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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


ACI 2014 April 30 2014, 0 Comments

Motown is full of building science wonks and home performance fanatics. I'm loving it. X

Motor City here I come!!! April 22 2014, 0 Comments

So after a whole lotta juggling, I'm booked to go to ACI National Conference in Detroit. The agenda makes this building science wonk swoon. Three days of hard core building science, business development and industry visioning, I counted 10 tracks that I want to dive into and conflicting break out sessions that will require at least three clones.

I'll be in Detroit Monday early evening -- who's coming for a beer with me?


Program Driven Staged Retrofits April 09 2014, 0 Comments

Mike Rogers, OmStout Consulting, started a conversation a few weeks ago about staging deep energy retrofits -- a very interesting conversation has been so far. I'm all about staged retrofits, myself. The opportunity to move many existing houses closer to low energy/net zero in a few affordable phases is much more likely to have significant impact on residential energy use than a few super-impressive gut rehabs.

This week, Mike has raised some of the issues surrounding program-driven staged/phased retrofits. The full blog article is here: http://bit.ly/1jtSzKV.

Interestingly, he brings up some thoughts that have been niggling at me for years that circle around human behaviour and the concept of 'single action bias' -- meaning that when people take a baby step -- like replacing all their incandescent lights with CFLs -- they've done what they can do and now they are energy efficient. It's kinda like online activism -- click that petition button and you've done your part.

Baby steps like lightbulb replacement programs are tied into another issue for me -- how energy efficiency/energy saving programs are evaluated, both in terms of cost-benefit analysis and success. See my comment at the end of Mike's article: http://bit.ly/1oM9yxp.


Scaling the picture April 03 2014, 0 Comments

There is so much to focus on when working in energy efficient, low energy, high performance, green, sustainable houses: materials, assemblies, performance, HVAC, energy sources. Broad categories like these can be broken out into a dozen subcategories each, then another dozen sub-subcategories again. And there's two sets of the top-level categories: one for retrofit and another for new construction. And then there's climatic zones, which could actually be the top level categories, or could be flagged in the subcategories, and then there's codes, bylaws, regulations, standards, targets and benchmarks.

It's good to look outside the box of the house and down the street and 'round the corner and into the whole community every once in a while, because, in general, a house doesn't exist in a vacuum. Urban, suburban and rural houses are situated in relative proximity to community, and take advantage of infrastructure that has been created to support the community. No news here.

When it comes to low energy houses, and you're in the thick of all things pertaining to performance and targets and budgets and schedules, sometimes, it's hard to see past the house itself. The thing that came to mind today is this: we want to get to Net Zero Energy (NZE): houses and buildings that produce as much energy as they consume on an annual basis (there are a few variations on that theme mainly to do with how the energy is produced/consumed, but let's go with the fundamental one: it's a balance of energy in and energy out). That's a good thing. But the reality is that not every house that is being built, will be built or has been built is a good candidate for a PV system, which has become the default energy production system for NZE houses.

It seems to me that there needs to be a bigger picture discussion about the relevance of NZE goals and existing neighbourhoods and communities. Perhaps the discussion already in play and I just haven't been invited to the party yet, I don't know (please invite me if it is!!). But we need to marry the goals of NZE to the realities around us, like the newly proposed initiative I just read about in RenewablesBiz from Florida Power and Light: a voluntary community-based solar program that allows people who are unable (for any reason) to install a house-scale rooftop PV system to take part in generating clean power. I know it's not the first one of it's kind, and there are several riffs on the theme, as well as community-based rooftop leasing programs.

What I'm pointing at is the need to have several options on getting to Net Zero Energy that can encompass a wide range of situations. Ideal NZE houses, like ideal passive solar houses in the 70s, are not the norm, and likely never will be, given the way bylaws and typical development patterns focus on land usage. Certainly they won't be until the current standing building stock is completely retrofitted, or falls down. So we have to have some guidelines and options for the 'energy producing' end of NZE that allow for crappy orientations, no roof space, obstructions, out-of-date bylaws and regulations and a host of other complications.


Hiss and Poop -- Abnormal Phenomenon! April 01 2014, 0 Comments

Beware! Heat pumps sound a heckuva lot like Canada Geese when they are unhappy. There's a lot of hissing and pooping.

I had no idea. Anyone been in a house with a heat pump where pieces of the wall, carpet, furniture, cloth, cigarette, and cosmetics adhere to the unit? Sure would explain a lot of the mess at my house if I had a heat pump that could cause that much chaos.
And it kaks. And hydrometeors appear.
That is an awesome machine. Sounds a little like a diaper could be in order.
My dear friend Daniel MacKay, with Shines Renewable Energy posted this screenshot of the manual for a heat pump that he was installing, along with this note:

"What's interesting is that if you google for "hiss and poop", with the quotes, you get a bunch of different owners manuals for York, Powrmatic, Mundoclima, Pridiom etc etc all with exactly the same wording (and they're the same units - there are, I'm told, only two heat pump manufacturers in the world.)"
Surely somewhere along the line someone could have hired one native language-speaking human translator to proof the manual...although manuals are pretty dry reading, a little comic relief is likely a good thing. I'm not sure, as a homeowner with a heat pump problem, that I'd have my confidence bolstered by a giggling technician in my mechanical room.

More Thoughts About Core Competencies in the Value Chain. March 25 2014, 0 Comments

How do we draw up guidelines for identifying core competencies in home performance/energy efficiency/building science/green building across the many segments and sectors of the home construction and renovation industry?

The other week I posted a down and dirty graphic showing most of the players and the top-level relationships. That chart could use some refinement, but it gives the basic picture.

Holy complexity, Batman!

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Why we need good training in building science March 18 2014, 0 Comments

There are lots of horror stories out there about mold, rot, stink, decay, health problems and even death associated with energy efficiency measures and airtight houses. Most of them come from the early days of 'live' experiments where good things were done, with all the right intentions but only half of the concept was in place...house-as-a-system was not the by-word of the late 70s/early 80s homebuilding/renovating world. And in many instances where new horror stories appear, it's pretty obvious to those who are conversant in building science that 'house-as-a-system' is ***still*** not the by-word of the homebuilding/renovating world.X

Just in Time Training...what does that mean? March 13 2014, 2 Comments

Just in Time Training = giving people the training they need when and where they need it.

The people who are actually carrying out the building and renovating, labourers, framers, insulators, those folks don't often (never) get invited to sit through days of in-class training to improve their understanding of building science and how to apply that understanding to what they are being asked to do on site.

Why?

Because they are so very valuable on site. If they are in class, the site shuts down. Or someone needs to step into their role for the days they are in class. 

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Value Chain and Core Competencies March 05 2014, 1 Comment

Training in building science and energy efficiency is essential to moving the house building industry forward into Net Zero Energy, successfully. As BHE COO, Hal Richman has observed, many people in our industry do not see the entire value chain. It’s a complicated one – easy to see in this diagram how the home building industry is a hot, fragmented mess of experts and expertise, completely at odds with itself sometimes.

Online training and core competencies March 03 2014, 0 Comments

Building a self-directed online training program is a real challenge...it's hard to determine what level of understanding your audience starts out with because you have no interaction with them. Unlike face-to-face training, you have no chance to gear the course to the learners on the fly, or offer other resources or extra explanations. In any case, when you are creating a program for learning, core competencies are what you want to establish and improve. A core competency is fundamental knowledge, ability, or expertise in a specific subject area or skill set. There needs to be a way of benchmarking understanding of the basic concepts so that you can create a foundation for a useful learning program.X

Blue House Energy Launches Building Science Basics Online February 27 2014, 0 Comments

Toot Toot!!

We sent out a press release/announcement today launching Building Science Basics, which is now eligible for BPI Continuing Education Credits.

The full press release can be found here.
Here's the intro... 


Building Science Basics
course enables builders to hone their knowledge of building science and energy efficiency and lower call back rates.

Halifax, NS. February 27, 2014 – The renovation and new construction industries have a new resource to help them build more energy efficient housing as a result of Blue House Energy’s launch of its on-line course, Building Science Basics. The comprehensive,self-directed online program is designed for tradespeople, contractors, and builders who want to improve their knowledge of building science and energy efficiency. Understanding the ‘why’ behind energy efficiency measures improves how the work is done, leading to a lower call back rate from homeowners, thereby increasing the efficiency of the work done.


Survey @ Low Energy Housing Technology Costs February 24 2014, 0 Comments

I'm working with the Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition to deliver a survey for Natural Resources Canada. The aim of the survey is to get a better sense of cost-effective design and construction of Low Energy Houses (near NZE, NZE-ready, NZE, any program or standard that you are involved in). Survey is open until midnight, 14 March 2014.

The survey is best filled out by the person who is most familiar with costing the projects.

Here's the official invite:

The Net-Zero Energy Coalition is seeking costing information from builders across North America who have direct experience building net-zero energy (NZE), net-zero energy ready (NZEr), or near net-zero energy (nNZE) homes. The Coalition is collecting this data in partnership with Natural Resources Canada.

Your participation will help to validate cost effective design and construction of NZE / NZEr / nNZE homes and support the development of guidelines for building these homes.

Individual responses will be kept anonymous - results of the survey will only be communicated in summary form. Participants will receive a copy of the summary report.

This survey will be open until midnight (Eastern Time) on Friday, March 14th. You can access the survey here.


Construction Instruction February 22 2014, 0 Comments

We love this app.

It's juicy, it's easy to use and it's built by a trio of fellahs we respect a lot: Gord Cooke, Mark LaLiberte, Justin Wilson.

The app is designed for use by builders, contractors, architects and designers, D-I-Yers. It's all about building products and their proper use and installation in the context of the house as a system. All the content in the app is now also up on the website, so working out of the office and accessing the info is an easy series of clicks.

CI for the win!

 

Download it here:


Fragments and knowledge gaps February 21 2014, 0 Comments

BHE is based on translating the knowledge we have about building science and energy efficiency in housing into a format that is accessible to those already working in the home building industry. Labourers, tradespeople, renovators and contractors, as well as those who are less hands-on but still involved in the industry: office managers, internal sales teams etc.

As a set of crafts and trades that really grew into a commodity-based industry only after World War II, housing is still finding its feet as a cohesive industry. The many trades and interests that come together to build a house all have their own silos of expertise. As energy prices and environmental concerns have created the need for energy efficiency measures and green building issues, the fragmentation of the industry has continued. Now not only do we have builders, tradespeople, contractors and inspectors, appraisers and mortgage lenders, but a whole layer of techno-weenie evaluators, assessors, trainers, designers, and consultants (yes, I am wearing my appropriate hats).

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Net Zero Energy (NZE) Housing Paper October 31 2013, 0 Comments