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, 1 Comment



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'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 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,
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:

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:

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:

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!


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 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.


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. 


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'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.