog: What's Reasonable vs. What's Heroic January 19 2015, 0 Comments

Ann Edminster, M.Arch, LEED AP (a long time colleague) is a recognized international expert on green-home design and a principal developer of the LEED for Homes rating system. Here’s a story about Ann’s house in Pacifica, California, in interview format with Jim Gunshinian from Home Energy Magazine. This Q&A originally appeared in Home Energy magazine's January/February 2015 issue. You can view the full article on www.homeenergy.org

Jim Gunshinan: Ann, Terry Nordbye, a Home Energy author, is consulting on an attic retrofit at your home.

Ann Edminster: I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, and it has been upgraded many times; it started life as a 1947 Sears Roebuck kit. It was pretty simple before I got my hands on it. Not so simple now.

I’ve always wanted to do what’s reasonable here, but not what’s heroic. My attic had a light dusting of something the color of dirt all over it—maybe ancient cellulose? Bits of fiberglass dotted the floor, looking like cake decorations. I’ve done just about everything else in the way of reasonable upgrades, so reinsulating the attic was just a project waiting to happen—waiting for the right people and the right insulation.

JG: How’s the project going so far?

AE: Terry’s been providing guidance for Don Kingery, a general contractor recommended to me by Andy Wahl, a home performance consultant and trainer who has also helped out on the project. I am an advisor for Havelock Wool, a manufacturer of New Zealand wool insulation, and they agreed to supply the insulation for the attic—finally, a product I can get excited about! But before we could lay down the insulation, we had to clear out the attic really well and air seal. We weren’t sure we could lay the wool over the existing knob-and-tube wiring, so we updated the electrical first.

The roof is low slope, about 3:12. It is hipped on two sides. There are skylight wells, a second-story addition, and a parapet wall. Part of the original roof had been chopped to create space for a deck. Like I said, not simple. We decided to take out the eave vents to create space for more insulation and allow for better air sealing, and added a new side vent through the parapet wall to make up for it and to provide access to the attic. This also enabled us to seal off the old ceiling hatch (another air leakage point).

Terry is an air sealing specialist. After the guys vacuumed and swept, Terry and the crew used gun foam and tape to fill in and cover any holes bigger than 1/8 inch or so. That’s where we’re at now.

JG: What’s next?

AE: Terry has a relationship with Western Colloid, and they want to try out a new elastomeric product Terry calls Product X. Terry has found that the gun foam doesn’t hold up so well over time, so to completely seal the attic, Terry is going to spray all over with the elastomeric product. It will take some time to dry, and then next week we’ll install the wool insulation.

This small attic project has turned into a major attic experiment! Terry will have lots of before-and-after blower door numbers to share when we’re done. We’re all quite excited about it. I call those of us who play with our houses this way the Let’s Try It at Home Club. There’s always another project around the corner. We may install a second solar array next. Stay tuned!


SH: I'm looking forward to hearing more about Product X!

 

 


Our Training just got more affordable January 13 2015, 0 Comments


Valuing the role of the appraiser in home performance January 12 2015, 8 Comments

Here's something near and dear to the heart of anyone involved in the home performance industry: how to make energy efficiency sexy, appealing, and properly valued. When you're up to your eyebrows in insulation and you know that you are adding significant value to a house, it's sometimes hard to perceive why the value of the good work and long-term benefits that you are creating for homeowners seems to disappear with the installation of the drywall over the insulation and air barrier. Homeowners who are committed to the long haul are the ones who recognize the value -- they see it every month in their energy bills, and feel the difference in their overall comfort level.

Then there's a whole raft of other people who don't recognize the value, or have no way to quantify the value of energy efficiency work so that it can be included in the overall value. And it just so happens that that raft is tied to the financing and sales processes. And the person who has the tiller, to stretch the Maritime metaphor just a little bit more, is the appraiser: the objective third party who assesses the home determines how each feature contributes to the overall value of the house.

If an appraiser can't to evaluate energy efficiency measures because they don't have a way to navigate through the waters (ok, yes, I am liking the metaphor way too much), they are certainly not going point the raft into unknown territory. Both the US and Canadian Appraisal Institutes recognize that energy efficiency measures can add to value, but how the appraiser determines that value is at issue.

In Canada, properties are valued in three ways: the income approach, the direct comparison approach and the cost approach. The income approach is based on the value of the revenue generated by a rental or lease property at it's highest and best use. The direct comparison is based on what it would cost to buy another existing and equivalent property, based on recent selling prices and current listings in the immediate area. The cost approach is based on how much it would cost to build an identical building at current prices and estimated land value, less accumulated depreciation.

Regardless of the how the valuation is carried out, the appraiser cannot determine value of a component or feature if it is not included in the sales sheet. For example, if a deep energy retrofit on an older home or a solar thermal or a PV system or if the fact that a house is Net Zero Energy ready, are not considered sales features, they can not be included in the valuation. An appraiser coming across one of these unusual sales features for the first time might scratch their head. With nothing to compare it to in a region or a neighbourhood, how do you determine what it's worth?

Who needs to be involved? Homeowners who have houses with these features, builders who are offering new construction packages with these features, realtors who are selling houses with these features, buyers (and their realtors) who are looking for houses with these features.

There are already some tools, methods, and programs out there for green appraisals. I can't walk you through that process -- it feels a little like alchemy to me. And this article from Home Energy Pros in the spring of 2014 lays out the groundwork for how to start and makes two outstanding points.

What are homeowners, builders, and realtors all going to be required to provide for appraisal? Documentation. Performance testing results. Installation specifications. Possibly technical specifications.

Who's going to determine the value? The right appraiser. One who has some credentials and an industry-acceptable format with which they can catalogue home performance features. Any appraiser, regardless how experienced they are, will have difficulty parsing out the important info from a boatload of documentation on systems, products, and upgrades that they are unfamiliar with. consistent, standardized documentation across the board is going to help...

Once new features are on several sales sheets and transactions have been closed, they have become part of the product, and can then be assigned value that is pertinent to the local market. And then they're valuable. And marketable. Think better closing prices, shorter on-market times, happier clients all round: sellers get more money, buyers get more value. Win-win.

 Floats my boat.


QUICK PRIMER: Air Barrier v. Vapour Barrier January 05 2015, 0 Comments

An air barrier stops air from moving in or out of the conditioned space, effectively blocking the air pressure differences that drive the stack and wind effects. Air barriers can be in place anywhere in the building envelope, and there can be more than one air barrier. Air barriers can be created from a wide range of materials: polyethylene sheeting, house wrap, self-adhered membranes, boardstock, board insulation, spray polyurethane foam, poured concrete, metal, glass, and a host of other materials.

A vapour barrier stops water vapour from diffusing through materials -- and so there is a more descriptive name: vapour diffusion retarder. In cold climates like Canada’s, the vapour barrier should be on the inside of the insulation. In hot climates, it should be installed on the outside of the insulation. In both cases, the vapour barrier prevents warm, humid air from leaving its moisture behind as it meets a cool surface, regardless of the direction it is moving.

Things get complicated in energy efficient construction, because a material can be an air barrier, a vapour barrier, a weather barrier, an insulator or any combination of those four functions.


The satisfaction of saving a basement from itself... December 30 2014, 0 Comments

Original Basement

The original basement: rubble, damaged, water issues at the slab, scrabble, rock and broken thin slab floor, insulation stuffed in window wells with cracked glazing in the frames, daylight visible between window/wall, cellar door/wall, joists/top of wall, and even peeking through between some of the rubble. Two monster oil-fired boilers and two uninsulated electric water heaters. Oh, and 6'5 clear height.

Happily, this rubble basement was very dry. No problems with water penetration through the walls once the daylight between the rubble was parged over, lovely dry joists high above the outside grade. The decision for more living space: Dig it out! If the basement had not been so lovely and dry, there's no way this would have been the right solution. Spray foam in wet basements gives you ten kinds of yuck.

 

Finished product: 2 bedroom + bath plus living space with 8 foot ceilings, R40 walls (closed cell foam against rubble, standoff 2x4 wall on gaskets, cavity filled with rockwool), R20 under the slab, radiant infloor supplied by solar thermal/propane.

 

                    


QUICK PRIMER: Drainscreens vs. Rainscreens December 22 2014, 0 Comments

Drainscreen (black mesh layer) in a EIFS systemA drainscreen is a self-draining material (often a proprietary mesh or netting) between between stucco or cement cladding and the drainage plane/waterproof layer, especially common with insulation finish system (EIFS) wall assembly (which is often also the exterior air barrier in EIFS assemblies). Drainage paths allow the water to get out of the wall. Old-school stucco walls rely on the small gaps between the building paper and the lath for their drain screens. In the illustration, the black mesh layer is the drainscreen

A rainscreen is often a custom detailA rainscreen is most often a non-proprietary detail that uses strapping or furring to create an air space between the sheathing and the siding in a wall assembly, allowing the moisture on the exterior side of the sheathing (the drainage plane) to both drain and evaporate out of the wall cavity. The air space is vented, so there is equal pressure on the front and back of the siding, reducing the amount of water driven into the siding.

 

  • Both create a capillary break between the sheathing and the cladding/siding.
  • Both require very careful attention to the drainage plane, especially flashing and taping at openings and connections between different assemblies and building components.

QUICK PRIMER: Thermal Bridging, Dew Points, and Exterior Insulation/Air Barriers December 17 2014, 0 Comments

Insulated sheathing materials can provide an air barrier along with a thermal barrier, and solve the biggest challenges of thermal bridging. The challenge of using insulating sheathing as an air barrier is to ensure that the R-value of the sheathing is high enough that it moves the dew point outside the cavity of the wall. The layer of foam makes it more difficult for the wall to dry to the exterior, so it must be thick enough to warm the wall cavity enough so that moisture doesn't accumulate. And then, you need to think of how the wall system is going to dry to the interior - it is recommended that low-permeance layers (polyethylene, closed cell foam) are avoided on the interior. This is a challenge in jurisdictions that require vapour barriers, and where the building code vapour barrier requirements mean you're stuck with polyethylene, instead of a Class III vapour barrier such as latex paint or other options.

This 2011 article from Green Building Advisor's Q&A Spotlight gives a good summary of a forum thread on a retrofit that included exterior insulation. It also points to a blog entry by Martin Holladay on minimum thicknesses for rigid foam sheathing.


Know the issues around Solar Ready in your area December 08 2014, 0 Comments

Solar ready sounds pretty groovy.

But what does it mean?

There is no uniform definition.

At one level, it applies to minor changes in the design and construction of individual houses or buildings to ‘rough-in’ the necessary elements to accommodate a future photovoltaic (PV) or solar hot water (SHW) system. At another level, it applies to right-to-light legislation, zoning, code compliance and municipal policies relating to solar. Solar ready ‘rough in’ guidelines exist in the form of voluntary ‘green building’ programs for builders and developers to feature in their new house offerings, as one item on a picklist for energy efficient or sustainable house rating systems, and as a mandatory item for code-compliance in local building codes and ordinances. So you could be dealing with several different levels or scopes when you offer Solar Ready to your clients. Here's what you need to look for in your region:

Solar Ready Guidelines – guidelines published by national agencies in Canada and the US, used by builders and referenced by building energy standard programs.

Solar Ready Programs – optional/voluntary and mandatory programs run by municipalities. These programs build on the guidelines noted above and often are part of a broader ‘solar readiness’ initiative.

Solar Ready Regulations and Legislation – bylaws, ordinances, regulations or code-compliance requirements for solar ready in new construction.

Solar Readiness – the broader issues related to successful solar policy and planning initiatives.

Solar Ready Guidelines

In their most basic form, Solar Ready guidelines address:

  • adequate roof area
  • appropriate orientation to the sun
  • minimal obstruction and shading
  • a direct route for conduit or piping from the roof to the utlity or mechanical area
  • enough room to install the balance of system for photovoltaics and/or solar hot water
As solar ready has moved from being a concept to actual practice, more complex guidelines have been developed to address details that are difficult to work around once the buildings is constructed:
  • site planning
  • building form and massing
  • space planning
  • mounting strategies
  • structure
  • roof pitch

Many details go into optimizing a building for solar at the planning stage, and then there are solar readiness guidelines, which have been developed to optimize larger solar initiatives at the municipal or regional scale and to address broader issues related to municipal ordinances and zoning issues.

In Canada, Solar Ready Guidelines for both PV and solar thermal were developed by Natural Resources Canada in partnership with the Canadian Solar Industries Association. In the US, guidelines have been developed under the wing of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The EPA's Renewable Energy Ready Homes (RERH) program is broken out into two distinct sets of specifications and checklists, one for PV and the other for SHW.

While most municipal and regional programs refer to the guidelines developed by NRCan and NREL, most of the building programs in the US, such as Energy Star for New Homes and the DoE Challenge Home Program, reference the EPA developed Renewable Energy Ready Home guidelines. The Earth Advantage Net Zero Ready Certification and LEED for Houses Solar Ready credit reference the RERH guidelines as well.

Along with NRCan’s Solar Ready Guidelines, a Solar Ready Truss design procedure was developed by the Truss Plate Institute of Canada (TPIC) in 2012 to deal with concerns about additional loads associated with solar collectors. Technical bulletin #7 establishes compliance with the National Building Code of Canada; the CSA O86, Engineering design in wood and TPIC design procedures.

Model Construction Specifications

The guidelines developed for the Twin Cities Solar Ready Requirements, while based on the NREL guidelines, have become a well-referenced resource for solar ready initiatives. The Solar Ready Construction Specifications, documents the solar ready system so it can easily be incorporated during the construction process. The guidelines and specifications address two specific building types: urban new single family and duplex houses with pitched roofs; and 1 to 4 storey flat roof structures (multi-family residential, commercial/office or mixed use buildings).

 


 


Feedback is Good November 27 2014, 0 Comments

It's always gratifying to hear that you're doing good things --  Jon Eakes did an article on web-based learning for trades in the November issue of the Canadian Home Builder Magazine that talks about the long-recognized need for more trades training in building science and energy efficiency measures that relates to the house-as-a-system concept.

So it's really exciting to that someone like Jon, who's been around training and building science and the trades for so long, has this to say about our courses:

"If we could get every worker and sub-trade on a site to sit down at home and click through these courses, we could begin to close up those cracks between the trades that let the mould into the wall." 

We recognized before we started out with Blue House Energy, that one of the stumbling blocks our industry faces is getting crews off jobsites to get training. The obstacles include the cost to the employer of having jobs languishing while people are on course, the costs associated with traditional face-to-face training programs (tuition/registration, accommodation/travel, wages), and the fact that most home construction and renovation firms are small and simply don't have the bandwidth to consider much more than the day-to-day realities of scheduling existing projects and hustling new ones. We got into online learning to help get over those stumbling blocks.

 

 

 

 


So much to know... November 18 2014, 0 Comments

It's hard to wrap your head around the amount of number crunching that goes into energy analysis, and how to prioritize your time and effort when working on a project. There are energy modelling tools that can be used that make it easier, but in a lot of cases, the easier the modelling tool is to use, and the less actual, real-world performance testing data you input, the more likely the result will be a ball-park figure that doesn't relate to actual energy usage, or actual heating or cooling loads.

Sustainable Features Profiles November 06 2014, 0 Comments

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation recently released a series of Sustainable Features Profiles. These fact sheets provide useful guidance on innovative technologies that can be used to make housing more energy and water efficient and reduce the environmental footprint. The research and modelling for the profiles was carried out by our sister company, Bfreehomes Design and Consulting.

From the CMHC website: "These fact sheets provide useful guidance on innovative technologies that can be used to make housing more energy and water efficient and reduce the environmental footprint."

A list of benefits, discussion of what the feature does, as well as design/installation/operation and maintenance considerations are included as well as 'what does it save' information. Modelled energy and/or water reductions and energy contributions for cities across Canada are compared to 'standard' energy and/or water use so homeowners (and builders). 

Here's the list of profiles:
  • High Efficiency Air to Air Heat Pump
  • Air to Water Heat Pump
  • Drain Water Heat Recovery (DWHR)
  • Dual Flush Toilet
  • Envelope Retrofit
  • Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)
  • High Performance Windows
  • Instantaneous Gas Water Heater
  • Photovoltaic Panels
  • Solar Water Heating Systems

 
The profiles can be found here on the CMHC website.


Shawna Henderson is Home Energy Magazine's New Canadian Correspondent! October 02 2014, 0 Comments

Only slightly excited....Hey hey -- you are in the virtual presence of the new Canadian correspondent for Home Energy Magazine. Tell me your big reno/new build/zero energy/innovative cold climate house stories, peeps!

Will provide news on events and activities around the committees and teams we're involved with at the Net Zero Energy Coalition and the Trilateral Green Building Construction Task Force, as well as anything else that we jump into, and the projects that sister company, Bfreehomes is doing. Send reports on regional and national conferences! Send pictures of your latest and greatest new build or reno! Send suggestions for in-depth articles on technical stuff!

You can submit ideas, links, suggestions, etc. via this link here.

Update: 15 October!!!

 

 

 

 And now we're live: first HEM blog post here.

 

 

 


A deeper discussion of deeper energy efficiency measures September 25 2014, 2 Comments

 

 

Here's a good read from Nate Adams from Energy Smart Ohio, on problems associated with energy efficiency programs, single-action bias and low-hanging fruit. It comes with the above GREAT graph showing the fallacy of diminishing returns on energy efficiency measures. The red line indicates what we think happens with energy efficiency measures, with a steep improvement on the first few dollars invested that plateaus out after improvement #3, based on low hanging fruit and the oft-repeated truism that the first inch of insulation you add gets you your biggest bang for the energy saving dollar. In fact, what happens is a slow start, but ramping up multiple investments in improvments ramps up the benefits in an ongoing (and very steep curve) until it plateaus at a much deeper level of investment.

As an industry, we've kinda shot ourselves in the foot when we rely on energy efficiency programs as drivers, and improvements in the performance of equipment. Thirty, twenty, even fifteen years ago, furnace change outs could be guaranteed to result in energy savings and lower costs immediately, because we were replacing 40 to 50 percent efficient equipment with 75 to 85 percent efficient equipment, and then 85 to 95 percent efficient units. Now, there's not quite such a guarantee -- equipment is failing and needs to be replaced, what are you going to offer for guaranteed savings on an upsell besides a heat pump? And do you think that a heat pump is the silver bullet? That's another major problem -- heat pumps are not the silver bullet, but they are certainly easy to sell. Oh! Look! There's that single-action bias again.

It's hard to fledge an industry when we're still learning about building science and the impacts that new and improved 'energy saving' materials and more efficient equipment have on how a house performs, and then gathering a large number of single-focus trades together on the same page who traditionally have nothing much to do with each other's area of expertise, and don't want anyone stepping on their toes as much as they don't want to step on anyone else's toes.

Nate talks about a few fallacies and limitations, and I'll add a few more here:

The evaluation of the 'success' of EE programs drives the single-action bias that leads to short-sighted grabbing of low-hanging fruit. Most programs use a form of Total Resource Costing (TRC): all incurred costs associated with energy savings are weighed against the energy savings alone in the shortest time period. Non-energy benefits (NEBs) are disregarded: improved durability (longer tenure/tenancy, stable tax base), improved occupant health (fewer sick days, lower health insurance costs, better life...). NEBs can be identified and valued at the household and at the societal level. But it's not so easy as simply quantifying the immediate costs vs. the immediate energy savings.

The house-as-a-commodity mindset that puts all homeowners and all programs and all contractors in position where there has to be a payback on energy efficiency measures within 3-5 years because "nobody" stays in a house more than 5 years. Who asks what the payback is on a fancy whirlpool tub? What about granite countertops? There isn't one. Power prices go up and whirlpool tubs require power and if you have to save money what are you going to turn off/stop using first -- your lights or your tub? And granite doesn't hold it's value if it goes out of style and someone is going to rip out the kitchen to do a cosmetic upgrade.

The missing links as I see them: training the **whole** value chain to grock house-as-a-system, getting all of our trades to view their contribution to the house as part of a team or network of experts vs. silos of experts, eliminating Total Resource Cost (TRC) accounting that doesn't include broader non-energy benefits (NEBs) in the equation, and putting land (and consquently) houses back into the long-term asset class -- and stop thinking about the house as a commodity. It is an investment.


Sales and Marketing September 22 2014, 0 Comments

It's a hard thing sometimes, to wear so many hats. Contractors and trades people are often the brains, brawn and bean counters of their small businesses. Who has time to do sales and marketing? And how do you sell what you do? And when do you find the time to review what you've been doing and figure out ways to make it better -- for you and for your clients? It's always a challenge! Mike Rogers, at OMStout Consulting has a great little graphic and asks five fundamental questions about your sales approach that could be pondered on the drive between jobs.

How do you sell?

 


A day in the life... September 18 2014, 0 Comments

So I'm researching the background material for our HVAC course, which of course, includes heat pumps. Ducted, ductless, combination duct/ductless. Air-to-air, ground-to-air, ground-to-water, air-to-water. Integrated space conditioning and DHW. Heat pump water heaters. SEER, HSPF, COP.

And what comes across my desk but the summary from Home Energy Pros. And this blog post from Chris Laumer-Giddens. Which sends me a little into building science wonk heaven...

Add it to the reference material I'm working with, like this 2012 report from USDoE and Building America. So much to know and make sure that our content reflects best practices for installation of currently available equipment and how it performs. Not to mention the fact that it has to be understandable by everyone who is not as thrilled as me by the technical aspects...

I love what I do.

 

p.s. Joe Lstirbrek, I'd better get an invite to boot camp next year.


Building Science and HVAC stuff September 16 2014, 0 Comments

There is this disconnect in our industry. It's around building science and the ways that all the systems in the house work together or against each other. It looks like this: evaluators and raters know about house-as-a-system and can look at a house and see some solutions and fixes that include the building envelope and the HVAC system of the house. Weatherization folks can see mainly solutions to the building envelope. HVAC folks see the mechanical side of it. Homeowners see the capital cost side of things in a much brighter focus than they see the energy savings. Funders see the short-term cost recovery side of things, and realtors see what will give them the shortest sales period. Appraisers see only the features that realtors sell houses on.

Building science and understanding the principles behind energy efficiency measures needs to be recognized across the spectrum of people involved in the housing industry, but it's hard to connect all those dots. We have a lot of focus on the house-as-a-system and the impact that a wide range of variables have on the building envelope in our initial course offerings, because, from our point of view, it's the first thing that needs to be understood. After we wrap up production on the insulation course, we're headed into HVAC territory.

In advance of that course going into production, Blue House Energy CEO, Shawna Henderson, has started writing a series of articles for the New England-based magazine, Oil and Energy. The series will focus on building science, HVAC systems, cold climates, high performance housing and deep energy retrofits. The first one was published 5 September, 'Striking the Right Balance' discusses low-temperature hydronic systems in high-performance houses, and some of the issues that come up when designing a heating system for a house with a very small heating load in a cold climate where homeowners are loath to do away with the security of a central heating system.


Explaining Concepts without Using Your Hands. September 11 2014, 0 Comments

There's a fine line to walk between simplifying information and dumbing it down so that it's useless. Concepts need to be understood. That's the challenge for anyone in training, but especially so for on-demand training, where there is no direct contact between a learner and the trainer. In face-to-face situations, there's a chance to discuss and clarify, to draw on whiteboards and to use your hands to show movement, direction or structure. Personally, I have the dubious honour of being one of those people who, when I'm on the phone, acts out the thoughts, or draws out the concepts...it's a challenge...

Online, we have one shot to get the concept across, and we have to make it work or we lose the interest of our learners at a very rapid pace, and then there's no benefit from the training. That's why we rely heavily on animations to take out all the visual 'noise' of a video or photograph. Here's an example from a section of a course that deal with the concepts of heat flow, windows and comfort. In the course,  a voice-over states the concepts for auditory learners, and a downloadable pdf document is a click away, so that learners can review the concept in writing if that is the best way for them to lock the information in.

 

 

 


Hold the phone...Infrared camera?!? September 04 2014, 0 Comments

This video demonstration by Ben Gromicko at InterNACHI shows a very cool addition to an iphone...an infrared camera. $350 cost, about 1/10 the cost of an IR camera (without the training). Flir is marketing them to the DIY market, but I think it would be fantastic for use to qualify leakage areas and crap insulation installations on an initial site visit for reno clients, before hiring the real IR operator or bringing in the evaluator/auditor and the blower door.

I see in the comments that this was a flag from several people who do thermal imaging. Just like with any other diagnostic tool, garbage in, garbage out. So the skill and expertise of the operator is key, but lots of less skilled, less expert operators are likely to jump on the thermal imaging bandwagon and offer cut-rate services at undermining prices.

Only good news is that the folks who are paying for the thermal imaging services might be more satisfied with a big camera than a slip-on cover for an iphone...

 


Producing online training June 06 2014, 0 Comments

We've been in the depths of production of our own courses for several months now, and we are now working with a few clients on some custom courses. We've ironed out a lot of the kinks along the way. Key to a successful and on-time deliverable? A strong project manager on our side and a dedicated point person on our client's side.

If you are interested in the process of online learning, here's a look at the way it goes in our world.


ACI 2014 -- Bridging the Gap June 03 2014, 0 Comments

Reflecting on last month’s adventure to Detroit and the ACI national conference...

Biggest takeaway: I love building science wonks and home performance fanatics. They know how to discuss, argue, collaborate and host a wicked party (talking ‘bout you Mike Rogers and zymurgy accomplices).

We kicked off our collaboration with Bill Spohn and TruTech Tools at ACI. And standing at the booth, surrounded by all the testing equipment, I certainly had a yearning to get back into fieldwork full time! (I tried to be discreet about fondling air flow meters and such.) I’m very happy Blue House Energy is associated with TruTech. Bill and his crew are knowledgeable, likeable guys, with a great reputation in the industry.

So many good sessions to hit, not one person could take them all in. I’m happy to read recaps of the Great Ventilation Debate on the Energy Vanguard and OMStout blogs. I have to turn some focus back onto the state of ventilation standards in Canada to grock how the ASHRAE changes will impact F-326, or not (will post what I find out sometime).

I got a lot out of the speed dating session on on-line tools and resources.

I took in the sessions around bridging industry gaps, because that’s what I’m all about right now. Identifying the places where understanding energy efficiency and building science are blocked, or are blocking, uptake by any segment of the value chain.


Out of the Classroom and Into the Box May 20 2014, 0 Comments

We're pleased to be presenting at a free webinar hosted by BPI on online learning systems that support building science and home performance training.

We're in a line up with:

Chris Compton, HVACRedu.net
Darrel Tenter, Saturn Resource Management
Doug Donovan, Interplay Learning
Ryan Bennett, Everblue

From BPI:

This webinar will introduce several on-line learning organizations with different approaches to Learning Management Systems (LMS) and the minds behind them. Learn how LMS can be incorporated into your test center curriculum to amp-up delivery, drive program participation, support stand-alone training, or to supplement company-wide training processes to improve performance.

 

Wednesday, 21 May 10am Pacific.

 

You can register here:

 

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/693084713